The Mancatcher

Luke 5:10.---' Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.'

The words were addressed to Simon Peter, the fisherman of Bethsaidia. At the moment he heard them he was overwhelmed with a new and deep sense of his own unworthiness. This was the PREPARATION of the gospel fisherman. As he dwelt upon the words a wonderful vista opened up before him of privilege and responsibility. He felt the glory of the VOCATION of the gospel fisherman. As he went forward in the new life he became increasingly conscious of his insufficiency for so high a calling, his mind dwelt upon the supreme QUALIFICATION of the gospel fisherman. So let these three points, the preparation, the vocation, and the supreme qualification of the gospel fisherman, guide our thoughts today.

It was by a singular PREPARATION that Peter was led to this great crisis in his life. We see him and his companions, busily engaged in washing their nets, which, after a long nights toil, were empty of everything except weeds and mud. Peter, therefore, was tired and perhaps a little dispirited when Jesus came up and begged the loan of his boat that from it He might more easily address the multitude that was massed together on the lake-side. But as Peter listened to the sermon and watched the eager upturned faces of the people drinking in the Master's words the gloom lifted, Peter was captured and carried away by the sympathy and power of that Master Fisher of men, and a new ambition, a desire to take some part himself in the Divine work of winning men, began to be awakened within him.

But those whom the Master designs to admit into close and intimate fellowship with Himself He first makes sensible that they deserve to be at the greatest distance from Him. 'To this man will I look,' said He whose Throne is the Heavens and whose footstool is the Earth, 'even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at my word.' None can hope to win men by the Word unless they have first learnt to tremble at that Word. The flippant and shallow spirit which treats the Word of the living God as if it were the word of fallible men must be allowed no peace in those who would catch men. So, whenever God is about to send men forth to do service, He causes them to pass through a time of spiritual travail so as to bring them to an end of their self-sufficiency. It was so with Isaiah when the prophet cried, 'Woe is me! for I am undone.' It was so with Saul of tarsus, who fell to the ground trembling and astonished, smitten down by the glory and by the Word of the Lord. It was so with Daniel and Job, and with the Apostle John in the isle of Patmos. It was so on this occasion with Simon Peter as he fell at Jesus' knees crying, 'Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.' Preparation for service commences with a deep, real, overwhelming sense of personal unworthiness.

But this sense of unworthiness is not always or generally brought about, at any rate in the first instance, by a vision of hell or a discovery of the reality of God's holy wrath against sin. In Peter's case it was the result of a revelation of human sympathy and Divine sufficiency of Jesus. This brings us to Christ's feet in lifelong penitence and surrender. It is when Jesus meets us on the plane of our secular life and shows His perfect sympathy with all our human needs; when He comes near to us and fills our empty nets, ministering to us Divine comfort in days of anxiety and sorrow and need---it is then that we tremble at His presence, then that we recognize the deep gulf which separates us from the sinless Christ, then that we cry, 'I am a sinful man, O Lord.' He is the best fisherman of other sinful men who learns again and again close fellowship with God what a really sinful man he is himself.

The second point is the VOCATION of the gospel fisherman. 'From henceforth thou shalt catch men.' It was a double magnifying of Peter's former calling. Till now he had caught fish. Henceforth he should catch men. Till now he had caught fish for death; the fish he caught could not live in that higher air to which his net sought to draw them. Now he should catch men for life; for only as the gospel net brings them into the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ do men begin to know what true life is.

To win souls, to catch men for God---there is no more glorious service in all the world. Angels covet it. For this God gave His only Begotten Son. To this Jesus consecrated Himself. It is so glorious that in comparison with it all other pursuits seem mean and unworthy. Some men live to win games, others to win money, others to win fame and political power; the follower of Jesus, the true gospel fisherman, lives to win souls. For nothing of less value would the Son of God have laid down His life. In the great day of final reckoning one soul won for Christ will out-value a thousandfold all the money prizes and honors of earth.

But it is an unspeakably solemn calling. The medical man knows that the lives of his patients depend largely upon his skill. But he deals only with their earthly and mortal life. The gospel physician deals with the life of the soul, the life that is unending. If he is negligent or unskillful, or if he wearies in the work of casting the gospel net, the sin of blood-guiltiness rests upon him, and he is responsible for the loss of an immortal soul. Yes, it is so; each one of us is in some measure, and the ordained minister is to a very special degree, his brother's keeper. The sovereignty of God does not do away with the responsibility of each individual fisherman. We are put in trust with the gospel. Christ is depending upon us. He has no other plan for the winning of men than that all those who know the joyful sound should make it known to others. The ultimate success or failure of the Cross in the work of winning individual men depends upon our faithfulness.

The work, moreover, is peculiarly difficult. Men give but slight heed to spiritual things. They are preoccupied. They are choked with the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. They think themselves perfectly satisfied without Christ. They are so enamoured of the life that now is that with a gambler's recklessness they are prepared to risk an eternity of misery and loss rather than give up the transitory pleasures of sin. Above all, they are encased in prejudice and fortified with unbelief. To win the city of Man's Soul requires the courage and resource and heroic persistence of a daring warrior, as well as the patience and skill of a fisherman.

Yet the Master's word leaves no excuse for doubt or fear. His 'thou shalt catch men' is a guarantee of success. He undertakes to make His disciples fisher of men, not merely fishers for men. There is something wrong with our fellowing of Christ if we lose the art of winning men for Him. In these days of perplexity, when the foundations of our faith are widely questioned, we cannot afford to be without this supreme proof that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Conversions today hold the place occupied by miracles of healing in the time of our Lord and His Apostles. We know that Jesus is the Christ because still in a very real and blessed sense the blind see, the deaf hear, and lepers are cleansed. So lift up your hearts. Do not be afraid of your vocation. Christ summons us not to a forlorn hope, but to the conquest of all lands, the gathering out from all nations of the people that shall be His own. 'Yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry,' and then 'the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.'

And now for the supreme QUALIFICATION of the gospel fisherman. First it is the keen desire to bring others to Christ which is instinctive in everyone who has truly found Christ. Those who are born of God have no option in this matter. They say, like Paul, 'Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!' The truth which brings us to God and saves us from sin would cease to be regarded by us as true unless we sought to make others believe it too. An unbelieving age disparages what it calls proselytizing. The true believer must proselytize. If we believe that Christ died for all men, we cannot refrain from persistent endeavor to bring all men to recognize His sovereign rights. If we believe, we must speak. If we withhold our testimony, we shall before long have no testimony to give.

How are we to attract the most people into this earthly and yet heavenly paradise? That is a much-vexed question. What, for example, are legitimate means? or what is legitimate bait? I confess I am somewhat familiar with the flies and worms in use among fishers of men. . . . I believe I only know one safe kind. We must be the bait ourselves and be willing to be gobbled up. We must not come decked with gold or costly array . . .if we accept service in the ranks of the lowly hearted Master. . . . Reality first and last. If this is forgotten people will turn on us and say, properly enough, that they would rather be real and in hell than humbugs and in heaven. But this, thank God, is not the alternative. As a matter of fact the humbugs will all be in hell and the real folks in heaven. Let us be real, i.e., really like the Master, filled with His love and His self-sacrifice, and we shall soon prove a very catching lot. No other bait will be wanted if the spirit of Jesus is seen in His followers.

In Christ, timothy maranatha