Instruction in Soul-Winning
"And He saith unto them, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."Matthew 4:19
HEN Christ calls us by His grace, we ought not only to remember what we are, but we ought also to think of what He can make us. It is "Follow Me, and I will make you." We should repent of what we have been, but rejoice in what we may be. It is not, "Follow Me, because of what you are already." It is not, "Follow Me, because you may make something of yourselves;" but, "Follow Me, because of what I will make you." Verily, I might say of each one of us as soon as we are converted, "It doth not yet appear what we shall be." It did not seem a likely thing that lowly fishermen would develop into apostles, that men so handy with the net would be quite as much at home in preaching sermons and in instructing converts. One would have said, "How can these things be? You cannot make founders of churches out of peasants of Galilee." That is exactly what Christ did; and when we are brought low in the sight of God by a sense of our own unworthiness, we may feel encouraged to follow Jesus because of what He can make us. What said the woman of a sorrowful spirit when she lifted up her song? "He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes." We cannot tell what God may make of us in the new creation, since it would have been quite impossible to have foretold what He made of chaos in the old creation. Who could have imagined all the beautiful things that came forth from darkness and disorder by that one fiat, "Let there be light"? And who can tell what lovely displays of everything that is divinely fair may yet appear in a man's formerly dark life, when God's grace has said to him, "Let there be light"? O you who see in yourselves at present nothing that is desirable, come you and follow Christ for the sake of what He can make out of you! Do you not hear His sweet voice calling to you, and saying, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men"?
Note, next, that we are not made all that we shall be, nor all that we ought to desire to be, when we are ourselves fished for and caught. This is what the grace of God does for us at first; but it is not all. We are like the fishes, making sin to be our element, as they live in the sea; and the good Lord comes, and with the gospel net He takes us, and He delivers us from the life and love of sin. But He has not wrought for us all that He can do, nor all that we should wish Him to do, when He has done this; for it is another and a higher miracle to make us who were fish to become fishers,to make the saved ones saviours,to make the convert into a converter,the receiver of the gospel into an imparter of that same gospel to other people. I think I may say to every person whom I am addressing,If you are yourself saved, the work is but half done until you are employed to bring others to Christ. You are as yet but half formed in the image of your Lord. You have not attained to the full development of the Christ-life in you unless you have commenced in some feeble way to tell others of the grace of God; and I trust that you will find no rest to the sole of your foot till you have been the means of leading many to that blessed Saviour who is your confidence and your hope. His word is, "Follow Me, not merely that you may be saved, nor even that you may be sanctified; but, 'Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.'" Be following Christ with that intent and aim; and fear that you are not perfectly following Him unless in some degree He is making use of you to be fishers of men. The fact is, that every one of us must take to the business of a man-catcher. If Christ has caught us, we must catch others. If we have been apprehended of Him, we must be His constables, to apprehend rebels for Him. Let us ask Him to give us grace to go a-fishing, and so to cast our nets that we may take a great multitude of fishes. Oh, that the Holy Ghost may raise up from among us some master-fishers, who shall sail their boats in many a sea, and surround great shoals of fish!
My teaching at this time will be very simple, but I hope it will be eminently practical; for my longing is that not one of you that love the Lord may be backward in His service. What says the Song of Solomon concerning certain sheep that come up from the washing? It says, "Every one beareth twins, and there is not one barren among them." May that be so with all the members of this church, and all the Christian people who hear or read this sermon! The fact is, the day is very dark. The heavens are lowering with heavy thunder-clouds. Men little dream of what tempests may soon shake this city, and the whole social fabric of this land, even to a general breaking up of society. So dark may the night become that the stars may seem to fall like blighted fruit from the tree. The times are evil. Now, if never before, every glow-worm must show its spark. You with the tiniest farthing candle must take it from under the bushel, and set it on a candlestick. There is need of you all. Lot was a poor creature. He was a very, very wretched kind of believer; but still, he might have been a great blessing to Sodom had he but pleaded for it as he should have done. And poor, poor Christians, as I fear many are, one begins to value every truly converted soul in these evil days, and to pray that each one may glorify the Lord. I pray that every righteous man, vexed as he is with the conversation of the wicked, may be more importunate in prayer than he has ever been, and return unto his God, and get more spiritual life, that he may be a blessing to the perishing people around him. I address you, therefore, at this time first of all upon this thought. Oh, that the Spirit of God may make each one of you feel his personal responsibility!
Here is for believers in Christ, in order to their usefulness, something for them to do: "Follow Me." But, secondly, here is something to be done by their great Lord and Master: "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." You will not of yourselves grow into fishers, but that is what Jesus will do for you if you will but follow Him. And then, lastly, here is a good illustration, used according to our great Master's wont; for scarcely without a parable did He speak unto the people. He presents us with an illustration of what Christian men should befishers of men. We may get some useful hints out of it, and I pray the Holy Spirit to bless them to us.
I. First, then, I will take it for granted that every believer here wants to be useful. If he does not, I take leave to question whether he can be a true believer in Christ. Well, then, if you want to be really useful, here is SOMETHING FOR YOU TO DO TO THAT END: "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."
What is the way to become an efficient preacher? "Young man," says one, "go to college." "Young man," says Christ, "follow Me, and I will make you a fisher of men." How is a person to be useful? "Attend a training-class," says one. Quite right; but there is a surer answer than that,Follow Jesus, and He will make you fishers of men. The great training school for Christian workers has Christ at its head and He is at its head, not only as a Tutor, but as a Leader: we are not only to learn of Him in study, but to follow Him in action. "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." The direction is very distinct and plain, and I believe that it is exclusive, so that no man can become a fisherman by any other process. This process may appear to be very simple; but assuredly it is most efficient. The Lord Jesus Christ, who knew all about fishing for men, was Himself the Dictator of the rule, "Follow Me, if you want to he fishers of men. If you would be useful, keep in My track."
I understand this, first, in this sense: be separate unto Christ. These men were to leave their pursuits they were to leave their companions; they were, in fact, to quit the world, that their one business might be, in their Master's name, to be fishers of men. We are not called to leave our daily business, or to quit our families. That might be rather running away from the fishery than working at it in God's name but we are called most distinctly to come out from among the ungodly, and to be separate, and not to touch the unclean thing. We cannot be fishers of men if we remain among men in the same element with them. Fish will not be fishers. The sinner will not convert the sinner. The ungodly man will not convert the ungodly man; and, what is more to the point, the worldly Christian will not convert the world. If you are of the world, no doubt the world will love its own; but you cannot save the world. If you are dark, and belong to the kingdom of darkness, you cannot remove the darkness. If you march with the armies of the wicked one, you cannot defeat them. I believe that one reason why the Church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the Church. Nowadays, we hear Nonconformists pleading that they may do this, and they may do that,things which their Puritan forefathers would rather have died at the stake than have tolerated. They plead that they may live like worldlings, and my sad answer to them, when they crave for this liberty, is, "Do it if you dare. It may not do you much hurt, for you are so bad already. Your cravings show how rotten your hearts are. If you have a hungering after such dog's meat, go, dogs, and eat the garbage! Worldly amusements are fit food for mere pretenders and hypocrites. If you were God's children, you would loathe the very thought of the world's evil joys, and your question would not be, 'How far may we be like the world?' but your one cry would be, 'How far can we get away from the world? How much can we come out from it?' Your temptation would be rather to become sternly severe, and ultra-Puritanical in your separation from sin, in such a time as this, than to ask, 'How can I make myself like other men, and act as they do?"'
Brethren, the use of the Church in the world is that it should be like salt in the midst of putrefaction; but if the salt has lost its savour, what is the good of it? If it were possible for salt itself to putrefy, it could but be an increase and a heightening of the general putridity. The worst day the world ever saw was when the sons of God were joined with the daughters of men. Then came the flood; for the only barrier against a flood of vengeance on this world is the separation of the saint from the sinner. Your duty as a Christian is to stand fast in your own place, and to stand out for God, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh, resolving like one of old that, let others do as they will, as for you and your house, you will serve the Lord.
Come, ye children of God, you must stand with your Lord outside the camp. Jesus calls you to-day, and says, "Follow Me." Was Jesus found at the theatre? Did He frequent the sports of the race-course? Was Jesus seen, think you, in any of the amusements of the Herodian court? Not He. He was "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." In one sense, no one mixed with sinners so completely as He did when, like a physician, He went among them healing His patients; but, in another sense, there was a gulf fixed between the men of the world and the Saviour, which He never essayed to cross, and which they could not cross to defile Him.
The first lesson which the Church has to learn is this: Follow Jesus into the separated state, and He will make you fishers of men. Unless you take up your cross, and protest against an ungodly world, you cannot hope that the holy Jesus will make you fishers of men.
A second meaning of our text is very obviously this: abide with Christ, and then you will be made fishers of men. These disciples whom Christ called were to come and live with Him. They were every day to be associated with Him. They were to hear Him teach publicly the everlasting gospel, and in addition they were to receive choice explanations in private of the Word which He had spoken. They were to be His body-servants and His familiar friends. They were to see His miracles and hear His prayers; and, better still, they were to be with Himself, and become one with Him in His holy labour. It was given to them to sit at the table with Him, and even to have their feet washed by Him. Many of them fulfilled that word, "Where thou dwellest, I will dwell:" they were with Him in His afflictions and persecutions. They witnessed His secret agonies, they saw His many tears, they marked the passion and the compassion of His soul, and thus, after their measure, they caught His spirit, and so they learned to be fishers of men.
At Jesus' feet we must learn the art and mystery of soul-winning: to live with Christ is the best education for usefulness. It is a great boon to any man to be associated with a Christian minister whose heart is on fire. The best training for a young man is that which the Vaudois pastors were wont to give, when each old man had a young man with him who walked with him whenever he went up the mountainside to preach, and lived in the house with him, and marked his prayers, and saw his daily piety. This was a fine course of instruction, was it not? But it will not compare with that of the apostles who lived with Jesus Himself, and were His daily companions. Matchless was the training of the twelve. No wonder that they became what they were with such a heavenly Tutor to saturate them with His own spirit. His bodily presence is not now among us; but His spiritual power is perhaps more fully known to us than it was to the apostles in those two or three years of the Lord's corporeal presence. There be some of us to whom He is intimately near. We know more about Him than we do about our dearest earthly friend. We have never been able quite to read our friend's heart in all its twistings and windings, but we know the heart of the Well-beloved. We have leaned our head upon His bosom, and have enjoyed fellowship with Him such as we could not have with any of our own kith and kin. This is the surest method of learning how to do good. Live with Jesus, follow Jesus, and He will make you fishers of men. See how He does the work, and so learn how to do it yourself. A Christian man should be bound apprentice to Jesus to learn the trade of a Saviour. We can never save men by offering a redemption, for we have none to present; but we can learn how to save men by warning them to flee from the wrath to come, and setting before them the one great effectual remedy. See how Jesus saves, and you will learn how the thing is done: there is no learning it anyhow else. Live in fellowship with Chri