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, "And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee, their father, mending their nets; and he called them." — Matt. 4: 21. , MANY years after tMs, one of the two men whose names are mentioned here, writing of Jesns, said, "He was the true light which lighteth ever}^ man that cometh into the world." And so^ indeed, he was ; not only in the broad spiritual sense in which John intended his words to be nnderstood, but in narrower^ less important senses, also. It needs but a thought to show us that Jesus of Nazareth was the light of his own age and time^ — the light which reveals to us the men who lived then, the circumstances of their living, what they did, what they said, who they were. Apart from him they would be for the most part utterly unknown on the page of history ; the greatest of them simrply names occasionally read, but quickly forgotten. A^^io was Pontius Pilate? Who were Annas, and Oaiaphas, and Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea ? Scarcely more than names to us, until we remember their connection with the story of Jesus: then as the light of his personality falls upon them, they live, and move and have distinct individuality. They little thought it, in those da3^s, those proud Pharisees and scornful scribes, as they jeered at the peasant prophet of Galilee, that their only hold upon the memory of the ages to come was their relation to that same peasant prophet. Yet so it was. He was the light iD which they stand revealed; except for him, oblivion would long ago have claimed them for its own. And if this be so of those who might with some justice be reckoned as belonging to the "higher classes" of those times, how
26 THE AMERICAN" BAPTIST PULPIT.
much more conspicuously true is it concerning those who could make no such claim? Take the disciples of Jesus, for example. Who were they? "Mere nobodies/' in the social scale. Fishermen and tax-gatherers, and the like. In the ordinary course of events, Peter would have gone on catching fish in Galilee, and selling them in Bethsaida and Tiberias, until the end of his life, without attracting any more notice than that usually given to a shrewd, venturesome fellow of his calling ; and Matthew would have collected taxes in the streets of Capernaum until his stiffened limbs refused to bear him to the accustomed place, and then would have retired to live upon his ill-gotten gains, to be speedily forgotten even by those who had known him best, or to be remembered only with execrations. But Jesus came. The light of his personality shone upon these men. At once they came into public notice, and everything pertaining to them became a matter of interest not only to those of their own time, but to the multitudes who read the story hundreds of years after they lived and died. To-day we follow with zest the varying fortunes of that bluff, large-hearted fisherman whom we love so well; and pause with eager attention at the tax-gatherer's table to see what will be the outcome of the Master's call to him. Mary of Magdala is an interesting personage to us, and so is that other Mary, of Bethany, and her sister, Martha; and, more than either, the sweet Mary of ^N'azareth. Even matters of slightest intrinsic importance acquire consequence and interest in our sight; as, for example, the all-night's fishing without reward, a common enough experience, no doubt, to the fishermen of that sea; the pJucking of a few grains of wheat, as the disciples walked through a certain field of a Sabbath; and even such an insignificant, commonplace incident as the mending of a net, accidentally torn in fishing. Now, this interest is in none of these things, in themselves considered. Take Jesus out of the picture, and none of them would have power to hold the attention for a single moment. He is the light which falls upon them, lending them beauty and picturesqueness ; and in their connection with the story of his life, only, are they worth recording or remembering. It is sometimes complained of preachers that they are overmuch given to the spiritualizing of what is mere ordinary history.
XET MEXDIXG. 27 Given the most insignificant incident or event, and they will proceed to draw from it the most important moral and spiritual truths, often overstepping, it is claimed, the bounds of reasonable interpretation, and reading into the special incident more than has any right or place there. So far as the individual instance is concerned, it may, or it may not be true. So far as the general charge is concerned, it is made against the Master rather than against any of his disciples, for he it is who has spiritualized all life, and has given to all things moral meanings and ministries. Greatest of all poets is he, who sees, and has made us to see, " Tongues in trees, books in tlie running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in everTtbing." Greatest of all discoverers is he, who shows us that life is not an island in the sea of time, washed by the tides of the temporal and transient, merely: but a continent in the midst of the ocean of eternity, and swept by the currents of infinite and spiritual realities. The tiniest dewdrop sparkling in the sun, mirrors the vast expanse of the heavens above it. The commonest circumstance may glisten with suggestions of highest truths. Parables, types, symbols — ^these must be until the end of time: the lesser things that we can see and handle, teaching the larger things that otherwise would be beyond our ken. Two men, sitting in a boat on the seashore, mending a net that has been torn. What is there in that incident that is worth thinking or talking about? Xothing at all: it is entirely commonplace and uninteresting: a very common and ordinary thing — simply a part of the prosaic routine of the fisherman's life. You might have seen almost any day on Galilee a dozen doing just what these two men were doing. But then Jesus comes to them : and straightway James and John assume new interest and importance. They are no longer ordinary fishermen: they are the Lord^s friends. Xo man on whom the
Lord's regard is turned is thenceforth an ordinary man; no life that lies in the Divine light is thenceforth an ordinary life. And then the Master speaks the word of their co m mission, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men:" and in virtue of that saying this trivial incident glows with a profound spiritual meaning, and
28 THE AMERICAN BAPTIST PULPIT. this otherwise "animportant act of the fishermen becomies a parable demanding our careful reading. And as the story is told, we think involuntarily and necessarily, not alone of the narrow sea, shimmering at the Lord's feet, but of that great swelling sea of the world's sins and needs everywhere stretching; and we see not only those torn and tangled nets of knotted cords in Zebedee's boat, but those other nets, too, of love, and hope, and courage, and faith, and zeal, and life, which must be let down into the great deep for the doing of the Lord's will — nets that often get tangled, perhaps oftener get torn, and which must be mended so often, that the Lord's fishing, and ours, may go on. So, then, we have here our practical lessons : 1.. Nets must be mended, for nets will get torn. Every fisherman knows that. There are a great many foes to the net's wholeness. - There may be a weak place in the cord itself, which gives way under strain; a sharp rock, or a larger fish than ordinary, nmy cut or break it; a little carelessness in casting or dragging it may wreck it. And, knowing all this, the fisherman watches it very closely, that he may know always its real condition, and very often he finds it necessary to spend time and pains in repairing the broken places, and getting the net ready for the next day's fishing. And other nets get broken, too — those with which we are to do our work for Christ; love gets frayed; hope is snapped in twain; faith is too weak to bear any strain; joy is broken away entirely; and all the life becomes sadly twisted and tangled. And some of
the most wearisome and dreariest experiences of the Christian life may be summed up in the words, "mending the nets." Sometimes this is the more or less legitimate result of the work itself. However carefully handled, a net wears out by constant use, and, through no fault either of material or making, comes sometimes to mending. Everything wears out in use. That musical instrument in which you so delight was made to be played upon, and is kept in its best condition by being played upon. But after a while the strings are loosened^ or the hammers are bent, or tlie reeds are split, and all its music is like the sound of " Sweet bells jangled, out of time, and harsh."
NET MENDING. 29 This is not to the disparagement of the skill or fidelity of the maker of the instrument. It is something to be expected. It is impossible for the instrnment always to bear the strain without giving way somewhere. A general principle lies in the illustration. Use means always some waste and loss. All effort of life involves a strain which mnst ho recognized. The spiritual life furnishes no exception to the rule. It is not infrequently the case that in the very midst of labors the most consecrated, and successes the most inspiring, the Christian becomes vaguely conscious that something is the matter. A change has come over his fitness for the work. He has lost something, somehow.. His s}Tiipathies are not so keen as formerly ; his patience seems to be giving way; his prayers appear to be less fervent and effectual; some^vhere his net is breaking. He need not be greatly surprised at this. It may be simply a natural result of the long and continued strain which has been upon him. A wearied body and exhausted nerves vitally affect the spiritual condition. This was where Elijah's net broke. He who had withstood roA'alty without faltering, who had looked famine in the eyes without flinching, who had faced a mob of fanatical idolaters without fear, was hardly a man to run away at a woman's threat, even though that woman
were the queen. He was tired out ; that was all ; or that was most, at least. The tension had been too long and too severe, and he had given way at last. You will remember that the very first thing that God did for him in the wilderness was to put him to sleep, and to give him plenty to eat when he woke up. After that it was easy enough to knit up the broken strand of courage. It is instructive to remember that our Lord himself felt the strain of constant effort, and the necessity of guarding against it in an especial manner. Those nights of lonely prayer ; the gloriou* visions of the Mount of Transfiguration ; the garden wrestling and victory — what were these but the mending of his nets, frayed in the daily fishing, for the fishing that must yet be ? Could he have endured the work except for those frequent withdrawals from the midst of it for personal communion with his Father ? Would Calvary's triumph have been possible without G-ethsemane's preparation ? Sometimes the nets are broken by contact with the sharp edges
30 THE AMERICAN BAPTIST PULPIT. of the rocks of sin. So vital is thte relation between being and doing, that whatever affects what one is, affects also, and in the same way, what he does and can do. Sin indtilged in the heart means the lessening of spiritual efficiency, as well as the lessening of even the inclination toward spiritual effort. "If I regard iniquity in my heart," says the Psalmist, "the Lord will not hear me.'^ "So, also," he might have added, "if I regard iniquity in my heart, men will not hear me; I forfeit my influence with them for good, and my chance to catch them for Christ. My sin has broken my net, and through the holes they escape me." How the illustrations of sin-torn nets thrust themselves into sight as we look down through history. It was the strand of faithi — that which seemed the strongest strand of all — that gave way once and again in the case of Abraham, and lost to him the reward, and to God the glory, of perfect trust and obedience. The thread of patience broke in Moses' net, and wearied and petulant at the unjust complainings of the people, he cried at Meribah, "Hear, now, ye rebels; must we fetch water out of this rock for you?" Wh'at sad work the sharp-
edged reefs of unholy passion made with the nets of the Psalmistking, and what a weary task of mending was his in consequence thereof.. When, on the night of the betrayal, Peter suddenly left the group of servants and soldiers in the palace of the high priest and rushed out into the night with the scalding tears in his eyes and the bitterest self-loathings in his heart, he was simply going out to mend the nets that his cowardice had just torn. But these are long ago examples. God help us all! We need not go so far away. Sin has torn our nets, yours and mine, time and again. Iniquity regarded in the heart, transgression practised in the life, have trammeled our activities, have hampered our efficiency, and have made us like fishermen casting ragged nets into the mocking waters. Some of us are saying with Isaiah, "My leanness ! my leanness !" recognizing our poverty in result and success, and sincerely deploring it as grievous misfortune, when we ought to say, rather, "My sinfulness ! my sinfulness !" thereby confessing the real cause and the adequate reason for such poverty. But perhaps oftenest the nets of the Christian suffer because of lack of use. You need not wear a net out by constant service. You
NET MENDING. 31 need not cut it to pieces. Just spread it out upon the ground, and let it alone for the sun to shine upon it, and for the rain and the dew to fall upon it, and the mischief is done. By and by when you would use it, you will find that the elements have so rotted the threads that it is wholly unserviceable except it first be mended. That is natural law in spiritual things. That which is used is kept; that which is not used is lost. Use is preservation; non-use is destruction. Over against the danger of wearing out by too much toil, we may set the far greater, and much more present peril, of rusting out, or rotting out, by too little. There are very few of us whose powers have been lessened by overmuch strain put upon them. The great trouble with most of us is that the nets have hung so long idle that we scarce know now how to use them, nor even whether they can be used successfully or not. The mending, for
some of us, would mean a radical making over of the entire web, so thoroughly have the influences of neglect done their work of destruction. 2. Nets must be mended, for the Lord's fishing must be done.. "I will make you fishers of men,'' he said to the disciples of old. The commission has not been revoked, nor the promise withdrawn. It is our business to catch souls for Christ. It is surely no justification to plead torn nets as reason for lack of efiiciency and success. It will hardly be accepted as valid excuse by him who has a right to "every service we can pay," to say, "I am not prepared to do thy work ; I am not in the proper frame of mind, or the right spiritual mood. I'm very sorry that it is so, but it is so." But why are we not prepared ? And if we are not, why do we not make the needful preparation at once ? These are questions which are pertinent and pressing, and for which there is but one answer. If we are not ready for the work of the Lord, it is our business to get ready ; and that, too, without wasting time or words over it. Now, this net-mending, to hold to the terms of the text a little longer, is to be a practical, rather than a sentimental, matter. I presume that the one thought in the minds of James and John was to make their nets strong and whole again, and to get them into the water as soon as possible. That certainly must be our one thought and aim. There might be a temptation to dawdle over the task;
32 THE AMERICAN BAPTIST PULPIT. to see what fine work we can do ; how skilfully we can cover up the break, and how nearly like new we can m'ake the net look when done. There is unquestionably such a temptation in that for which we are making the net-mending to stand. A prominent member of a church said to me not long ago, "Our young people's society has been so busy for the last three years consecrating itself that it has not had time to do anything else.'' I do not know the facts about that particular society; but I have seen just that to which reference was made in societies, and in churches, and in individuals. There
are a great many people in this world who have been for more than three years trying to get ready to do something for the Lord, but who have done nothing jei; perhaps never will, ^et-menders, but not net-users ; sewers of nets, but not fishers of men. Within sight of my summer home, one year, were two houses, both in course of erection. One was begun early in the season, and was rapidly pushed to completion. Before snow^ flies, it was all ready for occupancy. The other was begun years ago; is tc-day without chimneys, or inside doors, or most of the conveniences of living, and will be finished — nobody can guess when. Its owner is building it himself, and does a little work on it each summer, but so little as to be scarcely appreciable. He doesn't care to complete it, for he finds his pleasure in the mere act of building. When some one said to him, "You'll never finish your house in your lifetime," he merely laughed, and replied, "Then somebody else will." Yet he can honestly say that he is at work upon it, getting it ready to live in. I am thinking of those houses as I write these words. They illnstrate to me two processes that may be seen in almost every church. — a preparing for God's work that never gets beyond the stage of preparation ; and a preparing which uses every facility for getting the most thoroughly ready in the shortest possible time, and once ready, merges preparation immediately into active service. Mend your nets, when they need it, as quickly and aor. thoroughly as possible; not for the nets' sake, but for the fishing's sake. And when they are mendicd, don't stop to admire the perfection of yoiir work upon them, l)ut "laimeh out into the deep, and let them down for a draught." Many a cliurch has missed the gracious revival blessings that seemed just within reach because its
NET MEXDIXG. 33 members spent the time in making elaborate preparations to receive them. Many a Christian is missing his crown of efficiency and power, because in cnltivating what he calls a readiness and willingness to do the Lord's work, the actual work itself is nntonched and undone. Only and ever mending nets ; never using them.
You have understood my meaning from the beginning, I think; it has been but thinly disguised under the imagery drawn from the text. Often the soul gets out of condition; the life becomes unspiritual or less spiritual than usual; the world gets control in thought and affection; and the man is no more fit to do the work to which he is sent forth than is the fisherman ready to fish whose net is tattered and ragged. Often there must be a most careful and painstaking preparation of soul ; a breaking mth sin ; a quickening of spiritual sympathies; a streng-thening of faith; a toning up of the w^hole life; before there can be any reasonable assurance of success in any undertaking for Christ. Net-mending, we have called it; and the designation seems apt. De we need it? Or are we all ready for the Master's use? Let us overhaul our nets and discover their real condition. But let us be careful that we do not confound the getting ready for wQrk with the actual doing of the work., It was necessary, doubtless, for the sons of Zebedee to mend their nets that day, but a perpetual mending of nets would have brought them no fare of fish. For that they must use the mended nets. He who said to the disciples of old, "I will make you fishers of men," says to-day to his church — ^to you and me — "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a draught.'' It is a call to immediate action. Let not obedience be delayed under pretence of getting ready to obey. Net-menders we all must be who would catch souls for Christ, but not net-menders always and only. Netusers, too, as the sons of Zebedee were, else we shall take no spoil of our endeavors. 1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books 2. ALL WRITINGS http://www.scribd.com/glennpease/documents?page=1000
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