"Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow Thee;
Naked, poor, despised, forsaken,
Thou from hence my all shall be;
Perish every fond ambition,
All I've sought, or hoped, or known,
Yet how rich is my condition,
God and heaven are still my own!"

"Then Jesus said to Simon, 'Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men.' So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Him." Luke 5:10, 11; Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17-21

The Sermon to the multitudes we have spoken of in the preceding chapter being finished, the "Consecration service," the all-absorbing event of that memorable hour, begins. How is it conducted? What is the Savior's mode of illustrating solemn truths which are to have their bearings on the remotest ages of the world? In that great Temple of Nature—the everlasting mountains its pillars—the arching sky its roof—the Lord alike of nature and of grace discourses to His disciples and to the Church of the future by means of an acted parable. He who, at a later period of His ministry, cursed a fruitless fig-tree on the way to Bethphage, in order that it might be to all time a standing memorial of the guilt of hypocritical profession, now makes the humble callings of the fishermen of Galilee the means of conveying to their own minds, lessons of faith, and confidence, and hope. He takes the nets they were washing, as exponents of these great truths, and prepares to make them "Fishers of men."

At the bidding of their Master, after their night of unsuccessful toil, they had once more launched forth into the deep. The nets had been lowered—the unrewarded efforts of the long midnight hours were more than recompensed. So wondrous was the capture, that they had to beckon to Andrew and John to come to their assistance from the adjoining pier. The net was discharged of its contents, and both vessels were filled to the point of sinking with the unprecedented spoil. It is the sequel of the narrative which is now to engage us, in which three points invite our attention.

I. SIMON PETER'S EXCLAMATION—"When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord."

The feelings of Peter form the natural workings of every soul which, conscious of its sinfulness, has been brought into visible contact with its God. He had known of Jesus before as the Holy Youth—the Teacher sent from God—the Prophet of whom the Baptist testified that He was "mightier than he." But here he felt the consciousness of a more majestic Presence still. He sees standing before him the Lord of creation, the owner of "the fish of the sea, and whatever passes through the paths of the sea." His feelings are those of trembling Jacob, "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it." The finite felt himself in contact with the Infinite. Faith, love, adoring reverence, and intermingled with all, a profound abasing sense of worthlessness and guilt, makes this impulsive apostle humble himself in the dust. In tremulous dread, he is ready to say with Pilgrim Israel, as they cowered under the blazing peaks of Sinai, "Let not God speak with us, lest we die."

Very different was his subsequent conduct, when he had learned, by "perfect love," to "cast out fear." Called to gaze into profounder depths of his Redeemer's glory—though subsequent nearer and dearer fellowship tended in no degree to diminish his sense of that gulf, which must ever be untraversed between the Creator and the creature—the sinner and the divinely exalted Holy One—nay, though quickened spiritual sensibilities would tend rather to augment and intensify the sense of unworthiness and imperfection—yet the terror of this first surprise never again returns. When we next see him at his Savior's feet, owning Him as God, there is no trembling accent on his lip as he makes the joyous avowal, "Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life; we believe and are sure that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, who was to come into the world."

As years roll over his head, increased familiarity with his Divine Master only deepens this loving, trustful confidingness; and even after the Lord had withdrawn from him His visible presence—after the heavenly veil had shut out His glorified person from the eyes of His apostle—that fervent soul loved to penetrate the invisible; realizing an absent Savior, he thus comforted his own heart and the hearts of those to whom he wrote, "Whom having not seen you love, and in whom, though now you see Him not, yet believing you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory."

Why, and how this wondrous change in his feelings? It is the history of every believer still, when he comes for the first time into solemn, heart-searching contact with God—when the eyes of his understanding are enlightened, and the dreadful consciousness passes over the stricken spirit—"I am a poor, miserable, guilty, condemned being, responsible to One who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity." Ah! when life's long-slumbering atheist-dream has been thus dispelled; when the soul, naked, unsheltered, guilty, unforgiven, feels itself all in a moment in the presence of the God with whom, emphatically, "it has to do;" when an inexorable law flashes conviction and condemnation on a misspent past, speaking trumpet-tongued of the righteousness of the lawgiver; when a future of limitless being rises up before him in ghastly reality; impressive and solemn ciphers, unheeded before, now standing in front of the solitary "unit of earthly existence;" when the miserable shreds and patches of earthly goodness and virtue are disclosed in their utter worthlessness—conventional moralities seen to be but "splendid sins"—sparks of fire of their own kindling, quenched one after another, and revealing only a darkness more felt; the awakened sinner, stricken down, helpless, terrified, before this first revelation of Jehovah, exclaims, with Job, "My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes!" He gazes on the great God of Heaven—the Holy One—the Just One—the Righteous One—but it is out of Christ, and He is a "consuming fire." "Depart from me," he exclaims in a paroxysm of fear. It is the feeling of our fallen Parents of old, when, under the fresh consciousness of their guilt, they fled frightened from their Maker. The voice which had so lately all music, has now become nothing but terror and wrath; the flaming cherubim guard the way. Where is the spot in the wide universe to which that burdened soul would not rush to screen itself from revealed truth, holiness, omniscience?

But, look! the flaming sword guarding the way to the Tree of Life is seen quenched with blood. The unbridged gulf of separation has been spanned; a glorious sunshine bringing peace and rest and consolation, bursts from that dark and lowering sky. The brief history of that joyful transformation is thus told—"God is in Christ, reconciling a lost world to Himself." Yes! that trembling one ventures to lift up his eyes in these moments of waking agony. He sees One standing by him in mingled majesty and tenderness, who has magnified that law and made it honorable, and who, by His doing and dying, has opened up a way of forgiveness to the guiltiest. The gates of torment are shut; the gates of glory are opened. It is no longer a "fearful" but a blessed thing "to fall into the hands of the living God." In trembling transport he exclaims—(not as in the first anguish of awaking convictions, "Depart from me," but,) "Lord, to whom can I go but to You?" "Entreat me not to leave You, nor to return from following after You. Where You go, I will go; where You dwell, I will dwell. Through life I will pass cheered by Your love; in death I shall be supported by Your everlasting arms; through all eternity I shall in Your unveiled presence, rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory."

Oh, happy consummation! if, while we are smitten down by a sense of our unworthiness, we are directed to adoring Gospel views of Christ, in His person, and offices, and work. Believer! turn your eye with arrested gaze on this divine Savior. The more you gaze, the more will terror give way to wonder, love, confidence, and joy! The more you study His divine character, the more you will understand the divine secret of repose—"Acquaint yourself now with God and be at peace."

II. We have THE SAVIOR'S ASSURANCE—How gently He speaks! "Jesus said to Simon, FEAR NOT." It is the same calming word which, as we shall find in later times, soothed and lulled disquieting misgivings—dropping like oil on the surging sea—"Fear not, it is I, do not be afraid." When John found himself gazing on the lustrous countenance of his Redeemer in Patmos, he fell awe-struck at His feet, "as one dead." But the whisper of a well-known voice was enough to restore confidence and joy. It was the same gracious watchword—"Fear not, I am He who lives, and was dead."

What a sublime antidote to our misgivings! What a balm to our troubled spirits, these accents of undying and unchanging solace, stealing like celestial chimes from the upper sanctuary—"FEAR NOT!" Fear not, poor sinner trembling under a sense of your sin, your great unworthiness, your black ingratitude. "I have come to seek and to save those who are lost."

Fear not, faint and weary one, appalled at your own deep corruptions and guilty estrangements. The temptations and snares of a seductive world, and that great antagonist, unbelief, ever tempting you to stray from the living God; "I will make my grace sufficient for you."

Fear not, tempted and tried one, beaten down with a great fight of afflictions; your garnered earthly blessings swept from you like chaff in the summer's threshing floor, your household plundered of its nearest and dearest, and the gaping fissures in your bleeding heart refusing to be healed or comforted. Fear not, I am better than son or daughter, or any earthly relative. Heart and flesh may faint and fail, but God is the strength of your heart, and your portion forever.

Fear not, you who "all you lives were held in slavery by your fear of death." I once was dead. I have sanctified the grave before you. I have fought and conquered death in his own territories, and dragged him in triumph at my chariot wheels. This last enemy may at times, be to you like a cold ghastly shade moving on the midnight lake. But trust Me, when it comes, you shall hear amid the storm, a loud Voice mightier than the noise of many waters; yes, than the mighty waves of the sea—"Fear not, it is I, don't be afraid."

The Savior, having relieved his servant's fears, proceeds to unfold the nature and duties, the responsibilities and encouragements, of the great apostolic work.

How startled must that fisherman of Galilee have been by the announcement which now fell upon his ears—"From now on you shall catch men!" Jesus made the mute tenants of the lake that lay in dead and dying heaps in the net, a living parable and pledge of far vaster successes. He was to retain his net, but souls were to be the nobler prey. He was to buffet waves still, but they were to be the waves of human passion, and ignorance, and crime. He was to hoist his sail still on a more treacherous sea, but, with a mightier arm than his own guiding the helm, he would reach the heavenly shore with the unbroken net, and lay at his Redeemer's feet joyous multitudes rescued from the depths of ruin and despair.

Commentators have often marked, in the original Greek, the power and beauty of the word here used by Jesus, and whose full meaning is so inadequately expressed by the term "catch" in our translation. It means to catch, not in order to kill and destroy, but to "catch alive," to catch in order to preserve and perpetuate life, or to raise it to a higher state of development.

Ah! wondrous encouragement to Peter, and to all who like Peter are entrusted with the net of the gospel! Ministers of Christ! here is your high prerogative, to raise the myriads which at the Savior's word you capture—to raise them from the lower element, "the earth, earthy," to the higher and nobler and purer element of undying endless LIFE. If the analogy fails in the case of the humble spoil which then lay on the earthly shore, it is only that Christ, by the beauty of contrast, may bring out more vividly the true grandeur of the great commission. It was as if He had said, "Peter, that net of yours has dragged its multitudes out of their briny depths, but they struggle and die in this new and hostile element. As they are cast on the beach, their tiny existence, the ephemeral life I gave them, terminates forever. But different, far different, is your embassy. At my command you are to let down your net. Myriads on myriads in the ocean depths of despair are to be the fruits of your faithful toil and that of others; and no sooner do they leave their old element of guilt and depravity, than they begin to breathe a new and nobler life, immortal as My own."

Would that those of us who are "Fishers of men," Ambassadors of Christ, could realize this vast, this incomparable work, with all its tremendous responsibilities and tremendous results! Death and life are here confided to us! Our aim is here represented to be, not a mere external varnishing over with new habits, new tastes, new virtues; but to effect a change of being. The faithful preaching of the gospel ought to have for its object a bringing up and out from the deep, dead sea of nature; elevating to a new heaven-born atmosphere. Oh, LIFE is a solemn thing!—a solemn word! It is a solemn hour—every parent knows it—when a child is born into the world—when the first infant cry breaks upon the ear, and tells that a little inhabitant has been added to the domain of life—a new heir of an endless imperishable being!

And shall not that be a solemn and momentous event, when, at the second spiritual birth, the cry of the new creature is heard, "Lord, save me, or I perish"—when the immortal spirit begins to breathe a new atmosphere, to share in the very Life of the Almighty who made him, and in the Resurrection-life of the Savior who redeemed him? You are captured in the Gospel net, but it is to have life infused, the only thing worth calling life in a dead and dying world. I repeat it, the Gospel raises to a higher platform—it raises from the groveling element of fallen sinful nature to the higher element of grace and glory.

The little seed is in its element when, beneath the clod, it slumbers in darkness in its clay or mossy bed; but nobler is its new element, when it springs exultant from its prison house, and, arrayed in living green, bathes its newborn tints in the glorious sunlight. The caterpillar is in its native element when, embedded in its chrysalis state, it lies a torpid and forbidding groveler in its winter shell; but nobler is its destiny, when on wings of purple and gold it spurns its tiny sepulcher, and in resurrection attire it speeds from flower to flower. The earth is one mass of teeming life, living and moving, and turning on its axis, even when night wraps it in its curtain, and deep sleep pervades its silent tenantry; but nobler surely is that life, when the sun lights up with living glory temple and tree, and rock and mountain, transforming lake and ocean into burnished gold, and man, its high priest, "goes forth to his work and his labor until the evening."

But what are these compared to the higher Life and Glory with which the immortal soul is invested, when the Great Spirit, brooding over its chaos, gives the summons, "Let there be light," "Let there be Life." Oh, that this might ever be the aim—the end—the glory of all preaching (perish all other)—to "catch men," not by human power or human eloquence—the wisdom of words—exalting ourselves at the expense of our Master—making the cross of Christ of no effect; but in faith and love and joyful hope, letting down the simple net—it may be with crude untutored hands, but doing so at the word of Christ, and with longing desire to bring immortal spirits safely to the heavenly shore, living trophies to cast at the Great Master's feet!

The ministers of Christ, in handling the gospel net, are apt at times to be discouraged. They have to mourn like Peter over hours of unavailing effort—Sabbaths when the net was (as they thought) in faith let down; but no result of their labors—no owning of their work. Yet we will not despair. "Nevertheless at Your word we will still let down the net."

Others may resort to other expedients for the improvement of man, solving the great problem of fretful, careworn, restless, suffering humanity apart from the gospel. The philosopher may dream of visionary earthly antidotes; the statesman may see in some cold, frigid, intellectual training a panacea for human wrongs; the moralist may discourse on human virtue, and the self-rectifying power of human goodness; the Socialist may dare to propound his damning theories as the pioneers of the halcyon reign of unbounded liberty. But "nevertheless we will let down the net." We have boldness and confidence that Christ, and Him crucified, and the new life which this Lord of life has to impart, are the true and only secrets of peace on earth and good will to men.

See what that gospel has done already! mark its power and progress ever since that hour when on Tiberias shore Christ spoke this authoritative word to these humble fishermen! How weak their efforts! how humble their instrumentality! What! a handful of uneducated men from the darkest of all the Palestine provinces, and one other converted Jew of Tarsus; who ever dreamed of these hurling superstition from her throne—silencing her oracles—demolishing the temples and shrines of ages—bringing the whole Roman empire, as by a magic touch, to own a crucified Savior as its God and King?

What can't grace do? Their first motto has been the motto of every faithful successor in the glorious company of apostles—"Nevertheless at Your word we will let down the net." The ancestral splendors of our own ancient ritual is against us; the pomp and pride of imperial Rome is against us; the learning and philosophy of polished Greece is against us; the idolatries of Paganism, with their lust and revelry, and blood, are against us; the heart of corrupted, degraded humanity is against us—"Nevertheless at Your word we will let down the net."

Rome has conquered by her sword; Greece has rendered herself immortal by her triumphs of intellect. The Jew, arrogant and fanatical, boasts of a descent from the world's aristocracy, and proudly clings to an abrogated ritual. But we, with the humblest instrumentality—an instrumentality of which the net of lowly fishermen is the befitting type—we will go forth on our accredited mission, feeling that herein lies the secret of all success—"Not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord God of Hosts." "It has pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save those who believe!"

More than this, looking closely at this prophetic parable, we find that Christ, in calling human agents to be Fishers of men, not only divinely appoints to the office, and divinely qualifies for the office, but there is an exquisite significance in the accompanying act of the catch of fishes. It is a prophetic promise that men shall be enclosed; that His word shall not return to Him void; that the net of the kingdom shall not be let down in vain. It is the Lord Himself giving the pledge, and symbol, and guarantee of success; and we shall find Him repeating the same with still greater significance, at the close of all—at His last visit to Gennesaret, before He ascended to glory.

Oh, yes! the letting down of that net, the filling it, the drawing; it is the Lord's work and not man's. "Neither is he who plants anything, neither he who waters, but God who gives the increase, that our faith may not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." The great and glorious history of apostolic preaching and ministerial success for the last 1800 years, may be given in the lofty words of the Psalmist; they are words that would seem more especially to take their date from the very hour of which we now speak, when Jesus stood on Gennesaret's shore—when His omnipotent mandate moved the first wave—this impelling another, and another, and another still—until the glad gospel waters are now fast sweeping over the sands of time—"The Lord announced the word—great was the company of those that proclaimed it. Kings and armies flee in haste; in the camps men divide the plunder. Even while you sleep among the campfires, the wings of my dove are sheathed with silver, its feathers with shining gold."

III. Let us observe the DISCIPLES' RESOLUTION—"So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Jesus." Or as the same incident is recorded in the parallel passage in Matthew's gospel—"At once they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there, He saw other two brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him."

It is a solemn lesson of self-denial we are called on here to come and learn at the feet of Galilean fishermen. It was, it must have been for them, a trying hour. At a moment's warning their worldly all was to be left. The hallowed scenes of youth were around them. Every rock and ravine—every sheltered nook and bay in that lovely inland sea—they knew it well. The Bethsaida hamlet, from which childhood was used to rush in its sunny morning to welcome the father, as his boat scraped the shallows, after his night of toil in the lake, was full in view. Nay, we are expressly told, that father's ear listened to the strange summons that implied separation from him and his home, probably forever. They just had, moreover, their boats filled to overflowing. Elated with success, which they might have been perverse enough to attribute to ordinary causes, they never before had so strong inducement to cleave to their nets and carry on their calling.

And for what were they to exchange their all? It was to carry a heavy cross! It was to attach themselves to the person and fortunes of the reputed Son of a carpenter, who was often unable to tell of so secure a shelter as had the fox of the mountain or the bird of the forest! Yet they ("immediately") without deliberating—without conferring with flesh and blood—without reasoning on maxims of expediency—willingly surrendered that all, and cast in their lot with the despised and rejected One! "Follow me!" said their Lord; and with cheerful willingness their boats, homes, friends, were left. "From now on they are fishers of men!"

Did they regret this noble commitment? Were they sufferers by their self-sacrificing devotion? "Look!" says Peter, on an after occasion, "we have left all and followed You!" Jesus said in reply, "I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for Me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age—and in the age to come, eternal life!"

Ah! who ever suffered by casting in his lot with a suffering Savior, and with joyful resolution following Jesus? "Would to God," said another great follower (unabashed by the regal purple before him in making his bold avowal)—"would to God," said he, even though the clank of the chain on his own arm reminded of earthly bonds—"would to God you were not only almost but altogether such as I am!"

Reader! have you followed—are you following Jesus as did these His first apostles? You are not called on, thank God, like them to follow Him in the confiscation of your earthly goods, or in the relinquishment of your earthly homes. To be a follower of Christ does not require huge sacrifices—brilliant displays of heroic suffering. I believe that meek Savior is most honored by those who bear most meekly what I might call little crosses, who, not in the great battlefield of the world, but in the quiet of their own homesteads, exhibit the lowly, submissive, patient spirit of cross-bearing disciples.

Look back on your past life—look even back on a single year, and can you point to any one action in the course of it, in which you are conscious of having made some little denial of self, because you thought that denial would be pleasing to Jesus? Can you tell of some passion you subdued—some lust you mortified—some kindly deed you performed, because you believed your Savior would be honored, and you were thereby doing His will? Can you tell of some sore affliction to which you bowed in meek and lowly submission, manifesting in your trial patience, and faith, and unmurmuring resignation, because you thought of an unmurmuring Savior, and that your own cross was but as dust in the balance compared with His?

Say, isn't that following of your Lord self-rewarding and self-recompensing? "If any man serves me," says He, "let him follow Me, and where I am there shall also My servant be; if any man serves Me, him will My Father honor!" Even if it be suffering and trial you are called to endure, what a privilege in this to "follow Jesus." Yes! put the emphasis on these little words—"Follow Me." "They followed HIM!" Suffering believer! is it no comfort in the midst of trial to think that you are following in the very footsteps of a suffering Savior—that you, a poor, guilty, worthless sinner, are faring no worse than your Lord and Master did—the stainless, spotless, sinless, and uncomplaining Lamb of God?

Follow Him fully—cast off every impediment—every lingering sin that would hamper you in His service. Go and show that you follow Him by your deeds. It was not by tarrying at their nets, or lingering on the shores, that the disciples manifested their resolve to cast in their lot with the homeless Christ of Galilee! They did it. Ah! religion is not contemplation, but action. Religion is not a thing of mopish sentimentalism, or self-effacing looks, or trite phrases. It is launching forth into the deep of our own and the world's great necessities. It is letting down the net for a catch, and then, in conjunction with this earnest work, rising up and following the example, the footsteps, the word, the will of Jesus.

Arise, then, let us be going! We may, like the disciples in that first hour of their calling, be all in ignorance of a veiled and shadowed future; but, if like them, in the company of the Lord, we may fearlessly leave our fondest earthly treasures behind us, making but one conditional prayer, "If Your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here." Following Him in His cross we shall at last be sharers with Him in His glorious crown, and reap the blessing which He elsewhere promises to His Apostolic band, and through them to all who inherit a disciple-spirit. "I assure you that when I, the Son of Man, sit upon my glorious throne in the Kingdom, you who have been my followers will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Matthew 19:28