“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”
Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you.” We must repent of what we have been, and rejoice in what we may become. It is not “Follow me, because of what you already are.” It is not “Follow me, because you may make something of yourselves;” but, rather, “Follow me, because of what I will make you.” Truly, I might say of each one of us, as soon as we are converted, “…what we will be has not yet been made known...” [1 John 3:2]. It did not seem a likely thing that lowly fishermen would develop into apostles; that men so skillful with the fishing net would be quite as much at home in preaching sermons and 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 humbled in the sight of God by a sense of our own unworthiness, we can feel encouraged to follow Jesus because of what he can make us into. What said the woman of a sorrowful spirit when she lifted up her song? “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes…” [1 Samuel 2:8] We cannot know what God may make of us in the new creation. Who could have imagined all the beautiful things that came out from darkness and chaos by that one command, “Let there be light?” And who can tell what lovely displays of everything that is divinely pleasing may yet appear from a person’s formerly dark life, when God’s grace has said to them, “Let there be light?” Oh, you who presently see in yourselves nothing that is desirable, come and follow Christ for the sake of what he can make out of you. Don’t you 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 yet made everything that we will be, nor everything that we should desire to be, when we were first 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; and the good Lord comes, and with the gospel net he catches us, and he delivers us from the life and love of sin. But he has not done for us all that he can do, nor all that we would wish him to do, when he has done this; for it is another and a greater miracle to make us who were fish to become fishers—to make the saved ones saviors—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 can say to every one of you—If you are already saved, then the work is only half done until you are active in bringing others to Christ. You are as yet only half formed into the image of your Lord. You have not attained to the full development of the Christ-like life in you unless you have begun in some feeble way to tell to others of the grace of God: and I trust that you will find no rest to the sole of your foot until you have been the means of leading many to that blessed Savior 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 be about the business of a catching men and women for Christ. If Christ has caught us, we must catch others. If we have been apprehended of him, we must be his sheriffs, to apprehend rebels for him. Let us ask Christ to give us grace to go fishing, and have the ability to cast our nets that we may capture a great multitude of fishes. Oh that the Holy Spirit may raise up from among us some master-fishers, who will sail their boats in many seas, and surround great schools of fish!
My teaching at this time will be very simple, but I hope it will be highly practical; for my longing is that none of you, that loves the Lord, would be reluctant to fish for him.
We need all of you. 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 only pleaded for the people there, as he should have done. And the weak Christians of our day, as I fear many are, need to be prayed for, for we need every one of these truly converted souls, in these evil days—Oh, let us pray that each one of them may glorify the Lord. I pray that every righteous man and woman, irritated as they are with the conversations of the wicked, may be more persistent in prayer than they has ever been, and draw near to their God, and get more spiritual life, that they might be a blessing to the people perishing all around them. I address you, therefore, at this time, first of all to dwell on this thought. Oh, that the Spirit of God may make each one of you feel your personal responsibility!
Here for believers in Christ, in the order of their usefulness, three things from our text:
I. First, I will take it for granted that every believer here wants to be useful to Jesus. If they do not, I would question whether they could be a true believer in Christ. Well, if you want to be really useful, here is SOMETHING FOR YOU TO DO TO THAT END: “Follow Jesus, and He will make you fishers of men.”
A young man asked, “What is the best way to become an effective preacher?” One person answers, “go to seminary.” “But Christ says, “Young man, follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men.” How is a person to be useful? “Attend a training-class,” one says. That’s true, but there is a much better answer than that—“Follow Jesus, and he will make you fishers of men.” The great training school for Christian workers has Christ at its teacher; 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 one can become a fisherman by any other process. This process may appear to be very simple; but assuredly it is most effective. The Lord Jesus Christ, who knew all about fishing for men, was himself the Absolute Ruler of the rule, “Follow me, if you want to be fishers of men. If you want to be useful, follow in my steps.”
1. I understand this, first, in this sense: be separated unto Christ.
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 you as its own; but you cannot save the world. If you walk in darkness, 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 the Living 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 Nominal and Liberal Christians insisting 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 claim that they can live like the world, and my sad answer to them, when they crave for this liberty, is, “Do it if you dare. It may not do you much more harm, for you are so bad already. Your cravings show how rotten your hearts really are. If you have a hungering after such dog food, go, you dogs, and eat the garbage. Worldly pleasures are fit food for mere pretenders and hypocrites. If you were God’s children you would hate the very thought of the world’s evil pleasures, 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 desire should be to become very strict 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 rotting; but if the salt has lost its savor, what is the good of it? If it were possible for salt itself to go bad, then it could only increase and heighten the over all rotting taking place. 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 firm in your own place and stand out for God, hating even the clothing stained by the corrupted flesh, resolving like one of our forefathers said, “Let others do as they will, but as for us and our house, we will serve the Lord.”
Come, you children of God, you must stand with your Lord outside the camp. Jesus calls to you today, and says, “Follow me.” Was Jesus found at the theater? Did he frequent the sporting events or the racetracks? Do you think that Jesus was seen in any of the places of amusement and entertainment of the elite of his day? No, He was not. He was “holy, innocent, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” Yet, 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 Savior, which he never attempted 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.
2. A second meaning of our text is very obviously this: live with Christ, and then you will be made 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 advantage to any Christian to be associated with a Christian minister whose heart is on fire. The best training for a young man is that which a group of pastors, in the 17th century, gave, in which each elderly pastor 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 listened to his prayers and observed his daily holiness. This was a fine instruction, was it not? But it will not compare with that of the apostles who lived with Jesus himself, and were his daily companions. Unparalleled 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! And now today his bodily presence is not among us; but his spiritual power is perhaps more fully known to us than it was to those apostles in those two or three years of the Lord’s earthly presence. There are some of us to whom he is intimately near. We know more about him than we do about our dearest earthly friends. We have never been quite able to totally understand our dearest friend’s heart in all its twists and turns, but we know the heart of the Jesus Christ. We have leaned our head upon his chest, and have enjoyed fellowship with him such as we could not have had with any of our own friends and relatives. This is the surest way of learning how to do good. Live with Jesus, follow Jesus, and he will make you fishers of men.
3. A third meaning, however, must be given to this “Follow me,” and it is this: “Obey me, and then you will know what to do to save men.”
Jesus says—“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” By this teaching he seems to say—“If you go ahead of me, or fall back behind me, and you cast the net; you will catch nothing. However, when you do as I command you, you will cast your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find a great catch.”
4. Again, I think that there is a great lesson in my text to those who preach their own thoughts instead of preaching the thoughts of Christ.
Many are not following Christ, but following themselves, and of them the Lord may well say, “You will see whose word will stand, mine or theirs.” Others are wickedly discreet, and judge that certain truths, which are clearly God’s word, had better be kept back. They say, “You must not be harsh, but must preach friendly things. To talk about the punishment of sin, to speak of eternal punishment, why, these are unfashionable doctrines. It may be that they are taught in the Word of God, but they do not suit the intellect of this age. We must trim them down.”
Brothers in Christ, I will have no part of their wickedness. Will you? Our enlightened age believed that they have discovered certain things not taught in the Bible. Evolution may be clearly contrary to the teaching of Genesis, but that doesn’t matter to them. They are not going to be believers of Scripture, but original thinkers. This is the arrogant ambition of the age we live in. Note this, in proportion as the modern theology is preached the depravity of this generation will increase. To a great degree I attribute the looseness of our age to the carelessness of the doctrine preached by its teachers. From the pulpit they have taught the people that sin is a small thing. From the pulpit these traitors to God and to his Christ have taught the people that there is no hell to be feared. A little, little hell, perhaps, there may be; but justified punishment for sin is made nothing of. The precious atoning sacrifice of Christ has been derided and misrepresented by those who were pledged to preach it. They have given the people the name of the gospel, but the gospel itself has evaporated in their hands.
5. I close this part of my discourse by saying that we will not be fishers of men unless we follow Christ in one other respect; and that is, by endeavoring, in all points, to imitate his holiness.
Thus much on the first point. There is something for us to do: we are graciously called to follow Jesus. Holy Spirit, lead us to do it.
II. But secondly, and briefly, there is SOMETHING FOR THE LORD TO DO.
1. When his dear servants are following him, he says, “I will make you fishers of men;” and be it never forgotten that it is he that makes us follow him; so that if the following of Christ be the step to being made a fisher of men, yet this he gives us. ‘It is all of his Spirit. I have talked about catching his spirit, and abiding in him, and obeying him, and listening to him, and copying him; but none of these things are we capable of apart from his working them all in us. “…your fruitfulness comes from me” [Hosea 14:8], is a text which we must not for a moment forget. So, then, if we do follow him, it is he that makes us follow him; and so he makes us fishers of men.
2. But, further, if we follow Christ he will make us fishers of men by all our experience.
Oh, be you following Christ, and you will find that he will, by every experience through which you are passing, make you fishers of men.
3. Further than that, if you will follow him he will make you fishers of men by distinct warnings of impending dangers in your own heart.
The Holy Spirit warns us of many impending dangers, which are not noticed by Christians when they are in an indifferent condition; but when the heart is right with God and living in communion with God, we feel a sacred sensitivity, so that we do not need the Lord to shout, but his faintest whisper is heard. No, he doesn’t even have to whisper, and yet we hear Him.
4. Then, too, I believe that the Lord meant by this that he would give his followers the Holy Spirit.
They were to follow him, and then, when they had seen him ascend into the clouds, to the holy place of the Most High, they were to stay in Jerusalem for a little while, and the Holy Spirit would come upon them and clothe them with power from on high [Luke 24:49]. This word was spoken to Peter and Andrew; and you know how it was fulfilled to Peter. What a multitude of fish he brought to land the first time he threw his net in the power of the Holy Spirit! [John 21:6]. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Brothers and sisters, we have no conception of what God could do through this congregation of believers gathered in our Church tonight. If right now, we were to be filled with the Holy Spirit, there are enough of us here, to evangelize our entire city. There are enough here to be the means of the salvation of the world. Let us seek a blessing; and if we seek it let us hear his guiding voice, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
I wish that I could somehow say this as with a voice of thunder, that the whole church of God on earth might hear it. I wish I could write it in stars diagonally across the sky, “Jesus said, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” If you forget the edict, the promise will never be yours. If you follow some other track, or imitate some other leader, you will fish in vain. God grant us to believe fully that Jesus can do great things in us, and then do great things by us for the good of all those around us!
III. The last point you might study in your private meditations with much benefit. We have here AN ILLUSTRATION FULL OF INSTRUCTION. I will give you a few thoughts which you can use. “I will make you fishers of men.” You have been fishers of fish: if you follow me, I will make you fishers of men.
1. A fisher is a person who is very dependent, and needs to have faith.
He cannot see the fish. One who fishes in the sea must go and throw in the net, as it were, at an uncertain possibility. Fishing is an act of faith. I have often seen in the Mediterranean men go with their boats and enclose acres of sea with vast nets; and yet, when they have drawn the net to shore, they have not had even a whole handful of fish. A few wretched silvery nothings have made up the whole catch. Yet they have gone again and thrown the great net several times a day, hopefully expecting something to come of it.
Nobody is so dependent upon God as a minister of God. Oh, this fishing from the Church’s pulpit! What a work of faith! I cannot tell that a soul will be brought to God by it. I cannot judge whether my sermon will be suitable to the persons who are here, except that I do believe that God will guide me in the throwing of the net. I expect him to work salvation, and I depend upon him for it. I love this complete dependence, and if I could be offered a certain amount of preaching power, by which I could save sinners, which should be entirely at my own disposal, I would beg the Lord not to let me have it, for it is far more delightful to be entirely dependent upon him at all times. It is a blessed thing to be weak if Christ becomes more fully your strength. Go to work, you who would be fishers of men, and yet feel your insufficiency. You that have no strength, attempt this divine work. Your Master’s strength will be seen when your own strength is gone. A fisherman is a dependent person, he must look up for success every time he puts the net down; but still he is a person of faith, and therefore he throws in the net joyfully.
2. A fisherman who makes his living by fishing is a diligent and persevering man.
3. The skillful fisherman is intelligent and watchful.
4. The fisherman is a very hard working person.
Being a fisherman is not an easy calling. He does not sit in an armchair and catch fish. He often has to go out in harsh weather. If a farmer worries about the clouds he will never sow, likewise, a fisherman that worries about the clouds will never fish. If we never do any work for Christ except when we feel up to it, then we will not do much. If we feel that we will not pray because we cannot pray, we will never pray, and if we say, “I will not preach today because I do not feel that I could preach,” we will never preach any preaching that is worth the preaching. We must be always at it, until we wear ourselves out, throwing our whole soul into the work in all circumstances, for Christ’s sake.
5. The fisherman is a daring man.
6. Now, in the last place, the man whom Christ makes a fisher of men is successful.
Perhaps I speak to an attentive hearer who is not converted at all.
Friend, I have the same thing to say to you. You may also follow Christ, and then he can use you, even you. I don’t know but that he has brought you to this place that you may be saved, and that in years to come he may make you speak for his name and glory. Remember how he called Saul of Tarsus, and made him the apostle to the Gentiles. Recovered poachers make the best gamekeepers; and saved sinners make the most capable preachers.