Fishers of Souls

And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh. And it shall come to pass, that the fishers shall stand upon it from Engedi even unto Eneglaim; they shall be a place to spread forth nets; their fish shall be according to their kinds, as the fish of the great sea, exceeding many.
~ Ezekiel 47:9-10

And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
~ 1 Corinthians 9:20-22

But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile.
~ 2 Corinthians 12:16

The Art Of Manfishing, by Thomas Boston. The following is an excerpt from his work.

And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.
~ Luke 5:10-11

Observation 2: How May I Come by this Art?

And thus I have briefly considered these things. But the main question that I would have resolved is, How may I come by this art? What way I shall take to be a fisher of men? How I may order and set the net, that it may bring in souls to God? This the great Master of assemblies sets down in the first part of the verse.

Observe, O my soul, that the way for me to be a fisher of men, is to follow Christ. What it is to follow thee, O Lord, shew me; and, Lord, help me to do it.

Here two things are to be considered:

(1) What following Christ supposes and implies.
(2) Wherein Christ is to be followed.

What following Christ supposes and implies.

1. It presupposes life

A dead man cannot follow any person; a dead preacher cannot follow Christ; there must be a principle of life, spiritual life in him, or else he is naught. Therefore have I said and maintained, that a man cannot be a minister in foro Dei [in the court of God], though he may in foro ecclesiae [in the court of the church], without grace in his heart. This is a spiritual following of Christ; and therefore presupposes a spiritual and heavenly principle.

Tell me then, O my soul, what state art thou in? Thou wast once dead, that is sure, dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). Art thou raised out of thy grave? Hast thou got a part in the first resurrection? Has Christ breathed on thy dead and dry bones? Or art thou yet void of spiritual life? Art thou rotting away in thine iniquity? What sayest thou to this? If thou be yet dead, thy case is lamentable; but if thou be alive, what signs of life are there to be seen in thee?

I have my own doubts of this, because of the prevailing of corruption: therefore I will see what I can say to this.

A man that hath the Spirit hath life (Rom. 8: 2,9) but I think I have the Spirit: ergo, I have life. That I have the Spirit, I conclude from these grounds following.

1. I have light that sometimes I had not

The Comforter … shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you (John 14:26).

I see now otherwise than sometimes I saw. Once was I blind, but now I see, though I see but men as trees. Once was I darkness, but now am I light (though weak) in the Lord. This light makes me see:

(a) My former darkness, the sad and miserable state that once I was in, ignorant of God, Christ, and religion, save going to the church, and keeping from banning and swearing, etc., which I was restrained from, from a child. This makes me see my present darkness (1 Cor. 13:12). How little a portion do I know of thee, O God? My knowledge is but as the twilight.

(b) It lets me see my heart sins, my imperfections and shortcomings in the best of my duties; so that God might damn me for them. The hypocrites say, Why have we fasted, and thou seest not? (Isa. 58:3). It lets me see the wanderings of my heart in duty and out of duty, yea, the sinfulness of the first risings of lust in mine heart (Rom. 7), and is still discovering the baseness of my heart unto me, so that I am forced to think and say that at the best I am unclean, unclean.

(c) It makes me to see Christ precious (1 Pet. 2:7), altogether lovely, the chief among ten thousand, preferable to all the world; for whom if my heart deceive me not (Lord, thou knowest), I would undergo the loss of that which I most esteem in the world. ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none on earth that I desire besides thee.’ For indeed, ‘My heart and flesh faints and fails; but thou art the strength of my heart, O LORD’ (Ps. 73:25, 26).

(d) It lets me see my need of him; so that nothing else but Christ, I am persuaded, can help me. When I have done what I can, I am but an unprofitable servant. If I should do a thousand times more than I do, I count all but loss and dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord. My soul cries out for thee, O God, and follows hard after thee.

(e) The knowledge that I have of Christ makes me trust in him in some measure (Ps. 9:10), though alas! my evil heart of unbelief creates a great deal of difficulty in that to me. I find him a present help in the time of trouble; therefore I endeavour to cast my burden upon him. I know him to be a good Master, and therefore I lean on him for help for his own work. I know his grace is sufficient for me; therefore in temptation and trials, I endeavour to lift up my soul to him.

2. I feel help in duty from the Spirit

I know not what I should pray for; but the Spirit helpeth my infirmities (Rom. 8:26). Many times I have gone to prayer very dead, and have come away with life; I have gone with a drooping and fainting heart, and come away rejoicing; with an heart closed, and have come away with an heart enlarged, and have felt enlargement both as to words and affections; and this hath made me both thankful and more vile in mine own eyes, that God should have done so with the like of me (1 Chr. 29:14).

He that hath sense and feeling hath life; but I have sense and feeling; ergo, I have life (Eph. 4:19). My sins are a burden to me (Matt. 11:28). Lord, thou knowest my omissions and commissions, the sins of my thoughts and of my life, the sins of my youth, and above all, that which is my daily trouble, an evil, backsliding and base heart, which I find deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9). This body of sin and death makes me to groan, and long to be rid of it (Rom. 7:24). And what a load it was to me this day, God knows. I feel God’s presence, which makes me to rejoice sometimes; at other times again I feel his absence. Thou, O Lord, hidest thy face, and I am troubled (Ps. 30:7). His smiles are sweet as honey from the comb, and his frowns are bitter as death to my soul.

He in whom there is heat hath life; but I have a heat in my soul; ergo, I have life. I find a threefold flame, though weak, in my heart.

1. A flame of love to Christ (Rom. 5:5)

My soul loves him above all; and I have felt my love to Christ more vigorous within this short while than for a considerable time before. Lord, put fuel to this flame.

I have a love to his truths that I know, what God reveals to me of his word (Ps. 119:19). I find sometimes his word sweeter to me than honey from the comb (Ps. 19:10). It comforts and supports me. I cannot but love it; it stirs me up, and quickens my soul when dead.

I love his commands, though striking against my corruptions (Rom. 7:22).

I love the promises, as sweet cordials to a fainting soul, as life from the dead to one trodden under foot by the apprehensions of wrath, or the prevailing of corruption.

I love his threatenings as most just; my soul heartily approves them. If any man love not the Lord Jesus, let him be anathema, maranatha. The least part of truth, that God makes known to me, I love; and, by grace, would endeavour to adhere to.

I love those in whom the image of God does appear; though otherwise mean and contemptible, my heart warms towards them (1 John 3:14).

I love his work, and am glad when it thrives (Rom. 1:8), though alas! there is little ground for such gladness now.

I love his ordinances (Ps. 84:1) and what bears his stamp; though all this be but weak, I love his glory, that he should be glorified, come of me what will.

2. I find in my heart a flame of desires after the righteousness of Christ (Matt. 5:6)

My soul earnestly desires to be stript naked of my own righteousness, which is as rags, and to be clothed and adorned with the robe of his righteousness. This wedding garment my soul affects; so shall I be found without spot, when the Master of the feast comes in to see the guests. My soul is satisfied, and acquiesces in justification by an imputed righteousness, though, alas! my base heart would fain have a home- spun garment of its own sometimes.

I also find in my heart a flame of desires after communion with him (Ps. 42:1). When I want it my soul though sometimes careless, yet, at other times, cries out, O that I knew where I might find him! I have found much sweetness in communion with God, especially at the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, in prayer and meditation, hearing the word faithfully and seriously preached, and in preaching it myself, when the candle of the Lord shines on my tabernacle; then was it a sweet exercise to my soul.

I endeavour to keep it up when I have it, by watching over my heart and sending up ejaculations to God. When I want it, I cry to him for it, though, alas! I have been a long time very careless. Sometimes my soul longs for the day, when my minority shall be over-past and I be entered heir to the inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away; to be quit of this evil world; to be dissolved, and to be with Christ, which is best of all; especially at three times.

(a) When I get more than ordinarily near God, when my soul is satisfied as with marrow and fat, when my heart is nobilitated, and tramples on the world.

(b) When I am wrestling and groaning under the body of sin and death, the evil heart: then fain would I be there, where Satan cannot tempt, and sin cannot enter; yea, when I have been much forsaken, at least as to comfort (Diary, August 2, 1696, where is the most eminent instance of it).
(c) When I preach, and see the gospel hath not success, but people are unconcerned, and go on in their abominations.

3. I find in my heart some heat of zeal for God, which vents itself first, by endeavouring to be active for God in my station.

I endeavoured to do something for God, though, alas! it did some of them no good. Before I entered on trials, one main motive was to have opportunity to give a testimony against sin, and to see if I could be an instrument to reclaim any soul from their wicked way. This I have, as the Lord enabled me, done since I was a preacher, testifying against sin freely and plainly, and as earnestly as I could, by grace assisting me, though in weakness. And, Lord, thou knowest that my great desire is to catch men, and to get for that end my whole furniture from thee, laying aside my own wisdom, And if I could do this, how satisfying would it be to my soul, that desires to do good to others, though I myself should perish?

Therefore do I not spare this weak body, and therefore have I desired never to be idle, but to go unsent for sometimes. Yet my conscience tells me of much slackness in this point, when I have been in private with people and have not reproved them as I ought when they offended, being much plagued with want of freedom in private converse. This I have in the Lord’s strength resolved against, and have somewhat now amended it.

Second, it vents itself in indignation against sin in myself and others. Many times have I thought on that of the apostle, Yea, what revenge! when I have been overcome by a temptation, being content as it were to be revenged on myself, and as it were content to subscribe a sentence of damnation against myself, and so to justify the Lord in his just proceedings against me. And, Lord, do not I hate those that hate thee! am I not grieved with those that rise up against thee? The reproaches cast on thee, have fallen on me (Ps. 69:9). And my heart rises and is grieved when I see transgressors, that they keep not thy law.

Third, it vents itself in grieving for those things that I cannot help. Lord, thou knowest how weighty the sins of this land have been unto me, how they have lien and do lie somewhat heavy on me; and at this time in particular, the laxness of many in joining with the people of these abominations, the unfaithfulness of some professors, the lack of zeal for God in not making a more narrow search for the accursed thing in our camp, now when God’s wrath is going out violently against us, and not making an acknowledgment of sins and renewing our national vows, according as our progenitors did, many as it were thinking shame of the covenant, of whom the Church of Scotland may be ashamed.

Growth and motion is an evidence of life (Ps. 92:12-14). I move forward toward heaven, my affections are going out after Christ, and endeavouring to make progress in a Christian walk. I think I discern a growth of these graces in me.

(1) A growth of knowledge and acquaintance with Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). I am more acquainted with Christ and his ways than before. Though I have not such uptakings of Christ as I ought to have, yet I have more than I have had in this respect sometimes before.

(2) A growth of love. If my heart deceive me not, I have found love to Christ within this month more lively and vigorous than before, my soul more affected with his absence from ordinances than ever.

(3) A growth of faith. I can, I think, trust God more now than before. I have had more experience of his goodness and knowledge of his name; and therefore think I can cast my burden on the Lord better than before. But it is easy swimming when the head is held up. Lord, increase my faith. I believe, Lord, help mine unbelief.

(4) A growth of watchfulness. I have felt the sad effects of unwatchfulness over my heart in times past. I feel the good of watchfulness now; my soul is habitually more watchful than before; neither dare I give such liberty to my heart as sometimes I gave. Yet for all this the Lord may well complain of me, that he is broken with my wanton heart. But, Lord, thou knowest it is also breaking to myself that it is so. The Lord seal these things to me.

(5) A growth of contempt of the world, which, blessed be God, is on the increase with me.

2. Following Christ implies a knowledge of the way that Christ took

No man can follow the example of another as such, unless he know what way he lived. So neither can any man follow Christ with respect to the catching of men in particular, unless he know Christ’s way of catching souls, that is, so far as it may be followed by us. Acquaint then thyself, O my soul, with the history of the gospel wherein this appears, and take special notice of these things, that thou mayest follow Christ. What a sad case must they be in that are not acquainted with this!

3. Following Christ supposes sense of weakness, and the need of a guide

A man that knows a way and can do well enough without a guide, needs not follow another. And surely the want of this is the reason why many run before Christ, and go farther than his example ever called them; and others take a way altogether different from Christ’s way, which is the product of their own conceited hearts and airy heads. But thou, O my soul, acknowledge thyself as a child in these matters, that cannot go unless it be led; as a stranger in a desert place that cannot keep their right way without a guide. Acknowledge and be affected with thine own weakness and emptiness, which thou mayst well be persuaded of. And of this end reflect seriously:

(1) On that word: Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Cor. 2:16). No man is of himself sufficient; even the greatest of men come short of sufficiency. This may make thee then to be affected with insufficiency, who are so far below these men, as shrubs are below the tall cedars; and yet they cannot teach it of themselves.

(2) Consider the weight of the work, even of preaching, which is all that thou hast to do now. It is the concern of souls. By the foolishness of preaching it pleases the Lord to save them that believe; and as thou thoughtest yesterday (January 22, 1699) before thou went to the pulpit, it may seal the salvation of some, and the damnation of others. To preach in the Spirit, in the power and demonstration thereof, is no easy matter. Thy pitiful gifts will not fit thee for this.

(3) Reflect on what thou art when God is pleased to desert thee: how then thou tuggest and rowest, but it will not do, either in studying or delivering sermons. I think thou hast had as much of this as may teach thee to beware of taking thy burden on thy own soul, but to cast it on the Lord. (See Diary, June 3, July 3, December 31, 1698; January 6, 1699, etc.)

(4) Consider what a small portion thou knowest of God. When thou art at the best, and when thou art in thy meridian, yet how low art thou? And how far short thou comest of what thou shouldst be at.

(5) Consider that though thou hadst gifts like an angel, yet thou canst not convert a soul unless Christ be with thee to do the work. Therefore acknowledge thyself a weak creature, insufficient for the work; and go not out in thy own strength, but in the name of the Lord; and so although thou be but as a stripling, thou mayst be helped to cast down the great Goliaths that defy the armies of the living God.

4. Following Christ implies a renouncing of our own wisdom

It must not be the guide that we must follow (Matt. 16:24). Paul would not preach with wisdom of words (1 Cor. 1:17), he did not follow the rules of carnal wisdom.

Therefore, O my soul, renounce thine own wisdom. Seek the wisdom that is from above; seek to preach the words of the living God, and not thine own. Since thou wast most set to take this way, and prayed most that thou mightst not preach that which might be the product of thy own wisdom and natural reason, but that which might be given thee of the Holy Ghost, thou hast found that God hath signally countenanced thee.

Take not the way of natural wisdom, follow not the rules of carnal wisdom. Its language will always be, Master, spare thyself; have a care of thy credit and reputation among men. If thou speak freely, they will call thee a railer, and thy preaching reflections; every parish will scare at thee as a monster of men, and one that would preach them all to hell; and so thou shalt not be settled. Such and such a man, that has a great influence in a parish, will never like thee. That way of preaching is not the way to gain people; that startles them at the very first. You may bring them on by little and little, by being somewhat smooth, at least at the first: for this generation is not able to abide such doctrine as that thou preachest.

But hear thou and follow the rules of the wisdom that is from above: for the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God; that which is in high esteem among men, is naught in the sight of God. The wisdom that is from above will tell thee, that thou must be denied to thy credit and reputation, etc. (Matt. 16:24; Luke 14:26). It will tell thee, Let them call thee what they will, that thou must cry aloud, and spare not; lift up thy voice like a trumpet etc. (Isa. 58:1). It will tell thee that God has appointed the bounds of men’s habitation (Acts 17:26). It will tell thee that not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble, are called (1 Cor. 1:26). Whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, thou shalt speak God’s words unto them (Ezek. 2:7). It will shew thee rules quite contrary to those of carnal wisdom. Let me consider then what carnal wisdom says to me, and what the wisdom from above says.

Carnal Wisdom – Spiritual Wisdom

Thy body is weak, spare it, and weary it not; it cannot abide toil, labor, and weariness; spare thyself then. Your body is God’s as well as your spirit; spare it not for glorifying God (1 Cor. 6:20). ‘In weariness and painfulness’ (2 Cor. 11:27). ‘He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength’ (Isa. 40:29). This thou hast experienced. Labor to get neat and fine expressions; for these do very much commend a preaching to the learned; and without these they think nothing of it. Christ sent thee to ‘preach the gospel not with wisdom of words’ (1 Cor. 1:17). Go not to them with ‘excellency of speech, or of wisdom’ (1 Cor. 2:1). Let not thy speech and preaching be with ‘the enticing words of man’s wisdom’ (verse 4). endeavour to be somewhat smooth in preaching, and calm; and do not go out upon the particular sins of the land, or of the persons to whom thou preachest. ‘Cry aloud, and spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet: shew my people their sins’ (Isa. 58:1). ‘Open rebuke is better than secret love’ (Prov. 27:5). ‘Study to shew thyself approved unto God, rightly dividing the word of truth’ (2 Tim. 2:15). If thou wilt not do so, they will be irritated against thee, and may create thee trouble; and what a foolish thing would it be for thee to speak boldly to such a generation as this, whose very looks are terrible! ‘He that rebuketh a man, afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue’ (Pro. 28:23). I have experience of this. ‘Fear them not, neither be afraid at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. I have made thy face strong against their faces’ (Ezek. 3:8, 9). Experience confirms this. It is a dangerous way to speak freely, and condescend on particulars; there may be more hazard in it than thou art aware of. ‘He that walketh uprightly, walketh surely’ (Prov. 10:9). ‘Whoso walketh uprightly shall be saved’ (28:18). Thou wilt be looked on as a fool, as a monster of men; thou wilt be called a railer, and so lose thy reputation and credit, and thou hadst need to preserve that. Men will hate and abhor thee; and why shouldst thou expose thyself to these things? ‘Thou must become a fool, that thou mayest be wise’ (1 Cor. 3:18). ‘We are made a spectacle to the world’ (1 Cor. 4:9, 10). ‘The servant is not greater than his lord,’ (John 15:20, compared with 10:20), ‘He hath a devil, and is mad, why hear ye him?’ If thou wilt be Christ’s disciple, ‘thou must deny thyself’ (Matt. 16:24). ‘If the world hate you, ye know it hated me before it hated you,’ (John 15:18) says our Lord. Great people especially will be offended at you, if you speak not fair to them and court and caress them. And if you be looked down upon by great people, who are wise and mighty, what will you think of your preaching? ‘Accept no man’s person, neither give flattering titles to man: for, in so doing, thy Maker will soon take thee away’ (Job 32:21, 22). ‘Few of the rulers believe on Christ’ (John 7:48). ‘Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called’ (1 Cor. 1:26). ‘Speak thou God’s word to kings, and be not ashamed’ (Ps. 119:46). Our people are new come out from under Prelacy, and they would not desire to have sins told particularly, and especially old sores to be ripped up. They cannot abide that doctrine. Other doctrine would take better with them. Hold off such things; for it may well do them ill. It will do them no good. ‘Thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, for they are most rebellious’ (Ezek. 2:7). ‘Give them warning from me. If thou do it not they shall die in their sins, but their blood will I require at thy hand’ (3:17, 18). ‘What the Lord saith to thee, that do thou speak’ (1 Kings 22:14). If you will preach such things, yet prudence requires that you speak of them very warily. Though conscience says you must, yet speak them somewhat covertly, that you may not offend them sore, and especially with respect to them that are but coming in yet, and do not fill them with prejudices at first; you may get occasion afterwards. ‘Cry aloud, and spare not’ (Isa. 58:1). ‘Cursed be he that doth the work of the Lord deceitfully’ (Jer. 48:10). ‘Handle not the word of the Lord deceitfully.’ Peter, at the first, told the Jews that were but coming in to hear, ‘Him (Christ) ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain’ (Acts 2:23). ‘Work while it is called today; the night cometh werein thou canst not work’ (John 9:4). Be but fair especially to them that have the stroke in parishes, till you be settled in a parish to get stipend. If you will not do so, you may look for toiling up and down then; for parishes will scare at you, and will not call you, and how will you live? And so such a way of preaching will be to your loss, whereas otherwise it might be better with you. ‘To have respect of persons is not good; for, for a piece of bread that man will transgress’ (Prov. 28:21). ‘The will of the Lord be done’ (Acts 21:14). ‘God hath determined your time, before appointed, and the bounds of your habitation’ (Acts 17:26). ‘And his counsel shall stand, oppose it who will’ (Isa. 46:10). ‘It is God that sets the solitary in families’ (Ps. 68:6). ‘If thou be faithful, thou shalt abound with blessings; but if thou makest haste to be rich, thou shalt not be innocent’.

Thus thou seest, O my soul, how that carnal wisdom, notwithstanding it speaks fair and with a good deal of seeming reason, is quite contrary to the wisdom that is from above. It promiseth fair, but its promises are not always performed; it threatens sore, but neither do its threatenings always come to pass: it makes molehills mountains, and mountains molehills: therefore reject the wisdom of the world, for it is foolishness with God. Carnal policy would make thee fear him that can but kill the body, yea that cannot do so much now, and to cast off the true fear of God.

O my soul, remember that word, and make use of it for strengthening thee: The fear of man bringeth a snare; but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe (Prov. 29:25). Never go to seek temporal profit by putting thy soul in hazard, but wait thou on the Lord, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land (Ps. 37:34); for his way is the safest way, however carnal wisdom may speak otherwise of it and may account the following of it mere folly; but remember thou, that the foolishness of God is wiser than men (1 Cor. 1:25).

5. Following Christ supposes, that we must not make men our rule, to follow them any farther than they follow Christ.

Be ye followers of me, says the apostle, as I am of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Wherein they follow Christ I may follow them, but in nothing else. All men are fallible; the greatest of men have had their own spots. Luther’s opinion of Christ’s corporal presence in the sacrament affords a notable instance of this.

Therefore, O my soul, let not man’s authority prevail with thee to go off the road at all. If Christ himself tell thee not, O my soul, where he feedeth, thou mayst be left to turn aside to the flocks of his companions. Have a care of putting the servants of the Lord in his own room: but follow thou him.