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These twelve Christ calls fishers; why fishers ? because it is a name of labour, of service, and of humiliation; and the names that taste of humiliation, and labour, and service, are most properly ours; (fishers we may be) names of dignity, and authority, and command are not so properly ours, (apostles we are not in any sense as they were) nothing inflames, nor swells, nor puffs us up, more than that leaven of the soul, that empty, aëry, frothy love of names and titles. We have known men part with ancient lands for new titles, and with old manors for new honours; and as a man that should bestow all his money upon a fair purse, and then have nothing to put into it; so whole estates have melted away for titles and honours, and nothing left to support them. And how long last they? How many winds blast them? That name of God, in which, Moses was sent to Pharaoh, is by our translators and expositors ordinarily said to be I Am that I Am5, (Go and say, I Am hath sent me, says God there) but in truth, in the original, the name is conceived in the future, it is, I shall be. Every man is that he is; but only God is sure that he shall be so still. Therefore Christ calls them by a name of labour and humiliation. But why by that name of labour and humiliation, fishers? Because it was nomen primiticum, their own, their former
The Holy Ghost pursues his own way, and does here in Christ, as he does often in other places, he speaks in such forms, and such phrases, as may most work upon them to whom he speaks. Of David, that was a shepherd before, God says, he took him to feed his peoples. To those magi of the east, who were given to the study of the stars, God gave a star to be their guide to Christ at Bethlem"? To those which followed him to Capernaum for meat, Christ took occasion by that, to preach to them of the spiritual food of their souls 53. To the Samaritan woman, whom he found at the well, he preached of the water of life 54. To these men in our text accustomed to a joy and gladness, when they took great, or great stores of fish, he presents his comforts agreeably to their taste, they should be fishers still, Beloved,
50 Exod. ii. 14.
52 Matt. ii. 2.
5* John iv. 11.
Christ puts no man out of his way, (for sinful courses are no ways, but continual deviations) to go to heaven. Christ makes heaven all things to all men, that he might gain all: to the mirthful man he presents heaven, as all joy, and to the ambitious man, as all glory; to the merchant it is a pearl, and to the husbandman it is a rich field. Christ hath made heaven all things to all men, that he might gain all, and he puts no man out of his way to come thither. These men he calls fishers.
He does not call them from their calling, but he mends them in it. It is not an innovation ; God loves not innovations; old doctrines, old disciplines, old words and forms of speech in his service, God loves best. But it is a renovation, though not an innovation, and renovations are always acceptable to God; that is, the renewing of a man's self, in a consideration of his first estate, what he was made for, and wherein he might be most serviceable to God. Such a renewing it is, as could not be done without God; no man can renew himself, regenerate himself ; no man can prepare that work, no man can begin it, no man can proceed in it of himself. The desire and the actual beginning is from the preventing grace of God, and the constant proceeding is from the concomitant, and subsequent, and continual succeeding grace of God; for there is no conclusive, no consummative grace in this life; no such measure of grace given to any man, as that that man needs no more, or can lose or frustrate none of that. The renewing of these men in our text, Christ takes to himself; Faciam ros, I will make ye fishers of men; no worldly respects must make us such fishers; it must be a calling from God; and yet, (as the other evangelist in the same history expresses its) it is Faciam fieri vos, I will cause ye to be made fishers of men, that is, I will provide an outward calling for you too. Our calling to this man-fishing is not good, Nisi Dominus faciat, et fieri faciat, except God make us fishers by an internal, and make his church to make us so too, by an external calling. Then we are fishers of men, and then we are successors to the apostles, though not in their apostleship, yet in this fishing. And then, for this fishing, the world is the sea, and our net is the Gospel.
36 Mark i. 17.
The world is a sea in many respects and assimilations. It is a sea, as it is subject to storms, and tempests; every man (and every man is a world) feels that. And then, it is never the shallower for the calmness, the sea is as deep, there is as much water in the sea, in a calm, as in a storm; we may be drowned in a calm and flattering fortune, in prosperity, as irrecoverably, as in a wrought sea, in adversity; so the world is a sea. It is a sea, as it is bottomless to any line, which we can sound it with, and endless to any discovery that we can make of it. of the world, the ways of the world, exceed our consideration ; but yet we are sure the sea hath a bottom, and sure that it hath limits, that it cannot overpass; the power of the greatest in the world, the life of the happiest in the world, cannot exceed those bounds, which God hath placed for them; so the world is a sea. It is a sea, as it hath ebbs and floods, and no man knows the true reason of those floods and those ebbs. All men have changes and vicissitudes in their bodies, (they fall sick) and in their estates, (they grow poor) and in their minds, (they become sad) at which changes, (sickness, poverty, sadness) themselves wonder, and the cause is wrapped up in the purpose and judgment of God only, and hid even from them that have them; and so the world is a sea.
It is a sea, as the sea affords water enough for all the world to drink, but such water as will not quench the thirst. The world affords conveniences enow to satisfy nature, but these increase our thirst with drinking, and our desire grows and enlarges itself with our abundance, and though we sail in a full sea, yet we lack water; so the world is a sea. It is a sea, if we consider the inhabitants. In the sea, the greater fish devour the less; and so do the men of this world too. And as fish, when they mud themselves, have no hands to make themselves clean, but the current of the waters must work that; so have the men of this world no means to cleanse themselves from those sins which they have contracted in the world, of themselves, till a new flood, waters of repentance, drawn up, and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, work that blessed effect in them.
All these ways the world is a sea, but especially it is a sea in this respect, that the sea is no place of habitation, but a passage
to our habitations. So the apostle expresses the world, Here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to comes7; we seek it not here, but we seek it whilst we are here, else we shall never find it. Those are the two great works which we are to do in this world ; first to know, that this world is not our home, and then to provide us another home, whilst we are in this world. Therefore the prophet says, Arise, and depart, for this is not your rest58. Worldly men, that have no farther prospect, promise themselves some rest in this world, (Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merrys, says the rich man) but this is not your rest; indeed no rest; at least not yours. You must depart, depart by death, before ye come to that rest; but then you must arise, before you depart; for except ye have a resurrection to grace here, before you depart, you shall have no resurrection to glory in the life to come, when you are departed.
Now, in this sea, every ship that sails must necessarily have some part of the ship under water; every man that lives in this world, must necessarily have some of his life, some of his thoughts, some of his labours spent upon this world ; but that part of the ship, by which he sails, is above water ; those meditations, and those endeavours which must bring us to heaven, are removed from this world, and fixed entirely upon God. And in this sea, are we made fishers of men; of men in general; not of rich men, to profit by them, nor of poor men, to pierce them the more sharply, because affliction hath opened a way into them; not of learned men, to be over-glad of their approbation of our labours, nor of ignorant men, to affect them with an astonishment, or admiration of our gifts : but we are fishers of men, of all men, of that which makes them men, their souls. And for this fishing in this sea, this Gospel is our net.
Eloquence is not our net; traditions of men are not our nets; only the Gospel is. The devil angles with hooks and baits; he deceives, and he wounds in the catching; for every sin hath his sting. The Gospel of Christ Jesus is a net; it hath leads and corks; it hath leads, that is, the denouncing of God's judgments, and a power to sink down, and lay flat any stubborn and rebellious heart, and it hath corks, that is, the power of absolution, and application of the mercies of God, that swim above all his works, means to erect an humble and contrite spirit, above all the waters of tribulation, and affliction. A net is res nodosa, a knotty thing; and so is the Scripture, full of knots, of scruple, and perplexity, and anxiety, and vexation, if thou wilt go about to entangle thyself in those things, which appertain not to thy salvation ; but knots of a fast union, and inseparable alliance of thy soul to God, and to the fellowship of his saints, if thou take the Scriptures, as they were intended for thee, that is, if thou beest content to rest in those places, which are clear, and evident in things necessary. A net is a large thing, past thy fathoming, if thou cast it from thee, but if thou draw it to thee, it will lie upon thine arm. The Scriptures will be out of thy reach, and out of thy use, if thou cast and scatter them upon reason, upon philosophy, upon morality, to try how the Scriptures will fit all them, and believe them but so far as they agree with thy reason ; but draw the Scripture to thine own heart, and to thine own actions, and thou shalt find it made for that; all the promises of the Old Testament made, and all accomplished in the New Testament, for the salvation of thy soul hereafter, and for thy consolation in the present application of them.
37 Heb. xiii. 14.
58 Micah ii. 10.
59 Luke xii. 19.
Now this that Christ promises here, is not here promised in the nature of wages due to our labour, and our fishing. There is no merit in all that we can do. The wages of sin is death; death is due to sin, the proper reward of sin; but the apostle does not say there, that eternal life is the wages of any good work of ours. (The wages of sin is death, but eternal life is the gift of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.) Through Jesus Christ, that is, as we are considered in him; and in him, who is a Saviour, a Redeemer, we are not considered but as sinners. So that God's purpose works no otherwise upon us, but as we are sinners ; neither did God mean ill to any man, till that man was, in his sight, a sinner. God shuts no man out of heaven, by a lock on the inside, except that man have clapped the door after him, and never knocked to have it opened again, that is, except he have
60 Rom. vi. 23.