HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div, LOM
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.–Matthew 4:21
But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you.–1 Peter 5:10
Peter Called while Mending His Nets
We have all seen fishermen upon a sunny morning mending their nets on the seashore. With a patience and a skill that we have envied, we have watched them busy at their task. These bronzed faces, and strong and vigorous frames, tell of many a year upon the deep. We can picture the men handling their boats magnificently when the wind is freshening into the angry storm. And now in the quiet of the sunny morning, when the waves are idly lapping on the beach, they are busied with the mending of their nets. It was thus that James and John were busied when they received the call that changed their lives. Their boat was rocking in the shallow water, and they were chatting, and working as they chatted. And then came Jesus, and claimed them for Himself, and called them into the service of discipleship, and they left everything and followed Him.
Christ Takes Over the Mending of Our Nets When We Decide to Follow Him
Now you will wonder why, with that Highland scene, I have associated these words of Peter. Well, the reason is a very simple one, although perhaps not lying on the surface. The word that Peter uses here for make you perfect, is the same word as is used for the mending of the nets. It is as if Peter had said, The God of grace, whatever else He may do, will mend your nets for you. And when you remember that Peter was a fisherman, and had spent many a day upon the sea of Galilee, it seems impossible that he should have used the word without some recollection of his craft. Our calling, whatever it may be, has a way of colouring the words we use. It influences language with its old associations and gives it some of the music of the past. So Peter, in the throng and stir of Babylon, writing his letter of comfort to the churches, flashed back in thought again to the old days, when the water was lapping on his boat. The God of grace will make you perfect. The God of grace will mend your nets for you. Our nets are sorely broken in the boat, and the God of grace is the great net-mender. It is on that figure I want to dwell, and to try to discover some of its significance, for that it was often present to the first disciples there cannot be a shadow of a doubt.
How Are Nets Usually Broken?
Now first, how are nets usually broken? That is a question which is worth considering. Well, I was talking to an old fisherman this summer, and the gist of what he said was of this nature.
Sometimes, he told me, nets are broken by the ordinary wear and tear of fishing. They get worn out here, and they get worn out there, through the rough handling of the common day. There is no reason to suspect that they were bad nets. They may have been purchased from the finest maker. Nor have they met with an accident, such as may happen to the most skilful fisherman. But fishing is rough work at the best of it, and the handling of tackle never can be gentle; and so as the days pass–now here, now there–the fisherman comes to find his nets are broken. There are points where the net is very apt to break, but it is not always where the breakage happens. Sometimes in the least expected quarter, unexpectedly; a rent appears. And so, my brother and sister, in these lives of ours is there often a breaking down through wear and tear, and sometimes the breaking is at the very point where you and I might never have expected it. There are men who have never been great sinners, as we put it. They have only had the wear and tear of life–the strain of business and the stress of home. And yet sometimes that very wear and tear have spoiled all that was finest and most beautiful, and the temper is irritable, and the heart is sullen, and the net, so delicately made, is broken.
By Obstacles and Objects in the Sea
Again he told me that nets are often broken through the encountering of some jagged obstacle. They are caught by some obstruction in the deeps, and, clearing themselves free of it, are torn. It may be a piece of wreckage in the sea, jagged, and with iron spikes upon it. It may be the sharp edge of some familiar reef, that has been swept clear of its seaweed by the storm. But whatever it is, the net goes dragging over it, and dragging over it is caught and rent, and tearing itself free in a desperate effort, it gapes disfigured like some wounded thing. Are there no human lives like that? No nets mystical that are so broken? It may be a hidden and surprising sin that does it; it may be a sudden and overwhelming sorrow; it may be the ruin of a cherished friendship, or the wreckage or a love that meant the world, or some swift insight into another’s baseness, where once we dreamed there was sincerity. In such an hour as that the net is rent. There is a tearing of the very heartstrings. And faith is shattered, and God is but a name, and life seems the most shallow of all sophistries. For always, when we lose our faith in man, there falls a shadow on our faith in God, so that the very stars seem masterless and good but the mockery of a dream.
By the Abundance of Catch
And then he told me that nets are sometimes broken through the very wealth of the sea that they enclose. And he did not need to tell me that, for I had read it as a child in Holy Scripture. I remembered a scene on that same sea of Galilee when the disciples had toiled all night and had caught nothing. And then in the morning came the Master–it is always morning when the Master comes. And He bade them cast upon the other side, and casting so, their nets were filled with fishes–filled with such a great abundance of them that the nets, as we read, began to break. My brother and sister, it seems a thing incredible that the gifts of a good God should break the nets. Does it not seem, unlike divine compassion that the very wealth of heaven should lead to ruin? Yet are there lives on every hand of us–God grant that yours and mine were not among them–where nets are broken just because God is good. What I mean is, that life has been so easy that all that is best and noblest has decayed. Prosperity has had a hardening influence, and luxury has diminished every sympathy. Endowed with everything that makes life rich–surrounded with all imaginable comforts, how many there are who have never done a hand’s turn to leave the world better than they found it!
The Loss of Broken Nets Is Fundamental
So far than on the breaking of the nets. Now, will you think of the loss when they are broken? Well, to begin with, remember it is the loss of the most important possession of the fisherman. If his cottage is burned he can still ply his calling, and be out providing for his wife and children. If a blight falls upon his little garden, it is hard, but it is not unbearable. But if his nets are useless all is useless, and his very livelihood is swept away, and other boats shall hoist their sails tonight, but his shall rock idly in the harbour.
There are some losses that are insignificant, and only a foolish man will trouble over them. But there are other losses that are vital, and affect everything, and are determinative. So with a fisherman is a lost net, and so with every man is a lost life, which is not lived to the glory of its Maker, and has never known the joy of doing good. All other losses, matched with that, are comparatively insignificant. The loss of health may be a bitter thing, and the loss of a fortune may be very terrible. But the one loss that cuts down to the quick, and calls for mercy in the heart of heaven is not lost health nor lost prosperity: it is lost life and opportunity. It is a mighty thing to save the soul, but we want to save the life as well as save the soul. We want to have sin conquered, and habits brought to an end, and time redeemed, and something worthy done. And it is just when we are doubtful of all that, and wondering if there be any hope for us, that the Bible comes to us, a seaborn people, and says, The God of grace will mend your nets. He will do it by His pardoning mercy, that forgives everything for Jesus’ sake. He will do it by His upholding power, that will never leave us nor forsake us. He will do it perfectly, and do it now, and do it for the weakest and the worst, for the God of all grace will make you perfect.