THE call of the fishermen disciples by the sea (Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20) was really a second call, a call to service. Peter, Andrew and John were already disciples, having first followed Christ as recorded in John 1:35-51.
Notice that our Lord uses the same figure for their new work as the work they had been following: “fishers of men.” The Lord exalts and spiritualizes our work, transforms it into a heavenly calling. Here, certainly, is a call to soul-winning, a vocation not popular with many Christians. Some, falling back upon predestination, argue that God will convict and save those whom He chooses. That is true, but one of the means He uses to convict the unsaved is the ministry of a personal worker.
The disciples followed “straightway,” which implies that much still must be learned. Peter followed in much self-will and had to be humbled and broken in self before he could respond to the later “follow Me” of Tiberias (John 21:19). The two “follow Me’s” in his life are full of meaning for us: it is not every one who has followed from Galilee who will follow from Tiberias.
In Luke 5:1-11 we have an incident probably parallel to this call by Galilee. After teaching in Peters boat, our Lord ordered them to launch into the deep and let down their nets for a draught. “For a draught,” mind you—He expected results. Our Lord often orders us into deep water after we have toiled all night in vain. Notice the “nevertheless” in Peter’s reply, “We have taken nothing; nevertheless at Thy word….” We must come to the end of self, our own striving, and then obey His word. From “we” to “Thy” is a transition for the Christian fisherman that never fails to obtain results.
The results were overwhelming. Where they had failed all night they made their greatest catch. We have come, today, to where we expect little when we fish for souls. Much striving without our Lord has produced nothing—and we neither hear nor heed His command. He Himself is not in the boat, that is the trouble. We have improved nets and standard instructions and good intentions, but the nets are not filled. We are not working in His fellowship and at His word.
Peter was convicted at the wonder of the catch and fell at the Lord’s knees confessing his sinfulness. True success does not elate us with ourselves but convicts us of our sinfulness. Our Lord’s reply shows that He meant to join the lesson taught there with spiritual soul-winning: “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.”
Meager results among Christians and churches are excused today with many flimsy arguments: we need not expect great revivals, we are told; it is the last days, and conditions are as in the days of Noah. To save our faces and keep the appearances going, children are graded into church from the Sunday schools. The real trouble is, we are toiling in our own strength; the Lord is not in the boat, and we are not obeying His word. Christians and churches venture on campaigns and programs of their own while the Lord is left out and His instructions are ignored.
If we met these conditions, once more the nets would fill, we should overcome at His feet, and He would commission us afresh to fishing for men.