THE accounts we have of the Master are but a very small portion of the things which he did. One biographer [John the Apostle] even states that if all were recorded the world itself could not contain the books [this is because Jesus was the first of God’s creation]. And yet there are no gaps in that comparatively short life. It moves along in perfect smoothness from start to finish. Now on what principle did the Spirit guide the sacred writers to omit what was not necessary to give us a succinct life and its work! On what principle did Christ enter the boat and tell certain men to fish where they had toiled all night and caught nothing, to go out into deeper waters, with such marvelous results! On what principle does Christ come into the life of tired disappointed men and fill them with encouragement and cheer! On the principle that he always does the right thing at the needed time. The early Church Fathers greatly emphasized the account of the miraculous draught of fishes. They said this story must never be allowed to die out, because it brings out one of the most encouraging lessons in human experience, viz., to work where we have failed and there meet success. It is a parable of the abiding influence of Christ in the world. Whenever you say to a man who is despondent, who feels he has been defeated, who has lost his grip and thinks everyone has deserted him and he has not a friend in the world, when you say to such a man, “Try again,” a sort of miracle of God occurs. New life and hope and energy enter the man and he faces defeat with a determination that means victory. Now the gospel is the voice of God to disheartened men. It says, get up and try again, there is a new fortune to be won where the old one was lost, a victory to be scored where our defeat was recorded. It comes to a man when depressed and tells him to take heart again.
This lake was a great place for fish. These men made their living catching fish and supplying the many surrounding towns with the product of their industry. They were accustomed to fish at night, for the fish then drew near the shore to feed. But they had a very unsuccessful night of it, a water-haul every time, and they had given it up and were drying their nets on the beach when Jesus appeared on the scene. A great crowd was there, and using Simon’s boat as a pulpit, he preached to them. Then, as if to reward him for the use of his improvised pulpit, he told Simon to launch out into the deep and let down his nets for a draught. Tired and disheartened with the night’s failure, Simon said, “Master, we have toiled all night and taken nothing, nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.” And the haul was so tremendous that the net broke, and they had to call another boat, and the catch almost swamped both of them. That is the story.
But what good is there in a fish story? First this. Our Lord sent these men back to the very waters where they had failed; sent these discouraged fishermen to cast their nets in the same place where they had been working all night and caught nothing. So God sends us not to other places or other work, but where failure faced us. Now the business of these men was to know when and where to fish. They were experts, and doubtless they expected to be successful just where they failed. Christ might have said, you failed where you were, now let us go to another place, let us try our luck there. And the disciples might have added, yes, we have fished at the wrong place, we must go to other waters. For the tendency of the human heart is to give a materialistic interpretation to all life’s successes and failures. This or that was the cause of the success or the failure, leaving God out of the question altogether. We can imagine a man saying, if I could only go off to some new place every time I get discouraged trying again would be a much easier thing: if I could be somebody else, or go somewhere else, or do something else, it might not be hard to have fresh faith and courage. We can imagine a preacher saying, if I had only gone to China or the Philippines, or to some other field of labor, or if I would connect myself with some other denomination, perhaps I would be more successful in my work. If I would leave my profession and go into business, or as the case may be, leave my business and prepare for some profession, I might find my real place in life. But the Master knows best. It is the same old net in the same old pond for most of us. The old temptations are to be overcome, the old faults to be conquered, the old trials and discouragements before which we failed yesterday to be faced again today. Yes, the old things will be there, the people, some of whom we almost hated and with whom it was so hard to get along— the same people will be there. And back to them Christ sends us. We must win success where we are if we win it at all, and it is the Master himself, who, after all these toil-filled disheartening efforts that we call failures, bids us try again. George Eliot once said that the ethics of Jesus were too effeminate, that they did not appeal to the heroic, and consequently the teachings of Christ made weak men. But what could be more heroic than the life of the apostles! We read how once the disciples put up a good fight. Peter and the other apostle when imprisoned and charged that they should no longer teach in Christ’s name, replied, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Peter, the same man who in the presence of some of these people denied with an oath that he knew the Christ, now defends him, and with imprisonment and perhaps death staring him in the face, boldly advocates his Master’s cause. And with what effect on the people? They perceived that these men had been with Jesus. They saw the firmness and the rock-like character of Jesus speaking out through them. That is the iron hand beneath the silken glove of the gospel.
Peter, the denier, the failure, goes back among the men before whom he failed, where he had proved to be a coward, and there shows himself a man of courage and unquestionable bravery. The ethics of Jesus too effeminate! Not when it transforms men like that and sends them back amidst old scenes, old failures, to face old enemies, and friends who proved treacherous, amongst old and adverse conditions, and there to make good, there to wrest victory out of former defeats. This is the nature of the gospel. Christ did not promise us anything else, but a life of battle, but it was to be accompanied by its compensating conquests. The nature of the gospel is to make man face difficulties until he is crucified with Christ; until he bears in his body all through life the marks of the Lord Jesus. He set his face like a flint steadfastly toward Jerusalem, his Calvary, but his place of victory, where before he could not do many mighty works: victory out of defeat. So the disciples went back to the lake again.
But it was Christ who sent them back. The followers of Christ should always remember, that, as soldiers, they are under orders. Whatever their work, and wherever their place may be, they are under the great Commander. Back of the disciples’ order was Christ. It is he whom they must obey. Nothing can be really failure which is obedience to his command; and some bright morning the great draught of reward will come. Worry does no good. It does not make the burden lighter, the road shorter, or the duty easier. The sensible thing to do is to face the fact that is discouraging or hard, and under Christ’s command go right on. He was a wise traveler who when his horse died, said, “I must walk now,” and trudged on with cheerful energy. A good many people would have sat down beside the dead horse and spent hours in worry. Happiness, content, and success at last; all doubts answered; all dark places lighted up; heaven begun here: this is the reward of obeying and loving Christ. In this world disappointment and tribulation; yes, but good cheer in spite of them.
And then though Jesus sent the disciples bark to the same waters, he sent them more deeply into them. “Launch out into the deep,” was the command. So men are to go back, but to plunge more deeply and earnestly into their work. It is what men keep back from Christ that is the cause of most of their trouble and the lack of their spiritual growth. The young man was willing to memorize and keep a few commandments, but he failed utterly in not consecrating himself and all he had. We consecrate only a part of our life. We give the Lord only a mite of our time and substance, an hour Sunday morning or evening, as is convenient, and a painfully small offering, reserving all the rest for self, and thus we rob God. Christ gave all. O, the depth of the riches of his grace which he has bestowed upon us! It is our shallow way of doing great things that is the torture. Shallow plowing produces scant crops. Plow deeply if you would have a rich and nourishing soil. There is a shallow way of serving Christ for the emoluments of the service, or to minister to our pride, or to have social standing, not rendering him our homage from the deep principle and motive of lore. Many a man presents the gospel in a shallow way because of a consciousness of his own inefficiency. Those in Corinth thought Paul was not rhetorical enough, not verbose enough, he did not “orate.” They thought his speech contemptible, and it disturbed Paul. He felt his weakness and thought some other might do better. But in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians he breaks away from all this and finds himself; finds the heart of all service, the true motive in consecration. He shows that there can be no complete consecration of all the powers of body, soul, and mind unless love be the strong under flowing current. If we were as anxious to be good men and women as we are to be good preachers, good teachers, good business men, good house-keepers and home-makers, we must go more deeply into self and into Christ.
A man was riding in a trolley car one day and he became very much interested in watching the movements of the motorman. Sometimes the car would run forty miles an hour, and then twenty, then ten, and then stand still. But he saw no corresponding motion on the part of the motorman. They were using the third rail system. So he went to the motorman and said, “I have been watching you for some time, and have noticed the variations of speed, but I cannot see how it is done.” The motorman replied, “When I lift up this lever the speed slackens; when I press down it goes; when I press half we skid the live rail. I just keep above it and the car runs by its own momentum.”
There are many professed Christians who just skid the third rail, the rail that furnishes the power. They work or run by their own momentum, as they feel or when they want to. They do not press down on Christ, the source of all spiritual power, the great dynamic of religious activity. And that is the reason there is so little enthusiasm and fire and activity and loyalty in Christian work to-day. Why is it that so many persons are victims of the tuberculosis germ? It is because they do not breathe deeply enough and there is so little lung or chest expansion. So many lung-cells are not used at all; and hence, not being strengthened, they are susceptible or subject to any and every microbe that floats in the air. Breathe deeply, that is the law of health physically. Launch out into the deep, that is the law of health and success spiritually.
And note too, that when Jesus sent the disciples out into deeper waters, he went back with them. Take Christ with you wherever you go. Take him as your silent Partner in every business, and your life’s work will never spell failure. Jesus never sends a man into deeper water, or calls to him for a fuller consecration, without going with him. “Lo, I am with you always,” will turn any apparent failure into success.
There is a story told of a Scottish minister, a man of delicate constitution, one of those peculiarly sensitively organized creatures who have the poetic insight and the prophetic vision, who see farther and deeper than others, a man who of God can do finer things than we of coarser fibre. As a student in college in taking his evening strolls he felt that he could never walk beyond a given point. He could not bring himself to pass it. At that point his energy seemed to fail him. One day he told it all in confidence to his dearest friend. The friend said, “Give me your arm; lean hard on me,” and leaning on that arm he walked past the point in victory. We are going back to our work again on the morrow, and what will we make of it—success or failure!
Back to the same old round of duty, to meet the same old faces, to do the same dull tasks of yesterday, to the same place where perhaps we failed yesterday. But if we are working along the line of duty, if we are engaged in the work for which we are adapted, then that is Christ’s call to us for deeper consecration, for a more thorough application of all our powers. Let us remember that we are under orders, that Christ goes with us, and he who works daily and hourly under the inspiration and consciousness of the divine presence and divine help will never go down, will never wholly fail, but will be crowned with victory at last. Over such a life the divine hand will write “Success” in golden letters when he sums up life’s total. “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” To strive with God is to succeed.
He cast his net at morn where fishers toiled,
At eve he drew it empty to the shore;
He took the diver’s plunge into the sea
But thence, within his hand no pearl he bore.
He ran a race but never reached his goal;
He sped an arrow but he missed his aim;
He slept at last beneath a simple stone
With no achievements carved about his name.
Men called it failure; but for my own part
I dare not use that word; for what if Heaven
Shall question,—ere its judgments shall be read,
Not, “Hast thou won!” but only, “Hast Thou striven!”