The Heart of the Fisherman: “The Art of Man- Fishing.” Part 3.

Taken and adapted from, A Soliloquy on The Art of Man- Fishing
Written by Thomas Boston, 1699
Edited for thought and sense.


Ministers are fishers by office…

…they are catchers of the souls of men, “sent to open the eyes of the blind, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God,”

Preachers of the gospel are fishers, and their work and that of fishers agree in several things.

  1. The design and work of fishers is to catch fish. This is the work that preachers of the gospel have taken in hand, even to endeavor to bring souls to Christ. Their design in their work should be the same. Tell me, O my soul, what is thy design in preaching? For what end do you lay the net in the water, is it to show thy gifts, and to gain the applause of men? Oh, no! Lord, you know my gifts are very small; and had I not some other thing than them to lean to, I would never gone to a pulpit. I confess, that, for as small as they are, the devil and my corruptions do sometimes present them to me in a magnifying glass, and so would blow me up with wind. But, Lord, you know it is my work to repel these, motions.
  1. The fisherman’s work is hard work; they are exposed to much cold in the water. So is the minister’s work.
  1. A storm that will frighten others, they will venture on, that they may not lose their fish. So should preachers of the gospel do also.
  1. Fishers catch fish with a net. So preachers have a net to catch souls with. This is the everlasting gospel, the word of peace and reconciliation, wherewith sinners are caught. It is compared to a net wherewith fishers catch fish,
    1. Because it is spread out, ready to catch all that will come into it, Isaiah 45:1, ” Ho, every one that thirst, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk, without money, and without price.” God excludes none from the benefits of the gospel that will not exclude themselves; it is free to all.
    2. Because as fish are taken unexpectedly by the net, so are sinners by the gospel. Zaccheus was little thinking on salvation from Christ when he went to the tree. Paul was not thinking on a sweet meeting with Christ, whom he persecuted, when he was going post-haste on the devil’s errand; but the man is caught unexpectedly. Little were you thinking, O my soul, on Christ, heaven, or thyself, when you went to hear a preaching, when Christ first dealt with thee; there you got an unexpected cast.
    3. As fish sometimes come near and touch the net, and yet draw back; so many souls are somewhat affected at the hearing of the gospel, and yet remain in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity. So Herod heard John the Baptist gladly, but yet the poor man was not caught. Wonder not then, O my soul, you see some affected in the time of preaching; and yet when they are away again, all is worn off.
    4. Some fish that have not been taken fast hold enough by the net, struggle and get out again. So some souls have their convictions, and may seem to be caught; but yet, alas! They stifle all their convictions, stay in the place of the breaking forth; their goodness is like the morning cloud, and as the early dew that soon passes away. Wherefore, O my soul, if ever you be taken up with exercised consciences, have a care that you do not apply the cure before the wound be deep enough. Take all means to understand whether the soul be content to take Christ on his own terms or not. Alas! Many this way, by having the wound scurfed over, are rather killed than cured.
    5. All that are taken in the net do make some struggling to get free. Even so everyone whom the Lord deals with by his Word and Spirit, make some kind of resistance before they are thoroughly caught. And this you also know, O my soul, how you wouldst have been content to have been out of the net. Oh! The wickedness of the heart of man by nature! Opposite is it, and an enemy to all that may be for its eternal welfare. There is indeed a power in our will to resist, yea, and such a power as cannot but be exercised by the will of man, which can do nothing but resist, till the overcoming power of God, the gratia victrix, come and make the unwilling heart willing, Phil. 2:13.
    6. Yet this struggling will not do with those which the net has fast enough. So neither will the resistance do that is made by an elect soul, whom God intends to catch, John 6: 37. All that the Father hath given me, shall come to me. Indeed, God does not convert men to himself against their will, he does not force the soul to receive Christ; but he conquers the will, and it becomes obedient. He that was unwilling before, is then willing. O the power of grace! When God speaks, then men shall hear; then is it that the dead hear the voice of the Son of Man, and they that hear do live.
    7. In a net are many meshes in which the fish are caught. Such are the invitations made to sinners in the gospel, the sweet promises made to them that will come to Christ; these are the meshes wherewith the soul is caught. This then is gospel-preaching, thus to spread out the net of the gospel, wherein are so many meshes of various invitations and promises, to which if the fish do come, they are caught.” But yet,
    8. Let the net be lifted up with the water, and so not fit for taking fish, and the fish slight it, and pass under it; there are some pieces of lead put to it, to hold it right in the water, that it may be before them as they come. So l invitations and promises of the gospel be slighted, there must be used some legal terrors and law threatenings to drive the fish into the net. Thou see then that both law and gospel are to be preached, the law as a small portion of the gospel-net, which makes it effectual; the law being a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.
    9. The meshes must not be over-wide, or the fish run through. So neither must thy doctrine be general, without particular application, l you be no fisher of men. Indeed men may be the better pleased, when you preach doctrine so as wicked men may run out-through and in-through it, than when you make it so as to take hold of them: but be not a servant of men.
    10. Neither must they be too neat and fine, and curiously wrought, or they hold out the fish. So have a care, O my soul, of striving to make by wit any fine and curious discourse, which thy hearers cannot understand. 
  1. Fishermen observe in what places they should cast their nets, and where they may expect fish. So do you, O my soul, observe where you might catch lost souls. There are two pools wherein the net should be set.
    1. In the public assemblies of the Lord’s people. There it was that Lydia’s heart was opened. The pool of ordinances sometimes is made healing water to souls pining away in their iniquity.
    2. In private conference. Many times the Lord is pleased to bless this for the good of souls. Some have found it so. But more of these things afterwards, when I come to following Christ.
  1. Lastly, Fishers may toil long, and yet catch nothing; but they do not therefore lay aside their work. So may preachers preach long, and yet not catch any soul, Isa. 49:4, and 53:1; but they are not to give over for all that. O my soul, here you art checked for thy behavior at some times under the absence of Christ from ordinances, when you hast been ready to wish you had never taken it in hand. This was my sin: the good Lord pardon it. It becomes me better to lie low under God’s hand, and to inquire into the causes of his withdrawing his presence from me and from ordinances, and yet to hold on in duty till he be pleased to lay me by. Have a care of that, O my soul, and let not such thoughts and wishes possess thee again. Forget not how God made thee to read this thy sin, in thy punishment, Diary, Nov. 13, 1698. Hold on, O my soul, and give not way to these discouragements. Thou know not but Christ may come and teach thee to let down the net at the right side of the ship, and you may yet be a fisher of men. Trust God you shalt yet praise him for the help of his countenance as you hast done, and perhaps for some souls that you may be yet honored to catch.

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 arrange and set the net, that it may bring in souls to God?