Learning From the Master Fisherman: “The Art of Man- Fishing.” Part 5.

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

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“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green…”   –Psalm 92: 12-14

 Growth and motion is an evidence of life…

I move forward towards heaven, my affections are going out after Christ, and endeavoring to make progress in a Christian walk. I think I discern a growth of these graces in me.

1.   Of knowledge and acquaintance with Christ, 2 Peter 3:18. I am more acquainted with Christ and his ways than before. Though I have not such up takings of Christ as I ought to have, yet I have more than I have had in this respect sometimes before.

2.   A growth of love. If my heart deceive me not, I have found love to Christ within this month more lively and vigorous than before, my soul more affected with his absence from ordinances than ever.

3.   A growth of faith. I can, I think, trust God more now than before. I have had more experience of his goodness and knowledge of his name; and therefore think I can cast my burden on the Lord better than before. But it is easy swimming when the head is held up. Lord, increase my faith. I believe, Lord, help mine unbelief.

4.   A growth of watchfulness. I have felt the sad effects of unwatchfulness over my heart in times past. I feel the good of watchfulness now; my soul is habitually more watchful than before; neither dare I give such liberty to my heart as sometimes I gave. Yet for all this the Lord may well complain of me, that he is broken with my wanton heart. But, Lord, you knows it is also breaking to myself that it is so. The Lord seal these things to me.

5.   A growth of contempt of the world, which, blessed, be God, is on the increase with me.

Following Christ implies a knowledge of the way that Christ took.

No man can follow the example of another as such, unless he know what way he lived. So neither can any man follow Christ with respect to the catching of men in particular, unless he know Christ’s way of catching souls, that is, so far as it may be followed by us. Acquaint then thyself, O my soul, with the history of the gospel wherein this appears, and take special notice of these things, that you may follow Christ. What a sad case must they be in that are not acquainted with this!

Following Christ supposes sense of weakness, and the need of a guide.

A man that knows a way, and can do well enough without a guide, needs not follow another. And surely the want of this is the reason why many run before Christ, and go farther than his example ever called them; and others take a way altogether different from Christ’s way, which is the product of their own conceited hearts and airy heads. But you, O my soul, acknowledge thyself as a child in these matters that cannot go unless it be led; as a stranger in a desert place that cannot keep the right way without a guide.

Acknowledge and be affected with thine own weakness and emptiness, which you may well be persuaded of. And for this end reflect seriously,

1.   On the word, 2 Corinthians 2:16. Who is sufficient for these things? No man is of himself sufficient; even the greatest of men come short of sufficiency. This may make thee then to be affected with insufficiency, who are so far below these men, as shrubs are below the tall cedars; and yet they cannot teach it of themselves.

2.   Consider the weight of the work, even of preaching, which is all that you hast to do now. It is the concern of souls. By the foolishness of preaching it pleases the Lord to save them that believe, and as you thought yesterday [Jan. 22, 1699], before you went to the pulpit, it may seal the salvation of some, and the damnation of others. To preach in the Spirit, in the power and demonstration thereof, is no easy matter. Thy pitiful gifts will not fit thee for this.

3.   Reflect on what you are when God is pleased to desert you; how then you tug and row, but it will not do, either in studying or delivering sermons. I think you hast had as much of this as may teach thee to beware of taking thy burden on thy own soul, but to cast it on the Lord.

4.   Consider what a small portion you know of God, when you are at your best, and when you are in thy meridian, yet how low are you? And how far short you are of what you should be at. Lastly, consider that though you had gifts like an angel, yet you canst not convert a soul unless Christ be with thee to do the work. Therefore acknowledge thyself a weak creature, insufficient for the work ; and go not out in thy own strength, but in the name of the Lord; and so although you be but as a stripling, you may be helped to cast down the great Goliaths that defy the armies of the living God.

Following Christ implies a renouncing of our own wisdom.

Our own wisdom must not be the guide that we must follow, Matthew 16: 24. Paul would not preach with wisdom of words, 1 Corinthians 1:17; he did not follow the rules of carnal wisdom. Therefore, O my soul, renounce thine own wisdom. Seek the wisdom that is from above; seek to preach the words of the living God, and not thine own.

Since you was most set to renounce your wisdom, and prayed most that you might not preach that which might be the product of you own wisdom and natural reason, but that which might be given thee of the Holy Ghost, you have found that God hath signally countenanced thee. Take not the way of natural wisdom, follow not the rules of carnal wisdom. Its language will always be, ‘Master, spare thyself; have a care of thy credit and reputation among men.’ If you speak freely, they will call thee a railer, and thy preaching reflections; every parish will scare at thee as a monster of men, and one that would preach them all to hell; and so you shalt not be settled. For great and important men, that have a great influence in a parish, will never like thee. They will say that that way of preaching is not the way to gain people; that startles them at the very first. You may bring them on by little and little, by being somewhat smooth, at least at the first: for this generation is not able to abide such doctrine as that you preach.

But hear you and follow the rules of the wisdom that is from above: for the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God; that which is in high esteem among men, is nothing in the sight of God. The wisdom that is from above will tell thee, that you must be denied to thy credit and reputation, etc., Matthew 16: 24; Luke 14:26. It will tell thee, Let them call thee what they will, that you must cry aloud, and spare not; lift up thy voice like a trumpet, etc., Isaiah 43: 1. It will tell thee, that God has appointed the bounds of men’s habitation, Acts 17: 26. It will tell thee, that not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble, are called, etc., 1 Corinthians 1:29. Whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, you shalt speak God’s words unto them, Ezekiel 2: 7. It will shew thee rules quite contrary to those of carnal wisdom.

Why are unconverted men compared to fish in the water? “The Art of Man- Fishing.” Part 2.

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

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1. Because as the water is the natural element of fish, so sin is the proper and natural element for an unconverted soul. Take the fish out of the water, it cannot live; and take from a natural man his idols, he is ready to say with Micah, Ye have taken away my gods, and what have I more? The young man in the gospel could not be persuaded to seek after treasure in heaven, and lay by the world. It is in sin that the only delight of natural men is; but in holiness they have no more delight than a fish upon the earth, or a sow in a palace. Oh the woeful case of a natural man!

Bless the Lord, O my soul, that when that was thy element as well as that of others, yet Christ took thee in his net, held thee, and would not let thee go, and put another principle in thee, so that now it is heavy for thee to wade, far more to swim in these waters.

2. The fish in a sunny day are seen to play themselves in the water. So the unregenerate, whatever grief they may seem to have upon their spirits, when a storm arises, either without, by outward troubles, or within by conscience-gnawing convictions, yet when these are over, and they are in a prosperous state, they play themselves in the way of sin, and take their pleasure in it, not considering what it may cost them at the last. Oh, how does prosperity in the world ruin many a soul! The prosperity of fools shall destroy them. And O how destructive would prosperity have been to thee, O my soul, if God had given it to thee many times when thou wouldst have had it! Bless the Lord that ever he was pleased to cross thee in a sinful course.

3. As the fish greedily look after and snatch at the bait, not minding the hook; even so natural men drink in sin greedily, as the ox drinks in the water. They look on sin as a sweet morsel; and it is to them sweet in the mouth, though bitter in the belly. They play with it, as the fish with the bait; but, oh alas, when they take the serpent in their bosom, they mind not the sting, Prov. 9: 17, 18. The devil knows well how to dress his hooks; but alas, men know not by nature how to discern them. Pity then, O my soul, the wicked of the world, whom thou see greedily satisfying their lusts. Alas! They are poor blinded souls ; they see the bait, but not the hook; and therefore it is that they are even seen as it were dancing about the mouth of the pit; therefore rush they on to sin as a horse to the battle, not knowing the hazard.

O pity the poor drunkard, the swearer, the unclean person, etc., that is wallowing in his sin. Bless thou the Lord also, O my soul, that when thou was playing with the bait, and as little minding the hook as others, God opened thine eyes, and let thee see thy nakedness and danger, that thou might flee from it. And O be now careful that thou snatch at none of the devil’s baits, lest he catch thee with his hook: for though thou may be restored again by grace, yet it shall not be without a wound; as the fish sometimes slip the hook, but go away wounded; which wound may be sad to thee, and long a-healing. And this thou hast experienced.

4. As fish in the water love deep places and wells, and are most frequently found there; so wicked men have a great love to carnal security, and have no will to strive against the stream. Fish love deep places best, where there is least noise. O how careful are natural men to keep all quiet, that there may be nothing to disturb them in their rest in sin! They love to be secure, which is their destruction. O my soul, beware of carnal security, of being secure, though plunged over head and ears in sin.

5. As fish are altogether unprofitable as long as they are in the water, so are wicked men in their natural estate, they can do nothing that is really good: they are unprofitable to themselves, and unprofitable to others: what good they do to others, is more per accidents than per se, Rom. 3:12. How far must they then be mistaken, who think the wicked of the world the most useful in the place where they live! They may indeed be useful for carrying on designs for Satan’s interest, or their own vain glory; but really to lay out themselves for God, they cannot.

“The Art of Man- Fishing.” Part 1.

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

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“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
–Matthew 4:19

I. There is a duty, “Follow me” from which we should consider…

A. The object, “me” even the Lord Jesus Christ, the chief fisher of men, who was sent by the Father to gather in the lost sheep of the house of Israel, who was and is the infinitely wise God, and so knew the best way to catch men, and can instruct men how to be fishers of others.

B. The act, Follow me (Gr. come after): Leave your employment, and come after me. Though no doubt there is a direction here to all the ministers of the gospel, that have left their other employments, and betaken themselves to the preaching of the word, and as follows, that if they would do good to souls, and gain them by their ministry, then they are to imitate Christ, in their carriage and preaching to make him their pattern, to write after his copy, as a fit mean for gaining of souls.

II. There is a promise annexed to the duty.

Wherein we may consider,

A.  The benefit promised; that is, to be made fishers of men; which I take to be not only an investing of them with authority, and a calling of them to the office, but also a promise of the success they should have, that fishing of men should be their employment, and they should not be employed in vain, but following Christ, they should indeed catch men by the gospel.

B.  The fountain-cause of this, I, I will make you; none other can make you fishers of men but me.

You may observe,

A.  Then, O my soul, that it is the Lord Jesus Christ that makes men fishers of men. Here I shall shew; First, How Christ makes men fishers of men. Second. Why unconverted men are compared to fish in the water. Third, That ministers are fishers by office.

I. How does Christ make men fishers of men?

In answer to this question, consider spiritual fishing two ways. 1. As to the office and work itself; and 2. As to the success of it.

First. He makes them fishers as to their office, by his call, which is twofold, outward and inward, by setting them apart to the office of the ministry; and it is thy business, O my soul, to know whether thou hast it or not. But of this more afterwards.

Second. He makes them fishers as to success; that is, he makes them catch men to himself by the power of his spirit accompanying the word they preach, and the discipline they administer, 1 Cor. 1:18, “The preaching of the cross” unto us which are saved, is the power of God.” 1 Thess. 1:5, “Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.” He it is that brings sinners into the net which ministers spread; and if he be not with them to drive the fish into the net, they may toil all the night, and day too, and catch nothing.

1. O my soul, then see that gifts will not do the business. A man may preach as an angel, and yet be useless. If Christ withdraw his presence, all will be to no purpose. If the Master of the house be away, the household will loath their food, though it be dropping down about their tent-doors.

2. Why shouldst thou then on the one hand, as sometimes thou art, be lifted up when thou preach a good and solid discourse, wherein gifts do appear, and thou gettest the applause of men? Why, thou mayst do all this, and yet be no fisher of men. The fish may see the bait, and play about it as pleasant, but this is not enough to catch them. On the other hand, why shouldst thou be so much discouraged (as many times is the case), because thy gifts are so small, and thou art but as a child in comparison of others?

Why, if Christ will, he can make thee a fisher of men, as well as the most learned rabbi in the church, Psalm 8: 2. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength. Yea, hast thou not observed how God owned a man very weak in gifts and made him more successful than others that were far beyond him in parts?

Has not God put this treasure in earthen vessels, that the power might be seen to be of him? Lift up thyself then, O my soul, Christ can make thee a fisher of men, however weak thou art. Follow thou him. My soul desires to follow hard after thee, O God !

3. Be concerned then, in the first place, O my soul, for the presence of God in ordinances, and for his power that will make a change among people, Psalm 110: 3. When thy discourse, though ever so elaborate, shall be but as a lovely song, O set thyself most for this. When thou study, send up praises to thy Lord for it. When thou write a sermon, or ruminate on it, then say to God, Lord, this will be altogether weak without thy power accompanying it. O, power and life from God in ordinances is sweet.

Seek it for thyself, and seek it for thy hearers. Acknowledge thine own weakness and uselessness without it, and so cry incessantly for it, that the Lord may drive the fish into the net, when thou art spreading it out. Have an eye to this power, when thou art preaching; and think not thou to convert men by the force of reason: If thou do, thou wilt be beguiled.

4. What an honorable thing is it to be fishers of men! How great an honor should thou esteem it, to be a catcher of souls! We are workers together with God, says the apostle. If God has ever so honored thee, O that thou knew it, that thou might bless his holy name, that ever made such a poor fool as thee to be a co-worker with him. God has owned thee to do good to those who were before caught. O my soul, bless thou the Lord. Lord, what am I, or what is my father’s house, that thou hast brought me to this?

5. Then don’t you see here what the reason is you toil so long, and catch nothing? The power comes not along. Men are like Samuel, who, when God was calling him, thought it had been Eli. So when thou speak many times, they do not discern God’s voice, but thine; and therefore the word goes out as it comes in.

6. Then, O my soul, despair not of the conversion of any, be they ever so dissolute. For it is the power of the Spirit that drives any person into the net; and this cannot be resisted. Mockers of religion, yea, blasphemers may be brought into the net; and many times the wind of God’s Spirit in the word lays the tall cedars in sin down upon the ground, when they that seem to be as low shrubs in respect of them, stand fast upon their root. Publicans and harlots shall enter the kingdom of heaven before self-righteous Pharisees.

7. What thinkest thou, O my soul, of that doctrine that lays aside this power of the Spirit, and makes moral suasion all that is requisite to the fishing of men? That doctrine is hateful to thee. My soul loathes it, as attributing too much to the preacher, and too much to corrupt nature, in taking away its natural impotency to good, and as against the work of God’s Spirit, contrary to experience; and is to me a sign of the rottenness of the heart that embraces it. Alas! that it should be owned by any among us, where so much of the Spirit’s power has been felt.