The Net Mender
He saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother.., mending their nets; and he called them — Mat_4:21
The God of all grace…make you perfect — 1Pe_5:10
Peter Called while Mending His Nets
We have all seen fishermen upon a summer 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 angry storm. And now in the quiet of the summer 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 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 coloring 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 any 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 there the breakage happens. Sometimes in the least expected quarter, unexpectedly; a rent appears. And so, my brother, 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 has 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 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 goodness 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, 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 be 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 then 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 harbor.
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.
It Is Distressing for It Misses What Is at Hand
But not only is it a vital loss. It is a peculiarly distressing loss, for this reason. The loss of the rent net entails the missing of riches that are at hand on every side. If one of our whalers were to be wrecked off Orkney, it would lose a harvest that was far away. There are a thousand miles between the whaling ground and the wild cliffs and stormy seas of Orkney. But when a net was rent upon the sea of Galilee, it meant not the loss of a far-distant harvest, it meant the loss of what was just at hand. There were the shoals of fish in the blue waters. They were in the very depths where the boats lay. They were not far away in other seas; they were where Peter was, and John and James. And that was the pity of the useless net, that all that was precious was so near at hand, and yet, for all the power to take it, might have been a thousand miles away. My brother, the God of grace will mend your nets. He will give you the wealth that is lying at your hand. He will mend your nets, not for some distant fishing, but for the fishing where your bark is tonight. He will redeem for you your opportunities, and show you new meanings in your daily task, and give you the wealth that is on every hand although it may be you have never dreamed of it. Home will be different from what it has ever been; it will be so full of peace and happiness. Work will be different from what it has ever been, for it will all be done with new ideals. And on every hand, all unsuspected once, will be opportunities of doing good, and of helping someone who has need of help, although you never saw that need before. The God of grace will make you perfect. The God of grace will mend your nets for you. He will sweep into your poor barren life the riches that are there just for the taking. For the gladdest things are never far away, nor hidden in distant oceans, inaccessible, but they are here where you and I are living, and where eyes of love answer to our own.
The Work of Net Mending Requires Skill
And so we come to the work itself of net mending, and I ask in closing what kind of work is that? Well, in the first place, you will agree with me that it is a work that calls for very perfect skill. Have you never been amazed at the deft fingers of some rough old fisherman upon the Clyde? Those hands of his, so brawny and so powerful—they could hoist any sail and manage any sheet. But the beautiful thing is that these very hands, all rough and seamed and hardened with the weather, will work as delicately as a woman’s hands in the fine work of mending nets. Were you and I to try it—what a failure! What a hopeless tangle we should make of things! We have our own bit of work that we can do, but the one thing we could never do is that. Yet he, with hands as deft as any woman’s, and with an eye that sees right through the tangle, makes his gear ready for the deeps. I have often thought that God’s hands were like those hands. They too are powerful, and can grasp tremendously, when the wind is high and when the waves are raging. But they, too, with a delicacy infinite, and with a tenderness surpassing that of women, can mend the broken net upon life’s shore. The hand of Christ was mighty to command. When it was lifted up, the devils trembled. Yet that same hand, with what unerring skill did it ply its task upon the brokenhearted! It touched the weary, and they took heart again, and it was laid on the hopeless, and their hope was kindled, and it fell with a healing that was irresistible on lives that shrank from every other touch. That was the ministry of Christ on earth. That ever since has been His ministry. When wisdom has failed, and learning been inoperative, Christ has succeeded, and is succeeding still. For He knoweth our frame, and remembereth we are dust, and He is infinitely strong and gentle; and He alone, if we but trust Him, can mend the broken net and make it perfect.
It Also Requires Patience
But it is not only a work that calls for skill, it is a work that calls for patience also. There are tasks you can hurry through, and get them done, but you can never hurry the mending of the net. That is indeed a recognized distinction between a first-rate fisher and a bad one. The one, impatient, will patch his nets up anyhow, that he may have leisure for the public house. But the other makes it a leisurely affair, and settles down to it, and is deliberate—so deliberate sometimes that you and I are inclined to be irritated at his slowness. But the man is not working for our shallow praise. He is working with a higher thought than that. For he loves that net of his with a strange love that you and I could never understand. So with a leisureliness that is old-fashioned now, in this age of fast motion, he works at the mending through the summer morning, There is a patience that is born of cowardice, and there is a patience that is born of love. The one is the patience of a broken-spirited people who have been crushed for ages by some tyrant. But the other is the patience of our fishermen, and it is also the patience of our God, who through length of days, as Newman sings, elaborates a people to His praise. If you and I are ever to be perfect, it will take infinite patience to achieve it. We are so backward—so ready to forget—such foolish scholars in the school of heaven. Blessed be God, that love which gave a Savior will never weary in its appointed task, till that hath been made perfect which concerneth us.
It Involves Hope
And then, in closing, this work of net-mending, is it not a work that involves hope? There would be little use in mending any net if there were no hope of a harvest of the sea. Sometimes around the coasts of Scotland fish take what the fishermen call a flight. One year they are there in plenty, then unaccountably they disappear. And I know little towns upon our northern coasts where that has happened, and where hope was killed, and where the nets, so finely mended once, have hung upon the shore until they rotted. Always, when a net is mended, it means that there is hope for coming days. And always, when a life is mended, it means there is a harvest yet in store. And that is why, when a man yields up his will, and gives himself into the hand of God, hopes that were quenched begin to shine again, and the heart thrills with what is yet to be. We have sinned, and we have sinned exceedingly. We have done our very best to spoil our lives. We have wasted time, and squandered opportunity, and been unloving and utterly unworthy. Thanks be to God, in spite of all that, and of things that may be far darker than that, the broken net is going to be mended. He forgives us even to the uttermost. He is pledged to save us even to the uttermost. Deeper than our deepest need are the infinite depths of His compassion. It is in such a faith that we give Him our lives which are so rent and ragged, assured that His grace will be sufficient for us, and His strength made perfect in our weakness.