George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Boat's Breadth
Cast the net on the right side of the ship--Joh 21:6
Turning Back to Old Tasks
There are few scenes in the Gospel more impressive than this scene in the early morning by the sea of Galilee. Not even the meeting between Christ and Mary in the garden is more touching or tender than this incident. Calvary was past; the night of darkness was ended; Jesus had risen and the awful strain was over. It is in such hours that men instinctively turn again to the common toils which the strain has interrupted, and in such an hour Peter said, "I go a fishing." So Peter and his comrades toiled all night, but for all their toil, their fishing was a failure. Night--nothing--how these words chime together; night--nothing, morning--Master. For in the morning the risen Christ stood by the lake and cried to them, "Children, have ye any meat?" There was only one answer to that straight question--it was No (we may be near to Christ and yet be starving); then He said to them, "Cast the net on the right side of the ship." They cast it therefore, and it was filled with fish. Whereon in an instant the disciple whom Jesus loved, and to whom the love of Christ gave eyes like the eyes of an eagle, turned to his comrades and Said, "It is the Lord."
The words, then, that I wish to dwell upon are these: Cast the net on the right side of the ship. And what do they suggest to me? These three important truths. First, what we long for is often nearer than we think. Second, we should never be afraid to change our methods. Third, Christ can manage things for us better than we can ourselves.
What We Long for Is Often Nearer Than We Think
You see at a glance that it was so that morning. Somehow, within the sweep of their nets, was the harvest of the sea these men were looking for. All night they had toiled without one sign of fish; they had lost heart; they were weary, hungry, hopeless. "Ah!" they would whisper, "this lake is sadly changed; there used to be good fish in it. There doesn't seem one in it now." But the fish were there, as plentiful as ever, nor were they far away in remote bays and creeks: cast the net on the right side of the ship--and it was full of great fishes, a hundred and fifty and three. What they had toiled for all night was not remote. What their hearts were set on was not far away. When Peter and Thomas and John recalled that morning amid the stress and the struggles of the after years, it would flash on them as one of its sweetest memories that what we long for may be nearer than we think.
Now often in reading the Bible I am struck with the divine insistence on that truth. And I take it that when God repeats a thing, He is bent on getting it graven on our hearts. Let me only recall to you the case of Hagar when she fled with Ishmael under the taunts of Sarah. Her flight lay through the desert with her child, and in the desert her womanly strength gave out. There was no water there was no sign of water; and her child was perishing, and she cried to Abraham's God. And then and there God opened Hagar's eyes and within a stone's cast of her child there was a well. She would have given all the world for water, and it was running near her all the time. She thought of the well beside the tent of Abraham, and there was a spring not a hundred yards away. And the days would pass, and Hagar would reach Egypt; and she would dwell among the temples of idolatry, but she would remember, when all her hair was silvered, that the things we long for may be nearer than we dream.
Everyone of us needs to learn that lesson We are so prone to think that the best is inaccessible. But all that we long for--happiness, love, peace, power--like the hundred and fifty fishes, is just here. Ah, if all that we craved for was remote, life would not be so tragic as it is. If all that we craved for was very far away, the story of humanity would be less pitiable. But the pity of a thousand lives is this, that love and joy and power and peace are here, yet by the breadth of a fishing boat men somehow miss them, and all their life they are toiling in the dark. It is easy to run away from home. It is not so easy to run away from self. Believe that the kingdom of heaven is within you. Believe that the best and the brightest is just here. The things that we crave for, without which we cannot live, which make all the difference between morn and midnight, these things are always nearer than we dream.
And if that is so of happiness and love you may be certain it is so of Christ. Peter and Nathanael and James and John made that discovery beside the lake. The scene was full of memories of Jesus: every light that twinkled on the lake shore recalled Him. I do not think one hour would pass that night, when the nets were shot and the fishing boat was rocking, but the name of Jesus would be on Peter's lips. They were longing for Him with a longing quite immeasurable; they missed Him unutterably; they could not live without Him. And they learned in the morning when He stood on the shore and called them that the Christ they longed for was nearer than they thought. Do I speak to any who are longing for a Savior--to any who have toiled all night and have caught nothing--to any who are saying "My life is a sorry failure, although God knows I have struggled in the dark?" Behold! I stand at the door and knock, says Christ--the very power and presence that you need. It is easy to believe what Christ wrought in Galilee. It is easy to believe His power in the past. The hard thing is to believe that here and now there is One who can redeem and save and change you. Yet that is what you are longing for now. No one else knows it; they think you are quite satisfied. But you are not satisfied, and I tell you that all that you long for is nearer than you dream.
We Should Never Be Afraid to Change Our Methods
Just think what would have happened by the lake if the disciples had been mastered by that cowardly fear. All night they had cast their nets on the left side--there may have been some fisherman's superstition in the matter--they were simply doing what they had been taught to do; they were holding fast to universal custom. Then in the morning came the ringing voice "Cast the net on the right side of the ship. Try a new method now. Adopt new plans. Strike out on a new course in the grey dawn." What a deal the disciples would have lost if they had sullenly refused to make that venture! No mighty fish would have filled their net to breaking. No one in the boat would have cried, "It is the Lord." The figure would have vanished from the shore; the hot sun would have mounted, and a dreary day would have followed a weary night. But they cast their nets and everything was different. They altered their plans, and the day became divine. It was Christ who was near them; the Savior whom they loved. They had a day of royal fellowship with Him. And I think that in after years when Peter and James and John were fighting their Lord's battles in the world, as often as they recalled this scene in Galilee they would never be afraid to change their methods.
In our moral and spiritual life we must get rid of this debasing fear. When we have been toiling all night and have caught nothing, it is time to cast the net upon the other side. Henry Drummond used to tell us of a duel that he had witnessed in one of the German universities. The combatants faced each other, and the swords made rapid play, and stroke after stroke was given, parried, baffled. Then suddenly, quick as a flash, one fighter changed his tactics; with the swiftness of thought he gave an unlooked-for stroke, and by the unlooked-for stroke the first blood was drawn. We are all fighting heavenward and Godward in a duel far more terrible than that of German students. There is not one of us in whom the flesh does not lust against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and sometimes it seems as if victory were impossible. Try some new plan tonight. Strike out upon fresh lines. Have the courage to adopt a novel stroke. You have been fishing on the left and failing long enough. Cast the net on the right side of the ship.
Of course, I would not have anyone imagine that Jesus is putting a premium upon fickleness. There is no more hopeless character in the world than that of the fickle and inconstant man. The very fact that all through the weary night the disciples had evidently fished on the left side shows that in all of them there was that noble doggedness without which strong character is never forged. The man who can toil all night though he gets nothing is the rough material out of which saints are made. There is something heroic in all quiet persistency, especially when not one fish comes to the net. But to all of us, I imagine, there come mornings like the morning that dawned on these fishers at the lake; hours when we feel more intensely, when we see more vividly, when hopes are born in us and when new vistas open. It is in such hours, if we be men at all, that we will never hesitate to make great changes--we will cast our nets on the right side of the ship. We have never really prayed, but we shall pray now. We have never been thankful, we shall be thankful now. We have let devotion take the place of service, or we have let service take the place of prayer. Beware of the tyranny of habit in religion. There are ruts for the heart as well as for the wheels. We have toiled all night upon the left and have caught nothing. Cast the net on the right side of the ship.
And that is not only a lesson for the individual; it is a lesson for the whole church of Christ. I am no advocate of ill-considered changes. A mighty church must always be slow to move. I love old sanctuaries worn by the hand of time, and the grass-grown corners where our fathers sleep. I love to worship simply and in quiet places where the leaves brush against the windows and the birds are singing, where there are rugged faces round me that have known what tears are, and where I can bow in reverence before Almighty God. I love solemnity and dignity in worship. I love a church mellowed and grey with years. But the question of questions is not what I love. The question of questions is what about the nets? Are they full; are they empty; are there any fish in them? Are men being saved? Is the world being redeemed? If it is not, then let the dead past bury its dead, and cast the nets on the right side of the ship. Do not be eager for a change of methods. Do not be afraid of a change of methods. Measure the matter by the nets, and the nets only--by the power of the church with a dying and lost world.
New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must up and ever onward
Who would keep abreast of truth.
Christ Can Manage Our Daily Lives Better Than We Can Ourselves
Now just think of it, Peter and James were fishermen. They had been falling into that lake since they were babies. They knew every bay in it and every trick of the wind and every art and secret of the fisherman's craft. Then Jesus came to them. He gave directions. Did they resent it as gross interference? They did what He bade them, and doing it they found that He could manage their business better than they themselves.
Now after we have preached, businessmen sometimes say, "Ah! the minister knows nothing about business." That may be true, yet I should like to say in passing that the more I know businessmen, the more I honour them. In the face of risks we ministers know nothing of, they show a courage and a patience that put some of us to shame. I have felt a hundred times that had I but half the consecration to my business that I see in the lives of some businessmen to whom I preach, I might be less haunted with the sense of doing nothing. But that is by the way, my point is this--though the minister does not understand, remember Christ does. He can give advice to the most cunning fisherman, and the fisherman will never regret that he adopted it. Consult Him when all your labour is a failure. Go to Him on the eve of every venture. Tell Him all about it. Ask His advice on it. He knows far more about fishing than Peter ever did. It is such a pity that the fish should all be there, and that by a boat's breadth you should miss your share of them--the share which God in His providence meant for you and which you lose because you will not take His way.
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