Posted by: the watchmen | April 23, 2008

Setting the nets.

His Nets Were Set

Firstborn son and successor of C. H. Spurgeon
Thomas Spurgeon His nets were set. So ended a brief notice in a newspaper, of the untimely death of a fisherman on the New Zealand coast. So far as could be ascertained, he had performed his daily duty, little dreaming that other hands would haul in the nets which he had set. He rowed his little boat to shore, to find even before he could reach his house (for he expired in the bush) that another fisherman had spread a net for him, from the meshes of which there was no escape. By way, I suppose, of indicating the extreme suddenness of the seizure, the reporter stated that “his nets were set.” But this brief sentence casts something like a ray of light, however faint, over the otherwise all-dark picture. One naturally reflects, “It was well, at all events, that his duty, humble though it be, was performed to the last. Better far to leave the nets in position than in a tangled heap ashore in need of washing or of mending. None can charge the lone fisherman with neglecting opportunities, or of dying a sluggard’s death.Whether or not he had any premonitions of his approaching end we cannot tell. Perchance he refused to yield to indisposition; struggled bravely on; and having accomplished his accustomed task, lay down in duty’s path and died!

Such is the pathetic story, And who may not envy the fisherman his epitaph – “His nets were set”? Fishers of men, as all should be who have heard the Master’s call, be it ours to cast and haul the gospel net while we have any being; and we may well be:

Happy if, with our latest breath,
We may but gasp his name,
Preach him to all, and cry in death
Behold, behold the Lamb!

George Whitefield

“I would rather wear out than rust out,” and “We are immortal till our work is done.” A Christian worker can scarcely have a nobler ambition than to die in harness. Whitefield’s two favourite expressions were, “I would rather wear out than rust out,” and “We are immortal till our work is done.” In the earlier part of his ministry, he was very much admired by an old dissenting minister named Cole, who went about preaching in the wake of his younger but more popular brother. One evening, whilst preaching, he was struck with death; managing, however, to conclude his discourse. The sermon over, his spirit passed away. Hearing of this Mr. Whitefield exclaimed, “O blessed God! if it be thy holy will, may my exit be like his!” The prayer was heard. He died as he had lived – working. “His nets were set.” Though actually sick unto death he started to ride fifteen miles to preach his last sermon, praying, “If I have not yet finished my course, let me go and speak for Thee once more in the field, seal Thy truth, and come home and die.” Next morning he passed away, saying, only two hours previously, “I had rather wear out than rust out.” He had a large number of preaching engagements “booked” and longed to fulfil them, but though “his nets were set” his season was past, and the well-nigh miraculous draughts he had been permitted to witness were not to be repeated in his history.John Wesley

His oft-repeated prayer was, “Lord, let me never live to be useless; It was much the same with good John Wesley. Never was there a harder worker. He is reported to have said, “Leisure and I have taken leave of each other. I propose to be busy as long as I live, if my health is so long indulged to me.” His oft-repeated prayer was, “Lord, let me never live to be useless; but may IMy body with charge lay down,
And cease at once to work and live.”

His hopes were in great measure realised. In his old age he said, “I am now an old man, decayed from head to foot. My eyes are dim; my right hand shakes much; my mouth is hot and dry every morning; I have a lingering fever almost every day. However, blessed be God! I do not slack my labours. I can preach and write still.” True to his spirit is his memorable reply to a lady who once said to him, “Suppose that you knew you were to die at twelve o’clock tomorrow night, how would you spend the intervening time?” “How, madam?” he replied, “Why, just as I inted to spend it now. I should preach this night at Gloucester and again at five tomorrow morning. After that I would ride to Tewkesbury, preach in the afternoon, and meet the societies in the evening. I should then repair to friend Martin’s house, who expects to entertain men; converse and pray with the family as usual; retire to my room at ten o’clock; commend myself to my heavenly Father, lie down to rest, and wake up in glory!”

His hope and prayer were in great part realised. After he had preached his last sermon, only a few days before his death, he both read and wrote. Prayer and praise were ever upon his lips. After trying once to sing, he gasped for breath, and said, “Now we have all done, let us all go.” The ruling passion was strong in death; he was doubtless fancying that he was dismissing a congregation. “His nets were set.”

Robert Murray McCheyne

“This parish, Lord, this people, this whole place,” and again, “Do it thyself, Lord for thy weak servant.” So also was it with the saintly McCheyne. He preached in public within a fortnight of his death; and in the delirium which preceded his last sleep, he continued praying and preaching to the people, and died with his hands upheld as if pronouncing the benediction. Thus did he pray, “This parish, Lord, this people, this whole place,” and again, “Do it thyself, Lord for thy weak servant.” His nets were set!John B. Gough

Of John B. Gough we scarcely need reminding. He had hoped to die fighting; and he did. He died setting his nets, for his closing words are still catching men – words worthy of the man who spoke them, and worthy, too, of the solemnity of the occasion: “Young man, keep your record clean!”

And what shall I more say? For time will fail me to tell of John Angell James, to the last proclaiming the gospel to the masses of Birmingham; of John Knox, preaching with such fervour that he was “like to ding the pulpit into blads,” although he had to be assisted into the pulpit; of the devoted Mr. Townsend, who, unable to proceed to a meeting for want of breath, yet struggled on, exclaiming, “Oh, it is hard to give up working in the service of such a Master!” Nor can we forget the noble army of martyrs, God’s “slaughtered saints”; nor the devoted missionaries who have fallen in the front. All these have died in harness, with their faces to the foe, in the midst of their labours, and with plans and hopes for future service. Their nets were set.

Sudden Death – Sudden Glory

In such cases, sudden death is, indeed, sudden glory. Rather than pray the good God to deliver us therefrom, we might well crave to have it so. Lord, give us strength and grace to labour till the last moment of life; to die like faithful Maynard; to perish at our posts, like the sentinel of Pompeii; to die, like Stephen, witnessing a good confession.

I’ll speak the honours of Thy name
With my last labouring breath;
Then, speechless, clasp Thee in my arms,
The antidote of death.

But in order to this, we must “fill brightest hours with labour,” and “give every flying minute something to keep in store”; for death publishes no time-table and makes no appointments. “We must not leave empty spaces in our time,” says Matthew Henry, “lest the Lord should come in one of those empty spaces. As with a good God the end of one mercy is the beginning of another, so with a good man the end of one duty is the beginning of another.” If the nets are to be set when we die, we must never have them unset while we live. Agreeably to this, Calvin replied to one who begged him to spare his exhausted frame, “What!” he said, “would you have my Master find me idle?”

“The King’s business requireth haste.” “Work while it is called today.” Are we, then, to commit ourselves to lives of ceaseless toil and untiring exertion? “Take it easy,” “rest and be thankful,” Slow and sure”; such are the titles of the songs that siren voices sing. But what saith the Word, and what saith our enlightened conscience? “The King’s business requireth haste.” “Work while it is called today.” Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” “Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching.”Grimshaw

Besides, it is not for long. “My rest is in heaven, my rest is not here.” When that zealous and devoted labourer, Mr. Grimshaw, who usually preached from twenty to thirty times a week, was entreated to spare himself, he always replied, “Let me labour now, for the hour is at hand when I shall rest.” “We shall have time enough to rest in heaven,” Whitefield used to say to those who bade him give himself a day’s rest, “Who, then, is willing to consecrate his service this day unto the Lord? to live and die for him, asking as the greatest favour that the lowest inch of life’s candle may be consumed in the search for the lost silver piece, and the blade worn to the haft in fighting the foe. Said one to an acquaintance whom he had not seen for years, “Why, I thought you were dead.” “Nay,” said he, “that’s the last thing I’ll do.” Perhaps even the ill-timed jest may be turned to good account. There are Christians who die as to usefulness long before they actually expire. Giving up Christ’s service should be the last thing we do. It may be wise to change the sphere, it may be well to diminish the strain; but give up altogether! die out! nay, verily! If soldiers can fight on their bleeding stumps, or hold their charger’s reins between their teeth, the hand being shot away; if admirals and generals can leave the quiet retreats of their old age to tread the deck, and lead the war again, we will be at least as bold and self-denying as they; for we have a still nobler cause. “I serve,” is the Christian’s motto when he enlists; it is his till he breathes his last!

No Holidays

Are our nets set? Have we some good works in progress, some schemes for the glory of God in hand? We want no holidays “till Jesus comes, and we are gathered home.” We must set our nets till all the fish are caught. Furlough is out of the question till the war is over; so we may as well learn the harmony, and catch the spirit of one of the Jubilee Singers’ sweetest and most inspiring refrains: —

Oh, what do you say, brothers?
Oh, what do you say, brothers?
About the gospel way?
And I will die in the field,
I’m on my journey home.
Oh, what do you say, Christians?
Oh, what do you say, Christians?
About the gospel way?
And I will die in the field,
I’m on my journey home.


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