The first thing to be noticed is that Jesus begins to say, "Follow Me." He does not say, "I appoint you as fishers of men; now go and fish." The disciples would have been totally bewildered. How would they ever know how to do this? Even the simple occupation of fisherman is not learned in one day. Therefore, Jesus says, "Follow Me." If we want to be fishers of men, we first of all have to be followers of Christ. And we have to be that constantly. A fisher of men is someone who continually looks to the Lord for help and instruction. Only in dependence upon the Holy Spirit can we be fishers of men.
In some ways we can follow Jesus; in other ways we cannot. We are not called to perform miracles, for instance. Christ could perform miracles by His divine power and He forgave sins. None of us has that authority. In these areas we are not called to follow Chris, but in other areas we are.
We are to follow Jesus in self-denial. Jesus did not seek His own comfort. He did not strive for the applause of men. His self-denial manifested itself most of all upon the cross. For the sake of His Father's glory and the salvation of His people, He despised the shame. Christ died an ignominious death for the good of sinners.
Jesus set us an example also in His humility. Although He was and is the eternal Son of God, He was the humblest among men. He said, "Learn of Me that I am meek and lowly in heart" (Matt.11: 29). How the disciples needed to learn this lesson! Even at the end of Christ's life on earth, they fought among themselves about who was the greatest. Humility is a lesson we have to be reminded of time and again.
Think also of Jesus' patience. How slow the people were to accept the Gospel. They went after His miracles more than after His preaching. The disciples were men of little faith and our Lord exclaimed at one point, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?"
Think of Christ's love. His love is the main power by which He draws sinners to Himself. It is the master key with which He opens the hearts of men. We do not drive people to the Lord by force and threats. If the love of Christ does not constrain us, there is no other way to draw people to the Lord.
Jesus' perseverance is worthy of our undivided attention. He persevered where we would have given up a long time before! One of the greatest encouragements to preachers of the Gospel is to read the life stories of men like David Brainerd and William Carey. They persevered where humanly speaking it was a hopeless cause. One of the greatest temptations in the ministry is to look at the results, or rather the lack of them, and then to conclude that we better give up. May the Lord give us grace not to give in to such satanic temptations.
The promise given in the text is, "I will make you fishers of men." How Masterfully Jesus calls His disciples. It would have made little sense to call men like Levi or Nathanael with these words. They would not have understood the force of it. The disciples were fully acquainted with the occupation of fishermen. They would still be fishers, but in a higher and better sense. Their activity remains the same, only the field changes.
What, then, is the resemblance between them? A fisher of men is someone who catches the souls of men; that is, he wins people for Christ. Fishers of men are soul-winners. It is not their calling to entertain people, to amuse them or to avoid disturbing them. Their high calling is to draw people away from the power of sin and to win them for Christ. Jesus told Paul that He would send him to the Gentiles "to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me" (Acts 26:18).
What a difference with catching fish! Fish are caught to die and to be eaten. But men are caught so that they may live forever! Being a fisher of men is a much more eminent calling than being an ordinary fisherman!
The net in which men are caught is Gospel preaching. No other net is used than the pure and sound preaching of the Word of God. Soul winners are not to use any man-made method to draw sinners to Christ. Drama and music are not the means ordained by God. "For God sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect" (1 Cor.1: 17). Eloquence is a gift that may be employed in the service of the Lord. But what wins the hearts is the unadulterated Gospel of Christ Who was crucified for our sins. If the meshes of the net are too wide, the fish will swim right through it and none will be caught. If we only speak about grace, but do not mention sin, no one will be attracted to Christ. Neither should the opening be so small that none can ever be caught. If we only speak about sin, but do not preach grace, no one will be able to swim into the net.
In many ways men can be compared to fish. Some fish swim in deep waters; others closer to the surface. Some have not sunk as deep in sin as others. But both must be won for Christ. We could spend many pages on this subject. Thomas Boston, a Scottish preacher from the 17th /18th century wrote a treatise on this subject. It is titled "The Art of Man-Fishing." The comparisons are numerous.
Let us finally note Jesus' promise in the text: "I will make you fishers of men." We do not do the "fishing" ourselves. The disciples showed on many occasions how unfit they were. Yet, Jesus did not send them home. It was His honour to make them fishers of men. If we think highly of ourselves, Christ cannot use us. But if we humbly plead with the Lord, asking Him to make us fishers of men, He will. Jesus took three years to prepare His disciples for their task, and in the end they still knew very little. But when Christ sent His Holy Spirit, they became preachers of the Gospel, real fishers of men.
You ask, "Oh, then it is enough to just wait for the Holy Spirit, and all will be right?" No, we must study the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit brought to remembrance what the disciples had heard and seen. Christ's teaching had not been in vain, although it did not bear much fruit at the time. In the end, the disciples understood what they were taught. Books and schools are good and necessary. But they can only be a blessing in the hands of the Lord. Luther said, "Seminaries are big gates to hell if they do not diligently teach the Scriptures!" Some people have studied the Institutes of Calvin, but they reject his teachings. Some have studied the Scriptures, but they reject the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour. It all depends on God's blessing.
Jesus chooses His own instruments. Often they are men with little education and of low esteem in this world. If Christ is calling you, follow Him. He will make you what you are not of yourself. You will have to learn and unlearn many things. No one is sufficient for this task. But when Christ calls, He will also equip us. For, "faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it (1 Thess.5: 24).