Divine direction, a full net, the presence of the Lord, “the Lord working with them” – what’s not to like about the scene in John 21? He was the same gracious, almighty Lord after His passion and resurrection as He had been when first He called them to be fishers of men. And their joy at being so “successful” in fishing, after such recent disappointment, must have known no bounds.
When I was a teenager, “the right side of the ship” seemed to be Venezuela, Newfoundland, and Labrador – all areas where God seemed to be working in a remarkable way. Assembly workers labored long and hard, amid difficult and primitive surroundings, and God worked mightily. It was thrilling to read reports of the work and the fruit they were seeing; invariably, letters of acknowledgment to assemblies seemed to bring encouraging news and the reminder that the mighty Lord Who, in a past day, “confirmed the word with signs following,” was able to bless His Word in the 20th century.
But how about the 21st? Now, similar tidings of God’s work and power come from places like Mexico, Latin and South America. With what joy we hear of souls being saved, assemblies being planted, and God’s work in many places being furthered! Brothers in Christ labor tirelessly in these fields and these workers often have the joyous experience of seeing the power of God “on the right hand and on the left.”
I am not jealous, as though I wish it were I instead of they or even I as well as they. I am jealous, though, in wishing that we could see God working like that again in Ontario, the Maritimes, Quebec, and the Prairies on through to the Pacific; on the West and East Coast of the United States, in once highly-favored New England, in the heartland, in the South, through the so-called “Bible belt.” Reading of revivals and powerful visitations in the past only deepens the thirst for revival, for Christ to be honored, for the gospel to prosper, for assemblies to thrive, grow and increase, for God to display His might; as David expressed it: “To see Thy power and Thy glory, so as I have seen Thee in the sanctuary” (Ps 63:2).
Is it possible? In a first century world where slavery, polygamy, human sacrifice, pagan religions, occultism, mysticism, Caesar-worship, brutal and violent forms of sport and entertainment, abortion, immorality, and ungodliness were rampant, 12 men were given a task by the risen Lord: “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” Their weapon against such powerful foes? The gospel of Christ. Their resource in the face of such prodigious opposition? The Lord with them and His Holy Spirit within them. With humble vessels – fishermen and tax-gatherers, frail, failing men – God shook the world.
Since then, time and again, God has worked in mighty power, often reversing the course of entire nations and history itself as He has blessed the Gospel of His Son. Moral conditions in Great Britain were at their nadir when God took up Whitefield, Wesley, Grimshaw and others. Repeated often throughout history, in many parts of the world, revivals have caused a renewed sense of the greatness of God, have transformed lives, and have preserved societies from impending implosion.
But perhaps instead of revival, with large numbers professing faith in Christ and audiences eagerly gathering to hear the Word of God, your field is a small gospel meeting on a Sunday night, in, perhaps, an indifferent town or village that ignores the Gospel. Perhaps you labor in a city where a thousand things compete for the time and attention of sinners for whom you are praying. Should we all pack our bags and “go where the fish are biting”? The commission in Mark 16 was not “Go ye into all the world and save every creature.” We have a job to do for our exalted Lord and that task is to spread His Gospel. And if the field in which we are called to do that is more difficult, then surely He gets greater honor from your faithfulness in what seems to be a thankless task in a difficult place. It was to a comparatively small remnant, accomplishing a comparatively small rebuilding project, that the Lord said: “… bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD … be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts” (Hag 1:8; 2:4).
Far from laboring without looking for results, we sow in hope. The Gospel has lost none of its age-long power. The Spirit of God is as capable today as in past days to effect conviction and conversion. While we mourn conditions that deny God His proper place, we are called on to proclaim a life-changing, world-shaking, destiny-altering message of hope and deliverance.
In a passage where Peter reminds the saints of the coming apocalypse, he also reminds them how long-suffering the Lord is, how unwilling He is that any should perish, and how incumbent it is on us to live lives marked by holiness and godliness. Let us labor expecting God to bless His Word. Let us cry to Him for a shaking of the dry bones in the valley of death. Let us pray for revival and, as we await it, let us fear the Lord and serve Him in truth with all our heart; “for consider how great things He hath done for you” (1 Sam 12:24). Let our attitude be like that of Simon Peter who said: “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the net” (Luke 5:5). Perhaps one of these days you will hear His voice say: “Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find.”
The Board of Truth and Tidings marks with deep regret the request of our brother E. R. Higgins, to be relieved of his role on the Board to devote himself more to his passion for gospel work. His contributions, while largely unseen, have been highly significant. His help will be greatly missed. His editorial reflects his burden and life priority.