The Secret of Success*

Bibliology
Christology
Guest Writer Sabine Baring-Gould

“We have taken nothing; nevertheless at Your word, I will let down the net” (Luke 5:5).

Peter and the other apostles had been fishing all night, and had met with no success at all, then Jesus entered into the boat of Simon, and told him to launch out and let down his net. Peter did not hesitate. He had met with no success when fishing in the night; nevertheless now, at the word of Christ, he fishes again, and this time the net encloses a great multitude, so that the net breaks. No doubt our Lord desired to show those who were to become fishers of men that there were two ways of doing a thing, and that one way would be successful and the other would not. If they were going to become “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19), they must try to catch them by carrying Christ—that is, a Christlike spirit—with them, and the spirit of Christ is love and gentleness.

If they were to be successful in winning souls, they must have a loving zeal, and that would gain more than hard work without love.

We are all of us, in our several callings, fishers of souls. Of course, especially are the clergy fishers, but not they only; every man who loves God must seek to win souls for God; every man who is in the net of the Church must seek to draw others into the same net. If the fisher is to be successful, he must fish in the spirit of Christ, that is, actuated by love, and must deal gently with the souls he desires to gain.

I say, we are all fishers. Those of us who are parents desire to draw to Christ the souls of our children; those who are masters, the souls of their servants. The husband seeks to win the wife, and the believing wife the husband. “What know you, O wife,” says the Apostle Paul, “whether you will save your husband? or how know you, O man, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:16).

The servant seeks to win the fellow-servant, the laborer in the field has the welfare of his fellow-laborer at heart, and seeks to draw him to God. It was Cain who said, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). And the same isolating, selfish spirit is in those who take no interest in those with whom they associate, and do not seek their good.

I was much struck last spring with something a gentleman said to me, who had been a good deal in America; he was much surprised and struck with the interest felt in England by the rich for the poor, by the master and mistress for their servants, by the landowner for his tenants, and he said to me, “This seems to me the most marvelous thing I have seen in England. With us a master cares not one snap of the fingers what becomes of the man he employs, he no more thinks of what becomes of him than he does of a dollar that passes through his hands. He sees that he does his work; and if the man dies, the master gets another in his place tomorrow, and asks nothing about the man who has disappeared.”

Well, I thank God we are not come to that yet, however advanced we may be in our independent ways; and it is not right and Christian that we should.

Now, we come to the way in which we are to try to draw other souls to Christ, the souls of our children, of our servants, of our companions, of our fellow-workers. The first principle of success is gentleness.

In 2 Kings 4 we have this story. There was a Shunammite woman who had an only son. She was a good kind-hearted woman, who had shown much hospitality to the Prophet Elisha. One day the little boy ran out into the harvest field, when the sun was hot, and he had a sunstroke, and was very ill. “He said to his father, My head, my head. And he said to a lad, Carry him to his mother. And when he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then he died. And she went up, and laid him on the bed of the man of God, shut the door, and went out” (4:19-21). Then she ordered one of the servants to saddle an ass, and drive her to the prophet; and when she found him, she told him the piteous story, and how the poor little fellow whom she loved so dearly, and who was such a darling of his father, and such a pet of the old Elisha when he paid them his visits, was lying white and dead upstairs on the bed.

Then Elisha was sorely troubled, and he gave his staff to his servant, Gehazi, and made him run as fast as he could to the house of the Shunammite. “Gird up your loins, and take my staff in your hand, and go your way: if you meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute you, answer him not again; and lay my staff on the face of the child” (4:29). Gehazi obeyed, but it was of no use. “He laid the staff on the face of the child: but there was neither voice, nor hearing” (4:31). Then Elisha came himself, and he shut the door, and laid himself beside the little body, and put his lips to the lips of the child, and his warm loving heart against the little dead heart, and took the chill hands in his. Then the spirit of the child came back into him again, and he sat up, and Elisha delivered him alive to his mother.

Now this story contains some lesson for us. And this is the short comment on the miracle by an old writer, “Him whom the rod of terror will not rouse, love will.” Or in other words, we may learn by this that gentleness will succeed where harshness will fail.

In the time when all the north of England was heathen, there was an assembly held at Iona to decide who should preach the gospel to the English of Northumbria. Then one missionary was sent, and after having labored for some years, he came back to give an account of his mission. And a council was held, and he said, “Those Northumbrians are a stiff-necked, hard-hearted people. I threatened them with God’s wrath, I spoke to them of Hell-fire, I warned them of the terrors of judgment, I denounced the vengeance of God on them, and they would not be converted.”

Then one sitting in a bark seat said, “My brother, it seems to me that you went the wrong way to work. You should have gone in love, and not in wrath. You should have tried to win, and not to drive.” All eyes were turned on the speaker, and it was decided with one voice that he should be sent, and he went. His name was Aidan—and he was the Apostle of all Northumberland, Durham, and Yorkshire. He had the joy to see the whole people bow their necks to receive the yoke of Christ.

What says Paul? “What do you wish? shall I come to you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?” (1 Corinthians 4:21). If he had come with the rod, he would have gone back disappointed.

Let us then, dear brethren, in dealing with the souls of others, approach them, not with the rod, or we shall fail to awake them to a new and better life, but in love, and in the spirit of gentleness, and then we shall meet, I doubt not, with good success.

“The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle to all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the Truth” (2 Timothy 2:24, 25).

Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee

Photo Credit: South Foreland Light, Kent, England

*Adapted from Sabine Baring-Gould [1834-1924], The Village Pulpit, Volume II. Trinity to Advent / A Complete Course of 66 Short Sermons, or Full Sermon Outlines for Each Sunday, and Some Chief Holy Days of the Christian Year (London: Skeffington & Son, 1886), sermon 42. Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.

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