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In what respects the gospel, or kingdom of heaven, is compared to a net, and the preachers thereof to fishermen, are at present under
Yonder net just let down, or rather cast into the water, is in order that it may enclose and bring to land many of the finny tribe; so the gospel, or glad tidings, is sent down from heaven to earth, and spread forth in the world by the ambassadors of Jesus; in order that sinners may be enclosed in it, and thereby drawn out of an estate of sin and misery, and troubled sea of human life, to the shores of eternal bliss.
The mesh of that net, I perceive, is only suited to catch fish of a certain size; all below which (though the net surround them all alike) remain without being caught. In like manner, though the gospel net be spread far and wide by the preachers of it, and freely offered to sinners of every description, none but the elect are enclosed therein, and brought to heaven: And that the rest of mankind are not caught by it, is not owing to any deficiency in the gospel itself (which is perfectly suited to sinners of every size,
the greatest as well as the least; none are excepted, all are invited, nay, commanded, and made welcome to come and be saved : and, for our encouragement, the blessed Saviour himself hath said, “ Him that cometh “ to me I will in no wise cast out,” (John vi. 37.) but wholly owing to their own unbelief, and not being willing to comply with the gospel terms, Mark xvi. 16. Matt. xxiii.
indeed close with Christ, is owing to the infinite grace of God; but the rejection of him is of sinners themselves. Fallen man, it is true, cannot merit salvation ; but damnation : “ No man can come “ unto me, except the Father which hath " sent me draw him," saith our blessed Saviour : And again, " ye have not chosen me, “ but I have chosen you,” John vi. 44. and xv. 16. “ For by grace ye are saved, through “ faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the
gift of God," saith the man who was caught up to heaven, Eph. ii. 3.
Many indeed by a nominal profession are enclosed in the net of the gospel, and dragged a while through life, who shall be, like the fishes that were bad in the parable, cast away at last, Matt. xiii. 48.
Yonder fishermen, I observe, are fouling the stream to darken the water, so that the fish may be more easily surrounded and taken in the net.
Faithful ministers of the gospel, though they foul not the stream of human nature, point out the corruption, defilement, and darkness, it hath imbibed through the fall; so that men may become sensible of their lost and undone state, and embrace the light of the glorious gospel,
Those men I observe with poles, are searching under every brow, root, and covert; in order to push out the fish, so that they may run into the net : Exactly so do the ministers of the word, by the means of the law, search out all the refuges of lies under which guilty men endeavour to shelter themselves; so that they may be driven from these haunts, and enclosed in the gospel net.
The general mercy of God is a covert under which many endeavour to shelter them- . selves: God is merciful, say they, and he never made
any of the human race to be damn
ed; he is infinite in goodness, and therefore we hope he will never destroy us : “ Because “ sentence against an evil work is not exe“cuted speedily, therefore the heart of the “ sons of men is fully set in them to do evil,” Eccl. viii. 11. saying, with those scoffers mentioned by the apostle, “ Where is the pro“ mise of his coming ? for since the fathers “ fell asleep, all things continue as they were “ from the beginning of the creation,” 2 Pet: iii. 4. Such despise the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth them to repentance, Rom. ii. 4.
In order to push sinners from this general covert, ministers of the gospel, these fishers of men, use the word of inspiration, which declareth that God will by no means clear the guilty : and the wicked shall be turned into hell, Exod. xxxiv. 7. Psal. ix. 17. And in God's sight shall no man living be justified, Psal. cxliii. 2. The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 Thess. i. 1, 8.; and there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked, Isą. lvii. 21,
Thus, by the terrors of the law, they are driven from under the presumptuous covert of God's general mercy : but no sooner aré they so, but they fly under another shelter, equally dangerous, even confidence in the flesh, and begin to rest in external performances and carnal privileges, hoping these things will commend them to God,
To force them from this also, they are threatened with condemnation : " “ deeds of the law, there shall no flesh be justified in his sight,” Rom. iii. 20., “and, except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees,
ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom “.of heaven,” Matth. v. 20.
Thus sinners are driven from under the shelter of confidence in the flesh also: But anxious still to shelter themselves under a covert of their own choosing and making, they immediately run under the old root of self-righteousness, and endeavour to reform their inward man, by keeping a stricter watch