A Sermon Delivered on Sunday Morning, May 15, 1864, by C. H. Spurgeon, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and says to them, “What are you seeking?” They said to him, “Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where do you live?” He says to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he lived, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first finds his own brother Simon, and says to him, “We have found the Messiah, (which is, being interpreted, the Christ.)” And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus saw him, he said, “You are Simon the son of Jona: you shall he called Cephas, (which is by interpretation, A stone.)” The day following Jesus would go out into Galilee, and finds Philip, and says to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip finds Nathanael, and says to him, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip says to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and says of him, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.” Nathanael says to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered and says to him, “Rabbi. You are the Son of God you are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” And he says to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, after this you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” (John 1:37-51)
1. If it is that “Order is heaven’s first law,” I think it must be equally true that variety is the second law of heaven. The line of beauty is not a straight line, but always the curve. The way of God’s procedure is not uniform, but diversified. You see this with a glance, when you look at the creation around us. God has not made all creatures of one species, but he has created beasts, birds, fishes, insects, and reptiles. All flesh truly is not the same flesh, neither are all bodies of the same order. The dull dead earth itself is full of variety. Not all gems sparkle with the same ray. The grosser and less precious rocks are each marked and veined according to its own fashion. In the vegetable world what a variety of plants, shrubs, herbs, flowers, and trees, we have around us. In any one of the kingdoms of nature, whether it is the animal, vegetable, or mineral, you shall find so many subdivisions that it would need a long schooling to classify them, and a lifetime would not suffice to understand them all. Consider the winged creatures which flit through the air—what a diversity there is between the tiny humming bird, which seems to be only a living mass of gems, and the eagle which with soaring wing ascends to the sky and sports with the lightings. The whole world is full of marvels, and no two marvels are alike. You shall never be able to find God repeating himself. This great Master may often paint two pictures which seem alike, but investigated with the microscope, what differences at once are revealed! Even those stars which seem to shine with rays of the same brilliance, are discovered by the aid of the telescope to be of different colours, forms, and orbits. Indeed, even the very clouds are piled in varied forms, and the masses of nebulae which make up the Milky Way are distinguishable from each other. God, in no instance that we can ever find, has used the same mould a second time. He is so full of designs, so abundant in the wisdom that devises, so prolific in plans, that even when he wishes to accomplish the same end he chooses to take another road to it; and that new road is quite as direct as those by which he has formerly achieved his purpose.
2. Certainly this observation holds good in providence. What strange diversity there has been in the dealings of God with his Church! When he has chastened his people he has scarcely ever made use of the same rod twice. At one time Midianites shall come up and devour the land of Israel; another day the Philistines with their giants shall invade the country; then shall come the Babylonians and the Assyrians; immediately the Roman power shall tread Judea under foot. And as the rods of his chastisement have been always different on the great scale, so you have found it on the little scale. God has seldom chastened you twice in the same way; you could trace diversities either in the manner of the blow or the instrument you were struck with, or in the part of your mind which seemed to be the most affected by his chastisements. In deliverers, again, how great a variety—you scarcely find two alike! God raises up a Gideon, but Jephthah is not like Gideon, and Samson is not like Jephthah, nor is David to be compared to Samson or Gideon. They are all different; and their weapons are varied too. One man has to use a donkey’s jaw bone, another must use a sling and a stone: one shall be content with the ox goad, while another must draw the dagger. God ordains different methods as well as different characters of man; and he delivers his people just according to his own will, but always in a different way. Well may providence be so diverse when you consider that men themselves whom God uses to be his principal instruments are so unlike each other. There are not merely the great differences of culture and of nationality, nor even the differences of birth and education, but we are all different in constitution—no two minds being alike. There is an individuality about every one of us which will prevent our ever being mistaken for anyone else. We might by accident be undistinguished, but let us be known, and very soon important differences will be discovered. God is always the God of variety, and he will be so to the end of the world. He will do new things before he rolls up the book of history: we shall see new acts of the Lord; he will fight his battles using fresh methods, raise up deliverers different from any who have come before, and will exalt and glorify his name upon new instruments of music. Let us expect it. He is the God of variety, both in nature and in providence.
3. My text is a very clear illustration that the same law holds true in the work of grace. There is always the same kind of operation, and yet always a difference in the manner of operation. There is always the same worker in the conversion of the soul, and yet different methods for breaking the heart and binding it up again are continually employed. Every sinner must be quickened by the same life, made obedient to the same gospel, washed in the same blood, clothed in the same righteousness, filled with the same divine energy, and eventually taken up to the same heaven, and yet in the conversion of no two sinners will you find matters precisely the same; but from the first dawn of the divine life to the day when it is consummated in the noontide of perfect sanctification in heaven, you shall find that God works this way in that one, and that way in the other, and by another method in the third; for God will still be the God of variety. Let his order stand firm as it may, he will still always be revealing the variety, the many sidedness of his own thoughts and mind. If then you look at this narrative—somewhat long, but I think very full of instruction—you may notice four different methods of conversion; and these occur in the conversion of the first five who formed the nucleus of the college of apostles—the first five who came to Christ, and were numbered among his disciples. It is very remarkable that there should be among five individuals four different ways of conversion. However if you were to examine any five people, I suppose you would find similar disparity. Pick out five Christians indiscriminately and begin to question them how they were brought to know the Lord, you would find methods other than those you have here; and probably quite as many as four out of the five would be distinct from the rest.
Conversion of Two Disciples
4. I. The first case we have in the text is THE CONVERSION OF THE TWO DISCIPLES. One was probably John. We cannot speak with absolute certainty, but it was very probably John. We know it to have been the habit of this evangelist to omit his own name whenever he could. Sometimes he speaks of “that other disciple,” when he means himself; and now and then he expresses it, “that disciple whom Jesus loved.” His love nurtured in him a kindly esteem for others, but a humble estimate of himself; while, therefore, he never omits to record the need of praise others obtained from the lips of Christ, as often as he can he omits his own name. It is supposed then—and I think correctly—that one was John. The other was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. The first two disciples are the fruits of preaching. May we not expect to find that most of our conversions are the result of the public ministry? “The two disciples heard John speak, and they followed Jesus.” Let us offer a few words concerning this first matter. We expect, beloved, to see a great number of souls brought to God by the preaching of the truth. The preaching of the cross may be, and it actually is to those who perish, foolishness; but to us who are saved, it is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Wherever there is the most gospel preaching, you will find the most conversions. Many of our societies for carrying the gospel to the heathen, forget their main work; and while setting up colleges, translating Bibles, and publishing tracts, they neglect to use this great hammer of God, this mighty battering ram which is to dash down strongholds. The preaching of the cross, the crying of “Behold the Lamb of God!”—this is God’s appointed method. Other labours are to be entered into, but this is the main and chief method for the conversion of souls.
5. Observe in the case before us, the preacher. He was a man divinely illuminated. Jesus Christ came to John’s baptism, but at first the Baptist did not know him. After awhile, however, when the descending Spirit singled out the Messiah, John then certainly knew that this was he of whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote about. After this John’s testimony was always clear and bold. Although he ended his ministry with the loss of his head, he never lost the honesty of his purpose or the lucidness of his testimony; but he continued faithfully to declare that the Messiah had come. Brethren, it is of importance in the work of the ministry, that the preacher is a God-illuminated man. Not that education is to be despised; on the contrary, we cannot expect the Spirit of God in these days to give to men the knowledge of languages if they can acquire that knowledge by a little perseverance. It is never the divine rule to work a superfluous miracle. With the faculties and powers we possess, we must surrender our members to God as instruments of righteousness. As far then as the education of the man is concerned, we believe God leaves that with us, for if we can do it there is no need that any miracle should be dome; but let the man be educated ever so well, he is then only as the lump of clay; God must breathe into his nostrils the breath of spiritual life as a preacher, or else he will be of no service, but a dead weight upon the Church of God. What shall we say then about those men who enter into a pulpit because the family living is vacant, or because, truly, being too great fools for either the army or the law, they must needs be put where their livelihood can be more easily obtained—is the Church? How crying is this sin in our times, that men should have episcopal hands laid upon them, declaring that they are moved to the ministry by the Holy Spirit, when they do not know whether there is any Holy Spirit, as far as from experience of any knowledge of his power upon their own hearts is concerned! The day, I hope, is passing away, when men shall be more adroit at hunting the fox than at fishing for souls; and on the whole, God is raising up in this land a spirit of decision upon this point, that the Christian minister must be a man who knows from experience in his own soul the truths which he professes to preach. God may convert souls, it is true, by a bad preacher. Why, if the devil preached, I would not wonder if souls are converted—if the devil only preached the truth. It is the truth, and not the preacher. Ravens, although they are unclean birds, brought Elijah his bread and his meat: and unclean ministers may sometimes bring God’s servants their spiritual food; but for all that, God says to the wicked, “What are you doing declaring my statutes?” The minister must be a God-taught man, whose eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit. This, at least, is the standing rule—whatever exceptions may be pleaded.
6. Then granted that this is the case, we must not expect his ministry to be equally successful at all times, for in the present instance, on one occasion John gave a very clear testimony for Christ, but none of his disciples left him to follow Jesus. The next time he preached he was successful, for two of his disciples joined the Master, although on the former occasion we do not read that one of his hearers was led to declare himself on the Lord’s side. My brethren, God allows his ministers to cast the net sometimes on the wrong side of the ship. They may toil even for a whole night and take nothing; they may sow upon the barren ground, upon the highway, and among the thorns; they may cast their bread upon the waters, and as yet they may not find it, for the promise speaks of “many days.” The minister must still persevere. If souls are not saved today, they may be tomorrow. I was wondering, as I read this passage, whether there were some who heard last Sunday in vain, who perhaps would profit in hearing today. I was lifting up my heart in prayer to God that these words, “the next day after,” might come true to some here. Whereas, the other day, I cried, “Behold the Lamb!” and you did not see him or trust him, I will repeat the cry, “Behold the Lamb!” again today. Oh that you may be led to follow Jesus!
7. When you have well considered the preacher and his success, I would have you observe his subject. How short the sermon!—a rebuke to our long winded discourses. How plain it was—no difficult phrases—no high flown elocutionary embellishments—no feats of oratory here; it is just, “Behold the Lamb!” But observe the subject—John preaches of Jesus Christ, of nothing else except Christ; and of Christ too, in that position and in that form in which he was most needed but least palatable. The Jews accepted Christ the Lion; they looked for the mighty Hero of the Tribe of Judah, who should break their bonds. Such Jesus was; but John did not preach him as such; he preached him as Christ the Lamb—the Lamb of God, the suffering, despised, meek, and patient sacrifice. He held him up to the sons of men on this occasion as the great sin bearer. He seems to have brought out most prominently in his own thoughts and before the minds of the people the picture of the paschal lamb and of the scape goat; he dwelled upon this, that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. If there are to be many conversions happen in any place, the preacher must be a man taught by God, and he must persevere, even though he has been unsuccessful; but he must see to it that this is the staple of all his sermons, the raw material from which he makes every discourse—“Jesus, and Jesus the Lamb; Jesus the sin bearer.” He must always be crying, “You sinners, see your sins laid on him; you guilty, look at him; trust him; there is life in a look at him. He has taken your sins and carried your sorrows; look at him.” Let the preacher stammer here, and he is undone. Let him be unsound on the atonement; let him speak in feeble strains, as though he apologised for so old fashioned a doctrine, and you shall hear of no conversion from January to December; but let him hold this to be the first and most important truth, that Jesus Christ came into the world to be a sin bearer for sinners, even the chief, and there must be conversions. God would not be true to his promise, the truth would no longer be the potent thing it has proven itself to be in the olden times, if souls were not quickened and turned to God by such a ministry as this. Oh you who preach the gospel, keep close to this, “Behold the Lamb of God!” You young men who stand up in the streets, make this your topic; and you who minister to the Church of God, give them all the doctrines of the gospel, but still always come back to this as the compass needle comes to its pole—“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” In these two conversions by public ministry, it is interesting to observe the process. Carefully notice the narrative. A spirit of enquiry was stirred up in Andrew and his companion, and they began to follow Christ, not exactly as disciples as yet, but as searchers. If I may say so, they followed Christ’s back; they had not come to see his face yet, or to sit at his feet, but they followed his back as some do who being impressed under the Word, have a desire after Christ, and intend to do an honest investigation of his claims to their faith. While they are following behind Christ, he turns around and faces them. Oh! what a blessed turning for them. It was a blessed turning for Peter when the Lord turned and looked upon him; and in this case while they are as it were following his back, he turns and he looks upon them. I cannot tell you how much love there was in his eyes. The love of a mother to her first child may perhaps picture the love of Jesus Christ to his first disciples. He was God, he was man, he was God’s own Son; but he had never been a Master of disciples until that moment. Now he rises to a rank which he had not obtained before. Now he has some who will call him “Rabbi,” and will be willing to be guided by his teaching. He looks around upon them. Even so, when enquiry is excited by the ministry, and men begin to search, Jesus Christ looks upon them. He regards them with an eye of earnest affection and assists them in their search. Jesus asked them the question, “What are you seeking?”—a very modest question. Notice it. It is the first word of Christ’s ministry. It is the first word I find Christ speaking at all in public—“What are you seeking?” And was it not a very comprehensive question? “What is that you seek?” If there are any honest enquirers here after salvation, he asks the same question to you this morning—“What are you seeking?” “Are you seeking pardon? you shall find it in me. Are you seeking peace? I will give you rest. Are you seeking purity? I will take away your sin, I will give you a new heart, and I will put within you a right spirit. What are you seeking? some solid resting place for your soul upon earth, and a glorious hope for yourself in heaven? Whatever you seek, it is here.” What a text this might be for a missionary when first consulted by some of the awakened heathen, when he should say, “You are on the search after truth; now what is it you really want? What do you seek? What is it? Because whatever it is that the human heart in its right state can possibly seek after—all that is to be found in Christ.” Christ meets the man who is in an enquiring frame of mind by suggesting to him further enquiry, he stirs up the heart; while the soul’s fire is burning he puts fuel to the flame. They say, “Master, where do you live?” And his answer to them is, “Come and see.” This is just how the process of conversion is done in men’s hearts; they want to know more of Christ, and he says to them, “Come and see. You wish to have peace—come and see whether I can give it to you—I tell you that if you trust me, your peace shall be like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea. Come and see!” You say you want purity—just try now the effect of the obedience of faith: see if it does not change your heart and renew your spirit. “Come and see.” Oh you who are seeking and asking questions about Christ, and about his gospel, and his person, and his pedigree, “Come and see.” The best way to be convinced of the potency of our holy gospel, is to try it for yourselves. If you are honest seekers, if the grace of God has made you so, then come and test, and try. “Blessed is every man who trusts in him.” This is our witness and our testimony; but if you want to be sure of it for yourselves, “Come and see.” They took Christ at his word; they came and they saw. We are not told what they saw, but we are told what was the result: they stayed with him that night, and they remained with him all his days, and became his faithful disciples. Oh my dear friend, if you would only come and see Christ, if by humble earnest prayer you would give your heart up to him, and then trust in him implicitly to be your guide, you would never lament the decision. If Jesus proves to be a liar to you, then desert him; if his promises are not true, then stand no longer numbered with his disciples; but give him a trial.
Oh make but trial of his love!
Experience will decide
How blest are they, and only they,
Who in his truth confide.
You see then the way in which God’s grace works through the Word, excites a spirit of enquiry, then a still further enquiry, then the test of experience, and afterwards leads to the surrendering of the heart to Christ.
Privately Inviting Simon Peter
8. II. The next case is a very different one. The third of Christ’s disciples, one Simon Peter, was brought in by PRIVATE INSTRUMENTALITY, and not by the public preaching of the Word.
9. Observe the forty-first verse, “Andrew first finds his own brother Simon, and says to him, ‘We have found the Messiah, (which is, being interpreted, the Christ.)’” This case is only the pattern of all cases where spiritual life is vigorous. Whenever a man is found by Christ, he begins to find others. The word “first” implies that he did not give it up afterwards—he first found his own brother Simon; how many he found afterwards I cannot tell, but I will be bound to say that Andrew continued to be a fisher of men until he was taken up to the third heaven. He found very many after he had found Peter. The first instinct of the newly born life is to desire the good of others. I will not believe that you have tasted of the honey of the gospel if you can eat it all by yourself. True grace puts an end to all spiritual monopoly. I know there are some who think there is no grace beyond their own chapel; they believe that God never works beyond the walls of their own tabernacle; beyond the range of the voice of their minister everything is unsound, unorthodox, pretensions perhaps, but still fatally delusive; they hold that all others are out of the bond of the covenant, and, not unlike those ancient wranglers in the land of Uz, they say, “We are the men, and wisdom will die with us.” Surely God’s people never talk in that way, or if they do, they are then speaking the language of Ashdod and not the speech of the child of Israel, for the Israelite’s tongue drops with love, and his speech is full of the anxious desire that others may be brought in. Look at our apostle Paul. You shall never find stronger predestinarianism than you read in the ninth chapter of Romans, and yet what does he say? His heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they may be saved. He had heaviness of heart, he says, for his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh. There was no man more anxious to convert souls than Paul, though there was no man more sound in the doctrine of the election of God. He knew it was not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but yet he could say as Samuel did, “God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you.” See, then, that the first desire of a Christian man is to endeavour to bring others to the Saviour.
10. Relationship has a very stern demand upon our first individual efforts. Andrew, you did well to begin with Simon. I do not know, my brethren, whether there are not some Christians giving away tracts at other people’s houses who would do well to give away a tract at their own—whether there are not some going out to the villages preaching who had better remain at home teaching their own children—or whether even in the Sunday School there may not be those who come before God to perform one duty, while their hands are stained blood red with the murder of another duty. Your first business is at home. You may have a call to teach other people’s children—that may be—but certainly you have an imperative call to teach your own. You may or you may not be called to look after the people of a neighbouring town or village, but certainly you are called to look after your own employees, your own relatives and acquaintances. Let your religion begin at home. We have heard of some people who export their best commodities—many traders do—I do not think the Christian should imitate them in that. At least, let the Christian have all his conversation everywhere of the best savour, but let him have a care to produce the sweetest fruit of spiritual life and testimony at home, and in the circle of his own relatives and acquaintances. Andrew, you did well first to find your brother Simon.
11. When he went to find him he may not have thought of what Simon would become. Why, Simon was worth ten Andrews, as far as we can gather from the evangelists. Peter was a very prince among the apostles; and with that ready tongue of his, and that bold, dashing, daring spirit, with that confident, resolute soul, none of them were a match for Peter. John might excel in love, but still Peter was truly a leader among the apostles, and Andrew could not compare with him. You may be yourself very deficient in talent, and yet you may be the means of bringing a great man to Christ. Ah! dear friend, you little know the possibilities which are in you. You may only speak a word to a child, and in that child there may be slumbering now a great heart which shall stir the Christian Church in years to come. Andrew has only two talents, but then finds Peter.
12. Andrew’s testimony to Peter is worthy of notice. There was great modesty in it, and that, I dare say, commended it to Peter. He did not say, “I have found the Messiah”—he says, “We.” Whoever was the other disciple, he gives him his share of the discovery. Our speech never loses force by losing pride, but generally increases its power in proportion to its modesty, though that modesty must never interfere with boldness. His testimony was very plain and very positive. He did not beat around the bush or hesitate, but it is just this—“We have found the Messiah.” The statement was plain and unadorned but very positive. He did not say, “I think we have,” or “I trust we have,” but “we have,” and this was just the thing for Simon Peter. Peter wanted positive and plain dealing, and he was a man who wanted it driven home by a brother’s friendly voice, or else it had little availed him to speak of Christ at all.
13. When he was brought to Jesus, observe the process of conversion. Jesus describes to him his present state. He said, “You are Simon, son of Jonas.” Some interpret this, “You are Simon, the son of the timid dove.” He explains to him what he was; shows that he knew him; that he understood both his boldness and his cowardice; both his rashness and his constancy; and then, when he had told him what he was, he gave him a new name indicative of the nature which his grace would give—“You shall be called Cephas, a stone.” Now, this is the general plan of conversion; it is the plan in every case, really, though not apparently. Nature is discovered and grace is imparted. The old name we are taught to read with sorrow, and a new name is given to us, and we rejoice in it. There may be some here who have not been converted to God under the ministry but under the words of a Sunday School teacher, or a sister, or a friend. Thank God, and take courage; it does not matter how you are converted, as long as you are resting upon Jesus only; if you have not been a searcher of the Word, if Christ has never seemed to say to you, “Come and see”; yet if your nature has been changed, and you have received a new name—if there is a radical change in the rest—you are a child of God. Though your case differs from another, it is a rule with God that all shall not be precisely the same. That you are brought into the fellowship of the saints is an illustration of the unity of God’s purpose; that there should be distinctive marks in your conversion is quite in harmony with the diversity of his operations.
Called By the Voice of Jesus
14. III. “The day following Jesus would go out into Galilee, and finds Philip, and says to him, ‘Follow me.’ ” The fourth disciple is called without either the public Word or private instruction—he is called directly BY THE VOICE OF JESUS.
15. Now in truth all men are so called, for the voice of John or the voice of Andrew is really the voice of Jesus Christ speaking through their instrumentality; but in some cases no apparent instrumentality is used. We have known some who suddenly have felt impressions, from where they came or where they tended they did not know. In the midst of business we have known the workman suddenly stop his work—a great thought has entered into his brain; where it came from he could not tell. We have known a man wake up at midnight—he could not tell why, but a holy calm was upon him, and as the moon was shining through the window, there seemed to be a holy light shining into his soul, and he began to think. We have known such things to occur—surprising cases, when men have been planning deeds of vice. Was it not so with Colonel Gardner—that very night he was about to perpetrate a crime, and yet he was stopped by sovereign grace upon the very brink of it, without any apparent instrumentality? We cannot tell, brethren, when God may regenerate his elect, for although we are to use means, and cry to God to send out labourers into the vineyard, yet the sovereign Lord of all will frequently work without them. The Word which has been heard in years gone by, the Scripture which was known in childhood, may by the direct power of the Holy Spirit, without any immediate apparent means, turn the man from darkness to light. Jesus Christ spoke only two words, but those words were enough—“Follow me”; and Philip at once obeyed. What preparation of heart there had been before, I cannot tell. What still small voice had been speaking before this in Philip’s ear, we do not know. Certainly the only outward means was this voice of Christ, “Follow me.” And there may be in this house some who will be converted this morning. You do not know why you are here, you cannot tell why you strayed in; but yet it may be—God knows—Christ would have you come here because he would come here himself. Is not there something which invites a pause in that word “would,” as we read it in this verse?—“The next day following Jesus would go out into Galilee.” Is there not something of the divine necessity which we have often noticed in another place?—“He must needs go through Samaria.” Did he not feel instinctively that there was a soul there which he must meet with, and he must go after it, and speak the all commanding, sin subduing word? Perhaps this morning Jesus would come to the Tabernacle; Jesus would come here because he knows that Philip is come here too. Philip, where are you? You may have lived in sin and despised Christ, but if he says, “Follow me,” I beseech you to obey his word and follow him. To follow Christ is the picture of Christian discipleship in every form. Follow Christ in your doctrines, believe what he teaches; follow Christ in your faith, trust him implicity with your soul; follow him in your actions, let him be your example and guide; follow him in ordinances: in baptism follow him, and at his table follow him. To every deed of daring, to every place of spiritual communion, to the mountain in secret prayer, or to the crowd in public ministry, follow him. According to your measure tread in the footsteps of your Lord and Master. And this, I say, may be directed to one who has had no other instrumentality used upon him, but just the mysterious voice of Christ—“Follow me.” It was so with the third case. Perhaps of the three this experience is the highest. The first two were told, “Come and see,” and they came to understand the value of Christ; but this one is made to follow—he carries out practically what the others only saw. The second conversion before us attains a higher degree than the first; but this is the highest of all when the change of nature, as in the case of Peter, now leads to a change of action, as in the case of Philip, who arises and follows Christ.
Christ Finds Philip
16. IV. I hope I have not wearied you, for there is yet the fourth case of the fifth disciple, which differs from them all—Nathanael. What shall we say about Nathanael? Was he converted by ministry? It does not appear so. Was he converted by PRIVATE INSTRUMENTALITY? He was partly so. Philip finds Nathanael, but Philip’s finding of Nathanael was not quite so effectual as Christ’s finding of Philip. When Christ found Philip, Philip believed; but when Philip found Nathanael, Nathanael would not believe. He said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip is partly the instrument, but there is something more. Jesus Christ himself shows his own power, BY TELLING TO NATHANAEL THE SECRETS OF HIS HEART; but still Nathanael’s conversion to Christ seems to me to be PARTLY OWING TO THE STATE IN WHICH HE THEN WAS. He was already in some sense a saved man—he was a devout Israelite. He was a true seeker of the Messiah beneath the fig tree. Well, then, there were three things put together: here was a preparation of heart which was doubtless done by God; but this preparation did not bring him to Christ, although it made him ready for Christ; it brought him to God in prayer, but it did not bring him yet to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Then came Philip’s instrumentality, and then came Christ’s divine word, which convicted Nathanael and led him to put his trust in the Messiah. This is a sort of composite case, and doubtless there are many in the Church of God, who, if you should ask them, “How were you converted?” would be somewhat puzzled to give the answer. We find in our Church meetings a very large proportion of people who say, “Well, I cannot trace my conversion to any one sermon—many sermons have impressed me—indeed most do. I cannot say, sir, that I was converted when I was a child, but I sometimes think I was, for even at that time I was the subject of many impressions, and I certainly did offer prayer.” “Yet there was a time,” they will tell you, “there was a time when I seemed to come out more distinctly into the light; and when I could say of Christ, ‘You are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel,’ but I cannot say exactly when the sun rose.” Now this, I think, was Nathanael’s case. Perhaps trained and brought up by godly parents, he had been in the habit of prayer: that prayer was somewhat ignorant, but it was very sincere. He sought the solitude of his shady garden, and under the fig tree poured out his heart to the Lord. That man is not saved. Indeed! but there is a great part of the work done. Do not tell me that man in his prayer has nothing in him more than the blasphemer. I tell you that he needs as much as the blasphemer does to have an effectual word from Christ, but still there is a preparatory work in this man which there is not even in Philip, or in Simon Peter; there is a something, not meritorious, but still preparatory for the reception of the gospel of Christ; and when you labour for the conversion of such a man as this—and I do hope there may be some in this crowd—then it does not matter whether it is the ministry, or whether it is private instrumentality, there is sure to be a good result, because there is good ground to begin with; God has already furrowed and ploughed the soil, and so when the seed is scattered, there may be a little objection at first, but ultimately it will take root. Be looking out then, dear friends, you who know how to talk to others about their souls, and wherever you see anything like devotion, even if it is mistaken and ignorant, look at that case; be especially hopeful about it, and try, if you can, to inform that person, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote about.” Introduce Christ, talk about Jesus, bring these Nathanaels to Jesus—these who are like the honest and good ground, these men without guile or cunning—bring them to Jesus. Still, notice that their prayers and your instrumentality will not be enough, unless Christ shall meet them with some startling, soul discovering word, and shall say, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Ah! you seeking soul, Christ sees you. Before you came here this morning Jesus saw you. Before you hear the challenge, “Look to Christ,” Christ has looked upon you. If you are truly seeking in the loneliness of that upper room, or in that field behind the hedge. Jesus sees you. When you are by the wayside, and your heart is going up, “Lord, save me, or I perish,” Jesus sees you. One of you has been writing to me this morning, and you say, “Pray for me so that I may be saved, for I want to be saved.” Ah! my friend, if you want to be saved, Jesus wants to save you, and so you are both agreed on that point. You, like Nathanael, are seeking him; and I come this morning, like Philip, and I long to bring you to Jesus my Master. Oh! how I pray to him to speak to you, and if so, he will tell you that he knew you when you were dead in sin, and loved you, notwithstanding all; and therefore he brought you to this house to hear his Word.
17. Notice that Nathanael’s is the best case of the whole, he was favoured above many. Who was the first man that ever had a promise from Christ? It was Nathanael. What was that? Why, that promise seems to me to be the sum of the gospel; or rather the token promise of the gospel which every Christian should carry in his hand. Jesus said, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You shall see greater things than these .” Nathanael was the first man who ever received a promise from the lips of the Lord Jesus, when he was here on earth. Oh you seeking Nathanaels, I think this is a promise for you—“You shall see greater things than these”—you shall see yourself pardoned; you shall see your prayers ascending Jacob’s ladder, and blessings coming down from God to rest upon your soul.
18. I had hoped to have brought out many more points, but indeed the chapter is too full for one to handle it in so brief a time; you will observe, however, that I have given you just a glance at the surface of it, which will suffice to show that the means of conversion and the general tenor of conversion will be found to differ in each case. Perhaps Nathanael’s is the highest of all; he receives Christ in a fuller way than any of the others, and he enjoys greater promises than they do, but still they are all genuine, though they are all different, except that John and Andrew may be put together. Do not judge therefore your conversion by its means or by its particular form, but judge it by its fruit. Does it bring you to Jesus? Are you depending upon him now? If so, go your way; your sins, which are many, are forgiven you; eat the fat and drink the sweet, for God accepts you; therefore rejoice. But, and if you have had a thousand conversions, if you are not resting on Jesus this morning, tremble, for your refuge is a refuge of lies, your hope is a spider’s web—may God deliver you from it, and bring you now to rest upon the finished work and the perfect sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, and then, with Andrew, and Peter, and John, and Philip, and Nathanael, you shall meet before the throne to praise him who is the Son of God and the King of Israel. May the Lord bless you, for Christ’s sake. Amen.