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Friday March 9 2018


Looking Back: He Is Still Bidding Men

A Shetland minister's reflection on his interaction with local fishermen. Published in 1948.



The Rev. F. W. D. HOUSTON tells a parish story with an old teaching

IT was past midnight; a thick mist lay low across the calm waters of a Shetland voe, and, dimly visible, the light of a drifter reminded one of how busy fishermen of old must have known the recreating Sabbath rest of Galilee.

Earlier in the day, while crossing to the other side to break the bread of the Word to needy hearts, with words as meagre as the loaves and fishes, but in His wondrous name, I had hailed some of those fishermen who were preparing to row ashore for the evening.

Having re-crossed the voe, there was time for nothing save the necessary walk from pier to kirk, where the faithful were awaiting the commencement of evening worship. Yet I took time to stop to greet, in the vicinity of the kirk, those very fishermen whom I had greeted earlier at a distance.

My interest in them was the deeper for the fact that the skipper and mate of their craft were sons of East Coast fishermen who, with others, years before, had enjoyed the warm hospitality (and sing-songs many an evening) of the old schoolhouse of my parish, which was for so long my mother’s home.

The kirk-bell’s tongue ceased its tolling, but still we talked, and far from bringing our conversation to an end, it was obvious that we were only at the beginnings.

I had to go, but it was in company with five others that I approached the kirk steps.

In these days, when men are not many in the pews of many of our kirks, it was an inspiration to look on a row of men, clad in working clothes showing more signs of grime than grooming, eager to give the Gospel a hearing. There was a strange stirring in my heart as I remembered Jesus’ exclamation when told that a few strangers - Greeks – wanted to see Him: “Now is the hour that the Son of Man should be glorified.” I prayed that it might be so.

Faith comes from acting on His Word

It was a privilege to have those modern Galileans among us, but it was an even greater privilege and pleasure to accept their invitation to continue, in the homely warmth of their foc’sle, the discussion scarcely begun ere the worship of the sanctuary had claimed us.

Tommy was, as it happened, the “Doubting Thomas” among them. He was as aware that religion is all a matter of believing as he was unwilling to believe without proof. He was afraid of the unknown, especially after death. He would like the satisfaction that others seemed to get in believing, but he had not met anyone who was able to prove religion real. In answer to the implication that I was yet another who had failed, I affirmed that he would never find a man able to satisfy him. Both he and the others knew I meant that only God could do that.

After much lively, frank, and friendly discussion, I spoke of Jesus telling the fishermen-disciples to cast on the right side. Then I asked what he would do if I told him that there were fish in plenty (for the taking) at a certain place. Would he spend hours or days enquiring throughout the parish whether or not the minister was a liar or trying to find someone to prove my words true? If he had any sense he would take a chance on my word being good, and prove it himself in action. Why not so with the word God had spoken in Jesus, promising fulfilment of our every need and desire?

My parting words to him referred to the first doubting Thomas. I told him that Thomas, when he heard about the appearing of Jesus, in spite of his doubting, made it his business to be with the disciples from then on, so that if anything happened he would share the experience. He did not call the others liars, or deluded, and go off on his own unbelieving way. Beneath Thomas’ doubt there was the deep desire that what the others said should prove true.

Many of us need to be more in the way of making the great discovery like that than we are.

*         *         *

It was past midnight; the thick mist lay low across the still calm waters of the Shetland voe, and the dimly visible light of the drifter guided a small boat which had just left the shore, bearing the skipper and the mate, who had been visiting old friends. Soon it was alongside. And very soon I was climbing over the drifter’s side, down into the small boat, to be rowed safely ashore by friendly hands.

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