Scarcity Of Harvesters In The White Fields
( Originally Published 1895 )
"Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields ; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal. "—John iv. 36, 36.
JESUS was standing with his disciples, looking doubtless over the way toward the city of Samaria. The new-sown fields were perhaps green on every side of them. The harvests of grain were yet four months away. But while the Savior talked with his disciples and they were urging upon him to partake of their evening meal, he, absorbed in that heart-stirring conversation which he had had with the wicked woman who had now gone away into the city to tell everywhere the glad news of his coming, said unto them, " I have meat to eat that ye know not of." While they wondered among themselves who had brought him food in their absence, he pointed away toward Samaria to the crowd of people who had been aroused to curiosity and interest by the story of the new convert, and were coming out in the white raiment then commonly worn in that region, making no doubt a picturesque group, their white figures standing out in strong contrast to the green fields about them. The Savior breaks into the conversation of his disciples by exclaiming: "Say not ye, There are yet four months and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest." And the Lord delayed there for two days and gathered a large harvest of believers out of that city.
If we are to share the work and the glory of Jesus Christ we must have this same attitude totward humanity. Every man and woman must mean to us a white field where a possible sheaf may be gathered for the heavenly garner. Mr. Spurgeon tells the story of a mountain-side farmer in Switzerland, where land is very precious be-cause rock abounds and the rugged soil is chary in its yielding. The farmer looks about after a little tuft of grass growing on one of the edges of a lofty cliff. From the valley he had caught sight of it and thought of clambering up to where it grew; but the rock is too steep even for so skilful a climber as he. From a ledge near the top of the precipitous wall he looks down, but can see no pathway to the coveted morsel of green. That armful of grass would feed his goat, or help to fill the barn loft with winter fodder for the cow. Every armful is an item, and he cannot forego that tempting clump. He looks, looks, and looks again, but looks in vain. By and by he fetches his bold boy, who can follow wherever a chamois can climb, but the boy after a hard scramble comes back with the tidings, "Father, it cannot be done." The father's answer is, " My boy, it must be done." It is only an armful, and amounts to very little, but to the poor mountaineer every little is precious. The grass waves in the breeze and scorns the daring climber from below; but where there is a will there is a way; and what cannot be reached from below may be gained from above. With a rope slung around him, or firmly grasped in his accustomed hands, with a stout stick or tree to hold it up above, the Switzer is let down till he gets to the jutting crag; there he stands with his sickle, reaps the grass, ties it into a bundle, puts it under his arm, and climbing back again joyfully returns with his little harvest. That seems poor pay to you for such dangerous toil; but oh, I would to God we had something of that venturesome spirit in seeking for souls ! I would we were as careful of them as these poor mountaineers are of little bundles of grass. I would that we were constantly looking up and down the mountain-sides of our human life, and that when at first glance souls seem to be inaccessible to us, we would go round and round about them, prayerfully, tenderly, lovingly, and when we cannot climb to them from below, we would find some way by the help of God's Spirit to come down to them from above, and thus seek after them until we carry them away rejoicing to the heavenly garner.
If we could only look at men and women through the eyes of Jesus we would know that there is no possible investment of our toil so wisely placed as when seeking after an immortal soul. How the very largeness of material things often deceives us as to the relative value of the earthly and the spiritual. Some one well says : " That little emigrant child that crouches yonder by the hatchway, and looks down with great, astonished eyes on the monster engine below—that little child is a vastly greater wonder than anything about the proudest steamship that ever floated on the deep. There was the unfathomable mystery of its birth, the greater mystery of the union of its body with its soul, the mystery of its moral nature that is to detect the right and the wrong and is to act eternally." Men give their lives to making steamtships and controlling them, but greater than steamships or locomotive engines or cathedrals or giant bridges—greater than all these—is an immortal soul; to so influence it that it may ripen in immortal beauty and be gathered a white sheaf in the Master's garner—that is the most glorious work that hearts and hands may know.
When we appreciate. at its full value the worth of a soul, anything that we can do, however insignificant, that may help in the heavenly harvest, will seem to us worth doing. Mr. Moody tells how, when he and Mr. Sankey were in Liver-pool, they saw a poor woman one day in the place where the meeting was to be held, an hour before the time, and she stayed right on through the service. She was all worn out with holding her baby through the hours. During the meeting the baby got restless and began to cry. Some of the people looked cross, and Mr. Moody saw that the woman was very uneasy and nervous; she didn't want to disturb the people, and yet didn't want to go. She did her best to quiet the baby, but it would cry, and at last she started to go out. Mr. Moody said : "Let that baby cry if it wants to. I can speak as loud as the baby can cry. Now, don't look at the mother, but just pray that the Lord will bless her. Remember she hasn't any one to take care of that baby, and perhaps she hasn't been in church for years." So the woman stayed, and by and by the baby fell asleep. She listened to the preaching with tears streaming down her face. At the close of the sermon he asked those who had any desire for salvation to arise, and the first one was that woman. With her baby in her arms she presented herself for prayer. Mr. Moody said it touched his very soul. He asked those who wanted to become Christians to go into the inquiry-room while the congregation were singing. The baby awoke and began to cry again, and the mother got very nervous. Then a great manly six-footer came up to her, and said : " Let me take the baby while you go into the inquiry meeting." Perhaps he had never had a baby in bis arms in his life, but he took it and walked up and down, comforting it, before all those eight thousand people. That man was a hero. Perhaps he couldn't do many things to help, but he shared in fellowship with Jesus Christ and was ready to do anything to help save a soul. The mother went into the inquiry-room and found peace and healing for her poor, wounded heart. Then she took her baby and went out into the dark city with the " Light of the World" shining in her heart and illuminating her path, and that brave man had helped to bring it about.
There is no work in all the world that pays like this. No success in business, no victory in politics, no social achievement, will ever give to any man or any woman such a precious memory to reflect upon as the memory that will be treasured up of a loving and kindly deed done humbly and sincerely to lift up the fallen and win the lost to the Lord Jesus.
On the occasion of John B. Gough's funeral, a little handkerchief was placed over the back of a chair which stood at the head of the coffin. The story of that handkerchief was told by Mr. Gough in a great address in Cooper Institute, twenty-five years ago. He said : " I have in my house a small handkerchief, not worth three cents to you, but you could not buy it from me. A woman brought it and gave it to my wife, and said : `I am very poor; I would give your husband a thousand pounds if I had it; but I brought this. I married with the fairest and brightest prospects before me; but my husband took to drinking, and everything- went. The pianoforte my mother gave, and everything, was sold, until at last I found myself in a miserable room. My husband lay drunk in a corner, and my child that was lying on my knee was restless. I sang "The Light of Other Days has Faded," and wet my handkerchief through with my tears. My husband,' said she to my wife, `met yours. He spoke a few words and gave a grasp of the hand, and now for six years my husband has been to me all that a husband can be to a wife, and we are getting our household goods together again. I have brought your husband the very handkerchief I wet through that night with my tears, and I want him, when he is speaking, to remember that he has wiped away those tears from me, I trust in God, forever.' Ah !" said Gough, "these are the trophies that make men glad." May God grant us all some precious trophies of faithful work done for Christ !
Some of you, I have no doubt, have your white field closer to you even than that pointed out by the Savior to his disciples: your wife or your husband, your father or mother, your children, brothers or sisters, some one in your immediate family circle that is very dear and precious to you. Oh, how glorious it would be if every family represented in our church could in this month of consecration be made whole, and each round circle completed, by winning every member of our families to the Lord Jesus Christ! I am sure you may win them if you will make it the one great end of your life, make everything bend to that one purpose, give yourself to it unreservedly.
There is an old legend of Jerusalem that tells of a woman whose husband was sick unto death, and she went to St. Peter in her sorrow and asked him to prolong her husband's life, and he said,
"I will do it on condition that you will become a beggar." She said, "I do not need to; I have money enough to support us." Peter said, " You must not beg for money, but for time. You go out and beg for time, and any person you find who will give you any time, you can add that to your husband's life." She went out and found one of the ten lepers that Christ had healed, and she asked him for a day of his life, and he said, No, he had lost so much of it that he could not spare any; she found the young man that had been raised by Christ, and she asked him, but he said he knew what it was to be dead once, and he didn't propose to die again until he was obliged to. She put the same question to men and women, asking for a day, or an hour, or a minute of their time to add to her husband's life, and she was coming back disconsolate, when the thought came to her mind, "Why not give your own life?" And she came and asked St. Peter if she might give her own life for the life of her husband. He said she might, and he took from her one-half of her days and gave them to her husband, and they went through this world hand in hand until they came to the river of death, and went across it together.
I have no idea that the old legend is true. And yet it has in it a vein of eternal truth. You may give your life for others. You may give up your ungodliness, and your worldliness, and your idle, foolish pleasures that amount to so little and will look so insignificant to you when you really come to know higher and holier things—you may give these things up, and center Your whole interest, and attention, and all the boundless resources of your love and your fidelity, in winning these lost souls that are dear to you to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Mr. B. Fay Mills tells the story of a woman who was married to a man who was not a Christian. He was a prominent banker in the community where he lived, and a very proud man indeed ; a man of fifty-five or sixty years of age. This woman came to Mr. Mills one night and she said, " I cannot tell you how troubled I am about my husband. We have been married twenty years, and I never felt like this. I do not do anything but think about my husband and pray for him. I have been pleading with him, and I can do nothing." She went on to say, "Last night I heard him groan, and he said, `I am so troubled.' I said to him, `Are you troubled about your soul?' and he said, `Yes, it is about those things.' I said, `Will you not kneel down here with me while we settle the question, and give yourself to God?' He said, `No, I don't want you to speak to me on this subject again; don't mention the matter again until you have my permission to do so.' " She said, " I cannot live; I cannot live, unless my husband is saved now." Mr. Mills said to her, " Sister, if that is true, he is going to be saved now, you can be assured of that."
That day when the time came for evening service she said to her husband, "Come, dear, and go to meeting with me." He said, "I am not going to meeting. Go if you want to, but I am not going to church. I am not going out of the house unless I come for you after the meeting." She kept on pleading with him, until he finally put down his paper and said, " I will go just this once."
Mr. Mills says that when he saw him coming in, he felt sure the critical day in that man's history had come. It was a stormy night; but they were gathered compactly in a small room, and after a while the leader said, " If any one wants to pray for friends that they may be saved, they may do so, and we will all join in the petition." A man arose and prayed for his brother. Afterward a business man arose and prayed for one of his employees. Now this lady we have been talking of was a member of a church where ladies were not in the habit of taking part in public meetings, and she had never prayed aloud in public in her life; but she was desperately in earnest about the salvation of her husband, and she kneeled down on her knees beside her proud husband and asked God to save him that night. And when Mr. Mills asked those who wished to become Christians to stand up, his stubborn knees unbent, and he rose up and said, "I want to be a Christian now ;" and he went home, and his wife said he prayed at the family altar that night as though he had been a Christian for sixty years. Oh, that God will give us this same earnestness of soul; that will not stop at anything that promises success in winning our friends to Christ!
Dear brothers and sisters, I pray, as I have been praying throughout the day, that God will bless this message to every Christian heart to-night, and that his Holy Spirit will so arouse your souls that there may not be one of you that shall go empty-handed up before the judgment throne at last. I recall a message of a poet, entitled the "Curse of Empty Hands."