The Lord of the Harvest
William Jackson, Bishops Tawton
To those of us who through the years have spent much time in the harvest-field, the Lord's use of the title "The Lord of the Harvest" suggests a striking conception of God's great interest in the work of gathering souls to Christ. Boaz, as he walks among his reapers, taking interest in all who are in his fields, noting all that is going on, and speaking of "my harvest," becomes a faint picture of God's close connection with all that is going on in the spiritual harvest-field. This surely warrants us in seeking to learn what this title implies, by considering our own experiences in the natural harvest for which we give God thanks today.
(1) The farmer plans the harvest. Far from being a haphazard affair, the farmer has to give careful thought to his cropping plans before he sets to work in the field — it is then, in the farmer's mind, that the first step is taken that will result, he hopes, in fields of golden grain.
The day is coming when a harvest will be reaped which will fill the granaries of heaven—fill them to the delight of God's heart, for it will be after the kind of the original seed, the Lord Jesus Christ, the corn of wheat which fell into the ground and died, bringing forth much fruit. But this will not be the result of an after-thought on God's part—it will be but the fruition of a plan formed in a past eternity. Great changes must take place to turn prairies into wheat-fields, but vaster changes are needed to turn sinful men into the ' many sons' who will be brought to glory. The field is the world, and we cannot cease to marvel at the grace which chose such an unpromising field for the fulfilment of His eternal purpose.
"Surely the thought was Thine,
And only Thine could be,
Fruit of the wisdom, love divine,
Peculiar unto Thee."
(2) The farmer bears the cost of the harvest. Months before he can hope to reap, the farmer's expenses begin—the field has to be paid for, the seed has to be purchased, the workmen's wages have to be found and expensive equipment provided in order to carry out the necessary ploughing, cultivating, fertilizing and sowing. He can forecast with a fair degree of accuracy most of the expense likely to be incurred, but what can be said about the infinite cost of the spiritual harvest?
Although it is unlikely that we shall ever be able to comprehend what it involved, we must remember that God knew the heavy cost to Himself, if any return from this sin-cursed earth was ever to be obtained. The husbandman cannot forecast just what the harvest will be - he ploughs in hope and waits with patience, relying upon God's promise to Noah long ago. Nevertheless results vary a great deal, and so the joy of harvest is relative—it does sometimes happen, though rarely, that a farmer finds he has laboured to some extent in vain. Yet, infinite though the cost of God's harvest, the Saviour who gave His life for its success, shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied, His joy shall be complete.
The farmer welcomes help in the harvest. There are busy days in harvest when the farmer presses everybody he can into service—there is work for all who are willing to help. Not only are the men busy in the fields but the spirit of harvest imbues all the personnel of the farm, and even the members of the household. There is so much to be done while the opportunity lasts, that a task can be found for any person who will help. There are meals to be sent out, as well as com to be carried, and the one is as necessary as the other—the duties may be many and varied, but the harvest is one.
Similarly in God's harvest-field there is something each of us can do. The need in the harvest is for “labourers,” and this word, is connected with various spiritual activities. There are those who labour in word and doctrine; we read, of those who labour in prayer, and of others whose service was a labour of love. Can any Christian say that he cannot, at least in some small way, contribute to one of these spheres of service? At the end of his letter to the Romans Paul was glad to acknowledge by name, a number of men and women, whose contribution to the furtherance of the gospel he valued highly, though their actual work might have been judged fay some as relatively unimportant.
(4) The farmer directs his men. Despite the efficiency of the average farm-worker, the harvest would not proceed very satisfactorily if every man did that which was right in his own eyes. It is the farmer who sees the harvest as a whole, and it is he who must plan each day's work. Even so he does it very imperfectly, for the simple reason that he never knows what a day may bring forth.
Our “Lord of the Harvest” has no such limitations — He knows the end from the beginning, and the very best ways to accomplish His ends. When He gives " to every man his work " He makes no mistake, either as to our qualifications or the course that events will take. Just as the men come to the farmer each morning for instructions as to the day's work, so it is our responsibility to get our orders direct from the Lord. A farmer cannot very well direct a man who doesn't turn up!
In actual practice a farmer is always pleased to receive suggestions from his men—to say the very least it is evidence of interest in their work, and this makes all the difference to the relations between the men and the master. Our Master encourages our co-operation—is there not a hint of this in the call to pray the Lord of the Harvest to thrust out more labourers? Such a prayer would be evidence of concern over the need—it would prove they had the work at heart.
(5) The farmer equips his men. In these days it would be impossible to perform the many tasks involved in gathering a harvest, without all sorts of complicated machines, in addition to the simpler and old-fashioned tools. The farmer has to decide who will use the various implements. One man will be entrusted with a tractor, another may operate a binder—some will just work with their hands. Each is part of a team, and the harvest depends on the faithfulness of each—many a grand day's work is done with a humble pitchfork. Whatever the job, it is faithfulness the farmer appreciates—the task and the tool are the fanner's choice; he is the best judge of each man's suitability.
God's servants are variously equipped ("dividing to every man severally as He will") and it is foolish for us to envy the seemingly better gifts of others. After all, the tractor belongs to the farmer and not to the man entrusted with it. The most costly and up-to-date tractor and its accompanying trailer needs some sturdy labourer to pitch up the sheaves. To the operator of a complicated machine one might say, as Paul said to a highly-gifted church, " What hast thou, that thou didst not receive?"
(6) The farmer encourages his men. A wise master will encourage his men—a good man values appreciation and will make an extra effort to give of his best.
Our wise and gracious Master never fails to encourage His faithful servants—but He does more; He empowers them, A fanner may appoint a man his task, may provide him with all the necessary equipment, may encourage him in every way, but he can never give the man the energy upon which everything else depends. In the spiritual field the energy of the human servant is of no avail—without the imparted power of the Holy Spirit, nothing will be accomplished. God must work in and through His servant. A spiritual gift is one thing—the power to use it effectively is quite another thing. The tractor and the pitchfork are equally useless unless there is the energy to use them. Physical strength and mental endowments can do much in human fields of endeavour, but the most gifted and energetic of our brethren accomplish nothing, save as the Holy Spirit empowers them.
(7) The farmer works with his men. The presence and help of the fanner on the field makes a great difference to the work of the harvest, and no farmer likes to be away from home in harvest-time. It is a common thing to read in reports of markets, sales and other fanners' gatherings that "harvest operations affected the attendance." God not only works through His servants, but with them.
The idea of an indifferent God, far remote and detached, is a flat contradiction of what has been revealed of Him. When the complacent Pharisees found fault with the Lord for His tireless works of mercy, healing even on the Sabbath day, He could appeal to the example of His Father—" My Father worketh hitherto—and I work." Those who were associated with Him realized what a great worker He was. If the farmer has to rise up early to get a full day at harvest, let us remember that the prophet uses a similar expression of God, in order to convey to our little minds some impression of God's earnestness. When Christ sent His apostles " into all the world "He added," Lo, I am with you alway." Paul embraced his co-workers in the expression "workers-together" but he added "with God." The presence of the loved and respected Boaz moving amongst his harvesters exerted an influence on his men and maidens—how much more the presence of the Lord of the Harvest with us in our labours for Him.
(8) The farmer pays his men. In every field of labour some reward for effort is sought, and wages and profits are perennial topics. In James's day there seemed to he some who defrauded men of their right and proper remuneration, but the Lord of the Harvest will never fail.
" He that reapeth receiveth wages "is the abiding law—indeed God saw to it that the very oxen who trod out the corn were allowed their reward as they followed their weary round. The reward of the servant of Christ will be far more satisfying than ever pounds, shillings and pence succeed in being. Sower and reaper shall rejoice together. A farmer generally pays according to time worked, even though on occasions the work done one day may be undone by weather the next day. The men are not blamed for that—they did their best. We are told that "each man will receive according to his own labour." Faithfulness and zeal in the use of such opportunities we have, willingness to put our gifts to the best use, submission to the directions of the Lord, encouraged by His presence arid empowered by His Spirit, will guarantee to the humblest labourer the supreme reward of his Master's " Well done."