Bringing in the Sheaves

V. Topps, Andover

ARE YOU A SOWER of God's Word? See with what diligence the husbandman applies himself to the task, going forth un-questioningly to sow, to 'cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rye in their place'. He would be foolish indeed who looked for a harvest without having first sown the good seed on the land. Yet in the spiritual realm, which the Lord's parables show to be so closely analagous to the natural, we fall often into the error of supposing that there can be a time of reaping without a time of sowing. Perhaps the illusion exists because in the divine orderings one might sow and another reap. We ourselves may have reaped that whereon we bestowed no labour; other men laboured, and we are entered into their labours. In so doing we are apt to lose sight of the sower.
Psalm 126. 6 brings us sharply back to our senses. 'He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubt┬Čless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.' There is the relentless movement of logic in that statement, a sequence of actions immutable, eternal, to which we must bow. Lest there should be any lingering doubt, the verse turns on the word 'doubtless'. Let us for a moment examine its parts, asking God to order our steps in His Word, and pausing only to remark that love must be the currency of our engagement when the sheaves are the souls of men. Love will keep us going when the hirelings drop out. Love beareth all things, endureth all things, love never faileth. I have assumed, before passing to what follows, that the philosophy of each reader of these lines is that of the hymn writer, who wrote:
'I cannot work my soul to save,
For that my Lord has done;
But I would work like any slave,
For love of His dear Son'.
First then, we see:
Love's Initiative
'He that goeth forth.' How sublime the conception! Mighty events springing from a simple enough act. A man leaving the threshold of his door, a sower going forth to sow, someone stepping out. And the result? A harvest. A man steps out of the strip of civilization that harbours Ur of the Chaldees, leaving the crowds for the wastes, and the results are such as to stagger the imagination, to stagger in fact everything except Abraham's simple faith. 'I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore.' Three men are seen passing through the outskirts of Antioch, making for the country, walking with the steady pace of men who have a journey in front of them. Presently Saul and Barnabas, with their youthful attendant Mark, cross the bridge over the Orontes and are lost to sight down the Seleucia road, while Antioch, unheeding, pursues its even way. Three men laden for the road. Who would have recognized, in that everyday sight, the inauguration of the great age of Christian missions; the bringing of continents under the sway of the crucified? Love seizing the initiative! Three men setting out on foot, with the powerful word that should shake all the gods from Cyprus to Gibraltar, and turn the tide of history. Philip tears himself away from crowded meetings in Samaria to seek, at the Spirit's bidding, one soul in the desert, and has the unspeakable privilege of leading to the Saviour the first of Africa's sons, the firstfruits of one of earth's richest harvest fields. An unknown Christian in Colchester reaches for his coat and sets out for chapel, in spite of snow already falling, and the preacher being missing because of 'the inclemency of the weather', delivers an ex tempore sermon that brings young Charles Haddon Spurgeon to the foot of the cross, then to arise and become a prince with God in exposition of the priceless Word. Someone has to go forth. Everything that has been planted on earth for the glory of God started with a man going forth. Trace it back to its genesis and you find a man setting out, leaving home. Your assembly and mine exists because somebody went forth, some evangelist, some teacher, in a bygone day.
Shall our armchairs, our hearths, our books hold us? 'I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?' Outside is a dying world, and we are its only hope. A man, already well spent, his strength dried up like a potsherd through years in China and India, sees a notice outside a meeting-place: 'Cannibals need missionaries'. 'Of course they do', he exclaims, and the first step is taken that led C. T. Studd to Central Africa for one glorious final fling in the service of Christ, continuing the work begun by Philip the evangelist, bringing in the sheaves. But sheaves are only brought in by dint of much anxious labour. We are made now to think of
Love's Prerogative
'And weepeth.' Love takes to itself this privilege of sowing in tears, that it may reap in joy. What heartbreak conditions often attend the sowing of the Word; to see three parts fall to the ground fruitless, snatched away by the devil, or failing through shallowness, or choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. The seed is the Word of God, but human hearts refuse its message. It is infallible seed, yet does not always bring forth fruit for God, not being mixed with faith in them that hear it. But here and there it falls into an honest heart, and fertilized by prayer, it springs up and produces fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred. Over these vicissitudes the sower weeps; over differences in kind: men who are quickened by the Word of truth, and others who remain wilfully ignorant, unregenerate, vessels of wrath; and differences in degree: some who love their Lord but a little, some more, and occasionally, one whose life is yielded passionately to God, body, soul and spirit, a hundredfold. The sower sows besides all waters. In the morning he sows his seed, and in the evening he withholds not his hand, not knowing whether shall prosper, either this or that. He has long patience until he receive the early and latter rain, until God gives the increase. But next we are led to look more closely at that which is in his hand -
Love's Explosive
'Bearing precious seed.' I borrow the dramatic thought from D. M. Panton's famous term 'Dynamite in Thistledown' applied to the printed Word. His is no idle inflation of language, for Paul declares the Gospel to be the mighty power of God {dunamis) unto salvation to every one that believeth. Do you pack dynamite in your pocket or your handbag? As a point of honour before the Lord of the harvest we ought never to be found without a tract or a Gospel on us. The going forth is abortive and the tears unavailing unless we carry the precious seed. God grant us some understanding of all the latent power locked up in His Word. Immense, untold energy can be released, and a chain reaction touched off with world-wide repercussions by even a single tract. Men's explosives, the splitting of atoms, the unleashing of nuclear energy, at their utmost can but operate in the material world; they can only blast the body, and after that, the Lord assures us, have no more that they can do; the physiological is their limit, but 'the word of God is quick, and powerful {merges), and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart'.
D. M. Panton proceeds: 'In scattering divine literature we liberate thistledown, laden with precious seed, which blown by the winds of the Spirit, floats over the world. The printed page never flinches, never shows cowardice, it is never tempted to compromise; it never tires, never grows disheartened; travels cheaply and requires no hired hall; it works while we sleep; it never loses its temper; and it works long after we are dead. The printed page is a visitor which gets inside the home and stays there; it always catches the man in the right mood, for it speaks to him only when he is reading it; it always sticks to what it said and never answers back; and it is bait left permanently in the pool. The printed page is deathless, you can destroy one but the press can produce millions. Nor let us forget the enormous electric voltage prayer can put behind it. God's thistledown enters doors locked to the evangelist; its economy places it within reach of all; it preaches in the factory, the kitchen; it visits the hospital ward, the workhouse, and whispers in the ears of the dying. For prayer - that is, God, is behind it'.
The spoken word can be equally dynamic - how forcible are right words - but the printed page makes up for any weakness on our part, and incapacity for personal work. It also destroys the language barrier. I remember once, on a long flight on one of India's airlines, a French officer was amongst the passengers, and as we all settled down I noticed he had brought nothing to read. This can make a journey by air boring, for the noise of the engines makes conversation difficult, insulating the passengers one from another, and a book is the sovereign remedy. As I pulled my Bible out I found - and I could not have been more delighted if I had found treasure trove -a French Gospel of John. I handed it to the officer. His pleasure at recognizing his beloved mother tongue, high up over British India (as it was then) was evident; and he read it through without interruption from cover to cover, a thing you and I perhaps have never done. Shall I see that Frenchman in heaven? I do not know, but let the inquiry lead us to our conclusion:
Love's Objective
'Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.' We have thought of the foolishness of expecting golden sheaves without first sowing the seed; but what surpassing folly, when men have sown, not to look for the increase. 'Shall doubtless come again' - that 'doubtless' shatters my unbelief! As certain as the concatenation of day and night, summer and winter, cold and heat, is the unfailing rhythm of seedtime and harvest. There are some who look askance when we talk of results, as if it were sacrilegious to expect the Gospel of Christ to achieve anything. But that is precisely our aim. Does the farmer go forth, and not expect results? 'Doth the plowman plough all day to sow?' Sowing is not his aim, his objective. Even while he ploughs, and while he sows, his eye is on the field of waving corn. 'His God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him.' Does the fisherman set out, and not look for God's abundance from the deep? How much more can the sower of God's Word confidently await the joy of harvest. Others indeed may reap where we have sown, but a harvest there will be, and it matters not whose is the reaping hand. In that day, both he that soweth and he that reapeth shall rejoice together.
It was for the joy that was set before Him that Jesus endured the cross. He saw the end from the beginning. 'Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people.' A Man going forth. He gave us God's Word, and watered it with strong crying and tears. And the harvest is assured. The inexorable Medo-Persian laws of cause and effect demand this final vindication of the Lover of souls. Scripture reverberates with the strains of second advent, as certain, more certain, than the dawn. He shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing His sheaves with Him; Himself the supreme example in the ages of the inspired yet patent word: 'In due season we shall reap, if we faint not'.