The Whitening Harvest
June 23rd, 1963 @ 10:50 AM
THE WHITENING HARVEST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-23-63 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock message entitled The Whitening Harvest. It is a sermon in preparation for these days of revival. Our gigantic Coliseum Crusade for Christ begins tonight at seven-thirty o’clock in the athletic coliseum on the campus of Southern Methodist University. There are eight thousand seats in that arena, and we are asking God to help us fill it tonight and every night for this continuing week. There will be eight nights of the revival beginning this evening and continuing through next Sunday night. Buckner Fanning, pastor of the University Church, the Trinity Baptist Church, of San Antonio, will be our preacher. And we will all be there praying and on the way between now and then, inviting others to come, and looking in confidence to God for a tremendous outpouring of the saving Holy Spirit from heaven.
If you would like to follow the message this morning you can easily do so if you turn to the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John, beginning at the fourth chapter. We shall read a part of it, then skip to a latter part of it, in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John. Beginning at the third verse:
He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee.
And He must needs go through Samaria.
Then cometh He to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.
Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with His journey, sat thus on the well,
There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give Me to drink,
Then saith the woman, How is it that Thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, a woman of Samaria?..
Jesus answered and said, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give Me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water –
then continuing –
Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:
But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life –
now continuing again –
The woman saith unto Him, I know that Messiah cometh . . . when He is come, He will tell us all things.
Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am He.
And upon this came His disciples, and marveled that He talked with a woman.
No self respecting rabbi would ever be seen talking to a woman. You have it translated here "talked to the woman"; what John wrote there was "a woman, they marveled that He talked with a woman" [John 4:27]. She was a Samaritan. That was a surprise. She was a harlot [John 4:17-18]. That was another surprise. She was a female. That was the climactic surprise. "They marveled that He talked with a woman." Yet that’s so much like our Lord, so much:
The woman left her waterpot, and went into the city, and said,
Come, see a Man . . . is not this the Christ?
Then they went out of the city, and came unto Him.
And in the mean while His disciples who had returned, said, Master, eat. Here is the banquet prepared for Thee.
He saith unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of.
Then said the disciples, Hath any man brought Him aught to eat?
Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work.
Then He said to the disciples, "Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest?" [John 4:35]. Disciples didn’t want to go through Samaria, they didn’t want to get their feet dirty. Every good respecting, self-respecting Jew went across the Jordan up Perea, back across the Jordan into Galilee; no Jew went straight up through Samaria. So when the Lord continued in His perverse and obstreperous and uncorrectable dedication that He was going that way, why, the disciples said, "Well let’s go with Him. But, O Master, make it snappy, make it quick, make it soon. This is a hard country, these are hard hearts, these are difficult people; there are no souls to be saved here. You are not going to have any harvest here, no response here, and if we’re going to go through Samaria, let’s make it fast; let’s go quickly.
Then when the disciples came to the Lord, His having spoken to this despised, outcast of a sorry woman – in our eyes she’s sorry; in God’s eyes she’s as precious as the saintest one among us; that’s the Lord again – when He got through talking to that woman, she brought the whole village out, in faith, in acceptance of their Lord and Messiah. And can you imagine the shame of the apostles who had said to the Lord, "Master let’s don’t go this way; this hard people, difficult. But if You persist in going, then let’s go quickly. No souls are going to be saved here." Can you imagine the shame of the apostles when they lifted up their eyes and looked, and the whole city was coming out to the blessed Jesus?
Did you ever feel ashamed like that? We didn’t expect it, we didn’t look for it, we didn’t know God could do it like that. Why, we’re surprised at the Lord. Those disciples looked, and that whole city coming out to the feet of Jesus [John 4:30]. That’s when the Lord said, "Say ye not, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest?" [John 4:35]. Apparently that was a proverb: "Harvest is four months off," between seed planting and harvest, that’s four months. "Look, behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, look at those eager faces, that whole city of Samaritans; lift up your eyes and look, look on the fields; they are white already for the harvest" [John 4:35]. That’s the title of the message: The Whitening Harvest. "He that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together" [John 4: 36]. The Whitening Harvest, "Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; they are white already unto harvest. The time for reaping has come" [John 4:35].
How many times have we prayed in our prayers, "Lord, give us today a harvest?" I pray that prayer I suppose every time I turn my face to this sacred place. "Lord, once again give us a harvest, send us a harvest." And how particularly, and especially, and unusually, and emphatically so is that today? Turning our faces toward this revival, our coliseum crusade, our appeal for Christ, O God, give us a great harvest, a marvelous response.
God will do that, granting these three things: one, that we look, for there’s something to see; second, that we feel, for there’s something to feel; third, that we do, for there is something to do. Or if I could change that simple outline, again, seeing what Jesus saw, feeling what Jesus felt, doing what Jesus did, "Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest."
So first, seeing what Jesus saw; there is something to see. "Lift up your eyes and look, what do you see?" [John 4:35]. People see many different things of course when they lift up their eyes to look. There are some who see the turmoil and the conflict brought by socialism and communism in this world, war and threatening of war, rumors of war, preparation for war, the billions of dollars that our own country collects in taxes and spends in the learning of war; we see that. "Lift up your eyes and look, what do you see?" There are those when they lift up their eyes see nothing but governmental interference and higher taxes and regimentation world without end. And that is so tragically true of modern, contemporary American political life. It is one endless regimentation and taxation after another. And apparently there is no end to these measures that are being passed by our legislative assemblies. We lift up our eyes and look at it; that’s what we see. There are those who lift up their eyes and look, and what they see is business, business in the morning, in the afternoon, at night; they sleep, they dream, getting ahead, making money, business. "Lift up your eyes and look, what do you see?" There are those of course who see nothing but outlines and beckonings and invitations to pleasure and to vanities and to the cheap tawdry rewards of this temporary, vanishing, fading world.
"Lift up your eyes and look, what do you see?" As we lift up our eyes, we see many, many, many things, as many different things as there are people to look. But if we lifted up our eyes and looked to see what Jesus saw, what would our eyes behold? "Lift up your eyes and look, the fields, the fields are white unto the harvest" [John 4:35]. Do we see that?
I have driven through in the late summertime the vast reaches of eastern Washington and western Montana; and for miles and for miles and for miles, from horizon to horizon, nothing but those ripening, whitening, waves of grain, those vast illimitable fields of wheat. Some of you’ve driven through the Panhandle of Texas; there are vast areas in the counties of the Texas Panhandle that are sowed solid in those vast fields of ripening grain. This is what our Lord could see: the cities, the villages, the towns, the country, souls, people, families, human lives, all of them whitened, ready for the harvest. I haven’t time to mention that harvest. There’s a harvest of age that is coming. There’s a harvest of death that is coming. There is a harvest of judgment that is coming, when the scythe man cuts down the stalk of life. There is a harvest also of the ingathering of God, the sheaves brought to our blessed Savior, ready for the harvest. "Lift up your eyes and look, a field whitened unto the harvest" [John 4:35]. Oh, that there was in us that ableness to see souls and families and people!
Are you sensitive to children that play out in the streets on Sunday morning? Does that do anything to your heart? They’re undressed, they’re unwashed; I wonder if they have any Sunday clothes like I had when I was a boy growing up. I wonder if they have a mother like my mother, or a father like my father, so meticulously careful that the children were dressed in their Sunday best, and that they attended Sunday school and church. Apparently they don’t have fathers and mothers as I had; for they’re not washed, and they’re not dressed, and they’re not prepared to go to Sunday school, and they’re playing in the yard, and they’re playing out in the streets. Are you sensitive to those things? When you come down to church on Sunday morning and you see a fellow dressed in outdoor vacation clothing with a boat on the top of his car, and on the Lord’s Day he’s headed out to one of these lakes, does that have a repercussion in your heart? Does it make any difference to you? And these people who – on any day you have a few thousand in Dallas that are in church, you’ll have many, many times others who are not in anybody’s church, not in anybody’s Sunday school; does that make an appeal to your heart?
Last night, late at night, I went to see a neighbor who lives close to our home, see if I could get them to come to church. I’d been asking God to help me in that; how I hope that He will. As you see people drive in a driveway or drive out, walk down the street, come in with a sack of groceries, does it ever, does it ever enter your heart, "Wonder whether they’re saved or whether they’re lost?" Does it? It will surprise you how many of them would be responsive to an invitation from the Lord. It would surprise you.
I had a woman come up to me, and she said, "I went to see my neighbor. Oh, I never saw a family so ready, so ready! The Spirit of God was there, conviction was there." But she said, "They moved away." I said, "Listen, that family I happened to know, they have returned, they have moved back. I will see them today." I knocked at the door of the home; I sat down with that family, in no time at all had won them to Jesus, and the following Sunday night baptized them into the fellowship of this precious and blessed church. You don’t know, you don’t know. The disciples say, "It’s a hard field. And Lord, if we’re going through this town, let’s make it quick; no souls for God here." But Jesus said, "Look, look," those eager faces, the whole city coming out to bow at the feet of the blessed Jesus [John 4:30]; "look, the fields whitening unto the harvest"; seeing what Jesus saw [John 4:35].
There is something to feel; feeling what Jesus felt. I have never been of any disposition to deny the fact that to me religion, if it is genuine, is heartfelt. I guess it’s because I’ve never known any other kind. And the only kind of religion any man knows is the kind that he has. What somebody else has I could not know. I know how I felt, how I am, how I respond; and the only kind of religion that I know is heartfelt religion, and I cannot enter into nor understand a religion that would be coldly intellectual, that would be removed, that would be indifferent and unconcerned. The religion of the Book to me is one of travail, and tears, and burden, and agony, and the pouring out of the soul unto God. And I think it is true with our Master who wept over a lost city [Luke 19:41-44], who wept at an open grave [John 11:34-35, 38], who wept in tears, strong crying unto God, as He paid the atonement of blood and tears and agony for our souls [Hebrews 5:7-8]. Something to feel: now you see if it is not here in this story and in this text.
When the disciples came back, Jesus seated on the well, weary from the journey, and late in the day, and naturally they supposed hungry; so they laid before Him the repast they had purchased in the little city of Sychar, and the Master didn’t eat, and the Savior didn’t eat. And they said, "Master, eat, eat." He said, "I have food to eat, meat to eat, food to eat, that ye know not of" [John 4:31-32]. And the disciples said to one another, "Well, I wonder if a friend has come by, a traveler, a sojourner, and shared his lunch with the Master while we were gone. I wonder who gave Him to eat?" [John 4:33]. And Jesus said, "I am not talking about human food. I am not talking about bread and meat. I am talking about the fullness of the soul, the overflowing of the heart, the rejoicing of the spirit. My meat, My food, is to do the will of Him that sent Me" [John 4:34]. Something to feel; there is an appraisal that every Christian at least ought to feel. Briefly, could I say one or two?
Here’s one: there ought to be in any Christian a marvelous commitment in his life, in his heart, deep as soul itself, that the things of God are of more virtue and importance and consequence than the things of the world; things, things, properties. To me one of the most unusual stories in the Bible is the Lord’s visit to Gaddera on the other side of the lake of Galilee [Mark 5:1]. And when He healed that man, that demoniac man, with a legion of evil spirits in him, vile and filthy – he was a lost man, and in his heart lived the spirit of blasphemy, and unbelief, and cursing, and denial, they were legion – and the Lord healed him; but in healing him lost some swine. And the owners of the swine ran into the city and said, "Look, what a tragedy, what a tragedy. Look, look at the cost of the healing of this man. Look at these pigs!" And the whole town there came out, and with unanimity of opinion and appeal, asked the Lord to leave their coasts. "Look at our swine, look at our swine" [Mark 5:1-17]. Compared to the saving of a man’s life, the loss of those swine covered the earth; they couldn’t see the lost man saved because of their pigs. What a sorry commentary on depraved human nature! How men are or are not is nothing to us; we’ve got our hearts centered here in our pigs, in our hogs, in the swine trough. And the Lord left [Mark 5:18]. What a thing, what a thing.
Why, there are many people, if a choice came between money and the destruction of men’s lives, would choose money. There’s not a liquor dealer in this earth,he blinds his eyes to orphaned children and to blasted lives and to ruined souls! What he’s got his mind on is making that money. And as the choice is made, take the pig, take the swine, take the dirt, take the damnation, and let these families be lost and ruined. That’s the spirit. Oh, how antithetical to the Spirit of the Lord Jesus! I find that same thing in the habits of our finest people. For example, there will be a father and a mother who will stay up night after night, and day after day, listening through the hours of the darkness to the tick tock of a clock all night long, waiting, ministering to, hovering over the physical life of a child. Wonderful I say, wonderful. I’ve sat by the side of a father, a mother, hour, hour, after hour, just praying God’s remembrance of a child that is sick. But I have seen those same parents without any burden of heart, without any prayer to God, without an intercession to heaven for the soul, the eternal soul of the child; never agonize, never pray, never shed a tear that the child might be saved. Oh, what a misconstruction of values. What a wrong thing to feel, that this life is all important, but that the eternal life is not to spoken of or considered or prayed for. Something to feel, something to feel, there is a place for compassion in the ministering spirits of God’s people who name the name of Christ. There is a place for our tears, our feeling, our burden of heart, our intercession.
I was asked one day to come to a home and speak to a boy about Jesus. I went to the home, I sat down by the side of the boy, I opened my Bible, I talked to that boy the best I could, and it was just like knocking at an iron gate; it’s just like tapping a stone wall, that boy was as hard and indifferent, it was nothing at all. I was preparing to leave in despair when his older sister came into the living room, pulled up a chair, sat on the other side of the boy from me, and she bowed her head and began to pray. And as she began to pray silently, tears began to fall from her eyes, and that boy sitting between us looked at his sister crying and then looked back at me, then look at his sister, then look at me. And as I spoke to the boy, his eyes would turn to his sister and then back to me. It was no time at all until the convicting Spirit of God laid heavy upon that boy’s heart the appeal that I was making to trust Jesus as his Savior. And soon he gave me his hand, and we knelt in prayer; and the boy confessed publicly that following Sunday his acceptance of Jesus, and I baptized him into the fellowship of the church. There is a place for compassionate tears; there is a place for feeling, for the burden and the agony of lost souls in the kingdom and patience of Jesus. There is something to feel.
Now the last; not only something to see, something to feel, there is something to do. "Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already unto harvest. He that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal" [John 4:35-36]. There is something to do. God has no hands to sow but these hands. God has no workmen to reap but these workmen; something to do. This text is both a reproach and an entreaty: "Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields," a reproach because we do so little, an entreaty that we might give our lives to doing more for Jesus.
"But pastor, I am so unable, without gifts. What could I do?" It would surprise you what you could do. Dedicating, committing your life in this blessed ministry that God would bear His arm to save the lost; an amazing thing how much you can do. There’s no one of us but can pray. Where you work, on the way home from work, washing the dishes, lying there in bed, kneeling in a class, kneeling by the bed, kneeling by the kitchen chair, saying grace at the table, when the door is closed talking to God; there’s no one of us but could pray, pray. It would be a marvelous thing, if in praying, the burden of God’s cause in the earth should so weigh upon our souls we cried before the Lord wipe the tears from our eyes, there’s a telephone call we can make, there’s an invitation we can extend, there’s a family we can go by and pick up in the car; there is always in God’s will, there is always an open door for those who have it in their hearts to do God’s work in the earth. And God will sanctify, hallow, consecrate, and bless any humble effort dedicated unto Him. There is something to do.
These quiet ministries sometimes have the most, most incomparably blessed result. What Jesus says, "He that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together" [John 4:36]. A typical thing, I was asked to marry a young woman in our church to a young man who was not a Christian. And the mother of the bride was so burdened that the boy be a Christian. And I said to her, "Well mother, you just continue to ask God, and I’ll do my best, my best." So upon a time after church, I asked the young fellow, Jack, and I asked his bride to be, Maude, I asked them if they would get in my car and let me be with them for just a little while in my car. So they sat in my car, I at the driver’s wheel, and the girl next to me, and Jack on the other side. Well, I drove around just a little while, talking to them. And then came to a certain place and parked the car. And I said to Jack, I said, "We’re so asking God before this wedding day that you’d be a Christian, that you’d give your heart to Jesus, that you’d confess Him openly, publicly, that you be baptized, that you be a member of the church, and that you build your home upon Christ. We are so praying." And as I began to talk to him and to explain how a young man is saved and what God would have him do, the girl seated in the center buried her face in her hands in prayer. And as she had her face in her hands, the tears, the tears fell between her fingers. Ah, there is just no gripping of the heart, there is no holding of the soul in a vise like that, that girl there, and the tears falling from between her fingers. And when finally I put my hand across and said, "Jack, if you will give your heart to Jesus now, now, and take Him as your Savior now, and purpose in your heart at the next meeting of God’s people to confess that faith publicly, and ask to be baptized, and be a Christian, if you will, take me by the hand." And the boy took my hand, and we prayed a sealing prayer of committal.
Thinking of that brought to my mind a thing that Doctor L. R. Scarborough described. He said, "Holding a revival meeting in Hillsboro, I went to an older doctor and said, ‘Doctor, the young man who has come to be associated with you in this clinic is not a Christian. Win him to Jesus, win him to the Lord.’ And upon an evening," Dr. Scarborough said, "down the aisle came that older doctor with the younger man, introduced the young man to the preacher, and said, ‘He has taken the Lord Jesus as his Savior.’" Dr. Scarborough said, "When he had the young fellow to stand up to give his experience of grace, the young doctor said, ‘Sir, I was converted by this preacher here, this pastor here; explaining to me John 6:37, He that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out. I was converted by the preacher’s explaining to me John 6:37, and by the tears of this good doctor here.’" Something to feel and something to do; and God gives the increase, "That he that reapeth and he that soweth may rejoice together" [John 4:36].
While we sing our appeal this morning, somebody you, to give his heart to Jesus; somebody you, to come into the fellowship of the church; while we make appeal, while we sing our song, would you come now? A family you, or one somebody you, would you do it now? Would you make it now? Always in every service there are those who ought to come; the Spirit of intercession and appeal bids them come. And there is a time for you, and it’s today [2 Corinthians 6:2]. Some of you in divine presence this holy hour, it’s for you. While we sing the song, make it now. "Pastor, I give you my hand; I give my heart to God." Or, "Pastor, we’re coming into the fellowship of the church." Or just one somebody you, a family, or one, as God shall say, shall open the door, shall lead in the way, shall make the appeal, answer now. Do it now. While we stand and while we sing.