Harvesting Souls


Harvesting Souls

March 28th, 1965 @ 8:15 AM

John 4:35-38

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: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.
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Harvesting Souls

Dr. W. A. Criswell

John 4:35-38

3-28-65     8:15 a.m.


On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Harvesting SoulsYou can follow the Word and the message from it if you will turn to the fourth chapter of the Book of John.  I shall read beginning at verse 31 through verse 38.  The fourth chapter of John beginning at verse 31:

In the mean while His disciples prayed Him, saying, Master, eat.

But He said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of.

Therefore said the disciples one to another, 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.

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: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.

And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth.

I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labor: other men labored, and ye are entered into their labors.

[John 4:31-38]


Then follows the story of the whole little city of Sychar [John 4:28-42], coming out to the Lord and avowing, “Now we believe . . . for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” [John 4:42].  The story begins in the first part of the chapter with a decision on the part of our Lord written in the Holy Word like this: “And He must needs go through Samaria.”  “He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee.  And He must needs go through Samaria” [John 4:3-4].  That does not mean the only way from Judea to Galilee was through Samaria.  No loyal Jew would go that way.  Any patriotic member of the tribe of Judah would cross over the Jordan River and walk up on the eastern side through Perea.  Then underneath the lake of Galilee, cross over at Beth-shean and through the valley at Jezreel and so up into the province of Galilee.

When it says, our Lord “must needs go through Samaria” [John 4:4], it refers to the inward compulsion of our Savior.  There were ministries that lay ahead, and souls to be won, and lost people to be witnessed to.  And in keeping with that inward compassion, our Lord “must needs go through Samaria.”

The attitude and the response of the disciples to that decision on the part of our Lord was altogether different [John 4:9].  To them these descendents of the hated and despised Assyrians who had conquered Israel and carried away the northern ten tribes [2 Kings 17:6-41], to them they were a most difficult and obstreperous people.  And the attitude of the disciples was: “Well, Master, if we must go through this land, then let’s do it quickly.  It’s a hard place.  Let’s waste no time here.  We expect no additions to the kingdom of God in this difficult country.  And if we must go, let’s make it fast.”  Then they added in their spirit, “Maybe someday, maybe sometime there might come a softening of heart and an awakening of spirit on the part of these hard and difficult Samaritans.  But not now, Master, not now.  And if we are going through, let’s go through rapidly.  There’ll be no conversions in this hard and difficult place.”

It was while the disciples were talking, having gone to the city of Sychar, traded with them, bought from them, never occurred to them to tell the Samaritans that outside their city gate sat the Savior of the world [John 3:16].  It was while the disciples were speaking these things to our Master [John 4:31-33], that the Lord quoted a proverb: “You say there are yet four months and then cometh harvest?  You say it is hard and difficult?  You say the time is not now, maybe some other day in some far distant future?  Look!”  And He repeats it again.  “Behold!  Lift up your eyes, and look!” [John 4:35].  And when the disciples turned around to see, they saw the whole city, little Sychar, every inhabitant in it, with eager heart and upturned and expectant face, coming out to meet the Savior [John 4:28-30].

I can easily imagine their shame and the inward rebuke as they turned and looked upon those eager-hearted, hungry-souled Samaritans.  “Look!  Look.  Look.  You say, ‘It is difficult.’  You say, ‘Not now.’  You say, ‘Some other time, maybe in the providence of God, in the long distance yet ahead.’  I say unto you, look!  Turn around, lift up your eyes and see” [John 4:35]—and there the whole city coming out to the blessed Lord Jesus [John 4:30].

Against that background of those believing and converted Samaritans, may I, following the Word of the Lord, may I emphasize some things that are so true of us in our harvesting of souls?

First: I can easily imagine and sympathize with and understand the inward rejoicing of our Savior in the reward of souls.  “The disciples prayed Him saying, Master, eat.  Master, eat [John 4:31].  But He said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of” [John 4:32].  And then in other words, further down, He said, “He that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal” [John 4:36].

As the Lord said to the church at Pergamos in the Revelation, “I will give you to eat of the hidden manna” [Revelation 2:17].  Ah!  The inward fullness, the heavenly and celestial reward of seeing people come to Jesus, come down an aisle, stand before men and angels, unashamed, confessing faith in the living Lord [Romans 10:9-10, 13].  Oh!  The infinite reward!  “Master, eat.”  “I have meat to eat that ye know not of [John 4:31-32].  I am not hungry.  My soul is so full.  My heart is so overflowing in gratitude.”

And those ministries are so ofttimes unrealized by us.  As I was preaching a few weeks ago through the South Carolina state evangelistic conference, on the concluding night and the climactic hour of that evangelism conference, to my surprise, when time came for me to bring the last message, the executive secretary of the department of evangelism, who’d been presiding through all of the services, did not introduce me, but he rather introduced the pastor of one of their finest city churches and asked him to introduce me.  Well, it was very noticeable, and I was most surprised.

And when that fine, marvelous preacher stood up to present me at that hour, he said, “In the days of the years ago, I had felt the moving of God in my soul to be a preacher, to be a servant of Christ, to be a Christian, to follow Jesus.  I just felt all of those things in my soul, and in the midst of that growing commitment and dedication, my father killed himself.”  He said, “I cannot tell you the crush that came to my young heart when my father was buried a suicide.  I thought it was the end of us, and I thought it was the end of me, and I thought the shame and the disgrace of so great a tragedy overwhelming my life ended all the dreams and hopes I had ever had God-ward.”

And the preacher said, “I went to see a man of God, and I brought to him my crushed life and my burdened soul, and I told him that I thought this shame and this disgrace blotted me out of the kingdom and took away forever my opportunity to be a servant of Jesus and a preacher of the gospel.”

And the man said, “When I brought my burden to the servant of God, he put his arm around me, and knelt with me, and prayed with me, and encouraged me, and told me, because of the personal sorrow in my life, that I—if I’d walk with the Lord—would be used of God even more so because of the sorrow I had known.”  And he said, “I stood to my feet and gave my life to Jesus to be a preacher and a servant of Christ.”  And he said, “That man of God, to whom I took my burdened heart in that day of the long ago, will come and preach to you now.”  I have no remembrance of that at all.  I have no remembrance of it at all—the infinite fullness of reward!

Visiting in a home in the heart of Africa, I have no remembrance of this at all, but the missionary said, “In a service that you conducted, I gave my life to be a missionary.”  I have no remembrance of it at all.  One of the men in the state government in Oklahoma one time said, “I have just left a hearing in the governor’s office, and he has pardoned a prisoner in the McAlester State Penitentiary.  He was so exemplary a prisoner that, long before his sentence was served, the governor has just now pardoned him.  And I want you to know what the testimony was.  The governor asked him, ‘Why has it been that in days past you’ve been so violent a criminal, and now so exemplary?’  And the prisoner replied, ‘In Grady County, in the capital, in the county seat, there’s a young preacher there, the pastor of the First Baptist Church, and every Saturday he stands on the courthouse lawn and preaches the gospel of the Son of God.  And while he was there standing on that courthouse lawn one Saturday preaching the Word of God, I heard him up in my cell where I was waiting to be transferred to the state penitentiary in McAlester.  And there in my cell, listening to that young man preach on the courthouse lawn, I was convicted, and I was converted, and I gave my heart to Jesus.’”

Why, I never dreamed of such a thing.  The infinite, infinite reward!  If a man can make a million dollars, if a man could experience all the pleasures in the world of five lifetimes, they’d never be commensurate with the reward our Lord spake of here when the disciples said, “Master, eat,” and He said unto them, “I have meat to eat that ye know not of” [John 4:31-32].

May I speak now of another thing our Lord is careful to emphasize as those hungry-hearted, eager-faced Samaritans stood before Him? [John 4:30]. We are to conduct our ministry and our testimony with great expectation and encouragement.  “Herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth” [John 4:37].  There are providences that plow the human heart beyond anything that we could ever know or ever realize.  We don’t know those experiences of life that prepare a human soul for God and for the appeal of Christ that we make.  Sometimes there are unknown sorrows that break the heart and open the soul for a God-ward and heavenward appeal.

I one time went to a man who was as hard and difficult as any the church had ever known, and when I went into his office, I found him there at his desk with his face buried in his hands, sobbing aloud.  When I sat down by his side and asked him why his broken heart, he described to me a tragedy that overwhelmed his family beyond anything, I think, I could ever describe.  And there he was, having just received the news, sobbing his soul out.  Before I left, he had accepted the Lord as his Savior.  And that night, that night, in a revival service I was conducting, down the aisle did he come, bringing his family, all of them, looking to Jesus.

You don’t know the providences that plow the fallow ground that prepare the heart for an invitation to come to Jesus.  Sometimes they are the gladnesses of life.  Did you ever notice—let me read it and emphasize it—“And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah” [Genesis 5:21-22].  And then it goes on, “And Enoch was not; for God took him” [Genesis 5:24], and let Methuselah live out the days for Methuselah himself and for his father Enoch [Genesis 5:25-27].  Did you ever notice that?  “And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah” [Genesis 5:22].  When the little lad was placed in his arms, I don’t know how Enoch could walk before, but when the little boy came into his home, then it says Enoch began to walk with God [Genesis 5:24].  Oh, the providences that prepare a man’s heart for God!

Sometimes they are memories from which we never get away and never escape.  A few Sundays ago there came a man down this aisle here at this church.  I’d never seen him before.  There came a man down this aisle here at this church and said to me, he said, “Pastor, my father and my mother were in this church, and as a child I grew up in this church.”  He said, “For thirty years I have been away from it.  I married and we were not interested.  But,” he said, “upon the death of my wife, I somehow—can’t describe it to you, but my life and my heart have turned back to the days of my childhood, and my earliest remembrances, and my father and mother and this church.  And I want to come back home, and I want you to take me back by statement.”  You don’t know the providences that plow a man’s heart, preparing for the appeal you make in Christ.  And we must hasten.

May I speak last of the Savior, of the Savior they trusted?  “The woman saith unto Him, I know that Messiah, which is called Christ, cometh: and when He is come, He will tell us all things” [John 4:25].  He will be from heaven, and He will be the Lord, and He will tell us all things.  He will have an answer to every question, and strength for every weakness, and help in every trial, when He cometh!  “Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am He” [John 4:26].  And then the testimony of the whole city, “Now we believe … for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” [John 4:42].

Oh, what that means, accepting Jesus as the Savior of our souls!  You know, it’s a strange thing, and I’ve been watching it now for months.  Jesus, our Savior—in the little book that I have written that we give our children, the first chapter, “What It Means To Be Saved”; the second chapter, “What It Means To Be Baptized”; the third chapter, “What It Means To Take The Lord’s Supper”; the fourth chapter, “What It Means To Be A Good Church Member.”

As these children are brought to me, I ask them questions about all four of those chapters.  Time and again a child will stumble in his answers of what it means to take the Lord’s Supper.  And time and again a child will stumble in answering questions—what it means to be baptized.  But I have never yet had a child to hesitate when I ask him, “Jesus, our Savior, what does Jesus save us from?”  And to my astonishment, I’ve never had a child yet to hesitate in that answer.  Immediately, the child will reply, “Jesus saves us from our sin.  Jesus saves us from eternal death” [Mark 2:1-11; Matthew 26:28; 1 John 1:7].

I think one of the ingrained cognizances, intuitive responses of life, when we come to be quickened [Ephesians 2:1], when we are of age is this—the knowledge, and the consciousness, and the feeling of sin, unworthy, coming short [Romans 3:23]—and a child feels that when he’s quickened.

And Jesus, our Savior, Thou art the Christ, the Savior.  He saves us from our sin [Mark 2:1-11; Matthew 26:28; 1 John 1:7].  “For the penalty of sin is death” [Romans 6:23], and our body dies, and we are a dying people.  And our souls die:  “He that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:20].  Dying in our bodies, dead in our souls, cursed in our lives, filled with sin [Romans 7:14], and Jesus saves us [Romans 5:8].  There’s a future salvation, these bodies that decay shall be raised from the dust of the ground and the heart of the earth.  These bodies shall be resurrected from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].  Saved, redeemed, in our bodies [1 Peter 1:18-19]; and a present salvation, saved in our hearts, regenerated in our souls—a present salvation blessed in our lives [John 10:27-28].  God with us—now!   Jesus guiding, and keeping, and guarding us—now! [John 17:20-26].  Jesus showing and leading in the way—now!  And Jesus, guiding and keeping in the forever that is yet to come.  Jesus, Savior—now and forever [John 10:27-30].

A few Sundays ago, I read you a poem that I had written when I was a youth.  Listening in these days of revival to these children and young people brought back the days of my conversion and my call to the ministry, and some of the trials that I went through as a youth.  And in your goodness and in your graciousness, I want to read another poem that I wrote as a youth.  It’s what God is to us now, what Jesus is to us now.  This is it:

I have been thrust in the valley, and could not understand why.

God has seemed so far away, distance drowned my cry.

My heart turned to a promise that Satan cannot deny;

God says, “I will be with thee,” and He cannot lie.

I have wandered in a wilderness desperately seeking the trail.

The books of men and the men of books had bled my faith so pale.

My hand reached up toward a Helper, to a God who could prevail.

My hand was clasped by Jesus, and He cannot fail!

O my soul!  Why dost thou ever falter before the Lord?

Behold, He leadeth forever those who trust in His Word.

Follow the call of the Spirit wherever the Spirit moves,

For the battle is with the Lord Jesus, and He cannot lose!

[“God Prevails,” W.A. Criswell]

Jesus, our Savior: someday in the world that is yet to come [1 Thessalonians 1:10], today, now, in the blessing of our lives and the saving of our souls [Galatians 1:4; Philippians 1:5-6].

While we sing this hymn of appeal, you, somebody you, trusting our Lord [Ephesians 2:8], believing in our Savior [Acts 16:30-31], putting your life in the church, a couple, a family, a child, a youth, somebody you, as the Lord shall make appeal, shall speak the word, come.  On the first note of the first stanza, come, while all of us stand and sing together.


Dr. W.
A. Criswell



I.          Introduction

A. “He must needs go
through Samaria.”

B.  Reaction of
disciples reflective of attitude of Jewish people

      1.  Called the
Samaritans hard and difficult people

      2.  Did not bother
to share good news, putting it off to another day

C.  Jesus answers with a
proverb of the harvest

      1.  Whole city
came out to receive Jesus

II.         The rich reward Jesus so deeply felt

A.  So full of heart, He
could not eat (John 4:31-32, 36a, Revelation 2:17)

      1.  Closed country

      2.  This revival

III.        Our ministry of testimony and appeal

A.  Should be made with
great encouragement and expectancy (John 4:26)

B.  We do not know what
has plowed the fallow ground

      1.  Sorrows of

      2.  Gladnesses of
life (Genesis 5:21-24)

      3.  Remembrances
never forgotten

IV.       The Savior they accepted

A.  Christ the Savior of
the world (John 4:25-26, 42)

B.  The meaning of the
acceptance, commitment

1.  We
all sense the shortcoming and inadequacy; we are lost

2.  It
is Jesus who saves us

C.  My poem, Commitment