The White Harvest Fields
March 2nd, 1969 @ 8:15 AM
THE WHITE HARVEST FIELDS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-2-69 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 The White Harvest Fields. Not in all of my life could I have prepared a more pertinent or meaningful message than the one delivered this hour. Nor could there be a response in the hearts of our people that would be more pleasing to God than for you to open your heart to the Word of the Lord as it is preached this morning. It is a very biblical message; it is a very textual Word of Christ message. It is based upon most of the chapter of the fourth chapter of John.
Now it begins, and I shall just read a part of it, in the third verse. Jesus, leaving Judea, and going again into Galilee [John 4:3], and “He must needs go through Samaria” [John 4:4], then follows the story of the witness of our Lord to the Samaritan woman [John 4:7-28]. The disciples, going into town to buy food [John 4:8], come back and see the Lord. And you have it translated here, “And when they came they marveled that He talked with the woman” [John 4:27]. What actually is, that they marveled that He talked with “a woman.” It was beneath the dignity of a rabbi to talk with a woman. He lowered himself in the respect of the community if he talked with “a woman,” which is a good indication of the status of womanhood in that day.
And I might parenthesize to say that the Lord Jesus has done more for womanhood, and for motherhood, and for childhood, than all of the other ameliorating influences in the story of civilization. But having won her to the faith of Christ, receiving Him as her Lord [John 4:9-29], she went away to testify [John 4:28-29]. And the disciples prayed the Lord to eat, but He said, “I have meat to eat that ye know not of” [John 4:31-32].
Then He talked to the disciples, “Say ye not” [John 4:35]—
and in the sermon we’re going to see why the Lord spake these words:
Say ye not, do you not say, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? 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.
Now the background of why the Lord said those words: when it says here that “He must needs go through Samaria” [John 4:4], there was a very cogent reason for the sentence, for the direct route as you can see on any map, the direct route from Judea up to Galilee would be right straight, just like a crow would fly. But that’s Samaria; Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. And that’d be the way directly that you would go. But no loyal Jew would go that way. What the Jew did, he crossed over the Jordan River into Perea, walked through Perea, then crossed back over the Jordan River and so into the Galilean province.
And of course the reason for that was, he did not want to contaminate his feet or breathe the air of the hated and despised Samaritan. When John therefore says that the Lord must needs go through Samaria [John 4:4], it was quite an unusual thing that the Lord had proposed to do. But there were lost souls in Samaria that needed Him [John 4:7-42], and the Lord says He must go. Now, the reaction of the disciples was very typical, and usual, and expected. What they said was, “Well, if He must go through Samaria, let’s make it fast. Let’s waste no time there.”
It is a hard and difficult field, for those Samaritans were half-breed descendants of the hated and despised Assyrians who had destroyed the Northern ten tribes—the kingdom of Israel—had carried away the people into captivity, and had brought in their own people, Assyrians, and settled them in the land [2 Kings 17:6, 24]. And they had intermingled with the poor remnants that had remained, so the Samaritan was a half-breed Jew. And the whole story of the Samaritans was highly unacceptable to Judea.
So the disciples, knowing all those things and reflecting that traditional attitude, said, “Well, if He must go, let’s go fast. Let’s make it quick. Let’s don’t waste time here.” They expected no additions to the kingdom of God in Samaria. And if by God’s grace and intervention there happened to be a response on the part of the Samaritans, it would be a long way off, a long time off. “Four months,” they quoted the proverb, “and then cometh harvest” [John 4:35]. Not now, God’s not able to do anything with these Samaritans, God’s not able to do it. Maybe sometime in the consummation or sometime in the distant future God will be able to do something, but not now. This is a hard and difficult field, and if we are going through, let’s go through fast and don’t waste time here. No additions, no responses to be expected here.
Now these disciples went into Sychar, that city where the Lord had paused for the day to rest. And they traded with the Samaritans, and they talked with the Samaritans, and they bought from the Samaritans, but it never occurred to them to tell the Samaritans that the Savior of the world was just outside their city gate [John 4:8].
That is an indictment against all of us. I talked to a businessman here in the city of Dallas, and we began talking about another man. And I said to him, “That man we’re talking about, that man is one of the finest deacons I have in our First Baptist Church here in Dallas.” He said, “What? I did not even know he was a Baptist, and you say he’s a deacon in your church?” He said, “He and I have done business together for twenty-five years.” For twenty-five years they’ve done business together, but the man did not even know that he was a Baptist; much less that he was a deacon in our church.
This is an indictment against all of us; we’re all kind of like that. Buy with the Samaritans, trade with the Samaritans, walk with the Samaritans, visit with them, and yet, never occur to these disciples to tell them that just outside the city gate is the Savior of the world, the Son of God.
Well, you know, we all have rationalizations for what we don’t do that we ought to do, and these disciples had that rationalization—“These people are hard, no need to talk to them, or invite them, or say any word to them.” It’s four months and then cometh harvest, that’s the proverb [John 4:35]. “Some other day but not now.” And I can imagine how rebuked the disciples must have been, and how ashamed they must have felt when they turned around and looked, and that whole city was coming out to see Jesus: the whole city, everybody in it [John 4:28-30, 39-42].
And the Lord saying, “I say unto you, lift up your eyes, and look. Lift up your eyes, and look” [John 4:35]. And when the disciples turned around to see, the whole town was coming out to Jesus [John 4:29-30]. “I say unto you, the fields are white unto the harvest” [John 4:35].
Now that’s the background of the message. Now there are three things that I have in my heart to say concerning it. First, first, and above all: the message of Christ, the saving grace of our atoning Lord is addressed to all men everywhere. “And He must needs go through Samaria,” and it includes the Samaritans [John 4:4]. Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which is lost.” And if there is a lost soul, a lost man, a lost family anywhere in this earth, Christ died for that lost man, that lost family, that lost soul [John 3:16-17; 1 John 2:2; Hebrews 2:9].
This is our time of prayer and intercession for home missions, and this is our beginning preparation day for the wonderful institute of soulwinning tomorrow, and this is the very heart of the Christian faith. This is what the gospel is about.
He did not come to condemn the world.
He did not come to blame.
He did not only come to seek,
It was to save that He came.
And when we call Him Iēsous, Savior, Jesus,
We call Him by His name.
[“He Did Not come to Judge,” author unknown]
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man’s mind;
And the heart of the eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
[“There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” Frederick William Faber, 1862]
And He must needs go through Samaria [John 4:4], for He said “He came to seek and to save that which was lost” [Luke 19:10].
I do not know whether in my life as a pastor I ever felt the sting of condemnation as I did last Sunday here in this place. Down the aisle—many of you were at the service—down the aisle came a fine-looking Latin American. And he came up to me and gave me his hand, and he said, “I have come to Dallas to live from El Paso. And I and my family are members of the First Baptist Church in El Paso.”
He said, “I will be here in Dallas several months before my family comes.” I presume they’re waiting until school is out. But he said, “I would like to be a member of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, but before I would present myself, lest I might embarrass or not be welcome, I wanted to ask you, is it all right for me to join the church? And would I be welcomed into the church?”
Back of that question, I could read a whole volume. Think of it, that a fine Mexican man who has a lovely family, coming from the First Baptist Church in El Paso, would feel constrained to ask me if he could join our church, or if he would be welcome in this church. I am ashamed of myself. I am ashamed of our church. And I am ashamed of our people that such an impression as that would ever be thought of in the heart of a fine Christian man such as that Latin American! I told him, “Yes, in the name of Christ and in the name of God, you are welcome.” And not only that, I got the address of his family in El Paso, and I wrote them a letter. And I said, when you come to the city of Dallas, your husband and your father is already here in the church, and you will be welcome when you come.
“And He must needs go through Samaria” [John 4:4], a despised and hated land, but the Lord came to seek and to save that which was lost [Luke 19:10]. And the atoning message of Christ is addressed to all men everywhere [John 3:16-17; 1 John 2:2; Hebrews 2:9]. We’re learning together, we’re praying together, and we’re asking the grace of God to abound in our hearts, together.
Second: we are to present our message with great assurance. “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” [John 4:35]. We are to expect a response from God. The harvest is more ripe than you think. Our attitude always is, “It is a hard time, it is a difficult case,” or, “We must be very cautious, we must enter this with much reservation.” We say, “The time is not now. Four months and then cometh harvest [John 4:35]. It is difficult, it is hard.” That’s what we say.
But God says, “Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6:2]. God says that the harvest is ready to be reaped [John 4:35]. It is just for us to pray that the Lord will send forth laborers into His harvest [Matthew 9:37-38]. It’s riper than we realize. We are human, and we do not know the providences that have plowed the fallow ground. We don’t know those influences that have opened the heart heavenward and God-ward. Sometimes sorrow does it, sorrows in a man’s life, in a man’s family that we know nothing of, but sorrows that break down a difficult, difficult soul and make a man open to God and to the message of the Lord.
I remember a man that was described as impossible, hard, hard, hard, no interest in God, or religion, or the preacher, or the church, a hard and difficult man. I went into his office. I saw him bent over his desk, weeping like a child would weep. Now isn’t that something? Isn’t that something? A hard, hard man, no use for God—or like the unjust judge was described, “he had neither regard for man or God” [Luke 18:2-4]. And yet when I was introduced into his office, he was bent over on his desk, weeping. There was a great tragedy and sorrow that had just happened in the circle of his home. And in no time, I had that man in the kingdom of God. And in no time, I had the entire family down the aisle. I baptized them all.
You don’t know the providences that plow the fallow ground. Or sometimes it can be gladness, a day of rejoicing that brings with it a deep sense of accountability and responsibility.
Do you remember this passage in the fifth chapter of Genesis? “And Enoch walked with God.” Now listen to it, “And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah” [Genesis 5:22]. Now there must have been a reason for saying it. I would suppose that Enoch lived to [three hundred and sixty-five] years, “and Enoch lived sixty and five years and begat Methuselah” [Genesis 5:21].
I would suppose from the way that passage is shaped that Enoch never thought about God particularly one way or another until that little boy was placed in his arms—this is my son, bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh, and life of my life—and after the little fellow was born, then the Bible says, and Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah [Genesis 5:22].
Isn’t it a remarkable thing what can happen to a man when a child comes into his home? Why, you never thought about the kind of a school that was there until the child came. You never thought about the neighborhood particularly until the child was born. You never thought about the little companions, the children that go up and down the street, until that child was born. But after that child is born, the whole world changes; you begin thinking about the schools, and you begin thinking about the community, and begin thinking about the children he is going to play with and grow up with.
Well, Enoch was that way. Then of course, the story, God took Enoch [Genesis 5:24], but He gave to Methuselah the days for both of them. And Methuselah lived the life, and the days, and the years of both Enoch and himself. Providences that plow the heart, that make a man open toward God, and then sometimes they are remembrances, remembrances.
Here it is, the saying true—“One soweth, and another reapeth” [John 4:37]—you don’t know the remembrances in that man’s mind; things that happened a long time ago that he never forgets. A man came down the aisle here one day and gave me his hand, and he said, “I have been away from God, and I’ve been away from the church for thirty years.” And he continued, “But my father belonged to this church, and my mother belonged to this church, and my childhood was spent in this church.” Then he said to me, “I’ve been away, but I’ve been unhappily away. I have not been happy in my life. And thinking about my mother, and thinking about my father, and thinking about my childhood, I’m coming back to the Lord, and I’m coming back to this church.” We don’t know the providences and the influences that have plowed the fallow ground, opening a man’s heart to God and to heaven.
We must hasten. A third thing: and the reward is sweeter than we realize, “He that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal” [John 4:36]. All the rest we leave behind, all of it. There is nothing that we’ll take with us except this sweetness, this preciousness of the fruit unto life eternal, the reaping in the name of Jesus.
I think that’s why it was that when the disciples came and prayed Him, saying, “Master, eat,” He said unto them, “I have food to eat, meat to eat that you know not of” [John 4:31-32]. His heart was so full, His soul so overflowing with gratitude for the response of those Samaritans that He couldn’t eat, “I have meat to eat, bread to eat, that you know not of” [John 4:32], the abounding reward of sowing seed, of reaping the harvest [John 4:36], of seeing what God does with the testimony of our lives.
Ah, if we had forty days and forty nights, we could speak of some of these things that I have seen with my own eyes. In one of our eastern states, a seaboard state, in the capital city, their state evangelistic conference was held. And that concluding night, they had a large convocation in the city, in the capital city. And one of the fine pastors of one of their biggest churches in that state asked that he might have the privilege of presenting me that night that I was to preach. He stood up there, and I never dreamed of such a thing. With deep emotion, he described a crisis when he was a youth, when he was a young man, in which crisis his father had committed suicide. And he described the abject despair into which his young life was cast when he saw his own father take his own life.
And he said in the despair and darkness of that hour, he had come to me. I was a young preacher at the time, and that I had talked to me and read to him out of God’s Book, and that I had knelt with him in prayer, and he said, “When I stood up on my feet after that prayer, in my heart I gave my life to God to be a minister of the gospel.”
That’s the way he introduced me. I had no remembrance of it whatsoever. I cannot remember it. Just one of those sowing of seeds, one of those prayers, one of those conferences of which I’ve had thousands and thousands, but to see that fine young minister stand up and tell that, I just could not imagine such a thing.
I say, if we had forty days, we could continue it. In a meeting in the heart of Africa, one of the missionaries stood up and described how he had given his life to be a missionary in a service that I had held in Oklahoma. I have no remembrance of it whatsoever. I was seated by the wife of a deacon in one of the great churches in Texas. It was a stewardship banquet, and they were launching a tremendous financial appeal underwriting the work of God in the earth. And the chairman of the deacons was emceeing the program, and I sat by his wife. And she turned to me in the conversation and said, “You do not know this, nor have I said it to anyone, but I was converted listening to you preach over the radio.”
“He that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal” [John 4:36]. And what I am testifying to, in your way and in your life, you can testify also.
Let me close, take time to speak. As you know, I read Spurgeon, the incomparable nineteenth-century London preacher, Spurgeon. Well, I was reading along, such an incomparable man of God. I was reading along—Spurgeon expounding a text—and I stumbled into this: Spurgeon said that he’d been sick, very, very sick, very ill. And that he had gone to his study to prepare the sermon, but his mind was dull and his spirit was low. He was discouraged and sick. And he said, as he sat there in his study to prepare the sermon that his mind was dull and his heart was like lead. He said he picked up a missionary report, and he happened to see his name in that missionary report. So he said he read it, and it was this: It was a missionary report from Haiti, French-speaking, black island, Haiti. And he said the missionary reported that he had had a very hard and difficult year, but there was one bright conversion in it. There was a man from the interior of Haiti who came to him and asked to be baptized. And the missionary said he was a most intelligible and knowledgeable Christian, and he was amazed at him and asked him, “Where did you hear the gospel, and how is it that you were saved?”
And the Haitian replied, “I read a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon that had been translated into the French language, and reading that sermon, I was saved and found the Lord.”
As then Spurgeon goes on as only Spurgeon could say it, when he read that in the missionary’s report, Spurgeon said, my heart caught fire, and my mind was touched by the glory of the grace of God from heaven. And I said, “Lord, I’m going to preach more sermons, and I’m going to do more for Jesus and win more souls for the Lord!”
That’s the eternal reward, sowing and reaping, and in it, all of us can share [John 4:36]. You don’t know when you speak a good word for Jesus, what the Holy Spirit will do to it, will do for it, will do with it, but God will bring it to fruition, someday, sometime. Maybe then, maybe on the tomorrow, but He never fails to add His sanctifying grace to the soul-winning efforts of His people. And into that season, all this spring, we’re entering. The Lord’s benedictions rest upon you and upon us all.
Now we must sing our song of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, to put your life with us in this ministry; or a couple you, to come into the fellowship of the church, or one somebody you, to give himself to Jesus, while we sing this song and while we make the appeal, come. If you’re in the balcony round, there’s a stairway at the front, and at the back, and on either side. There’s time and to spare; you come. On the lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I am, pastor, I decide for Jesus now, and here I come.” In a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming, a family, a couple, or just you, while we stand and while we sing.
A. “Through Samaria”
1. No loyal Jew
would go that way
purposely chose to go there
B. “Four monthsâ€¦then
1. Disciples thought
they were too difficult a people
2. Traded with
them in Sychar, never telling them of Jesus
C. Whole city came out
to see Jesus
II. Our ministry is to all men everywhere
A. He did not come to
condemn (Luke 19:10)
B. Gospel message
addressed to human soul
1. Latin American
III. Our ministry is to be conducted with
great expectation (John 4:35)
A. Harvest more ready
than we think (2 Corinthians 6:2)
B. We do not know what
providences have plowed fallow ground
1. Sorrow of life
2. Gladness of
life (Genesis 5:21-22)
IV. The harvest is more meaningful than we
realize (John 4:36-37)
A. Jesus’ heart so
full, could not eat (John 4:32)
B. Fullness of reward
for people of God (Revelation 2:17)