White Harvest Fields
March 2nd, 1969 @ 10:50 AM
THE WHITE HARVEST FIELDS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-2-69 10:50 a.m.
If you listen to us on the radio or you are watching on television, if you will turn to the fourth chapter of John, you can easily follow the message today. It is entitled The White Harvest Fields. Now, I shall read some of the fourth chapter of John, then I have a word to say about that passage that I read. Then there are three things that I am to preach concerning it. In the fourth chapter of John, in the third verse, it says, “Jesus left Judea, and departed again into Galilee. And He must needs go through Samaria” [John 4:3-4]. Then follows the story of the Lord’s conversation with that Samaritan woman [John 4:7-28], which is an astonishment to the disciples.
In verse 27, when they came back from buying food in the town of Sychar, they marveled that He had talked with a woman [John 4:8, 27]. You have it translated in the King James Version, “with the woman” [John 4:27]. No, they marveled that He talked with a woman, for no rabbi would be seen lowering his dignity in public to talk with a woman, which reminds me to say that the Lord Jesus has done more for womanhood, and motherhood, and childhood than all of the other forces in human civilization put together, talking with a woman.
Now when the disciples came back, we are at verse 31 now, they had food to eat, for the Master had stopped at Sychar where the well of Jacob is, in order to rest, and He was hungry and weary [John 4:6, 8]. And they begged Him to eat [John 4:31], but He said, “I am not hungry. I have food to eat, meat to eat that ye know not of” [John 4:32].
Then He said to the disciples:
You say, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest. Look, 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.
Now, my word concerning the text: there must have been a reason why John would say, as He goes from Judea to Galilee, “He must needs go through Samaria” [John 4:3-4]. Well, you would naturally, wouldn’t you, just go up there to Galilee? Judea is here, and Samaria is here, and Galilee is there. And the way to go to Galilee, you’d say, is to just go up the straight road, just like a crow would fly, just right straight up. And there’s a road that goes right straight up from Judea to Galilee. But no loyal Jew would do that. What he did was, he crossed over the Jordan River, went clear down through the wilderness of Judea, and he crossed the Jordan River into Perea. Then he would walk up on the Perean side, the eastern side of the Jordan, then cross over the Jordan into the western side, and so come to Galilee. He wouldn’t go up through Samaria, for the Samaritans were a despised and outcast people. And the Jew would not breathe their air, nor would he contaminate his feet by walking on their soil.
But it says here, and John had a reason for it, it says here that when Jesus went from Judea to Galilee, “He must needs go through Samaria” [John 4:3-4]. There were lost souls there, and our Lord was going to give them an open door into the kingdom of heaven [John 4:7-42], “So He must needs go through Samaria” [John 4:4].
Now the reaction of the disciples was very typical and most usual. They said, going through Samaria, “Well, if He must go and we with Him, then let’s make it fast. There’s no time to waste for it’s a hard and difficult country, and the people are very, very hard to reach.” They expected no additions to the kingdom of God in Samaria, “so if we go, let’s go rapidly and not waste time there.”
And that was what Jesus meant when He said, “You say that there are yet four months, and then cometh harvest” [John 4:35]. They were quoting a proverb: “It is a hard and difficult people, and maybe someday in the consummation, someday in the future, some other day, they might be won and they might turn, but not now. You don’t expect anything in Samaria now.” And they quoted that proverb, “There are four months between seed sowing and harvest, and we’re not expecting anything in Samaria now.”
Not only that, but in keeping with what the disciples thought, they went into Sychar, the city of Samaria [John 4:8], beyond the well of Jacob where Jesus was resting [John 4:6]. They went into the town, they traded with the Samaritans, they bought from the Samaritans, they visited with the Samaritans, they talked with the Samaritans, but it never occurred to them to tell them that outside their city gate sat the Savior of the world [John 4:8].
Isn’t that typical of us? I was visiting with a businessman here in the city of Dallas, and we began to talk about another businessman. And I said to him, “That man is a fine member of our church, and he is a deacon in our church, one of our finest deacons.” And the businessman that I was talking to said, “Well, now, isn’t that unusual? I’ve been doing business with him for twenty-five years. I didn’t know he was a Baptist much less a deacon.”
I don’t see how that’s possible, but that is possible in all of us, and it is mostly typical of us. A businessman here in the city of Dallas will do business with one of my finest deacons for twenty-five years and never know that the man is a Christian, or that he’s a Baptist, or that he’s a deacon. We’re all like that. We’re all like that. Just like these disciples, trade with the Samaritans, buy from the Samaritans, visit with the Samaritans [John 4:8], be in their stores and never occur to them to say, “Outside your city gate is the Savior of the world, the incarnate Son of God.”
Now the Lord, quoting what they said, “You say there are yet four months, and then cometh harvest [John 4:35]. This is a difficult place; these are hard and calloused people. They are the descendents of the ancient Assyrians.” When Assyria, when Nineveh, the winged bull of Asshur, came down and destroyed the Northern Kingdom and carried away captive the ten tribes [2 Kings 17:6], the Assyrians took of their people and resettled them in Samaria [2 Kings 17:24], in the upper half of Palestine. And there they intermarried with the poor remnants of the Jews that were left behind, and they were a half-breed Jew. The Samaritans were Assyrian-Jewish and were a despised people because they had brought all manner, as you can read in history, of sorrow to the nation of Judea and to Jerusalem. So the disciples say they are a difficult tribe, they are hard to reach. Then they quoted the proverb, four months between seed sowing and harvest [John 4:35]; maybe someday, sometime, but not now.
Then the Lord said, “Turn around and look” [John 4:35]. And the disciples turned around to see, and there they saw the whole city of Sychar coming out to see Jesus, through the testimony of this Samaritan woman [John 4:29-30, 39-42]. And I can imagine, I can easily think how rebuked and how ashamed those disciples must have been when they had got through saying those things and feeling those things, and then turning around and looking, and there the whole city was coming out to see Jesus. And as you’ll read in the remainder of the context, they were saved. They had a marvelous revival in that town of Sychar, and the whole town turned to the Lord [John 4:29-30, 39-42].
Well, that’s the background of the message. Now I have three things to say concerning it. First, and foremost, and most significant, first: the gospel of the grace of the Son of God is addressed to all men everywhere. There are none excluded, none [John 3:16-17; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2]. Wherever there are men who are lost, wherever there are families that need God, there the Lord has addressed His message of atoning grace, extended His overtures of mercy and love; there are none excepted [Acts 17:30]. “And He must needs go through Samaria” [John 4:4], and it included the despised outcast Samaritan.
No sweeter or finer verse is found in the Word of God than Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
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, Jesus, Savior,
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]
All men, everywhere; the gospel message is addressed to the human soul. Never, never have I felt more rebuked, both for me as pastor of the church and for the congregation over which God hath made me an undershepherd, than at one of the services last Sunday. After I had preached the gospel of Jesus and opened the doors of invitation, down that aisle came a fine-looking Latin American. He extended his hand to me and said, “I am a member of the First Baptist Church in El Paso, Texas. I have come to live in Dallas, and my family will come later.” I would presume his family is left there until school is out, then the family will come. But he came to Dallas, working in our city, and down the aisle last Sunday morning to me. And he said, “I would love to join the First Baptist Church, this church. Later my family to come, but first, I want to ask you, is it all right for me to join, and would I be welcomed here in the church?” That humble and simple question opens a whole book to me. And I can read it in my mind’s eye, syllable by syllable, verse by verse, paragraph by paragraph, page by page.
I bowed my head in shame as I bowed my heart, just to think that a fine Mexican man would come down that aisle and ask me if it were all right for him to join our First Baptist Church. What have we been doing, and what have we been saying? Or, what have we not been doing, or what have we not been saying? I got the address of his family, and I’ve already written them a letter, “Mother and children, when you come to Dallas when school is out, welcome. Welcome.”
It is a blind family of God, and it is a blind denomination, and it is a blind church that does not read some of the things that these anthropologists and sociologists are saying about Texas. What they say is that in the not too distant future, the complexion of Texas will be Latin American. The great throng, the millions that live mostly in that southern belt of Texas, have a far higher birth rate than we do. And that flood of Anglo-Americans is moving north, and north, and north, and north. Just what kind of a state are we looking forward to for our children? One of the first and primary assignments of our denomination in Texas ought to be to win these Latin Americans to Jesus. And if we have a Christian state, and a Christian society, and the fabric of a community that knows God, we must win those people to Jesus now. That is why this tremendous ministry of our denomination; they call it the River Ministry. There are two million people who live on both sides of that Rio Grande River, from Brownsville to El Paso, two million of them. And not one percent of them are Christians, not one percent.
We have a great commitment and a great assignment, and its doing must begin in my heart, and in this congregation, and in our denomination. “And He must needs go through Samaria” [John 4:4]. First, primary, significantly, the gospel message of Jesus is addressed to all men everywhere [John 3:16-17; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2].
Second: our ministry, our testimony, is to be delivered with great expectancy and assurance. “You say four months,” some other day, some other time, some other era, some other consummation, “then the harvest. But I say, lift up your eye, and look on the fields: they are white already to harvest” [John 4:35].
We say the time is not now, we say it is very difficult. We say in some other day, in some other hour, in some other time, we say. But God says, the time is now, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6:2]. God says the harvest is ripe, the day is come, the hour is struck, the time is now. Look on the fields; they are white unto the harvest,” now [John 4:35].
And we are to do our work. We are to testify, and to witness, and to invite with great expectancy and assurance, for we do not know and we do not realize what influences and what providences of life have plowed the human heart. We don’t know.
There was a very difficult businessman, hard. He’s like that judge I preached about last Sunday; he didn’t regard God nor man [Luke 18:2-4]. He had no use for the church, no use for the gospel, no use for Christ, no use for the preacher; he was a very difficult man. But I went to see him, and when I came into his office, guess, just guess. There he was at his desk, bent over with his face in his hands, sobbing, sobbing, like a child would cry, sobbing. What had happened, and I’ll not go into it, an unspeakable tragedy, sorrow in the circle of his family. Who would have thought? Sobbing at his desk, crying like a child cries—took my Book, told him about the Lord, the blessed hope, about Jesus—he gave himself to the Lord. We won his whole family to Christ. I baptized the whole family.
You don’t know what providences have plowed the fallow ground. But not only sorrow; sometimes gladness will open a man’s heart heavenward. Do you remember that verse in the fifth chapter of Genesis? “And Enoch walked with God” [Genesis 5:22]. That’d be good for a man’s tombstone, wouldn’t it? “This man walked with the Lord.” Well, do you remember the verses; do you remember the words in the verse after that? “And Enoch walked with God after that, he beget Methuselah” [Genesis 5:22]. Now the verse above says, “And Enoch was sixty and five years of age, and begat Methuselah” [Genesis 5:21]. Then it continues, “And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah” [Genesis 5:22].
Now there must have been some reason for God writing that that way, and I think the reason is this, for sixty and five years Enoch never thought about God. He never worshiped God, nor did he walk with God. But when that little son was placed in his arms, he looked at the little fellow, bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh, and heart of his heart, and love of his life, when he looked at that little fellow, then the Book says, “And Enoch walked with God” [Genesis 5:22].
Why, I submit it to you in a thousand instances. There will be a man and his wife who will move into a community. They will drive home and drive back home, and a thousand times do it, and never look at it; they just live there. But you let a little child be born into the home, and I’ll say that father and mother will open their eyes and wonder what kind of a school this is, and what kind of a community this is, and what kind of people these are, and who are all those little boys and girls that are going to play with his little son? And he just gets sensitive to everything about the whole community. That’s what God does with a man’s heart. Why, he hadn’t thought about God or church or anything else, and a glad day comes, and a little child is born. He’s open toward an invitation, to rear the child in the love and admonition of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4].
You know, it’s a funny thing about people. They may be as mean, and scratchy, and no-count as old Satan himself, but I haven’t seen anybody yet that wanted to rear their children to be a drunkard, or a gambler, or a pimp, or a procurer, or a harlot, or a prostitute, or anything else. I haven’t seen it yet. They may be all those things and worse, pushing dope, pedaling the stuff, selling it, but they’re not looking forward to their child living that kind of a life. He may be as hard, as adamant—like steel—but when it comes to his child, he’d like to see that child grow up straight and strong in the light and the glory of God.
You don’t know what providences have plowed the fallow ground. Or, sometimes they are remembrances, remembrances, things of the long ago, and they come back with startling effectiveness, poignant remembrances.
Why, down the aisle one time in this church came a man and shook my hand. I’d never seen him or heard of him before. And as he talked to me, he said, “My father belonged to this church and died here in the faith. And my mother belonged to this church and died here in the faith. And as a child, I went to this church.” He said, “For thirty years, I’ve been away from God, have been away from the church.” But he said, “The memory of my father and my mother and my childhood has come back to me. For thirty years,” he said, “I haven’t been happy. I’ve been away, but today I’m coming back,” and he called it home. I’m coming back home. We don’t know what providences have plowed the fallow ground. We say, “Some other time, some other day; it’s hard, and it’s difficult.” “But I say,” says the Lord, “lift up your eyes and look; the fields are whitening to the harvest” [John 4:35].
Now, the third and the last that I’ll have time to speak of: “And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal” [John 4:36]. There is a reward; there is a sweetness and a preciousness from God to those who witness, and testify, and encourage, and win that is unlike, that is beyond any other wage we receive in this life.
I think that’s what is meant when it says here, “And the disciples came back with food to eat and begged Him, prayed Him saying, Master, eat, eat, eat” [John 4:31]. And Jesus said unto them, “I am not hungry. I have meat to eat, bread to eat that ye know not of” [John 4:32]. I think what that means is this, when He saw that whole town of [Sychar] coming out [John 4:30, 39-42], His heart was so full, His soul so overflowed, that He couldn’t eat. I don’t know about Jesus laughing; I presume He did. But I know that He wept [Luke 19:41-44; John 11:35; Hebrews 5:7-8]. People said He looked like Jeremiah [Matthew 16:14], the weeping prophet: Jesus weeping. And I think that’s what happened there; He was so full of heart and soul that when the disciples said, “Master, eat, eat, eat,” He says, “I cannot. I am not hungry. I have meat to eat that you know not of” [John 4:31-32].
Like the Master’s word to the church at Pergamus, “I will give unto him that overcometh to eat of the hidden manna” [Revelation 2:17]. There is a fullness of reward for the people of God that nobody knows of, and it’s unlike any other wage. It’s something heavenly. It has God in it. “And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal” [John 4:36], the reward, the blessing that God gives us.
Now, if I could stand here in this pulpit for forty days and forty nights, we might listen to some of the things that I have seen and heard with my own eyes and ears. This thing here Jesus says, “receiving wages, gathering fruit unto life eternal” [John 4:36], how God has blessed the word of witness and testimony.
I was preaching through an evangelistic conference in the capital city of an eastern seaboard state, and the last night of the evangelistic conference they had a great convocation of all the people of the city. And in the state was the pastor of one of their largest and finest churches, and he asked the conference director if he could present me that night. And the conference director said yes, so this fine pastor stood up, and this is what he said.
He described a time when he was a youth, a young man, of unbelievable sorrow in his family, in which his father committed suicide. And as he described the sorrow in the home and looking on his father who’d taken his own life, he described the dejection and the despair into which he had been plunged as a youth. And as I listened to him, I could easily understand. What if you’d lived through that in your home and your family, and saw your father commit suicide, just a youth? And he said, “I went to Brother Criswell in my despair and dejection, and he read to me out of God’s Book, and he talked to me out of his heart, and he knelt down with me and prayed for me.” And he said, “When I rose from my knees and stood to my feet, then, there, that moment, I gave my life to be a preacher of the gospel of the Son of God.”
That’s the way he introduced me. Why, I couldn’t talk when I stood up to preach. Did you know I had no remembrance of it at all, none of it. I talk with thousands of people, I read God’s Book with them, I pray with them. It was one of those thousands and thousands that I prayed with; I had no remembrance of it at all; one of the rewards God gives to those who witness in His name.
Why, I was in the heart of Africa, and a missionary stood up, and he said that at a service that I conducted in Oklahoma, he had given his life to be a missionary. I have no remembrance of it whatsoever. One of the many, many thousands of services that I have conducted, and yet that missionary in the interior of Africa, “I gave my life to be a missionary in a service that he held in Oklahoma.”
I was speaking at a stewardship banquet of one of our great churches in Texas, and the chairman of the deacons was emceeing the program, and I sat by the wife of the chairman of deacons. And at while he was presenting his program, his wife turned to me and said, “I was converted listening to you preach over the radio.” Thousands of instances; we’re going to leave behind everything that we have in this life except the eternal wages God gives us, winning others to Jesus, pointing them to the Lamb of God, looking to the Lord.
I have a moment more; let me take advantage of it. As many of you know, I read Spurgeon a great deal. When I get to glory, I want to see Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the incomparable nineteenth century preacher in London. Well, I was reading Spurgeon, just reading along; no matter what he writes, whether it’s a devotional or a sermon or an exposition, whatever, God just seems to glow in Spurgeon. Well, I was reading along, and Spurgeon said, “I’ve been sick, very ill and discouraged, like Elijah under a juniper tree” [1 Kings 19:4], and I can understand that, even God’s servants get discouraged. John the Baptist in prison sent unto the Lord Jesus [Matthew 11:2-3]. We all get discouraged.
Well, Spurgeon was describing how he’d been sick and discouraged, and he went to his study, dull of mind, for how can a man preach Jesus in discouragement, in dull of mind, and he was seeking to prepare his sermon, and no sermon came to his heart. And while he was at his desk, he said he picked up a missionary report, and he saw his name in the missionary report, and he read it. It was a missionary’s report from the Caribbean, from Haiti. And what had happened was, in the report, the missionary said it has been a hard year, and a discouraging year, but there has been one bright light in it! There came a man from the interior and asked the missionary that he might be baptized. And as the missionary talked to him about how come him to be a Christian and how it was he was saved, why, the Haitian said that he had read a sermon translated into French, preached by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and in reading that sermon, he had found the Lord. And that’s what Spurgeon said that he picked up in his study Saturday night. And then he goes on, and Spurgeon describes, as only he could, how his heart overflowed, and how he gave himself to preaching more sermons and winning more souls, and how the fire of heaven came down and touched his lips and touched his heart.
That’s it; “Receiving wages unto life eternal” [John 4:36]. And to that end, we’re giving ourselves this week to our home mission intercession, praying for our nation that needs God so much. This is our week of prayer for the conversion of America, and we’re giving ourselves the next three evenings, meeting here in this auditorium, being taught by men who in experience can help us, how we can invite others to the Lord, bring families to Jesus.
And we’re looking for heaven to come down. We’re looking for a Pentecost [Acts 2:1-47]. We’re doing this in great expectation and assurance, and God never lets His people down, never. He never, never, never forsakes us [Hebrews 13:5]. I one time heard a man say so great was the faith of Columbus that there was a continent to the west; that had there been no such continent God would have created one to honor so great a faith. And I believe that. In assurance and in expectancy, we’re lifting up our souls to heaven, and God shall surely, surely answer.
Now we must sing our song of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you to come, a couple you to come, or one somebody you to come; give your heart to Jesus, put your life with us in the fellowship of this dear church. As God shall speak the word and press the appeal to your heart, make it now, make it this morning. Decide now, do it now. And in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming, and may the angels attend you in the way. 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)