The Harvest Is Past
March 20th, 1977 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1
3-20-77 7:30 p.m.
You’re listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Harvest is Past. It is a concluding message for this eight-day Week of Good News Dallas revival, our Living Proof soul-winning campaign; and the message is from a text in the Book of Jeremiah: chapter 8, beginning at verse 18 and reading through the first verse of chapter 9; Jeremiah chapter 8, beginning at verse 18.
I wonder if there are enough of you who have this prophet in your hands open at Jeremiah who could read it out loud with me. The text begins at verse 18 and continues through the first verse of chapter 9. If you have your Bible open there, turn to the passage and read it out loud with me. Jeremiah chapter 8, beginning at verse 18, reading through the first verse of chapter 9. Now together:
When I would comfort myself against sorrow, my heart is faint in me.
Behold! The voice of the cry of the daughter of my people because of them that dwell in a far country: "Is not the Lord in Zion? Is not her King in her?" "Why have they provoked Me to anger with their graven images and with strange vanities?"
"The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved!"
For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold on me.
Is there no balm in Gilead, Is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?
Oh, that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!
And the text: "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we, we are not saved" [Jeremiah 8:20].
The imagery of the passage is one familiar to all of us: seed sowing, and summertime, and harvest in the fall. All of us are familiar with the preparation of the field, the sowing of the seed, the flowering of the stalk and the full-formed grain, then in the fall time the ultimate harvest. And against that imagery, he likens the saving of the soul: the sowing of the seed of the Word, the cultivation of the Spirit of God, the witnessing hands of the people, and the day of harvest and reaping which for us would be our week of revival. Then finally: the harvest past, and the day ended, and some are not saved [Jeremiah 8:20].
That brings to our hearts a fact of life and time that is ever present upon us, namely, if it is terrestrial, if it is mundane, if it is down here in this world, somewhere, sometime, it has an end. Jesus says even this heaven and this earth shall some day pass away [Matthew 24:35]. Everything that we know in our life and in the world in which we live has an ultimate and a final end. There is never a river so long that somewhere loses itself in the vast, illimitable expanse of the sea. There is never a day that comes to blush at the dawn, that rises to noonday strength, but that dies in the shades and twilight of the night. There is never a year that comes to birth in the spring, that flowers and fruits in the summer, but that dies in the cold of the wind of the winter. So our lives: all of us live our lives as a tale that is told. We see the end from the beginning, and it is a surprise to no one what that inevitable and inexorable end will be.
Like the snow falls on the river,
A moment white – then gone forever.
["Tam o’ Shanter," by Robert Burns, 1790]
We have just a while: a time of grace, a little span of life and living, then forever it melts and passes away. That is why it is almost inconceivable, unimaginable, that a man who faces inevitable death and the judgment that follows after gives himself to the trivialities and the inconsequentials and the insignificances of life. It is un-understandable: the man knowing that he faces death and inevitable judgment yet hides his eyes from the inevitable fact that he inevitably faces death and the judgment. And you see him give himself – his time, his interest, his attention – to things of no consequence whatsoever.
It’s like this. One time I read on the front page of the newspaper, in a box, a report of the Associated Press of what a woman did, a mother did, in a certain town here in America. And when I read it, I said to myself, "That couldn’t happen. That never could happen." Yet having been a pastor for all these years, I have come to see that what that mother did is a parable of the great, vast majority of humanity.
The story was this. There was a house caught on fire, and the mother in the home was called and told, "Your house is burning down." She rushed to the flaming structure and dashed inside for the few moments that remained; and from the walls she took down a picture, from a drawer she took some silver, and from another place a purse, and dashed out of the house and was standing there with the neighbors, with her picture, and her trinkets, and her silver piece – standing there watching the house burn. Then as she watched the flames consume the house, suddenly she shrieked to the top of her voice, "Oh! My God! My baby is in the house!"
When I read that, the report of an Associated Press writer, I said, "That could not happen. That’s against human nature. That never happened." But I have come to see that is the truest fact that I see in human life. Knowing that we face death and God and the judgment, we give ourselves, our whole lives, to trivialities – a piece of silver, a stock, a bond, a piece of land, an amusement, the passing fancies of the day – and let pass by the great and ultimate decisions that shape and color our destiny forever.
All of us some day shall stand at the judgment bar of Almighty God – all of us, all of us [Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15]. This whole universe is traveling through space at a terrific, terrific mile-an-hour. The whole universe, moving through the infinitude of God, going where? To some appointed rendezvous with the Almighty in heaven: somewhere out there toward which this whole starry Milky Way universe is moving to meet God somewhere at an appointed time.
This earth is caught up in that rendezvous, nor can we disassociate our planet from it. It also moves along, and in this earth we are planted; and if He delays His coming, in this earth we shall be buried. And as this earth carries us along, we also shall appear at that great assize. We belong to history; we are enmeshed in it. We cannot disassociate or separate ourselves from it. We belong to that stream of the generations; and here is our day and our time, and there is that ultimate and final judgment. And we are borne along in the stream, whether we will or no. All of us someday shall stand at the judgment bar of Almighty God. However our paths may diverge in this life, they will converge – all of us some day – before the Judge of all this earth [Matthew 25:31-56; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 20:11-15].
The little babe in the cradle reaching up its childish hands is reaching up toward the judgment day of Almighty God. That youth striding by with elastic tread is moving toward the great judgment day of Almighty God. That old man tottering on his cane is moving toward the judgment day of Almighty God. That rich man riding by with his splendid equipage is riding toward the judgment day of Almighty God. That poor man dressed in rags, barefooted, is walking toward the great judgment day of Almighty God. That Christian with songs in his heart and praises on his lips is pilgrimaging to the great judgment day of Almighty God; and that lost man saying "no" to Christ, and "no" to the preacher, and "no" to the Holy Spirit, doing despite to the Spirit of grace and treading underfoot the blood of the covenant [Hebrews 10:29], he is moving toward the great judgment day of Almighty God. All of us shall appear before the bēma of Christ to be judged [2 Corinthians 5:10]; or else we are moving toward the great, final White Throne Judgment of Jesus, the Son of God [Revelation 20:11-15]. All of us shall stand before the Judge of all this earth [Hebrews 9:27].
Of that, Jesus spoke more solemnly than of any other thing of which He spake of to us, revealed to us. Sometimes He would talk about it like this: He would talk about it in terms of sheep and goats – one on the right hand and the other on the left [Matthew 25:31-46]. Sometimes He would talk about it like tares and wheat: the wheat gathered into the garner and the tares burned with unquenchable fire [Matthew 13:29-30]. Sometimes He would talk about it like this: a dragnet, a fishing net, and the good is kept and the bad is cast away [Matthew 13:47-48]. Sometimes He would talk about it in terms of a wedding, and the five bridesmaids entered in and the five foolish ones left outside [Matthew 25:1-13]. Sometimes He would talk about it like this: two working in a field, one taken and the other left; two grinding at a mill, one taken and the other left; two sleeping in a bed, one taken and the other left [Matthew 24:40-41; Luke 17:34-36]. Sometimes He would speak of it like this: a great gulf fixed between those who are in heaven and those who are in torment [Luke 16:26].
Somebody says, "Preacher, that is sheer theology. There’s no truth in that. That’s un-factual. This great gulf between the saved and the lost: that’s a preacher’s preaching; that’s a theologian’s discussion, but there’s no pertinency in life about that gulf that separates between the lost and the saved. That’s just in the pulpit." Would to God that it were. I don’t rejoice in a lost man’s damnation, and the Lord God said, ‘"As I live,’ saith the Lord, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked’" [Ezekiel 33:11]. But I do not know of a more poignant, tragic truth in life than that great gulf fixed between the saved and the lost. I see it everywhere, every day of my life.
One of my deacons – godly man – went on the other side of town to hold a revival meeting in a church; and at the ten o’clock morning service, I went over there to encourage him, pray for him, hold up his hands. He did something that morning I never had seen before. He started at the back of the church and asked each one present if he had a burden on his heart; and if that one said, "I have a burden on my heart," then he’d say, "What is the burden on your heart?" Then when the one would say the burden on his heart, then he’d say, "We’ll all bow our heads, and you pray, and we’ll pray with you for the burden on your heart."
Seated in the pew in front of me was a little mother. She had a baby in her arms and a little boy playing by her side on the pew. When the deacon got to that little mother seated in front of me, he asked her, "Little mother, do you have a burden on your heart?" And she said, "Yes." And the deacon said, "What is the burden on your heart?" And she replied, "Oh that my husband would be saved – that he might be a Christian." So the deacon said, "We’ll all bow our heads, and you lead us in the prayer, little mother, that God will save your husband – that he might be a Christian."
So we all bowed our heads, and I bowed mine; and instead of praying, she began to cry. And as the deacon waited for her to voice the prayer, she began to cry more inconsolably. Finally, I stood up, and I said, "Deacon, could I pray in her stead?" He said, "Why, yes, Pastor." So I prayed for her husband, wherever he was, that he might be saved – that he might be a Christian." And when I was seated, the little boy who was playing on the pew by the side of his mother was looking in astonishment into her face as the tears just rolled down her cheeks. He finally worked himself into her lap and put his little chubby arms around her neck and looking straight into her face repeated his question: "Mother, what you crying for? What you crying for?"
Seated back of the little boy, I also could look into his wide and innocent eyes; and I thought as I looked at that little boy, "Son, you don’t understand why mother cries. You’re too young. You don’t know, but someday you will. You’ll know someday why mother cries." Mother in the house of God with the saints of the Lord, loving Jesus, and the father out in the world somewhere; and the angel some day coming for mother’s soul to carry her to heaven and the father left behind: "Sonny boy, someday you’ll understand why mother cries."
It’s that gulf in between. I see it everywhere every day of my life: the difference between the lost and the saved; between those who face God and no mediator, no pleader, no defender, sins unforgiven, naked, lost, and those who have found in Jesus the free pardon of their sins [Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14], washed in the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 1:5, 7:14], singing about heaven and the glories God hath prepared for those who have trusted in Him [Revelation 5:9-13] – the great gulf fixed.
When the choir has sung its last anthem,
And the preacher has prayed his last prayer;
When the people have heard their last sermon,
And the sound has died out on the air;
When the Bible lies closed on the altar,
And the pews are all emptied of men,
And the great Book is opened,
And we stand before Him, what then?
When the actor has played his last drama,
And the mimic has made his last fun;
When the film has flashed its last picture,
And the billboard displayed its last run;
When the crowds seeking pleasure have vanished
And gone out in the darkness again;
And the trumpet of ages is sounded,
And we stand before Him, what then?
When the bugle’s call sinks into silence,
And the long marching columns stand still;
When the captain repeats his last orders,
And they’ve captured the last fort and hill;
When the flag is hauled down from the masthead,
And the wounded afield checked in,
And a world that rejected its Savior
Is asked for a reason, what then?
["What Then?" by J. Whitfield Green, date unknown]
"The harvest is past, and the summer is ended, and we, we are not saved!" [Jeremiah 8:20]
What would you think if I could persuade you to give your life in trust to God? Would you regret it? Would you? If you lived a thousand years, would you look back on that moment, that night, when the pastor persuaded you to take Jesus as your Savior? Would you ever regret it? Some day when you stand in the presence of the great Judge of all the earth, having given your life in trust to Jesus, do you think you’d regret it? If I were called to stand by your dying bed, and I asked you, "Do you remember that night, the last night of our Good News revival, when I persuaded you to give your heart to Jesus? Do you remember that night? Tell me, do you regret it?" There is no time now in the hour of death, at the judgment bar of God, or in the eternity to come, but that you would say, "Pastor, the best thing ever happened to me was that night when I gave my heart to Jesus. The finest moment of my life was when I walked down that aisle and gave you my hand, and said, ‘I’m giving my heart to the Lord Jesus.’"
Why not? There’s no better time than now. We have no promise of any tomorrow [James 4:13-15]. It is now. And why would I choose to give my life to the world when I have now to give it to God? [Mark 8:34-38] All the fullness of the riches of His abounding remembrance is mine now.
Come now. Make that decision now. Trust in Jesus now, and may God give you that saving faith and the commitment to come. "Pastor, tonight I have made that decision in my soul, and I’m coming." In a moment, we shall stand and sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, in the balcony round, you; on this lower floor, you; a family, a couple, or just one somebody you: "I have decided. I’m coming."
Taking Jesus as Savior, putting your life in the fellowship of the church, answering a call of the Holy Spirit, giving your life in a new way to Him – as He shall bid, shall woo, shall invite, shall plead: answer with your life. Do it now. Come now. Make it now, and may angels attend you in the way as you come while we stand and while we sing.