The Harvest Is Past
May 7th, 1978 @ 7:30 PM
THE HARVEST IS PAST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
05-07-78 7:30 p.m.
We welcome the uncounted thousands of you who are listening to this service over the great radio station of the Southwest, KRLD, and to those who are sharing the hour on the radio station of our Bible Institute, KCBI. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Harvest is Past. It is a message that bears with it an appeal for souls. And in your prayers, we pray that God will crown the appeal with a gracious harvest tonight. The reading of the Scripture is in Jeremiah. “We looked for peace, but no good came; for a time of health, and behold trouble!” [Jeremiah 8:15].
Now, will you turn to Jeremiah chapter 8, and we shall begin at verse 18 and read to the end of the chapter; Jeremiah chapter 8 beginning at verse 18. If you don’t have your Bible, let your neighbor share the Word of God with you. In the pew rack you will find a copy of this Holy Scripture. All of us turn to the prophet Jeremiah, chapter 8, beginning at verse 18. Now would us read 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?
And then follows the lamentable cry of this weeping prophet, “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain, for the lost of the daughter of my people!” [Jeremiah 9:1].
Nor do I know in all the Word of God, a sorrow more poignantly expressed than the cry of the prophet in the twentieth verse of this eighth chapter, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we—we are not saved” [Jeremiah 8:20]. All things, if they are mundane and terrestrial, all things somewhere, sometime, have an end. They have an ultimate and final conclusion.
There is never a river so long but that somewhere loses itself in the vast and illimitable expanse of the sea. There is never a day that blushes at the dawn, that rises to noon day meridian strength, but that dies in the twilight and the shades of the night. There is never a year that comes to the birth in the spring, that fruits and flowers in the summer, but that dies, perishes in the cold of the winter. So is our life. We spend it as a tale that is told. I know the end from the beginning. It shall certainly fall into death.
I stood one time in the giant Sequoia Park in California, looking at those unbelievable redwood trees, tall and high and great in girth and greater in age. Some of those trees they say were a thousand years old when Jesus was born. And as I stand and look and marvel at their height and breadth, by the side of those standing giants are other Sequoia, equally as tall, equally as great, equally as big, equally as old, lying prostrate and decaying in the soil of the ground. All things somewhere, sometime have their end. And it is thus with our lives. Our day of grace, our day of opportunity is so brief and it soon passes away.
One time, one of my deacons came to me and said, “Pastor, next door to me has moved a family. I visited with them. They are all lost. Not one is a Christian. Would you come and tell them how to be saved?” I went to the home, knocked at the door, was graciously invited in. I met there a father, a mother, a boy about sixteen, a girl about seventeen, and another boy about twelve.
I talked to them about Jesus and they were so responsive, and they said, “Preacher, next Sunday we will be there.” When the services began, I looked over the throng. They weren’t present. I waited about oh, two or three weeks, and I went back to the home, and I talked to them again about the Lord.
And they said, “Pastor, we shall be there next Sunday. We shall certainly come next Sunday.” The Sunday came and they weren’t there. And that following week, in the wee hours of the morning, I received a telephone call from a nurse in our Baptist hospital who belonged to our church.
She said, “Pastor, with great reluctance do I call you at this hour of the morning. But there is a boy in the hospital who has been grievously hurt. And the boy has just a few moments to live. His father is standing by his side. And I asked the father, ‘You’re new in the city. Is there anybody here that you know who might stand by you in this tragic moment?’ And he said that he knows you. And I just wondered if you’d come and stand by his side when his boy dies?”
I dressed, went to our Baptist hospital, up to the room. And there lying prostrate, terribly crushed in an automobile wreck, the boy driving furiously back into the city had a head-on collision, and broken from head to foot there he lay, and standing above him his father. I took my place by his side, just standing there, looking at that broken boy.
And in just a moment, the nurse took the white sheet, pulled it up over his face, looked up to the father and said, “Your boy is gone.” And she left the room and me, standing by his side. The father, after the nurse had left, pulled the sheet back from the face of that boy, and looking long and silently into his face, fell down on the floor, and by the side of the bed began to cry inconsolably. “O, my God,” he said. “O, God,” he said, “my boy is gone and I haven’t lived right before him and I haven’t done right by him. O, God, what shall I do? What shall I do?”
After the memorial service and the boy was buried away, down the aisle in the church, the following Sunday morning, came the father, the mother, that seventeen-year-old girl and that twelve-year-old boy; all of them. When the benediction was said, the people shaking hands with me said, “Pastor, wasn’t that the most glorious sight in the world? The whole family won to Jesus; the whole family coming to the Lord. Father, mother, daughter, son, all of them saved.”
I said, “Yes, a glorious sight! Yes, indeed a marvelous sight!” That’s what I said to them. But in my heart as I looked at them seated there on the front seat, I said, “This is the saddest sight in the world.” Would God they had come a week before. For some day, when they stand at the judgment bar of the Almighty and the roll is called up yonder and God calls the name of that father, and he’ll say, “Here.”
Call the name of that mother and she will say, “Here.”
Call the name of that seventeen year old girl and she will answer, “Here.”
Call the name of that twelve-year-old son and he will answer, “Here.”
Then the Lord God shall look in the face of that father and say, “Is this all?”
And he will answer, “No. We have another boy sixteen years of age.”
And the Lord God shall say, “And where is he?”
And he will reply, “My boy lies in a Christless grave in Texas tonight.”
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” [Jeremiah 8:20]. Our time and our opportunity is so fleeting, it is so brief, it is so swiftly passing, my day of grace is just now. We all are hastening toward that great and final assize, the judgment day of Almighty God [Romans 2:16; 2 Timothy 4:1].
You know, these scientists say that our entire galaxy and this vast universe of which our earth is a part, that all of it is fast, furiously moving through space, going where? Somewhere to a rendezvous where we shall meet Almighty God. History in which our very lives are inexorably bound is moving furiously through time toward some great rendevous with Almighty God [Romans 2:6-10]. The very planet on this earth is fast moving through space with the galaxy moving toward what? That great judgment day of Almighty God. And however our paths may diverge in this life, we shall all appear some day at the judgment bar of Almighty God [Daniel 7:9-10].
That little baby in the cradle reaching up its tiny arms is reaching up toward the judgment day of Almighty God. That youth striding by with elastic tread is moving toward the judgment day of Almighty God. That old man with his crutch and his cane is tottering toward the judgment day of Almighty God. That rich man, riding in his splendid equipage, is riding toward the judgment day of Almighty God. And that poor man in tatters and bare feet is walking toward the judgment day of Almighty God.
The Christian with songs on his lips and with praises in his heart is pilgrimaging to the great judgment day of Almighty God. And that lost man doing despite to the Spirit of grace and treading underfoot the blood of the covenant where with he was sanctified [Hebrews 10:29], is marching toward the great judgment day of Almighty God. Someday we shall all appear before the Lord God who made us to give an account for the days of our flesh [Matthew 12:36]. And then shall come the great separation [Matthew 25:31-46].
I heard one time as a youth, I heard an old white-headed retired preacher in the southern part of Indiana describing the years of his ministry, also described the times and times that he had presided over a memorial service. And had listened to a wife weep over the face of her dead husband, crying, goodbye, goodbye; or a father and mother crying over the face of a child, farewell, goodbye. And then he added, he said, “That’s not goodbye. That’s just farewell. That’s just till I see you again.”
He said the goodbye and then he described in the most poignant terms that great judgment of the Lord when God separates the lost from the saved [Matthew 25:31-46]. And beginning to think about that, and looking at the Word of God, of that great judgment day and of that poignant traumatic separation, did Jesus say more than about any other thing in the life of His ministry.
Sometimes He would describe it like this. He would describe it as wheat and tares. One gathered in the garner and the other burned with unquenchable fire [Matthew 13:24-30]. Sometimes He would describe it like this as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats [Matthew 25:31-46]. Sometimes He would describe it like this as fishermen gathering in the net, choosing the bad, casting away; choosing the good, casting away the bad [Matthew 13:47-50]. Sometimes He would describe it like this as a bridal evening when the five wise virgins are entered in and the five foolish are closed out [Matthew 25:1-13]. And then sometimes He described it as a great gulf fixed between the lost and the saved [Luke 16:22-26].
And then I can hear someone say, “But that’s theology, that’s preaching. That’s just something that you conjure up or that’s in the Bible to frighten us or to scare us.” Not so. I know of nothing in this life that is more poignantly and tragically true than that great abyss between the lost and the saved; those who lift up their faces toward heaven and those whose faces are buried in the thoughts and the emoluments and the life of this world. The great gulf fixed in between [Luke 16:22-26].
Could I say it as I have seen it? On the other side, on the wrong side, on the far side of the railroad tracks, one of my deacons was holding a revival meeting. I went over at a morning service to encourage him and to help him. He did something that morning, I’d never seen before. He started in the back of the congregation and he asked each one, “Do you have a burden on your heart?”
And if that one said, “Yes, I have a burden on my heart,” the deacon would say, “What is the burden on your heart?” And when that one would reply and describe it, then he’d say, “Let’s all bow our heads and you lead the prayer and we’ll all pray with you for the burden on your heart.”
Seated right in front of me, the pew right in front of me, directly in front of me, sat a little mother. She had a baby in her arms and a little boy just old enough to play on the bench by her side. And when the deacon came to her, he said, “Little mother, is there a burden on your heart?”
She said, “Yes.”
He said, “What is the burden on your heart?”
And she replied, “Oh, that my husband might be saved, that he might be a Christian.”
So the deacon said, “Now, we’ll all bow our heads and we’ll all pray. And little mother, you lead the prayer that God will save your husband.”
So we all bowed our heads, I bowed my head, closed my eyes, waiting for that little mother to pray that God would save her husband. As we waited, she just began to cry, she didn’t say anything. And as we continued to wait, she began to sob just out loud, just weeping uncontrollably.
So I stood up and I said, “Deacon, if you don’t mind, let me pray in her stead.”
“Why, pastor,” he said, “yes.”
So I prayed for her husband wherever he was that he might be saved, that he might come to know the Lord. And after my prayer then I sat down.
What had happened was the little boy, just old enough to play on the pew by her side, the little boy had worked himself up into his mother’s arms and looking directly into her face, wide-eyed innocent, he asked, “Mama, what you crying for? What you crying for?” The mother didn’t answer and the little boy pressed his appeal, “Mama, what you crying for? What you crying for?”
And the mother never replied, she never answered. Seated right back of her, I could look directly into the wide-open eyes of that little boy. And as I looked into his eyes, I said within my heart, “Sonny lad, you are too young to know why Mama cries but some day you will. You will understand some day, why Mama cries. Mama will be in church and dad will be out in the world.” Mama will be praying to God and reading the Holy Scriptures and the father will be enmeshed in the things of the world. And the day will come when the angels will carry the soul of Mama to heaven and the father will be left behind” [Luke 16:22-26].
The great gulf fixed; I know of no fact in life that is deeper or more poignant or more traumatic than that; the great gulf between those who are saved and those who are lost.
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 the Lord judges us, 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 crowd 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 bugles call saints into silence
And the long marching column stands 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 mast head
And the wounded of the field checked in
And a world that rejected its Savior
Is asked for a reason, what then?
[“What Then?” George Tom]
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we—we are not saved” [Jeremiah 8:20]. We have just the moment. We have just the day. We have just this brief opportunity, and then our day of grace is gone.
“Lord God in heaven, while I have my mind, Lord help me to make that decision for Christ. While my heart beats, Lord, may my heart be open God-ward and heavenward. While I have strength to walk, Lord, may I walk down that stairway or down that aisle accepting Jesus as my Savior. And while I have this beautiful, and precious, and holy hour, precious Jesus, give me strength to make that commitment to our Lord tonight. I am coming.”
Some of you, “I have a family, I am going to dedicate this family to God. I have children. I am going to rear those children in the love and nurture of the Lord” [Ephesians 6:4]. Some of you, “There is just two of us, just a couple. Both of us, hereby, herewith, here now, right now; we are giving our lives in faith and commitment to the Lord Jesus” [Romans 10:8-13]. Or just one somebody you, “My soul is all that I have. In dedication to Christ, Lord, be good to me. Stand by me in this life and stand by me in the life that is to come. I am on my way, preacher. Here I am. Tonight I take Jesus as my Savior” [Ephesians 2:8]. Or, “Tonight, we are coming into the fellowship of this dear church.”
As the Spirit of the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart, on the first note of the first stanza, come. If you are on that highest seat in the farthest row in that second balcony, there is time and to spare, come. In the balcony round, there is a stairway at the front and the back on either side, come. The throng on this lower floor, the greatest decision you could ever make is the decision that you make now for God. “I do accept the Lord in all of His love [John 3:16], and atoning grace [Ephesians 2:8], and I am coming.”
When you stand up in a moment, stand up walking down that stairway, coming down this aisle. It will be the greatest step you ever made in your life. And if you battle it in your heart, don’t battle it by yourself. Let God win it for you. He will see you through. There is strength in Him. There is omnipotence in His mighty arm [Isaiah 41:10]. There is wisdom in God.
The Lord will never fail us. He said, “I will never fail thee, nor forsake thee” [Hebrews 13:5]. Come. “Tonight, this night, I accept Jesus as my Savior and I am on the way. Here I am, pastor. I give you my hand. I have given my heart to God” [Romans 10:8-13]. Do it now. May angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.