The Harvest Is Past
October 11th, 1981 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1
10-11-81 7:30 P.M.
And on the radio, the great multitudes of you listening to KCBI or KRLD are sharing the service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the final appeal in our revival meeting under the title The Harvest Is Past. In Jeremiah chapter 8, verse 18 through the first verse of chapter 9, now all of us reading it out loud together, Jeremiah 8:18:
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!
The background of the text is familiar to all of us. This is a lament, a sad and sorrowful cry of the prophet Jeremiah as he saw the proffered grace of our Lord refused by the nation, and as he looked upon the armies of the bitter and hasty Chaldeans as they destroyed Judea, destroyed the city of Jerusalem, destroyed the holy temple [2 Chronicles 36:19]. The cry of the prophet moves our hearts today:
The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we, we are not saved. Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the lost of the daughter of my people!
[Jeremiah 8:20, 9:1]
Isn’t it strange that when Jesus asked His apostles, “Who do men say that I am?” [Matthew 16:13]. Out of all of the prophets, they chose Jeremiah. “You are like Jeremiah, the weeping prophet” [Matthew 16:14], for they had seen our Lord weep over Jerusalem [Luke 19:41]. “How oft,” He cried, “would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings, but you would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate!” [Matthew 23:37-38].
“You remind us,” said the apostles to our Lord, “of Jeremiah the weeping prophet” [Matthew 16:14]. And in this lament, one so poignant, “The day of grace is past, the harvest is over, the summer is ended, and we, we are not all saved” [Jeremiah 8:20].
If it is mundane, if it is terrestrial, if it is in the earth, somewhere, sometime it finds an inevitable end. The Bible says that even heaven and earth shall pass away [Matthew 24:35; Revelation 21:1]. There is no river so long but that somewhere loses itself in the vast expanse of the sea. There’s no day that blushes in the dawn that rises to meridian strength but that dies in the twilight and shades of the night. There’s no year that comes to birth in the spring, that fruits and flowers in the summer, but that dies in the cold of the winter. Our lives are like that: we spend our days as a tale that is told. I see the end from the beginning.
I have stood, as have many of you, before the oldest things in the world in the giant National Sequoia Forest of California, overlooking the San Joaquin Valley. And as I stand there and look at those gigantic redwood trees, and listen to a forest ranger as he says, “This tree was two thousand years old when Christ was born,” and I am amazed at the diameter and at the height and at the age of these gigantic forest trees! Yet as I look at it, by the side will be another giant tree, just as great, just as vast, just as old, lying in the dust of the ground. All of life and all of created being around us is like that: we have a moment, a day of grace, then it is gone forever. As Bobby Burns so poignantly wrote:
Like the snow falls on the river,
A moment white then gone forever
Or like the borealis rays that flit ‘er
You can point their place
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Vanishing amid the storm.
[“Tam O’Shanter,” Robert Burns]
A moment, God’s day of grace, then it is gone forever; “The harvest past, the summer ended, and we, we are not saved” [Jeremiah 8:20].
One of the deacons in the church said to me, “A family has moved next door. Would you come and visit them?” I went to the home; I met a father, and a mother, and a girl about seventeen years of age, a boy about sixteen, and another boy about twelve. I talked with them, prayed with them, invited them to the Lord and to our church; and they responded, “We’ll be there.” A month passed; they didn’t come, and I went back to the home and visited and prayed and invited again. They assured me, “We’ll be there.” They didn’t come. In the wee hours of the night, the telephone rang at our home and when I answered it, a nurse that belonged to our church was calling me from our Baptist hospital. She said, “Pastor, it is with great reluctance that I call you at such an hour of the night, but there is a boy here, about sixteen years of age, who’s been in a terrible wreck; and his father is standing by his side. The boy will soon die, and I just was heavy of heart to think of the father standing there by himself and his boy dies.” So she said, “I asked the father, ‘You’re new in the city?’
‘Yes,’ he said.
‘Well, do you know anybody in this city?’
And he said he knows you. And I thought maybe you’d come and stand by his side when his boy dies.”
I dressed, went to the hospital, up to such and such room, walked into the hospital room, and there on the bed lay that boy about sixteen years of age, the nurse on that side, and the father standing on this side. And I took my place standing by him. In just a little while the nurse pulled the white sheet over the face of the lad, and looking up to the father said, “Your boy is gone.” And she left the room, and me standing there by his side. The father reached down and removed the sheet from the face of his boy, and looked long and earnestly at the still silent form of that boy. He fell down by the side of the bed, and burying his face in his hands began to cry piteously, “O God, my boy is gone, and I haven’t done right by him. And I haven’t lived right by him. O God, what shall I do? Where shall I turn?”
After the memorial service, down the aisle the following Sunday came the father, and the mother, and the seventeen year old girl, and the twelve year old boy. I used to stand at the back shaking hands with the people as they left. That morning especially so many remarked to me, “Pastor, wasn’t that a glorious sight? That entire family coming to the Lord, that was just glorious, wasn’t it?” And I said, “Yes indeed; it was wonderful.” But as I stood here and looked at that family seated there, I said in my heart, “That is the saddest sight I think I ever saw.” I didn’t tell the people that there was another boy about sixteen years of age who belonged to the family. I didn’t feel that I should. But as I looked at them, I thought, “Great God, why couldn’t they have come when the boy could have come with them?”
He was out that night drinking, and driving back into the city at a furious rate, had come into an awesome accident, and his body was broken from his head to his foot, and thus died. Some of these days at the great judgment of Almighty God, that family will stand in the presence of our Lord, and the roll is called in the Book of Life. And they’ll call the name of that father, and he’ll say, “Here!”
And the name of that mother, and she’ll say, “Here!”
And the name of that seventeen year old girl, and she’ll answer, “Here!”
And the name of that twelve year old boy, and he’ll answer, “Here!”
Then God shall say to the father, “Is this all the family?”
And he will say, “No, there is another boy about sixteen years of age.”
And God shall say, “And where is he?”
And the father shall reply, “He lies in a Christless grave in Texas.”
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” [Jeremiah 8:20]. Our day of grace, our opportunity is so brief and is taken forever away. All that we know in existence, in being, is rapidly moving to the great and final consummation, the vast assize, the rendezvous with Almighty God. The scientists concerning whom Ralph prayed a moment ago, the scientists and astronomers say to us that our entire universe is rapidly moving in space, going where? To a final rendezvous, a meeting place, with Almighty God. Destiny and history in which our lives are inextricably bound moves through time. We cannot stop it. Moving where? To a great final rendezvous with Almighty God. And however our separate paths may be divergent, they will all come together again in the presence of our Lord, either at the bema of Christ [2 Corinthians 5:10], or at the great white throne [Revelation 20:11-15]. We’re moving steadily, inexorably, inevitably to that final judgment day.
A little babe in the cradle reaching up its tiny arms is reaching out to the great judgment day of Almighty God. That youth with electric stride and vigor of life is moving toward the great judgment day of Almighty God. That old man with his cane is tottering to the judgment day of Almighty God. That rich man with splendid equipage is riding to the judgment day of Almighty God. That poor man dressed in rags and hungry is moving and walking to the judgment day of Almighty God. The Christian with songs on his lips and praises in his heart is moving to the great rendezvous, the judgment day of Almighty God. And that lost man, doing despite to the Spirit of grace, treading underfoot the blood of the covenant [Hebrews 10:29], turning aside from the tears and prayers of those who love him, is striving to the judgment day of Almighty God.
Of that rendezvous, of that final consummation, of that great separation, Jesus had more to say than about any other one subject concerning which He spoke, concerning which He taught us. Sometimes He would describe it like a wheat field, and the wheat and the tares are separated, and the wheat gathered into the garner, and the tares burned with unquenchable fire [Matthew 13:30; Luke 3:17]. Sometimes He would speak of it like sheep and goats, when the shepherd divides the one from the other, the right hand to the left hand [Matthew 25:31-46]. Sometimes He would speak of it in terms of bridesmaids, virgins, five of them wise and five of them foolish [Matthew 25:1-13]. Sometimes He would speak of it in terms of a fisherman with his net, as he keeps the good and casts away the bad [Matthew 13:47-50]. Sometimes He would speak of it in terms of the separation at the great dividing of the church of God from the lost world: “Two shall be grinding at a mill; one taken, and the other left; two shall be sleeping in a bed; one shall be taken, the other left” [Luke 17:34-36]; the great assize, the great separation. And then sometimes He would speak of it in terms of a great gulf fixed between those who love God and those who have rejected His grace and His mercy; a great gulf fixed [Luke 16:22-26].
And I can hear a man say, “Now listen, that is preacher theology. I don’t believe in any great gulf fixed between the lost and the saved. That’s just your speaking. That’s just preaching. Those are words; there’s no reality in that.” May I show it to you? Listen, look: I had a deacon one time that went on the other side of town, on the wrong side of the railroad tracks, to hold a revival meeting in a church over there. I went over at a morning service to encourage my deacon, and I sat down in the midst of the little congregation. He did something that morning that I never had seen before: he started at the back of the little church, and he asked each one if he had a burden on his heart. And each one seemingly replied, “Yes.” Then he’d say, “What is the burden on your heart?” and when that one would say the burden on his heart, then he’d say, “Now let’s bow our heads, and you pray for the burden on your heart.”
In front of me was a little mother; she had a tiny baby in her arms, and a little boy just old enough to begin to talk, who played on the, as a child, on the pew by her side. And when he went around, he finally came to that little mother, and he said, “Little mother, is there a burden on your heart?”
And she said, “Yes.”
And the deacon said, “And what is the burden on your heart?”
And she replied, “Oh, that my husband might be saved, that my husband might be a Christian!”
So the deacon said, “Now let’s all bow our heads. And little mother, you pray for your husband that he will be saved.” So we all bowed our heads, and I bowed my head, waiting for that little mother to pray. She didn’t pray; she began to cry. And as we waited for her to pray, she began to sob.
So I stood up, and I said to the deacon, “Deacon, if you don’t mind, let me pray in her stead.”
He said, “Fine, pastor.”
So I prayed for her husband, that he might be saved, that he might be a Christian. When I ended my prayer and sat down, the little boy who had been playing by her side, had worked himself up into her lap and into her arms. And putting his little chubby hands around her neck, he was looking full into the face of his mother and watching the tears roll down her cheeks.
And the little boy in wide-eyed innocence asked, “Mother, what you crying for? What you crying for?” And the mother didn’t reply. And the lad pressed the question, “Mother, what you crying for?”
Seated right back of the mother, I could look directly into the wide, innocent eyes of that little boy. And I thought in my heart, “Sonny boy, you don’t understand why Mother cries, but someday you will.” Mother will be in church worshiping God, and Daddy will be in the bar or at the poker table out in the world. Mother will be reading God’s Book and praying, and Daddy will be consumed in the things of this life. And the angels someday will bring Mother into the presence of God in heaven; and Daddy will be left behind: the great gulf fixed. I see it ten thousand times ten thousand times: the gulf in between [Luke 16:26].
Oh, that we had the heart to be together in the faith, and in the Lord, and in the grace and mercy of Christ in this world and in the world to come.
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 is died out on the air;
When the Bible lies closed on the altar,
And the pews are all emptied of men;
And each one stands facing his record,
And the great book is opened—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 of field checked in;
And a world that rejected its Savior,
Is asked for a reason—WHAT THEN?
[“What Then?”; J. Whitfield Green]
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we, we are not saved” [Jeremiah 8:20]. Don’t steel your heart against the Spirit of appeal tonight. Listen to the voice of our Lord as He makes appeal to you. Listen to the invitation of the pastor as he invites you into the grace, and love, and mercy, and forgiveness of our Savior who died for us [1 Corinthians 15:3], who’s our best friend in the pilgrimage of this journey, and who will present us someday forgiven, saved, washed in the presence of His great glory [Jude 1:24].
May we pray?
Our Lord in heaven, in this final appeal of our protracted series of meetings, that man who hasn’t decided, that wife who hasn’t committed her heart, that youngster who’s been fighting in his soul, that family seeking the will of God for them, Lord, tonight make this a great evening of decision. “I have decided for God, and here I come. The rest of my life, God helping me, I shall redeem the time. It is given to Him, my Savior who loved me and gave Himself for me [Galatians 2:20], and I’m coming, I’m on the way.”
And in this moment when our people sing this invitation hymn, and we pray just for you, in that balcony round, down one of those stairways, in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, tonight, I have made the decision, and I’m coming.” God bless you in the way, angels attend you as you join heart and hand and life with us in our pilgrimage from this world to the world to come. It will not be long. God speed you in the way as you come.
And thank Thee, Lord, for the precious harvest, in Thy dear and saving name, amen. While we stand and while we sing, come and welcome.