Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-25-88 10:50 a.m.
I am the pastor bringing the message entitled The God of the Harvest. In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we are in the heart of the Holy of Holies. No more meaningful or precious passage in Scripture than John 14, 15, 16, and the high priestly prayer in John 17. And in the very heart of this holy message in John 15:8, our Lord says to us, "Herein is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so shall you be My disciples."
We magnify the Lord, we glorify the Lord in bearing much fruit in a gracious and glorious, a grand and a great harvest. God never intended for Pentecost to be the little end – to be the big end of our ministries before Him. Our Lord said in the chapter preceding, "Greater things than these shall you do; because I go to My Father" [John 14:12]. The Lord intended a great work and a mighty harvest as the fruit of our hands.
Sowing in the morning,
Sowing in the noonday
Sowing in the evening
And the dewy eve;
By and by the harvest,
When the labors ended,
We shall come rejoicing,
Bringing in the sheaves.
["Bringing in the Sheaves," Knowles Shaw, 1874]
But there’s not only the involving labor and toil. The field has to be prepared. It has to be cultivated. And it has to be sown. But it also involves disappointment and oft times failure. Our Lord so poignantly spoke of that in the parable of the sower. This man went forth to sow the prepared field. And there was failure. Some of it fell by the way side and the birds ate it up. There was continued failure. Some of it fell on stony ground and the sun scorched it. There was yet other failure. Some of it fell among thorns that grew and choked it [Matthew 13:3-7]. And there’s no one who toils and works and witnesses in the Kingdom of our Lord but that shall know that disappointment and sometimes despair in our failure. But that does not mean we don’t try. God has called us to the toil and to the work.
I one time heard a crazy story. A man went up to a farmer and says, "How’s your corn?"
And the old farmer says, "Didn’t plant none, a-feared of the drought."
And the friend said to him, "Well, how’s your cotton?"
And the old farmer said, "Didn’t plant none, a-fearerd of the boll weevil."
And his neighbor said, "Well, how’s your potato crop?"
And he said, "Didn’t plant none. Afraid of the tater bug." Then he added, "I’ll tell you, neighbor, I ain’t planting nothing this year. I is playing it safe."
We are a lot like that many times. Facing the possibility of failure and discouragement, we don’t try. But I have this assurance from God. If I will sow, if I will visit, if I will knock at the door, if I will witness, if I will invite to the Lord, God will always give me some. He will never fail. There is such a desperate need in our time, in our generation for this witnessing ministry before our Lord. I speak of it now in our lifetime and in the world that is to come.
First: in our generation at this time, in this day, in which God hath cast our life and lot, speaking of the desperate need for the witness of our saving Christ; I can hardly believe the nation and the generation and the time in which I now live. It is so different from the age in which I grew up as a youth. Can you believe when I was a boy, Prohibition was the national law of America. We were prohibited, prohibition. We were prohibited from selling liquor and alcohol. And that Prohibition came out of a great revival in America, particularly the revival meetings of Billy Sunday. There was a tremendous moving of the Spirit of God in our nation. And seeing the debauchery and the drunkenness of alcohol and liquor, we voted,they voted to take it out of the national life of our people. Can you believe that today? They sell beer in every joint, on every corner. And I don’t suppose there is a party of any dimension at all without liquor.
I’m not entering into this political race. But one of the things that broke my heart, when they got through nominating the Democratic president for the United States, they celebrated it with him and his family! All of them drinking liquor. That’s modern America! So different from the day in which I grew up, as a boy.
Again, when I grew up as a boy, gambling was outside of the pale of the life of the people. There might have been secret joints where they played poker and other things like that but they were subterraneous. They were underneath. They were in the gutter. Today, in this modern day, near the great cities of America, including Dallas and Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Shreveport, world without end, we have these race tracks, in which men who ought to take their money to feed their children and to clothe their families, they are wasting it in gambling races.
The casinos that used to be in Las Vegas, you went to that desert earth, a castaway land in order to waste time and life and money. Now, if you’ll go to those great casinos on the eastern coast, you’ll see them gambling as they do in Monte Carlo. This is modern America.
Again, when I was a boy, when I was growing up, Sunday was a holy day. We went to church on Sunday. The stores were closed on Sunday. People were encouraged to love God and praise His name on the Lord’s Day. Today, Sunday is a holiday. If you go to a football game doubtless you’ll go on Sunday. They’re out there now. If you go to a baseball game, it will doubtless be on a Sunday, and a thousand other recreational events on God’s holy Sabbath day. It’s another generation. I don’t recognize it.
When I was a lad, and when I was a youth and attended school, we read the Bible in the school. We prayed in the school. We had chapel in the school. But today, those things are interdicted by law here in America! You don’t dare open the sacred Book in school. And you don’t dare bow your head in prayer. And you don’t dare announce a chapel service. It’s another day. It’s another generation.
And I never heard of child abuse when I was growing up, the sexual molestation of a little child in the circle of the home and in the family. I didn’t know a travesty on God’s family existed like that, never entered my mind. I never heard of it. And today, if you were to follow the courts, it is filled and overflowing with the most dastardly kinds of family criminality. I don’t recognize it.
I presume every prophet felt God sending him to a disobedient and God-dishonoring generation. I suppose they’ve all felt that way. I certainly do. I feel as though our time and life have been cast in a corrupt and degenerate America. And instead of becoming more godly and more conscious of the presence of our blessed Lord, it seems to me that our country is increasingly blasted and destroyed and hurt.
I don’t look at television. I don’t have time. I have something; I have other things to do. But about two nights ago, I just happened to be seated there waiting for the news. I oft times look at the news at ten o’clock in the evening and just happened to be seated there at a famous program, at a famous program. And when I looked at it I could not believe my eyes. I couldn’t believe it. Is it any wonder? Is it anything inexplicable that we have the degeneracy you find in our children and in our teenagers and in our families?
I don’t know except this: we need a great revival; we need an outpouring of the Spirit of God; we need somebody in heaven to help us. And that’s our call and our ministry, the God of the harvest, you, we, to bear fruit to the Lord.
And I haven’t got time and won’t take it to speak of the world that is yet to come. God, in heaven! This life is so brief, and our times are so flitting. And the eternity is so long. What shall we say when we stand before the judgment bar of Him who made heaven and earth, to give an account for what we’ve done in the days of our flesh? May God have mercy upon us, and may God be good to us who preach the gospel, and who sow the seed of His Word, and who invite others to the faith.
Now may I close with a word concerning how God would have us enter into this field of harvest? May I speak first of what was presented to our people today? The ministry of our missions, and the ministry of our soulwinning, and the ministries of our church have to be supported. There’s no other way. And God hath taught us and God hath given us in His sacred Word His plan of support. And however we may ingeniously try to circumvent it, or to invent some other approach to it, we’ll never improve upon the wisdom of God. Never! Never!
I have marked in my Bible here and will not take time to read them. I have marked in my Holy Scriptures here; God says the first fruits belong to Him. They belong to God. Whatever comes into my hands, the first fruit, the first part belongs to Him. If I have a dime, a penny of it belongs to Him. If I have a dollar, a dime of it belongs to Him. If I have a ten dollar bill, one dollar of it belongs to Him. The first fruits belong to God! The tithe is holy unto the Lord [Leviticus 27:30,32]. And when I observe to put God first in my life, somehow God blesses it. I’m not espousing a gospel of prosperity and affluence. I just know this, that when a man places God first in his life, somehow God stands by that man and blesses him. He just does.
And when we bring to our people this open door to support God’s message in this earth, it’s not a hated and disliked and obnoxious thing to bring to God’s house the first fruits, "First, Lord, this is Yours." And then I pray God’s blessings upon what He gives to me. But God first. God will do something good for us if we’ll do that for Him.
Number two: carrying through this Great Commission of our Savior [Matthew 28:19-20], accepting our assignment from heaven; we can’t do it without Him. To call upon His name, invoking His presence and power, is a privilege. It’s a glory. It’s a fellowship; God working with us and we, God’s fellow workers, to ask God to help us. "Lord, before I knock at the door, I want You to help me. I’m going into this home, going to pray with these people and witness, going to try to lead them to Jesus." But Lord, first, You go with me, and promise me Your presence as I speak to them of Thy saving grace." To pray, to pray.
One of the poignant memories I have in my life, in a revival meeting that I was conducting at the South Main Baptist Church in Houston, at a ten o’clock morning hour I was pleading with those dear people to pray for the lost, pray for the unsaved, pray that they might come to know God as Savior. I was pleading that. When the service was done I was standing down there and all those dear people standing around me saying words of encouragement to me. And right through the midst of them came a tall, bony, black-headed critter, with a big, big Bible, three or four times that big, big and carrying it under his arm. He came and stood in front of me before all that group. And then he took out his Bible and said, "Heard you preaching this morning about praying for the lost. Where does it say in God’s Book you’re to pray for the lost?" Well, I never had quite been asked that question in that way. And I stumbled around and mumbled around and hesitated around. Then he repeated, "I said, where does it say in that Book you’re to pray for the lost? Where does it say? Give me chapter and verse."
Well, I said, "Right now, preacher, whoever you are, I just don’t know. I just – " Then he drew himself up to his height and held up his Bible and he says, "That’s what I’ve always said about you. You’re not a Bible preacher! You’re not a Bible preacher." And he spun around on his heel and walked out of the church triumphantly and left me among my admirers. Oh dear! Oh dear!
I went to the hotel room and sat down, dejected. "Lord, what’s the matter with me? That nut, that screwball asked me a simple question and I’m not able to answer it. Lord, what’s the matter with me and what’s the matter with the message I’m trying to preach?" I had one of those strange experiences that you have once in a while when you feel that the Lord has walked in. I felt that that day that the Lord walked in that hotel room and put His hand on my shoulder and said to me, "Son, did you never read where My apostle and prophet and preacher Paul wrote in the Book, ‘Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for my people is that they might be saved, that they might be saved’" [Romans 10:1]? My heart’s desire, my prayer to God is that my people might be saved; to pray, to ask God to be present in our witnessing ministries pleases the Lord, and He has an answer for us from heaven.
Now may I illustrate it if I can? And not to be vain or self-serving in the illustration, but just one of those providences that happen. There was a woman, a dear woman in this precious church, who came to me and said, "Pastor, my husband is lost. Would you come to the house and pray for him and lead him to Jesus?"
I said, "I’ll be there."
So I went to the home and was invited into the house, introduced to her husband whom she said is lost. And I sat down in the living room. I was seated in the living room. And after the conversation of being nice and gracious, she turned to her husband and she said, "Husband, would you come and kneel down here before the pastor? And kneel with me, and he pray for us."
Well, I was a guest in the home and he didn’t want to appear boorish or unappreciative. So he came and both of them knelt there in front of me as I sat there in the chair. And in keeping with her request I prayed for her husband, that he might be saved. Well, while I prayed, something soft and warm fell on my hand, this hand. It was her tears. That’s such a little thing. But I remember that as vividly as any memory I have in life, the feeling, as I prayed, of her soft, warm tears falling on my hand.
I think of Isaiah 38, when Hezekiah became ill,, turned his face to the wall, and wept, and prayed [Isaiah 38:2]. And God took Isaiah, turned him around, and sent him back to the king and said, "Thus saith the Lord, I have heard your prayers, I have seen your tears" [Isaiah 38:5], and I have an answer from heaven. The man was gloriously saved. The witnessing of a heart of compassion and love and care is more dynamic than all of the sermons, all the preachers in this earth have ever delivered.
A heart to care, the compassionate loving remembrance, "Lord, save us. God, give us that kind of a compassionate and caring concern." If we care, God will break their hearts. He will give us a harvest of souls. And it’s a preciousness in His name.
Our Lord wept over the lost city of Zion. He cried [Luke 19:41]. Our Lord wept in Gethsemane [Hebrews 5:7-8]. Our Lord even wept with the sorrowing sisters of Lazarus; He cried [John 11:35]. And for us, thus to be concerned about these that are not saved, O Lord, give us, give us their souls in faith and conversion and belief. Your children are they all in the fold, the circle of the family? Will they be in glory someday? And our neighbors and our Sunday school people and these that come into the services of our church, "O God, give us souls. Give us souls."
And that is our appeal and prayer to your heart.
THE GOD OF THE HARVEST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The will of God for our lives: that we bear much fruit (John 14:12)
A. Involves toil, effort, work, labor (Mark 4:1-20)
B. Involves disappointment and oft times failure
II. The desperate need for our toiling, trying, sowing
A. In this earthly life, here and now
3. Sunday sacred
5. Child abuse
B. In the life to come (Acts 4:12)
III. Facing our task
A. Dedication of the first fruits to Jehovah (Exodus 23:19b, Leviticus 23:10, 14, 1 Corinthians 16:2)
B. Appeal to God for His help (Romans 10:1, Matthew 9:38, Isaiah 38:5)