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Natural Emblems Of Spiritual Life
By A. B. Simpson
The Harvest Of The Earth
"And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle.
And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice unto him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.
And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.
And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.
And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire: and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.
And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great wine-press of the wrath of God.
And the wine-press was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the wine-press, even unto the horse-bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs." Revelation 14:14-20
WE have here a harvest picture, with special reference to the harvest of the ages, but containing also lessons for the harvest of individual life. Our thoughts turn to its lessons naturally at this season of the year, as all over the land men have been gathering in the fruit of the field. The grain harvest is already past, and soon the last fruit of the year will be gathered into the garner of autumn. There are lessons also in it of the Christian year, such as Keble has beautifully put into poetry.
Perhaps the first lesson which presents itself is the identity of the harvest with the seed sown. It is of the same kind. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." There are no results in time that are not identical with the seed sown, the effort put forth, the truth given, or the faith exercised. There will be no results in eternity except from something that has been done here to begin the results. The harvest in heaven will be of the same kind as the seed sown on the earth. There will be nothing there which has not had its beginning down here. The reverse is also true.
The seed of evil will produce results of the same kind as the seed sown. He that plants a seed of evil may watch it go through many evolutions, but in the end he must himself reap that which he has planted. There is one exception to this. Jesus Christ reaps for us the results of sin. We do not do it because He did it for us. Some one must reap the results of the seed sown. It is an inexorable law. If the sinner does not turn back to reap the harvest of sin, it is because some one has become his substitute and reaped it for him.
In Christian life also it is true that we sow as we reap. He that sows to his selfish nature, and gratifies lust, or avarice, or strife, will inevitably reap as he sows. The harvest will represent the source from which it came. The only thing to be done is to die to the evil nature. Let Christ reap the result of it. Let there be something good sown in the garden and not evil. If there are two harvests side by side every farmer knows that the evil will get ahead. The Canada thistle will always grow faster than the grain. The seed of evil is a winged seed. The thistle will go farther than the wheat. It has downy wings and plants itself rapidly. The whole of New Zealand was planted in three years by the Scotch thistle. Some one went out there and was lonesome without his native plant, and sent home for a seed of it. If was sent to him in a letter - just one seed - and in three years time it had spread over the whole island. The seeds blew everywhere. Not so with the wheat; it does not go in that way. Let us, then, be careful that the seed planted in the soul is one of life and truth, and then the harvest reaped will be life eternal.
We learn also the certainty of the result. We are not always preparing the soil and sowing the seed. We are not always going forth and weeping, bearing precious seed; but we are doubtless to come again with rejoicing, bringing our sheaves with us. The husbandman is not always waiting with long patience for the precious fruits of the earth. He is not permitted to toil always in vain. At last he does perceive the ear and the full corn in the ear. At last the wagons return laden to the garner. We shall reap if we faint not. The apostle is careful to say this. He tells us: "Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap;" but he adds, "Be not weary in weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not." I believe the toils and prayers of twenty years ago are not lost.
We may not yet see the result of the labor and sacrifice, but in due time they will be found in beauty and glory. I am sure the love you have given, the forgiveness you have shown, the patience, and tenderness, and forbearance, and prayer will surely bear a rich harvest. The friend you long to bring to Christ may refuse to be reconciled to Him. He may place his own self-justification in the way. The heart may seem very hard and cold and the whole work very forbidding. Never mind. From a mummy's hand grains of Egyptian wheat have been taken after they have lain there two thousand years, and have been planted, and thus have yielded a rich harvest. After twenty centuries, that which seemed dead in Egypt has grown luxuriantly in an English garden. The cup of cold water may seem to be lost, but it is not. Your prayers and efforts may seem to be lost, but they are not.
Afterwards they will come back to you a hundredfold perhaps after you have forgotten them. I prayed for a man once for years, and when at last I felt almost like giving up, one day he came to my office to be prayed with. We do not know how the work is going on. Be of good cheer. If you were to plant an orchard of trees in Florida, year after year would go by and there would seem to be only a harvest of leaves; but the harvest would come nevertheless. Give God, time. The results are working themselves out, and by and by we shall see them. Time is needed for the development of every good result. There must be the seed-time and the summer before the harvest. If you try to force the harvest you will injure it. The things you pray for and believe for will surely come, but there may be stages in their development. Trust Him for them. The husbandman has long patience: "Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh."
The harvest is a time of ripeness. Then the fruit and grain are fully developed, both in size and weight. Time has tempered the acid of the green fruit. It has been mellowed and softened by the rains and the heat of the summer. The sun has tinted it into rich colors, and at last it is ripe and ready to fall into the hand. So Christian life ought to be. There are many things in life that need to be mellowed and ripened. Many Christians have orchards full of fruit, but they are all green, and sharp to the taste. There is much there, but it is not ripe. There is a great deal in them that is good, but it is incomplete, and sharp, and sour. Do you know what it is to have some one come up to you and make you feel from the contact with their spirit that you have been eating sour apples?
Perhaps something goes wrong in your domestic life, and you get flurried, and cross, and lose your confidence in God, and then, of course, your Christian joy. These things produce regret and all kinds of misery. There are many things day after day you are sorry for. You are not like sweet luscious apples and ripe peaches. It ought to be strawberries and cream all the way along. You know you are not ripe and mellow, and you cannot become so by trying. You cannot bring the sweetness in; it must be wrought out from within.
We are to present to others not only the things that are honest and of good report, but also those things that are lovely and sweet. How does God do this in nature? He sends the hot sun and the rain upon the fruit. They are constantly in the summer heat. They may not like the sun, and try to hide away from it, but that is what ripens them. Did you ever pick some berries off a rock, where they have been lying in the hot sun until they were sweet as honey? Then have you noticed some Christians whose life seemed to be constantly in the summer heat, and have you noticed how these trying experiences are making them sweet and gentle?
What would they be worth without the sun and the rain. It is these things that are ripening Christian life. It is ripening, too, in stages. Not all the harvest is ready on the first of June, or of July, or August, or September. In October the late harvest of apples is gathered in. So all the summer long the harvest lasts. Thus, it should be also in Christian life. The ripe fruit will not all appear at once. Some of it appears after long years of discipline and trial. It ripens in stages as does the natural fruit. May God give us patience in waiting for the maturity of some of it.
But there should be something ripe every year. We should not be bearing green apples all the time, to make people sick of cholera in November. If the sun has been shining down deep into your heart, it should produce mellowness there. There should be something ripe in you all the time, although the richest fruits will appear at the end of the year. In Palestine at the feast of Tabernacles, all the fruits were gathered in. The fullness of the year's harvest was in the garner, and then with songs and rejoicing the people went up to Jerusalem to keep the feast.
The day will come, beloved, when we, too, shall be clothed in white robes, and, with palms in our hands, we shall meet in the Heavenly Jerusalem to keep the feast of Tabernacles. At that time it shall be said of His redeemed and glorified saints: "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat." Are you getting ready for this glorious harvest day? Are you getting ripe, and tender, and patient, and victorious? Are you getting something settled, anyhow, in your Christian character? Are you getting established and fixed stage by stage? It is what God expects of you. From yonder cloud Jesus, Himself, will appear some day to gather in the harvest of the Church. It is not green apples, surely, you expect Him to put in His garner. Are you waiting for His appearing, determined to let the sun and the storms have their intended effect in sweetening and ripening you and making you ready for that blessed day?
This time of reaping is to be a time of separation also. The chaff is to be driven away from the wheat. The refuse is to be thrown away. This picture tells us of excision as well as ingathering. There are two harvests shown us here with a very clear difference between them. The last are to be gathered as well as the saints of the Lord. The first picture is of the harvest of the earth, and this is gathered by the Son of Man, who goes forth with His sickle and gathers in the ripe harvest. The second one is the vintage of the earth which is gathered not by the Lord Jesus, but by the angel of judgment. The Son of Man is not sent to do this work; it is only an angel who does it. What is done with the vintage? It is not taken up with the great company of white-robed saints, but it is thrown into the great wine-press of the wrath of God, and the bridles of the horses are spattered with the blood for the space of 1600 furlongs. This is the harvest of judgment the ingathering of evil which the angels are to take out from the world.
All who love not the truth, but delight in iniquity will find their place in that company. The vintage expresses the idea of that deep, full, strong life of evil, which the world is so full of today. At first glance it may seem strange that wine and grapes should be taken to express this thought, but evil is often rich, and strong, and sweet in this life, and no better figure, could be found to express this than the clusters of the vine. They are typical of man's grosser nature, and the carnal and sinful indulgence of that nature. The work of alcohol is to set on fire the passions of men, and it is perhaps the best figure that can be selected, of that fire which is never quenched.
The natural heart of man contains much that seems promising, that is full of vital energy and attractiveness, that is sweet as the grape, that is almost bursting with rich overflowing life like this picture; but when the Son of Man comes, it is all passed by. All the natural strength of man, all his earthly love, all the fashion and ambition and pomp of life are ripening only for judgment. There are many things which seem as rich to us as the vine on yonder trellis, but which God takes no account of and which are passed by when He is gathering in His harvest. The things He selects are bare, dry grain. They do not seem to be juicy and ripe like the grapes, but these have only the sweetness of human love within them without the love of God. They are only the wine of earth. They are clusters of grapes that are ripe, too, but they are only ripe for judgment.
These are the two harvests, dear friends; which are you ripening for? I look at men sometimes sleek, splendid-looking fellows, grand specimens of perfect physical strength everything about them telling of ease and comfort, their banks banks full of money and their social relations enticing, and I could just weep over them. Splendid animals they are. Then I look at the fine horses they drive, and think, "What splendid animals, men and horses both!" They are just clusters of grapes. They are not wicked men, but earthly men animal men, and they are ripening for the wine-press. God does not ask you, beloved, how much wickedness there is in you, but are you planted from above, are you ripening for the harvest, or are you getting ready for the down-treading of the wine-press?
I might speak also of the reaping of the harvest as a lesson for the Christian in his personal work for souls. Are you gathering souls into the great harvest? I do not mean, are you sowing seed that will ripen some time; but, are you gathering them in today? God expects you, dear Christian friend, to be occupying always positions of influence in this regard. He expects you to be always laboring for, and always winning souls. How much have you done in this work this summer? Have you been at work in this way wherever you were, in season and out of season? And have you not only been laboring for them, but have you really been gathering them in? Have you been letting Him ripen you for this, so that you shall not go at it blunderingly and make lots of mistakes, but shall have the art of the skilled Husbandman to do it?
The harvest is ripening all around you. Have you got consecrated hands that, having let everything else go, are dedicated to this work? There is not a minute to be wasted. Oh! that God would impress upon you the urgency of the opportunity that He is giving. The work cannot be done tomorrow. Have you got through with this summer's work? It is a very solemn thought that God is thus giving to our hearts. This is only one year of our lives. There is something to be done in it that never can be done at any other time. The days are going by, and God is watching the progress of the work. It must be done now, or never. That is what each successive harvest means. Have you not got a work to do that God is waiting for on the judgment-seat? What if the opportunities should pass forever and the work should not be done? 0 beloved, let us enter upon it with renewed diligence, so that when the great harvest day comes, we may be able to send up the glad cry of rejoicing which broke from our dear Saviour's lips: "I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do."
The harvest of the world, however, is the great lesson of this passage. The time is coming fast when the harvest will be ripe. As we look around us, we cannot help seeing that the age is getting ready for it. On one side we see the great development of man's mind, the mighty operations of his intellect. It is one of the marked characteristics of the present day. We feel the world cannot go much farther than it is going. On the other hand, God is ripening Christian character. It is becoming ripe in loveliness and purity. It is becoming ripe also in service. Christians are pressing mission work today as they never before have done.
There never was such a tendency to reach the unoccupied fields of the world as now. Christian work of all kinds is increasing in variety, and in depth of power. But while the world is ripening in this direction, the evil is ripening also. Never before has there been such development of the power of Satan upon earth, as there is today? Selfish men are getting more selfish, and pride and wickedness everywhere are gaining in strength and liberty. Very soon, it seems to me, the sign of His coming must appear in the sky, and we be caught up to be with Him forever, if we are ready.
Beloved, it is a beautiful thought that no one is allowed to gather in the harvest of the world but the Son of Man. Angels gather in the wicked and abominable things of earth and cast them in the wine-press of God's wrath; but the tender hands of Jesus pick up all that is good throughout the world for the heavenly gamer. Every little work we do for Christ, no matter how small, will be picked up by His own blessed hands and gathered through His care. God is jealously carefu1 that no work any of His children have done shall be rewarded by any one else but Jesus Christ. What have we done, beloved, that He can take up? What work have we done this summer that Jesus can gather into the golden sheaves? What soul have we hat He can put into our diadem, saying; "I saw this labor of love for Me, and this is My reward."
Let me leave a parting word of warning before I close. There is time yet to have some part in that glorious harvest, but we may lose it all. Some day, over the fields we might have labored in, there will be nothing but dry stubble and the smell of fire from the burning chaff and straw. A sign-board is waving there in the cold autumn winds. There it is; read it: "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." Our work is not done. Our summer is gone, and our soul is not saved, perhaps. The Indian Summer is not yet gone, and there is still time for a second harvest. Hasten into it before there is nothing to be gathered but dry leaves from out the burning stubble.
Ah! who shall thus the Master meet,
And bring but withered leaves?
Ah! who shall at the Saviour's feet,
Before the awful judgment-seat,
Lay down for golden sheaves,
Nothing but leaves! Nothing but leaves!