As I move among Assemblies today I cannot but observe a very real concern on the part of godly brethren, both as to the dearth of conversions and as to the amazing apathy of many of God’s people. Christians who were once keen on aggressive gospel work appear to have been sidetracked, and are now disheartened and cold. Some are complacent and apt to resent any reference to the lack of blessing, as if the day for that sort of thing were past. But there are others who are far from satisfied with their own low state, and who would give anything to be delivered from the sense of purposelessness and frustration that seems to have got such a grip of them and that is so cramping to all their best spiritual instincts.
To all such I would say that, though there is much to dishearten us these days, there is also very much for which we may well thank God and take courage. Don’t let us see only the difficulties. When our Lord was here He was not so much concerned with the bitter opposition of the Pharisees as He was with the crying need of the masses to whom they should have been shepherds. “When He saw the multitudes He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd. Then said He unto His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that He will send forth labourers into His harvest.’
The harvest plentiful, the labourers few. It was so then: it is so today.
The harvest at that time probably did not look very promising to the disciples: we may think there is little sign of it today. But the Lord sees it, and bids us cry urgently to God, not to create a great harvest, but to send out labourers for the great harvest already awaiting their arrival. The harvest today is that of the precious hand-picked fruit from the orchard rather than the machine-reaped sheaves from the field; but it is a real and wonderful harvest none the less. There may be no mass movements – no great in-gatherings – no large crowds; and yet, and yet – men and women are being saved. The Spirit of God is at work. Souls are being blessed; and if not in all of our Assemblies, that should only drive us to our knees. Some of the conversions we hear of may be shallow and disappointing; but very many of them are real, the result of much prayer, and undoubtedly the work of the Spirit of God. The same Spirit is equally ready to work through us – we who have had such grace shown to us, and who have received so much precious truth. He is ready, if we are ready. Are we willing that He should thoroughly cleanse us from the worldliness, the selfishness, the lethargy, that grieve Him and quench His gracious influence? Three kinds of harvest are waiting to be gathered: –
(1) A harvest of unconverted souls;
(2) A harvest of backsliders;
(3) A harvest, of earnest Christians who are being driven from their places of worship by Modernism.
“The harvest truly is plenteous.” Oh that we had eyes to see it! Oh for faith to realise its immense possibilities, and to go out and reap! “But,” said the Lord, the labourers are few.”
We ask Why? The service is the most glorious in the world. We have the best Master. Why, then, the scarcity of labourers? It is in no spirit of fault-finding that I suggest to my brethren, young and old, that some of the reasons are these: –
(1) Lack of unity among God’s people. Our Lord prayed that they all might be one. (John 17: 21.) But what do we find? Grown men and women squabbling and sulking over trifles that a child might be expected to ignore, and harbouring unkind thoughts to a degree that would be unworthy of men of the world. Differences of spiritual gifts, or of social status, allowed to breed misunderstanding and envy. Brethren who agree on all fundamental issues expending time and energy disputing about minor points of doctrine or practice, while hungry souls, inside and outside our Assemblies, remain unfed and uncared for.
(2) Lack of spiritual energy. This is due mainly to worldliness in one form or another. The wireless, for instance, has brought into the homes of many Christians much that would never have got in there by any other means, and that would be very much better kept out. The fact that wireless may be an excellent thing in itself makes it all the more important that we should keep it in its place. Sport, again, though good in moderation, often takes up more of the time and energy of young Christians than it would have been allowed to do a few years ago. Even God’s own people must beware of becoming lovers of pleasures more than lovers of Him. Education, again excellent in itself, is another thing making more and more demands on the young Christian’s time. The need for educated young Christians in our Assemblies is very great, but how often as the education improves the Christian testimony deteriorates. “Them that honour Me I will honour, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.” No sane Christian wants to see his young brethren and sisters grow up with one-sided, undeveloped characters, or like so many monks and nuns. A moderate love of healthy recreation, a desire for culture, a thirst for general knowledge, are not essentially incompatible with true devotion to Christ. God has given us all things richly to ENJOY; and we do Him no service by pretending to a “sanctity” greater than His Word enjoins. But how sad indeed if, in the desire to use the world, we so abuse it that its fleeting pleasures and interests seem more real to us than the unseen and eternal realities to which it should be our life-purpose to bear witness.
(3) The dead hand of the past. Because godly men of bygone days did things in a certain way, there are some who want things done in precisely the same way still. Brethren, we need to remember the brazen serpent. There was a time when it was a real blessing: it meant life. (Numbers 21: 9.) Follow its history, and we find it becoming a curse and treated accordingly. (2 Kings 18: 4.) Truth is eternal; but the presentation of it is another matter.
(4) The dead hand of the present. Older saints who have faithfully served their generation, but are now past their best both mentally and physically, should be willing to encourage young men to take their places, whilst they remain available for consultation as need arises. Failure to do this can be a real hindrance to successful Gospel effort. The young men coming back from the war, with a very rich experience, should not be expected to sit idly by, when ordinary common-sense, to say nothing of spiritual discernment, dictates that they should be given the opportunity to shoulder Assembly responsibilities suitable to their age and experience.
(5) Love of ease. There is unwillingness on the part of many to “endure hardness.” We are told to be “always abounding in the WORK of the Lord” It is WORK, not play. “The husbandman that LABOURETH must be first partaker of the fruits,” or as J. N. Darby and others translate it, “The husbandman must LABOUR before partaking of the fruits.” LABOUR is the same word as in Luke 5:5, “We have toiled all the night,” and in John 4:6, “Jesus, therefore, being wearied with His journey.” Surely if we can be a blessing to even one soul we will not esteem any amount of labour, or any sacrifice, too great a price. The Lord make us willing to forego “creature comforts” if it will bring glory to His Name in the conversion of men and women.
But let me dwell no longer on the negative side of things. I may be right or wrong as to the reasons why so much work that is crying to be done is left undone. But the glorious fact is this: GOD IS WORKING STILL! Often and often He works through Christians who have only one talent, or scarcely that. I have met people, I am continually meeting them, who have been brought to the Lord through the simple testimony of Christians whose one qualification (but what a qualification!) was that they were personally rejoicing in God’s salvation and longed that others should share their joy. Thank God there are still many simple, earnest Christians who witness (by their LIPS as well as by their lives) to their neighbours, their relatives, their workmates. There are still those who, instead of criticising others or merely bemoaning their own low state of soul, set to work prayerfully and expectantly. They bring unsaved to the gospel meeting, and they inspire other Christians to do likewise. They visit in the neighbourhood of their various meeting rooms, and are often pleasantly surprised to find how ready people are today to listen to a personal word at their own door, and to read sound gospel literature. Many are doing real work for the Lord by showing hospitality to young men and women in the Forces, some having thereby entertained angels unawares.
There is plenty for us all to do, and there is great joy in store for us as we seek grace from God to do it. Let us follow the way of our gracious Master: “Pray ye” (Matt. 9: 38); “Go ye” (Matt. 28: 19). The emblem of the Moravian Church is an ox standing between an altar and a plough. Ready for sacrifice or for service – may this be the yearning desire of all our hearts.