Harvesting Souls / W A Criswell

by Dr. W. A. Criswell
Preached, 3-28-65

Text: John 4:35-38

On the radio and on television, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Harvesting Souls. It is an exposition of a part of the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John. And if you will turn to that fourth gospel, the Gospel of John, and chapter 4, you can easily follow the message of this hour. I shall read verses 31 through verses 38, John 4:31:

“In the mean while His disciples prayed Him saying, Master, eat. But He said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of. Therefore said the disciples one to another, Hath any man brought Him aught to eat? Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work. Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold I say unto, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.”

All of this was called forth by a reward that our Savior reaped in a decision that He made to go through Samaria, for the story opens in the fourth chapter of this gospel: “The Lord left Judea and departed again into Galilee.” And then, “And He must needs go through Samaria.” That doesn’t mean that the road from Judea in the South to Galilee in the North went through Samaria. It doesn’t mean that that was the only way that He could travel from the Southern province to the Northern province of Palestine. No loyal, patriotic Jew would go that way. All the Jews went across the Jordan, on the east side of the river, up through Perea, and then south of the lake of Galilee, crossed over at Beth Shan, then followed the Valley of Jezreel, and so up into Galilee. No good Jew, loyal to his country, would put his foot on the dust of any road in Samaria and least of all would he be found in the presence of a despised outcast Samaritan. So the Scripture means, when it says, “Our Lord must needs go through Samaria,” it meant that there was an inward and compassionate compulsion of heart that sent our Lord through that despised and forsaken province.

Now the reaction of the disciples was reflective of all of the attitude of the Jewish people. “So the Lord is determined on going through Samaria. Then let us go quickly,” they said. “This is a hard and difficult people. They are the descendants of the despised Assyrian, that bitter and hasty and ruthless nation that carried away the northern ten tribes, and then re-colonized it from their own number. They are difficult. They are obstreperous. They are hard. So Master, if we’re going through, let’s waste no time here. We expect no additions to the kingdom of God in Samaria. Let’s hasten through.”

One of the strangest things about the disciples, they went to that little city of Sychar to trade—to barter, to buy—but it never occurred to them to tell them that outside their city gates sat the Savior of the world. So when the disciples came back in a despised land among a hard and difficult people, not even deigning to tell them the glorious and incomparable good news, “The Lord is here.” For they said in their hearts, “There may be a day, there may be out in the future, there may be in the far distance a time when these despised Samaritans might turn, and might be won to Jesus; but not now, not now. It is too difficult now; some other time, but not now.”

Then the Lord, quoting an old proverb, “Say not ye, there are yet four months and then harvest? I say unto you, look,” and He repeated it, “behold!” Turn around Simon; turn around Matthew; turn around James; turn around John, “Look, behold! I say unto you, lift up your eyes and look!”

And when the disciples turned around, there was the whole little city of Sychar, eager hearted, eager faced, coming out to receive our blessed Lord Jesus. I can imagine the sting of rebuke and shame the apostles felt when they turned around and saw that whole little town coming out to the blessed Jesus. I know because I felt that way so many times. People, families, men, coming to the Lord, that in my heart I had assigned to rejection and unbelief, too hard and too difficult. But somebody had prayed, and somebody had been impertinent, and somebody stayed before God. And somebody testified and somebody witnessed; and these trophies of grace coming in faith, in repentance, in love and confession to the Lord Jesus.

Now it’s against that background of those hunger-hearted, eager-faced Samaritans coming to the Lord, that I follow the Scripture passage. First of all, I see here and I read here of the feeling of infinite gratitude of our Lord in the reward of the souls of those dear people. Look:

In the mean while, His disciples prayed Him saying, “Master eat, Master eat.”

But He said unto them, “I have meat to eat that ye know not of.” — My heart is too full. My soul is too exalting – “I have meat to eat that ye know not of.”

I think of our Lord’s word to the church at Pergamos, in the second chapter of the Revelation: “And I will give to him to eat of the hidden manna.” There is a fullness of heart. There is an exultation and rejoicing of soul when somebody is won to Christ. For whom you have prayed to whom you have testified, there is a reward and harvest that is beyond what heart can contain. “I’m not hungry,” said our Lord, “I’m not hungry. So exalted and exulted with the reward of the harvest of souls.”

You know I have shared that all through the years of this ministry the dear Lord has given unto me. A little country church in the days of my youth, a little country church came to me and said, “We have a community and so many young people like you, your age, and our church is closed. Our Sunday school is closed. We have no pastor and our church is closed. Would you come on Sunday afternoon, and preach to us, and open our church? Would you do it?”

I said, “I’ll be there.”

And on Sunday afternoon, we opened those closed doors. We swept out the dust. We cleaned off the benches. I stood in the pulpit and preached the gospel the best that a youth knows how. Then every day in the week, I walked up and down those roads where the people lived, knocked at their country homes, read the Bible, prayed with them, testified, announced a revival meeting. And when the services were done in one of the rivers that flowed close by, we had one of the largest baptismal services that part of the country had ever seen.

“Master, eat, eat.”

But the Lord said, “I have meat to eat that ye know not of. My heart is so abounding.” And God has done that ever since.

These past days, why bless your heart, one night last week there were one hundred thirty-nine down this aisle and these other nights so many, so many. We bless God for this wonderful staff. We bless God for these divisional leaders. We bless God for that choir that filled that loft every night. We bless God for the evangelist preacher. We thank God for you. There is not language in which to say it, and there are not syllables that I can pronounce, and there are not sentences that I can frame to express to God my infinite gratitude for you, for you, for you.

“Master, eat, eat.“

But He said unto them, “I have meat to eat that ye know not of” — the feeling of heavenly reward.

Look again. Our ministry of testimony, and witness, and preaching, and appeal is to be made with great expectancy and encouragement. The Lord says, “He that reapeth receiveth wages and gathereth fruit unto life eternal, and herein is that same truth; one soweth and another reapeth.”

We do not know — only God knows — we do not know the influences and the providences that have plowed the fallow ground of the human heart before our testimony and appeal are given. Somebody sowed a providence in life, an influence in life, a godly mother or father, a friend or neighbor. Somebody sowed. And he who extends an appeal is to enter into that testimony with great encouragement and expectancy. You don’t know what has preceded the plowing up of the human heart all ready, and yielded, and eager, and surrendered, and willing. Sometimes those providences are the sorrows and the sadnesses of life that open a man’s heart to God.

One of the most difficult men, one of the most difficult men, I asked God to bless me in winning him to Jesus, O, Lord, a difficult man and a hard man. And you know when I went to his office, when I went to his office I found him at his desk with his face buried in his hands, sobbing, sobbing. And as I talked to him, he had just received word of a tragedy that overwhelmed his family; Oh, Oh. And he was crying his heart out. Why in no time at all with my Bible, and the Holy Spirit helping, and Jesus’ arms extended, heart of love and compassion, in no time at all that man was in the kingdom of God and in the revival service that night with his family, down the aisle, and before the congregation, confessing his faith in the Lord Jesus. Hard, and difficult, and for the years of his life rejecting every appeal but the providence that plowed his heart broke his spirit, opened his soul to the heavenly Savior. You don’t know. You don’t know.

Sometimes those providences are gladnesses, and rejoicings, and thanksgivings. Did you ever look carefully? Let me read it and as I read it I’m going to emphasize it and you see it. Look:

“And Enoch, and Enoch lived sixty and five years and beget Methuselah. And Enoch walked with God, after he beget Methuselah. Then God took him, and he was not, and God gave to Methuselah the years that he took away from Enoch and added them to the years of Methuselah” (Genesis 5:21-24).

But did you see that? “And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and Enoch walked with God after he beget Methuselah.” When the little baby—when the little child, when the little boy—was placed in his arms, something happened to Enoch. And to most any man that will happen. Never did notice the community before but you look at it now. Never particularly paid any attention to the schools close by but you’re looking at them now. Never thought, maybe about God, and about the church, and about the upbringing of the little lad but thinking about it now. “And Enoch walked with God after he beget Methuselah.” Sometimes the gladnesses of life open our hearts heavenward.

Sometimes the remembrances of life, things we don’t ever get away from, they stay in our souls forever. Just a few Sundays ago there came down the aisle a man here in this church.

And he said to me, he said, “I have been away for thirty years, thirty years, more than thirty years. But,” he said to me, “Sir, my mother belonged to this church, and my father belonged to this church, and as a little child I grew up in this church. And,” he said, “I have been restive and unhappy and lost for these thirty years past. And,” he said, “Sir, I want to come back home.”

I don’t think any boy ever gets away. I don’t think any child ever gets away when they are taught and reared in the love, and nurture, and admonition of the Lord. Years may intervene, but they don’t ever forget. And someday they turn their faces homeward. Our appeal, says the Lord, is to be made in great encouragement and expectation. For there have been sowings that we don’t realize. There have been providences and influences that have shaped and molded life we’re not aware of. And God speaks through sorrows, through joys, through the experiences of life. God speaks.

Notice another thing. I speak of the Savior these Samaritans accepted. They were lost just like the whole world is lost without Jesus. And the woman the Lord is speaking to in this glorious story, the woman finally said to the Master, “I know that Messiah, Christ is coming. And when He is coming He will tell us all things. Every answer we seek we will find in Him. And every need we have will be met in Him. I know,” said this woman, “that Messiah comes and when Christ comes, He will tell us all things” [John 4:25-26, 42].

And Jesus said unto her, “I that speak unto thee am He.”

And look again, “And after the Lord had spoken to those Samaritans they said, ‘Now we believe for we have heard Him ourselves and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.’

Oh, what a magnificent commitment!

And we know for ourselves, that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world; an answer for every question, strength for every hour, a blessing in every sorrow, the presence of God in every pilgrimmaging way, the forgiveness of sins, the saving of our lives, the hope of a world yet to come. This Jesus, the Savior of our souls.

Oh, what a commitment!

You know I give to our little children and have our staff members. We give to our little children who come, a little book that the pastor has written. And it has four little chapters in it, four brief chapters in it. One, the first chapter, “What it Means to be Saved.” Second chapter: “What it Means to be Baptized.” The third chapter: “What it Means to take the Lord’s Supper.” And the fourth chapter: “What it Means to be a Good Church Member.” And all of the children who come forward are faithfully taught that little book. Then the father and mother brings the child to me and I ask them questions about it then pray with them before they are presented to you for baptism.

Now I have been doing that several months. And I have been doing it long enough to discover an astonishing and an amazing thing about these children. Many times, many times I will ask the child about the meaning of baptism and he will stumble at it. He hasn’t quite got it. He doesn’t quite see it. And he stumbles in his answer. Many, many times when I ask the child about the Lord’s Supper, he will stumble at it. He hasn’t quite got the meaning of this memorial hour. But there is one thing that I have never yet failed to find an answer for when I ask the child, and it concerns that first chapter, “What it Means to be Saved.” And the question is this, “Dear child, what does Jesus save us from? He is our Savior. What does He save us from?”

And I’ve never had a child yet that didn’t answer that question immediately and emphatically. “Jesus saves us from our sins and from eternal death.”

Isn’t that remarkable? The inherent, almost congenital knowledge and sense of these little children that we are lost, that we are sinful, and that we need a Savior; we need a salvation.

All of us feel that when we’re quickened, when we reach an age of accountability. Not sins so much as sin; there is a lack, there is a loss, there is a shortcoming, there is an inadequacy, there is a falling short. And we sense it and we feel it. And it’s an attendant every day of our lives. And we’re dying and early we come into that consciousness. And we are dying. The body shall die. And the soul, and the soul has been shut off from God, and he’s dead in sin, and separation. And our lives are withered, and cursed, and we need God. Every child that I talk to is sensitive to that. You are. You are.

There is the blemish in every life, a shortcoming, a lack, a need, sin. And this is the Savior. He saves us from death. He saves us from sin. He saves us from the penalty and the judgment of our dereliction, and shortcoming, and error, and mistake. Jesus saves us from our transgression and iniquity. Jesus saves us from death and He saves us to eternal life. My body dying, Jesus shall redeem this frame that falls into dust. And though it is buried in the heart of the earth, by the power, by the power of His Holy Spirit at the sound of the voice of the archangel, at the trump of Almighty God, this very frame that turns into dust shall be raised and live again. Jesus saves us from death. And it is a present salvation.

He saves our souls, and He regenerates our hearts, and He grants to us eternal life. And He blesses us now. He blesses us now. Not only in the glorious tomorrow, not only in the celestial heavenly by and by, not only when we stand before Him and look into His face and live, not only some day in a glorious tomorrow, but God blesses us now. God saves us now. The Lord sanctifies and hallows our poor lives now not only a future blessing and a future salvation, but a present blessing, and an infinitely precious present benediction, guiding, guarding, directing, caring, remembering. Our Lord, our Savior, now.

In the coming of so many young people and in the response of so many children over, and over, and over again have I lived through the days of my own childhood and youth — when I was converted, when I was saved, with many tears as a small child, with many tears coming in faith and in acceptance to the Lord Jesus. Almost every time a child comes weeping in the presence of the Lord, I relive that experience. I know exactly how that little fellow feels, exactly.

Only kind of religion I know is the kind I’ve got. What it is in somebody else’s life, how it turns, what it means, I could never know. But I know what it is to me. And it came to me with deep feeling and commitment, with many tears. And then these who have come giving their lives in answer to a full-time ministry before God; as a child I felt those surgings heavenward that God had set me aside for this holy and heavenly purpose.

And as a small child even in grammar school, I was studying, and working, and preparing to be a preacher. And then the days of youth and study, and all of the perplexities and doubts that a youth falls into as he studies, and as he reads, and as he opens his mind to what infidels and agnostics, and unbelievers and scoffers say; and the whole world, so vile and vicious in to which the life of a Christian youth is thrust. I’ve just relived it all this week so many times. And the Lord has been present and has been precious through every step of the way.

And now I’m going to have the temerity to do once again what I had the courage to try some while ago. In the days of my youth I wrote a poem, and I read it to you, and you did not object. Well I wrote another poem when I was a lad, when I was a youth and it came out of those days. This is it. I entitled it “Commitment.”

I have been thrust in the valley and could not understand why
God has seemed so far away, distance drowned my cry
My heart turned to a promise that Satan cannot deny
God says, “I will be with thee,” and He cannot lie

I have wandered in a wilderness, desperately seeking the trail
The books of men, and the men of books had bled my faith so pale
My hand reached up toward a Helper, to a God who could prevail
My hand was clasped by Jesus, and He cannot fail

O my soul, why dost thou ever falter before the Lord?
Behold, He leadeth forever those who trust in His Word
Follow the call of the Spirit, wherever the Spirit moves
For the battle is with the Lord Jesus, and He cannot lose

Now we believe and know that this is in Thee, the Christ, the Savior of the world, someday, some triumphant day, in the redemption of the whole purchased possession, when God shall raise us from the dead. But today, today, this glorious day, when the Lord as Keeper and Guide shall see us through. Praise His name, Amen, and forever and ever.

Now, now while we sing our hymn of appeal; you, somebody, you, “I take the Lord as my Savior, and here I come, here I am.” A family you, a couple you, a lad you, a little girl, a youth, however God shall open the door and lead in the way, make it now.

Make it now, “Here I come Pastor. Here I am.”

On the first note of that first stanza, come. Even now, make that decision in your soul. There’s a stairway at the front and the back on either side. Come, time to spare, the throng on this lower floor into the aisle and down to the front.

“Here I am Pastor, here I come, I make it now, today.”

Do it. Do it while we stand and while we sing.

Copyright © 2013 The W. A. Criswell Foundation.
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Posted with permission.
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