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"But when He sow the multitudes, He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then saith He unto His disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray ye, therefore, the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers into His harvest."-Matthew. ix. 36-38.
IN discussing this subject, I propose-
I. To consider to whom this precept is addressed, II. What it means; III. What is implied in the prayer required; IV. Show that the state of mind which constitutes obedience to this precept is an indispensable condition of salvation.
I. To whom this precept is addressed,
Beyond question, the precept is addressed to all who are under obligation to be benevolent; therefore, to all classes and all beings upon whom the law of love is imposed. Consequently, it is addressed to all human beings, for all who are human bear moral responsibility -- ought to care for the souls of their fellows, and of course fall under the broad sweep of this requisition.
Note the occasion of Christ's remark. He was traversing the cities and villages of His country, "teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people." He saw multitudes before Him, mostly in great ignorance of God and salvation; and His deeply compassionate heart was moved," because He saw them fainting and scattered abroad as sheep without a shepherd." Alas! they were perishing for lack of the bread of heaven, and who should go and break it to their needy souls?
His feelings were the more affected because He saw that they felt hungry. They not only were famishing for the bread of life, but they seemed to have some consciousness of the fact. They were just then in the condition of a harvest-field, the white grain of which is ready for the sickle, and waits the coming of the reapers. So the multitudes were ready to be gathered into the granary of the great Lord of the harvest. No wonder this sight should touch the deepest compassions of His benevolent heart.
II. What is really intended in thE precept, "Pray ye the Lord of the harvest, that He would send forth laborers into His harvest?"
Every precept relating to external conduct has its spirit and also its letter, the letter referring to the external, but the spirit to the internal; yet both involved in real obedience. In the present case, the letter of the precept requires prayer; but let no one suppose that merely using the words of prayer is real obedience. Besides the words there must be a praying state of mind. The precept does not require us to lie and play the hypocrite before God. No one can for a moment suppose this to be the case. Therefore, it must be admitted that the precept requires the spirit of prayer as well as the letter. It requires first in value a praying state of mind, and then also its due expression in the forms of prayer.
What, then, is the true spirit of this precept? answer, love for souls. Certainly it does not require us to pray for men without any heart in our prayer; but that we should pray with a sincere heart, full of real love for human welfare -- a love for immortal souls and a deep concern for their salvation. It doubtless requires the same compassion that Jesus Himself had for souls. His heart was gushing with real compassion for dying souls, and He was conscious that His own was a right state of mind. Therefore, He could not do less than require the same state of mind of all His people. Hence. He requires that we should have real and deep compassion for souls, such compassion as really moves the heart, for such most obviously was His.
This involves a Lull committal of the soul to this object. Christ had committed His soul to the great labor of saving men; for this He labored and toiled; for this His heart agonized; for this His life was ready to be offered; therefore, He could do no less than require the same of His people.
Again, an honest offering of this prayer implies a willingness on our part that God should use us in His harvest-field in any capacity He pleases. When the farmer gathers his harvest, many things are to be done, and often be needs many hands to do them. Some he sends in to cut the grain, others to bind it; some gather into the barn, and others glean the field, that nothing be lost. So Christ will have a variety of labors for His servants in the great harvest-field; and no men can be of real use to Him unless they are willing to work in any department of their Master's service, thankful for the privilege of doing the humblest service for such a Master and in such a cause.
Hence, it is implied in honest prayer for this object that we are really committed to the work, and that we have given ourselves up most sincerely and entirely to do all we can for Christ and His cause on earth. We are always on hand, ready for any labor or any suffering. For, plainly, if we have not this mind, we need not think to pray to any good purpose. It would be but a sorry and insulting prayer to say, "Lord, send somebody else to do all the hard work, and let me do little or nothing." Everybody knows that such a prayer would only affront God and curse the offerer.
Hence, sincere prayer for Christ's cause implies that you are willing to do anything you can do to promote its interests, in the actual and absolute devotion of all your powers and resources for this object. You may not withhold even your own children. Nothing shall be too dear for you to offer on God's altar.
Suppose a man should give nothing -- should withhold all his means and suppress all efforts, only he says he will Pray. He professes indeed to pray. But do you suppose that his prayer has any heart in it? Does he mean what he says? Does he love the object more than all things else? Nay, verily. You never could say that a young man does all he can for Christ's harvest if he refuses to go into the field to work. nor that an aged, but wealthy, man is doing all he can if he refuses to give anything to help sustain the field-laborers.