MATTHEW OUR Savior looked upon the people among whom He moved in a manner worthy of our imitation. He was a Man of great feeling, He was “moved with compassion,” His sympathies were awakened; He could not look upon a mass of men with an indifferent countenance, His inmost soul was stirred; but at the same time He was no mere enthusiast, He was as calmly practical as if He had been a cool calculator. If He sighed, He did something more than sigh; He proceeded to aid those He pitied. He had practical compassion on the crowd, and, therefore, He turned to His disciples and said, “Pray ye the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers into His harvest.” He did not go about among the masses with an undiscerning admiration of them; I do not hear Him praising them as “the finest peasantry,” or “the sinew of the nation,” as some will do; but neither do we see in Him any trace of aversion to them, as though He felt out of place in their society. He was often saddened by their follies, and grieved by their sins, but He never loathed them, or spoke contemptuously of them.
The common people heard Him gladly, because they saw that He had sympathy with them. Though in character grandly aristocratic, He was in manner and life profoundly democratic; He was a King, and yet “one chosen out of the people,” who loved them with all His heart. It is clear also that He never grew discouraged in laboring for their good; you never hear Him say that it is useless to preach to the multitude, that they are too degraded, too priest-ridden, or too ignorant. No discouragement ever damped His ardor; He persevered till His work was done. A brave, glorious heart was that of Jesus, always melted to tenderness, but, at the same time, always practical; never influenced either by admiration, or aversion, or discouragement, so as to cease from practical methods of bettering the condition of the people among whom he dwelt.
The thought of multitude rises naturally from the sight of a harvest-field, and when the crop is plenteous the idea of multitude forces itself upon you at once. You cannot count the ears of corn, neither will you be able to count the sons of men. I suppose our Savior alluded first of all to the crowds around Himself. but His mind being much more capacious than ours, He remembered all the thousands of Israel; nay, methinks He could not have restricted His heart to the little country of Israel, He glanced across the seas and beyond the mountains to the myriads of mankind swarming upon this globe. It crushes one to think of the millions of our species. Nobody yet has been able to obtain an idea of the vast extent of this one city of London; you shall traverse it from end to end as long as you will, and you shall study its statistics, but you have no conception what the population of London is, and you never will have, — the mass is too great. But what is London compared with our nation, and with the millions that speak our mother tongue all over the world? Yet even these are but a small portion of the innumerable host. We never shall be able to obtain even a fringe of a conception of China with its teeming millions, or of that other populous nation which owns our scepter, Hindostan. Multitudes are in the valley of existence, as the drops from the rain-cloud and as the leaves upon the forest trees; such are the sons of men.
But when the Lord spake of them as a harvest, He had before His mind the idea of danger to them. Suppose the owner of some large estate should walk through his broad acres and should say, “I have a great harvest — look at those far-reaching fields but the country has become depopulated, the people have emigrated, and I have no laborers. There are one or two yonder, they are reaping with all their might, they make long days, and they toil till they faint; but over yonder there are vast ranges of my farm unreaped, and I have not a sickle to thrust in. The corn is being wasted, and it grieves me sorely. See how the birds are gathering in troops to prey upon the precious ears! Meanwhile the season is far advanced, the autumn damps are already upon us, and the chill, frosty nights which are winter’s vanguard are on their way. Mildew is spoiling the grain, and what remains sound will shell out upon the ground, or swell with the moisture and become of no service.” Behold in this picture the Redeemer. He looks upon the world to-day, and He says within Himself, “All these multitudes of precious souls will be lost, for there are so few reapers to gather them in. Here and there are men who, with prodigious energy, are reaping all they can, and all but fainting as they reap, and I am with them, and blessed sheaves are taken home, but what are these among so many?” Look, can your eye see it? Can even an eagle’s wing fly over the vast fields, unreaped plains, without growing weary in the flight? There are the precious ears, they decay, they rot, they perish, they are ruined, to the loss of God and to their own eternal injury; and it grieves the Great Husbandman that it should be so. That is still the case to-day, and it ought to grieve us that it should be so, for His sake, and for the sake of our fellow-men. A multitude of precious souls were perishing, and this the Savior lamented.
The Savior had yet another thought, namely, that the masses were accessible, for He used the same expression when the people came streaming out of Samaria to the well to hear Him, drawn out by curiosity created by the woman’s story. He said to His disciples, “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.” Now, when people are ready to hear the Word, then it is that the fields are ripe; and our Lord meant that as the wheat-ears do not oppose the sickle, but stand there, and a man has but to enter into the field, and use the sickle, and the result will surely follow, so there are times when nothing is wanted but to preach the gospel, and the souls which otherwise would perish, will surely be ingathered. I do not believe that at any time the world has had a dull ear to the gospel. Who have gathered the crowds? Such men as Augustine and Chrysostom. And what was their preaching but the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Who have gathered them? Such men as John Huss, and Jerome, and Luther, and Calvin, and the like, about whom there was ever a sweet savor of Christ. Who have gathered them in this land? Who but our Wycliffe and our Knox? Who gathered them in later days but our Whitefield and our Wesley, men who spoke the common language of the people, and who had no theme but Jesus crucified. They will not go to hear your philosophies, they leave you and your philosophies to the spiders and the dry-rot; but preach Jesus, and His precious blood, and tell men that whosoever believeth in Christ shall be saved, and they will hear you gladly. I heard from a missionary, who spends nights in working for his Lord in ginpalaces and the lowest resorts of the people, that he has scarcely ever met with an insult; the people received his tracts, and thanked him for his kindly words. I find it continually asserted by our city missionaries and those who visit cab ranks, or omnibus yards, or work among other public servants, that in general there is a willing attention to the gospel. The fields stand asking us to reap them, but there are not reapers enough; the grain perishes for want of laborers. The people are accessible. What country is there where the gospel cannot be preached? Fast closed was China, but you may go throughout the length and breadth of the land and talk of Christ, if you will. Japan is open to you, and Africa has laid bare her central secret; Spain, fast shut as with a seal, is this day set free, and Italy rejoices in the same liberty. All the world lies before the reapers of the Most High, but where are they? “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few.”
The idea of immediate need is contained in the figure, for the reaping of the harvest is to a considerable extent with the farmer a matter of now or never. “Ah,” says he, “if I could postpone the harvest, if I could let it be gathered in by slow degrees, if we could work on fill the harvest moon has gone and then through November and December till winter closes the year, then the scantiness of laborers would be a small evil; but there is a limited time in which the wheat can be safely housed, and it must be got in ere winter begins, or it is lost to us.” There is no time for us to waste in the salvation of the sons of men. They will not live for ever; yon grey head will not tarry till you have told him the gospel, if you postpone the good news for the next ten years. We speak of what we hope may be accomplished for our race in half a century, but this generation will be buried ere that time.
You must reap you harvest at once, or it will be destroyed; it must be ingathered speedily, or it will perish. To-day, to-day, to-day, the imperative necessities of manhood appeal to the benevolence of Christians. To-day the sure destruction of the unbeliever speaks with pleading voice to the humanity of every quickened heart. “We are perishing, will you let us perish? You can only help us by bringing us the gospel now; will you delay?”