WHAT kind of men does the Master mean to use? They must be laborers.
The man who does not make hard work of his ministry will find it very hard work to answer for his idleness at the last great day. A gentleman who wants an easy life should never think of occupying the Christian pulpit, he is out of place there, and when he gets there the only advice I can give him is to get out of it as soon as possible; and if he will not leave the position voluntarily, I call to mind the language of Jehu concerning Jezebel, “Fling her down,” and think the advice applicable to a lazy minister. An idler has no right in the pulpit. He is an instrument of Satan in damning the souls of men. The ministry demands brain labor; the preacher must throw his thought into his teaching, and read and study to keep his mind in good trim. He must not weary the people by telling them the truth in a stale, unprofitable manner, with nothing fresh from his own soul to give force to it. Above all, he must put heart work into his preaching. He must feel what he preaches it must never be with him an easy thing to deliver a sermon, he must feel as if he could preach his very life away ere the sermon is done.
There must be soul work in it, the entire man must be stirred up to effort, the whole nature that God has endowed him with must be concentrated with all its vigor upon the work in hand. Such men we want. To stand and drone out a sermon in a kind of articulate snoring to a people who are somewhere between awake and asleep must be wretched work. I wonder what kind of excuse will be given by some men at last for having habitually done this. To promulgate a dry creed, and go over certain doctrines, and expound and enforce them logically, but never to deal with men’s consciences, never to upbraid them for their sins, never to tell them of their danger, never to invite them to a Savior with tears and entreaties! What a powerless work is this! What will become of such preachers? God have mercy upon them! We want laborers, not loiterers. We need men on fire, and I beseech you ask God to send them. The harvest never can be reaped by men who will not labor; they must off with their coats and go at it in their shirt-sleeves; I mean they must doff their dignities and get to Christ’s work as if they meant it, like real harvest men. They must sweat at their work, for nothing in the harvest-field can be done without the sweat of the face, nor in the pulpit without the sweat of the soul.
But what kind of laborers are required? They must be men who will go down into the wheat. You cannot reap wheat by standing a dozen yards off and beckoning to it you must go up close to the standing stalks; every reaper knows that. And you cannot move people’s hearts, and bring men to Christ, by imagining yourself to be a superior being, who condescends wonderfully when he shakes hands with a poor man. There is a very genteel order of preaching which is as ridiculous as reaping with a lady’s ivory-handled pocket knife, with kid gloves on; and I do not believe in God’s ever blessing it. Get among the wheat, like men in earnest! God’s servants ought to feel that they are one with the people; whoever they are they should love them, claim kinship with them, feel glad to see them, and look them in the face and say, Brother. Every man is a brother of mine; he may be a very bad one, but for all that I love him, and long to bring him to Jesus. Christ’s reapers must get among the wheat.
Now, see what the laborer brings with him. It is a sickle. His communications with the corn are sharp and cutting. He cuts right through, cuts the corn down, and casts it on the ground. The man whom God means to be a laborer in His harvest must not come with soft and delicate words, and flattering doctrines concerning the dignity of human nature, and the excellence of self-help, and of earnest endeavors to rectify our lapsed condition, and the like. Such mealy-mouthedness may God curse, for it is the curse of this age. The honest preacher calls a sin a sin, and a spade a spade, and says to men, “You are ruining yourselves; while you reject Christ you are living on the borders of hell, and ere long you will be lost to all eternity. There shall be no mincing the matter, you must escape from the wrath to come by faith in Jesus, or be driven for ever from God’s presence, and from all hope of joy.” The preacher must make his sermons cut. He is not to the off the edge of his scythe for fear it should hurt somebody. The gospel is intended to wound the conscience, and to go right through the heart, with the design of separating the soul from sin and self, as the corn is divided from the soil. Our object is to cut the sinner right down, for all the comeliness of the flesh must be slain, all his glory, all his excellence must be withered, and the man must be as one dead ere he can be saved. Ministers who do not aim to cut deep are not worth their salt. God never sent the man who never troubles men’s consciences. Such a man may be an ass treading down the corn, but a reaper he certainly is not. We want faithful ministers; pray God to send them.
But then a laborer has only begun when he cuts the corn much more is wanted. As he cuts, he lets the corn fall on to his arm, and then he lays it along in rows, but afterwards he binds it together and makes it into bundles that it may be ingathered. So the laborer whom God sends into the field must be a gathering laborer; he must be one who brings God’s people together, who comforts those that mourn, and picks up from the earth those who were cut down by the sharp sickle of conviction. He must bind the saints together, edifying them in their most holy faith.
Remember also that the laborer’s work is never done in harvest time till he sees the corn housed, — until it is made into a stack or put into a barn, his toil is not over; and the Christian minister, if God has truly anointed him to His work, never leaves caring for souls till they get to heaven. He is like Mr. Greatheart, with Christiana and Mercy, and the children; he goes with them from the City of Destruction, right up to the River Jordan; and if he could he would go through the river with them. It is his business to march in front with his shield, to meet the dragons and giants with his sword, and protect the little ones. It is his to be tender to them as a shepherd with the lambs and a nurse with her children, for he longs to present them at the last to his Master and say, “Here am I, and the children that Thou hast given me.”
We are to pray to the Lord, for it is the Lord’s business. Only the Lord can send us the right men. He has a right to send whom He pleases, for it is His own harvest, and a man may employ whom he wills in, his own field. It would be all in vain to appeal to anybody else. It is of no use to appeal to bishops to find us laborers. God alone has the making of ministers, and the raising up of true workers, and therefore the petition must be addressed to Him. “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest,” The Lord’s Prayer, in its first three petitions, contains this prayer: “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in earth, as it is in heaven.” Does not that mean, “Lord, send forth men who may teach this world to hallow Thy name, that they through Thy Spirit’s power may be the means of making Thy kingdom come, and causing Thy will to be done in earth as it is in heaven.” We ought to pray continually to the great Lord of the harvest for a supply of earnest laborers.
And do you notice the expression used here, “that he would send forth laborers.” Now, the Greek is much more forcible, it is that He would push them forward, and thrust them out; it is the same word which is used for the expulsion of a devil from a man possessed. It takes great power to drive a devil out, it will need equal power from God to drive a minister out to his work. I always say to young fellows who consult me about the ministry, “Don’t be a minister if you can help it;” because, if the man can help it, God never called him, but if he cannot help it, and he must preach or die, then he is the man. May the Lord push men out, thrust them out, drive them out, and compel them to preach the gospel; for unless they preach by a divine compulsion, there will be no spiritual compulsion in their ministry upon the hearts of others. “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would thrust out laborers into his harvest.”
Our Lord said, “into His harvest.” I like that, because the harvest is not ours. If that harvest shall perish, it is our heavenly Father’s harvest that perishes. This makes it weigh upon my soul. If they told me that the harvest of some harsh, overbearing tyrant was perishing, I might say, “Let it! If he had it, what good would it be to him or anybody else? He grinds the faces of the poor; who wants to see him rich?” But when it is our gracious God, our blessed loving Father, one cannot bear the thought, and yet Jesus puts it before us that it is God’s harvest which is perishing for want of reaping. Suppose an angel should take you upon his wing and poise you in mid-space some hundreds of miles above the earth, where you could look down on the globe with strengthened eyesight; suppose you rested there and the world revolved before you in twenty-four hours, the sunlight gradually coming upon all portions of it, and suppose that with the sunlight there should be rendered visible certain colors which would mark where there was grace, where there was idolatry, where there was atheism, where there was popery; you would grieve to see only here and there upon our globe, like little drops of dew, bright marks of the grace of God, but various shades of darkness would show you that the whole world lieth in the Wicked One still. And if the vision changed, and you saw the two hemispheres spread out like a map and transformed into a corn-field with corn all white for the harvest; how sad would you be to see here and there men reaping their little patches, doing the best they can, but the great mass of the corn untouched by the sickle. You would see leagues of land where never an ear was reaped that we know of, from the foundations of the world. You would be grieved to think that God’s corn is spoiling, men whom He has made in His own image, and made for immortality, perishing for lack of the gospel. “Pray ye,” that is the stress of the whole text — “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would, thrust forth laborers into his harvest,” that these fields may not rot before our eyes. “But I shall never preach,” saith one. If you do not preach you can serve God somehow else. Could you not start a prayer-meeting in your house?
Some of you live in different parts of London, could not you commence new interests? Do something for Jesus. Some of you, good women, could you not get young women together and talk to them about the Savior? Ay, but perhaps some brother has been smothering in his heart a desire to go into the missionary field. Do not quench the Spirit. You may be missing your vocation while trying to suppress that desire. I would sooner you should burst into fanaticism, and become right-down fools in enthusiasm, than remain in a dead coolness, caring little for the souls of men. What do Christian people nowadays think of? If they hear about Japan, they say, “Oh, we shall have a new trade there;” but do they say, “Who among us can go to Japan to tell them of the gospel?” Do you not think that merchants, and soldiers, and sailors, and such-like people who trade with distant parts of the world, are the very persons to spread the gospel?
Should not a Christian man say, “I shall try and find a trade for myself which will bring me into contact with a class of persons that need the gospel, and I will use my trade as the stalking-horse for Christ; since hypocrites use religion as a stalking-horse for gain, I will make my trading subservient to my religion.” “Oh,” says one, “we can leave that to the society.” God bless the society, and, I was going to say, smother the society, rather than allow it to smother personal effort. We want our godly merchants, working men, soldiers, and sailors everywhere to feel, “I cannot go and get a proxy in the shape of a society to do this for me; in the name of God, I will do it myself, and have a share in this great battle.” If you cannot labor yourself, the society is the grandest thing conceivable, for you may help others thereby; but still the main cry from Christ is that you yourself should go into the highways; and hedges, and as many as you find compel them to come in to the gospel feast.