"The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few:
pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest,
that he would send forth laborers into His harvest" (Luk_10:2).
This passage is quoted twice in connection with the life of Christ. He seems to have uttered this sentence several times. Once it fell from His lips as He gazed at the multitudes on the Galilean hills at the time of the feeding of the five thousand. His heart, we are told, was moved with compassion when He saw the multitudes scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd. Again He uttered these words when sending the seventy disciples to preach the Gospel in every city and village whither He Himself would come. This act was, in a sense, the beginning of a great missionary movement which followed the day of Pentecost. The seventy evangelists whom He sent forth were types of the great missionary army and the number "seventy" is suggestive of the seventy gentile nations into which the heathen world was supposed to be divided in ancient times. As He sent these forth as pioneers He saw behind them the mighty army that were to follow and precede His coming. As these seventy went forth, the message they bore was really the message that He was coming behind them; and so they represent very finely the missionary movement of today in which we go forth, not to call attention to ourselves but to tell of Him, and especially to remind those we visit that He Himself is following close behind us and will soon be here in His personal advent.
I. Our Saviour’s emphatic language on both these occasions gives us a vivid view of the world’s harvest as He saw it. "The harvest truly is great." His words suggest to us that it is harvest time. It is the time for reaping and harvest time is always an urgent and a swiftly passing season. It will not wait our convenience. It must be reaped when it is ripe, or it will rot upon the field. This is the condition of the world today. It is ripe for the reapers of the kingdom or the pit. The mind and heart of the heathen world is opening up from the sleep of ages and eagerly receiving new light from the progress of modern civilization, and it is just as ready to absorb the devil’s lies as the Lord’s truth. It is a crisis age, and what we do we must do quickly.
Then, too, the great reaper, Death, is mowing down the generation at the awful rate of more than thirty millions a year and if these immortal souls are to hear of Jesus they must hear at once. It is harvest time. Let the reapers be ready.
But again, the Master reminds us that the harvest is great. It is of great extent. It is almost impossible to realize the vastness of earth’s Christless millions. There is no arithmetic that can make the picture. Let them march past us in four lines of moving men, two of them composed of Chinese, one of African and one of Hindu. Let this column four deep march by us. It would take a generation for them to pass, and when they had gone a new generation would be marching at their heels, and so forever, four deep, they are marching past to judgment and darkness, one hundred thousand dying every day. It is like a mighty city blotted out every twenty-four hours by a calamity greater than earthquake or flame.
But this harvest is great, not only in extent, but in value. These are immortal souls capable of joy or woe. They were once made in the image of God. They are destined to live forever. Under the influence of Divine grace they are capable of rising to the highest and noblest possibilities of goodness and usefulness. The humblest and most worthless of them was worthy of the sacrifice of Christ’s life, and the shedding of His precious blood. It is a mighty harvest. Better let all the wheat fields of America be blighted, better let all the gold of the Klondike and California perish, better let a constellation go out into darkness, than that these souls should be lost.
The harvest is also great in its difficulties. It is a task impossible to man. All the power of Satan, all the prejudices of race and caste, all the deep love of sin in the human soul, all the power of evil habit and natural corruption conformed by ages of degradation and strengthened by ten thousand selfish and earthly motives combine to hold men in the power of Satan and to lead them to reject the Gospel. Even if we had the missionaries and the means, the difficulties would still be immense. The work is superhuman. Properly to reach this vast harvest field we need a missionary for every ten thousand men, and this would require the forces of one hundred thousand missionaries and fifty million dollars a year to sustain them. This would not be considered too great for human ambition and imperial power. The immediate evangelization of the world ought to have such an army and such an equipment. And before such figures our feeble resources and limited means dwarf into insignificance, our hearts fall back on God and are relieved, when we hear the Master say "Pray." This is a task too great for us. God must undertake it.
Again, the Master glances at the laborers and He tells us they "are few." They were few in His own day when twelve apostles and seventy disciples went forth on the first Evangel. They are still few, although the numbers have increased. Instead of one missionary for every ten thousand human beings, there are vast provinces and destitute fields where it is one missionary to half a million, and sometimes one missionary to several millions. This is not for lack of material, for the Church has millions of members in this country, and one volunteer out of every hundred members would give us from America alone a missionary army sufficient to evangelize the globe. But instead of one out of every hundred we have about one out of every fifty thousand church members from this country in the foreign land. While the wealth of our people increases, and our Christian agencies are crowded with professional workers, the mission fields are neglected and even the workers that would go forth are hindered for lack of means, and the Lord’s heart aches as He cries: "The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few."
II. The great need of the work is suggested by the Master’s language respecting the prayer of the disciples: "Pray ye the Lord of the harvest that he would send forth laborers into his harvest." The force of this expression is lost in our translation. The Greek word for "send" literally means "thrust forth." It describes an emergency movement, an extensive and intensely rapid and earnest sending forth of laborers. It describes the great missionary movement in which many workers are suddenly called to the field and go forth with intense earnestness, enthusiasm and power. It is just such a missionary movement as started forth from Pentecost, and as we have occasional intimations of in the history of such great evangelistic movements as the labors of Colomba in Scotland, Anselm in Germany, the Moravian movement, Pastor Harms and Pastor Gossler and one or two more aggressive missionary movements of these last days. The work of the China Inland Mission, the rise of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and the Student Volunteers, give some intimation of what such a movement might be under the direction of the Holy Ghost if the Church of Christ were only aroused to a full realization of the need of the world, the opportunities of the time and the urgency of the call. It is just such a movement as this that the Church of Christ and the heathen world needs. Nothing short of it can meet the awful destitution of the world and the apathy, indifference and selfishness of the Church. It would be a greater revival if such a crusade would be begun and sustained for a single decade on the part of all the consecrated children of God. It is not too much to say that the whole world might be occupied in half a generation and the Lord’s coming hastened in our time. Such a thrusting forth implies the breaking down of barriers, the upheaval of old forms of thought and feeling, the breaking up of selfishness, stagnancy, conservatism, and the letting loose of the spirit of love and Christian enthusiasm amid all ranks and classes of the Church of God, to bring back the freshness, the self-sacrifice and the supernatural power of the days of Pentecost. It would usher in an era of glory and spiritual quickening such as the Church has not witnessed since the days of Paul. What a worthy object of prayer! Let us ask God for something as large-hearted and magnificent in the name of Christ as the world is supplying in the name of commerce and enterprise. Many think nothing of investing tens of millions in vast speculations, transcontinental railways, great trusts and selfish combinations. Oh, for a missionary trust, a combination of idle capital and the elevated minds and glowing hearts of the Church of God to accomplish in a prodigious enterprise as much for God as Mammon is doing in a thousand directions for selfishness and pleasure! How small our Christian enterprise, how timid our expectations and efforts! How we wonder when a man gives a few thousands to things incalculably more important than absorb hundreds of millions from the votaries of the world!
This thrusting forth will have two sides to it. It will involve on one hand a great army of volunteers for the field, of which we have some intimation in the Students’ Volunteer movement, when men will pour out their lives for the evangelization of the nations as they poured out their lives once for country and the freedom of our people.
It will also witness the outpouring of money in the spirit of magnificent giving and self-sacrifice, and it will not be called a strange thing for one man to take a whole province in China and give his tens of millions for its evangelization; for another to take Anam and become a trustee for its evangelization; for a syndicate of Christians to assume the responsibility of the evangelization of the Soudan, and open up great railways to the heart of Africa and send forth their equipped and consecrated pioneers, not by the tens but by the thousands, to occupy the land for Christ.
The language implies that it will need great power to accomplish such a movement. The whole bent of human nature is against it. Selfishness will lead the workers to tarry at home and hoard their means for enterprises of profit and pleasure, but God can send such a tidal wave of love, power and self-denial as will break up these icy barriers and pour, like the freshets of spring, in torrents of holy zeal, through every channel of Christian life and service. Oh, for such a day to dawn! Oh, for such a thrusting forth of laborers into the harvest! Oh, for the old Psalm to be fulfilled, "The Lord gave the word, great was the company that published it!" Oh, for such a baptism from on high! Then shall it be true, "Thy people shall be a freewill offering in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth."
III. Our Master indicates the source from which this need is to be supplied and this remedy provided, "Pray ye the Lord of the harvest." It is to come through believing prayer. Such a movement as we have described is so much in advance of what we see, is so unspeakably greater than our feeble, timid and trifling attempts at the world’s evangelization, that no power is equal to it but God’s, and no means can accomplish it but prayer. As one passes even hastily over heathen lands he becomes utterly oppressed with the massive and almost impenetrable barriers against the Gospel that confront him on every side; and as he looks upon the overwhelming millions under the power of superstition, sensuality and grossest wickedness, with but here and there a feeble ray of holy light shining in the darkness, he cries almost in despair, "Who is sufficient for these things?" Thank God there is one remedy, the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is equal to the need, and He can raise up just such a movement, and send forth just such an army.
Oh, that a few hearts might be filled with this Divine ambition to be God’s intercessors and remembrancers of such a blessing.
1. Prayer will send forth the workers and the right kind of workers. It will reach them with a heavenly call, train them in the school of God, send them to the right fields and sustain them when they go.
2. Prayer will supply the means. God can reach the pocketbooks that we cannot. The Holy Ghost can take a hundred of our young, consecrated business men, who are ready to dedicate themselves and whatever wealth God may give them to this great enterprise, and then in a very few years, by the rapid turns of prosperity which lie back of hundreds of business careers, can load them with boundless wealth and make them His trustees for the greatest work in the world. Perhaps there are a hundred people reading these lines, who might, if God could only trust them with such a ministry, become possessed of unlimited resources for His cause and the spread of the Gospel. Yes, and God can touch those that are now possessed of wealth in ways that the petitioner may never see.
A few years ago in a New England town three women met one afternoon and prayed God to do something for foreign missions which would mark that hour in the history of its cause. That very afternoon a rich man in the same city made his will and left more than a million dollars to support the Gospel in heathen lands. These are things He loves to do, if He can but find people that will only trust Him, and whom He can fully trust.
3. Prayer can remove the difficulties and open the doors of the mission field. Prayer has opened almost every land to the Gospel in the last fifty years. It is but a little while since the principal mission fields of the world were practically closed. In a single generation we have seen India, China, Central Africa and South America, all prepared by the mighty hand of God’s providence for the seed of the Gospel. Hudson Taylor has told us how, through prayer, the ship on which he was sailing to China, as it was becalmed and drifting on a cannibal shore, was saved by prayer, through the breaking forth of a sudden breeze while the missionary prayed below and the captain unreefed the sails above, and just as the savages were waiting for their prey, they saw the vessel turn and dash away from the perilous shore as if wafted by the very breath of God.
A missionary in China tells us how a native Christian was about to be murdered by his elder brother because he insisted on giving a Christian burial to his aged mother. The native churches prayed, and the faithful Christian stood firm, when suddenly the hand of God struck this wicked brother, and he died in fearful torment, declaring that the demons had come for his soul, and a great awe fell on all the community because it was the hand of God.
Dr. Chamberlain tells us how in India through simple prayer he and a large party were saved in a jungle in the darkness of night, and they were supernaturally led to a place on the bank of the river where there was no ferry or possible way of escape at ordinary times; but, just as they reached it they found that a ferry had been provided and held there by means that could not have been provided by man, and the boatmen were waiting, they knew not why, and they carried them safely across the swollen river and from the jungle with its awful perils.
Dr. Paton has told us what prayer has accomplished in the New Hebrides, and the whole story of missions is full of the supernatural working of God in answer to His people’s prayer. He is ready to go before us as literally as the pillar of cloud and fire moved before Israel in the wilderness of old. All He asks of us is that we fully trust Him, and that we step forth in obedience to His will and in confidence in His care.
4. Prayer will break down the prejudices of the heathen and open their minds and hearts to the Gospel. Many of us will recall the history told by Dr. Mahan of the good minister in Ohio, who used to pray in his last days almost constantly for the heathen world. He took the map of the world as his prayer book, and kneeling down in his closet he daily traversed the world, stopping at the different mission stations and praying for them, one by one. After he was gone, it was found from the missionary periodicals, that God’s blessing had swept across these fields in great missionary revivals in exact accordance with the order of his prayer, and the blessing had traveled around the globe just behind the pillared cloud of the Holy Ghost as it went before in this good man’s closet. It will be found some day, no doubt, that the wonderful revivals of Madagascar and the Sandwich Islands, the Telugu mission and the work in Northern India, and the outpourings of the Holy Ghost in China, are just the answer to some humble and perhaps unknown child of God, who, in the secret place of prayer, has gone before bearing the censor of holy intercession and blowing a trumpet of victorious faith around the walls of Jericho.
Beloved, let us pray, let us "pray the Lord of the harvest," that in these last days He will revive Israel, make bare His arm, bring forth a great missionary crusade and "thrust forth laborers into His harvest."