Sowing and Reaping.
The Substance of an Address by Mr. Alexander Stewart at the
Missionary Conference, Bristol, June 6th, 1910.
AT the end of the 126th Psalm we read, "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him;" and at the beginning of the 127th Psalm, "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain." These verses give us two great departments of the work of God; there is the building of the house and the keeping of the city; and there is the going forth, bearing precious seed, which results in the sheaves of harvest. Of the latter work we are to speak.
It may be noted that there are three contrasts in the passage in the 126th Psalm—the going forth and the coming again; the weeping and the rejoicing; the seed and the sheaves. We see (1) the sower, (2) his action, (3) his purpose, (4) his condition, and (5) the results of the sowing.
First, as to the sower—the man behind the seed-bag. It is all- important that the seed should be right; but it is also important that the man who sows it should be right, that sound doctrine should have a sound man to publish it. A missionary or evangelist is a messenger, yet not such a messenger as the telegraph boy who hands you a telegram. You take the telegram and pay no regard to the boy, who does not in any way affect the message. It is not so with the messenger of the gospel. He ought to be of a character corresponding to the message he brings, and it has been said that character transcends performance. A man is more than what he does.
Then, as to the action of the sower. There are some businesses that can be carried on at home; there are others which must be conducted abroad. A man may make shoes in his back shop, but he cannot catch fish there. It is in the nature of the case that the fisherman and the sower should go forth out of doors. Let us say reverently that our great Exemplar, the Lord Jesus Christ, could not sit in Heaven and see sinners die. Therefore He came to Bethlehem and to Calvary.
The purpose of the sower in going out is to sow. The seed and the soil must be brought together, and he gives his whole mind to that business. The evangelist or missionary needs to take care not to be turned aside from his proper work, and not to meddle with things which are not required of him. If you look at a sower in the field, you will see a man with a seed-bag on his breast, scattering the seed with both of his hands, right and left, wholly devoted to that one work. He has gone forth to sow.
Further, the condition of the sower is much to be considered. It is indicated in the words, "He that goeth forth and weepeth." I do not suppose that this is weeping over our manifold transgressions and continual shortcomings, though there is much room for that, but it may be interpreted by such a passage as this, "He beheld the city and wept over it." Tears stood in the eyes of the Son of God as He looked on the city. And, later, Paul reminded the elders of Ephesus that by the space of three years he "ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears." It is not surprising after that to read, that "they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck and kissed him." For if, as they say in Scotland, a house-going minister makes a kirk-going people, be sure that a weeping minister will make a weeping people, and that if you weep over sinners, they will by-and-by be weeping over you.
The result is that the sower comes again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. The seed has become sheaves. If there is anything certain, that is certain. No man ever yet went forth with the Word of God, and rightly affected toward God and toward sinners, but his reward was sure. It is true of the Lord Jesus in the first instance. He will come again, bringing His sheaves with Him. But no true sower of the seed can fail of his reward.
"At the close of the day
'Twill be sweet to say,
I have brought some lost one home."
And when it comes to the end of the day, as it must come, a Christian may have many regrets over time wasted on things of little account, or worse; but no man ever was or will be sorry on account of the time and strength he gave to preaching the gospel to dying sinners.
Our Lord Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He has gone out of the world and He has entrusted the gospel to all who believe, that they may set it forth. It is with them a matter of receiving and delivering. The elements of Christian ministry are there. The preacher has two great concerns; one is to see to it that he receives the Word from God, and the other is not to fail to deliver what he receives. If we attempt to deliver what we have not received, it is presumption; if we receive and do not deliver, it is a betrayal of the trust with which God has entrusted us. We are "put in trust with the gospel." What is a trustee? A man who has a fund committed to him, not one penny of which belongs to him, and concerning which he has two duties—one to protect it from those to whom it does not belong, and the other to see that those to whom it is due, do not fail to get it. The faith has been delivered to the saints, Jude tells us. Not, observe, to the believers, or the brethren, or any other of the names by which the people of God are spoken of in the Scriptures, but to the "saints." The ark of testimony was committed to holy hands. The faith has been delivered to the saints, first to be defended, and next to be propagated to the ends of the earth. Our Lord said, "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" That baptism is now behind Him, and He is not straitened anymore. He has not only given the gospel, He has also given the Holy Ghost to make that gospel effectual, and what is wanted is faith and believing enterprise on the part of God's children to carry that gospel to the very ends of the earth. There are difficulties and temptations at home and abroad, but there is one invincible thing, and that is faith in God. This is the victory that overcometh the world and all enemies. There is no possibility of defeat so long as faith is maintained.
Therefore, let missionaries be encouraged and go on in the name of the Lord, and let them remember that the reward is sure. The seed is but a little thing and might be despised, but in it is the promise, yes, and the assurance, of harvest. The seed will be sheaves at the end of the day.