Project Canterbury

Seed-Time and Harvest

By John Keble

From Mission Life, Vol. I (first series) (October 1, 1866), pages 311-317.


Sermon by the late Rev. JOHN KEBLE, (preached at Hursley, Sept. 15, 1864, at a Farewell Service to the Hawaiian sisters,) kindly given for publication by the Rev. T. KEBLE.

ST. JOHN iv. 36.

"And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal; that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together."

THOSE whose hearts are in missionary work, cannot but be aware how many sayings there are in Holy Scripture which may be well termed missionary proverbs; such, for example, as our blessed Saviour's "Freely ye have received, freely give," and "He that receiveth you receiveth me;" and the most comfortable promise to him or her that giveth but a cup of cold water only: how many of His comparisons and narratives are missionary parables, turning on the future history of God's kingdom, and the ways of advancing it, the mischief which would be done to it by the sin and carelessness of Christians. Every picture and similitude relating to the harvest, especially, may be said to have a missionary aspect. They, all of them, relate either to the work of conversion, or to the final judgment. Conversion is represented by the reaper's work, gathering in souls, as sheaves, a few at a time; whereas, the final judgment will be the harvest of the whole earth, as it is written, "Gather the wheat into my barn."

In all this, dear brethren, we see so many tokens of our Lord's miraculous condescension, vouchsafing to appear to us, and remind us of Himself in all the commonest forms and processes of life, that all to a believing heart my be full of Him. And just now this love and care of His are brought strongly before us in this place. We have a particular call from Him to acknowledge Him as the Lord of both harvests--the harvest which provides food for our bodies, and the harvest which gathers in our souls to God. Yesterday we offered Him solemn thanks for the abundance of all the fruits of the earth; to-day we have been invited to draw near and call upon Him, with "all prayer and supplication in the Spirit," to beg with all our hearts a blessing upon a particular work, brought, as it were, under our eyes; part of what His gracious providence seems now to be doing for the salvation of the isles afar. We read, in the Acts of the Apostles, of the inhabitants of a certain town bringing St Paul and [311/312] St Luke and others on their way, with wives and children, and kneeling down on the shore and praying with them and for them. So we are this day permitted to join our devotions with some who are on their way, being sent out by the Church, to take care, especially, of the young daughters of the people of the isles called Sandwich Islands, where the king and queen, and many of the principal persons, being already Christians, have sent to England for a Christian bishop. Bishop Staley--that is his name--some of you may remember him preaching to you in this place, and addressing you in the schoolroom; and he, after some two years' work, finds nothing more necessary for the good of the [people] than that Christian women should come over from England and help them. And we, my brethren, who are thus permitted to see them on their way, how can we do less than bid them God speed, and with all our heart pray for them? If we count their Master our Master, and their work His work, we shall be glad at least to do thus much, if we can do no more.

I wish now to remind you all, dear brothers and sisters, and myself also, of the words spoken by our loving Lord concerning the spiritual harvest, when wearied and thirsty for our sakes, He sat on the well of Samaria; wearied by our sins, and thirsting for the salvation of our souls. Wearied He is, and thirsty, but all His thought is of His work. Those to whom He was speaking were His own disciples, who were to be the chief workers under Him. To them the time of harvest labour seemed yet at a distance, but He saw it already beginning. "Say not ye, there are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold, I say unto you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest." What was our Lord's meaning? Doubtless to quicken their minds and wishes for the work which they had to do for Him. They thought it was afar off; probably they had but faint ideas of it, and did not particularly long for it; so He, using a sort of proverb taken from harvest matters, stirs them up to be good and eager workmen.

"Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields"--as much as to say, "behold these men, these Samaritans, now coming out of the town of Sychar to see and hear me. Why are they coming? One of their town has been here--a woman; she came here, as men say, by accident. I spake to her heart, putting her in mind of her secret sins, and, behold, she is now as one doing the work of an evangelist. She had told her townsmen, and they are coming to see the Lord also; and when I shall have graciously stayed with them two days, they will own me [312/313] also, having heard me themselves, to be the Christ, the Saviour of the world." Was not that women's missionary work, as truly as theirs was to be to whom Christ was speaking of it? and had not she, by God's mercy, a share in the reward, the fruit, the joy, and the whole blessing, which our Lord went on to promise to them that reap in His field? "Already," He seems to say, "the reaper is there, and is beginning to earn wages and gather fruit; yes, the most blessed of all fruit, souls won unto life eternal. The harvest is begun, the harvest of souls, and ye may look on to the harvest-home of souls, when the sower and reaper shall rejoice together."

Of that joy I shall speak presently; but just consider now, my brethren, to whom our Lord seems to be promising it. Not to His apostles only, favoured and honoured as they were to be ordained as His regular ministers, and sent as His Father sent Him; but to that woman also, not one of the best, who seemed to have fallen in with Him by chance, and had taken such opportunities as she had of introducing her acquaintance to Him in a quiet way. She, if she go on in the faith she professes, is to have a part in whatever is intended by the promise: "He that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal." May we not humbly take this for one of the many tokens He has given, that you all, men and women, whom His providence shall duly call at any time to do any part of a missionary's task, if you set about it with a missionary's heart, shall receive a missionary's reward!

But be it an apostle, or successor of the apostles, or be it a weak and tender woman, whom it has pleased our Lord thus to set to work in His field, depriving her, it may be, of earthly friends, and vouchsafing to take their place in her heart; or, without disappointment or bereavement, giving her grace to forsake all and follow Him; and opening the way for her to do so without neglect of any duty. The person, I say, whoever it be, whom our Lord has so favoured and honoured, must expect suffering, and that speedily. Why else is one bidden to "take up the cross?" and why is this ancient proverb also one of the watchwords of Christ's harvest-field? "They that sow in tears"--to them only the word is spoken--they "shall reap in joy." And, doubtless, such as devote themselves to such works as we are now thinking of--to say nothing of bitter separations, and all that is implied in the words, "forsaking all"--have, every one of them, this trial before them, to be like our father Abraham, the pattern of all faith, the head and archetype, before Christ, of all missionaries, in that, when he left his first home, he "went out, not knowing [313/314] whither he went." You have, each one of you, your own mission; but to every one of you it is more or less uncertain. Perhaps you may appear now to yourself to see your way plain enough before you; yet you know for certain, before you come to your work, that it will not be just what you looked for, but very far from it. Often and often it will be sadly disappointing; even as the husbandmen knows beforehand that the weather and seasons are very uncertain; and that he must make up his mind not seldom to a crop of briars and thorns instead of wheat. Moreover, we all know beforehand--and it is a most painful thought to the loving and dutiful heart--that we shall not always see our way, nor have some one at hand to direct us, and so we shall make mistakes, and mar the good work instead of furthering it; sometimes, alas! even damage the souls we are most earnest to save. To this also we must make up our minds. Doubtless you have done so; but how sad it often is! How frequently have we to utter but too earnestly that affecting petition of the psalmist: "Oh let me hear thy loving-kindness in the morning, for in thee is my trust; show thou me the way that I should walk in, for I lift up my soul unto thee!" S. Paul, the chief perhaps of human missionaries, went "bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that should befall him;" only that the Holy Ghost gave him a general knowledge, that in every city bonds and afflictions were waiting for him.

These are recorded or noticed in Holy Scripture that people may be encouraged to go on, in either case, with submissive resignation--where they are distinctly bidden do it--where they are not bearing the burden of their uncertainty and responsibility, and still committing all doubt, as fast as it arises, to their Lord.

I suppose that in this particular mission the general line is clearly marked out; but new unthought-of details will be continually arising. You will resort, as Abraham did, to the altar, and call on the God of Abraham for the graces you need; and, with S. Paul, you will pray and communicate, communicate and pray: and as surely as he saw Christ in the temple, so surely, in His own good time, He will show you what you must do.

You will have, please God, many remembering you here--many prayers earnestly and affectionately said--often by those who would wish to follow you, if God's providence so pointed their way. Many waiting for news of your work, as men wait for letters and reports of friends and kinsmen out in the Queen's service; and especially those connected with penitentiary work, who dwell in houses of the [314/315] highest kind of mercy; for your work, if I rightly understand, will probably, in an especial manner, correspond with theirs, to cure or assuage, but rather, by God's blessing, to prevent the sin and misery which employs their charity here,--teaching the young persons with whom God may intrust you to know their high calling, and the glory and bliss of purity.

There are encouragements here, and surely we may say in thankfulness that there are great encouragements there. It has pleased Him to bring that to pass in Hawaii, which He hath wrought in divers countries on which He was looking with an eye of compassion: in our own, as you know, for one. The conversion of England began in some sort from a queen; and in Hawaii He has raised up a queen of whom I will only say thus much--taking it from a letter which I received yesterday from the Bishop of Honolulu himself: "She seeks her consolation," (for you know that within a short time she has had to part from her only child first, and then from her husband.) "She seeks her consolation in God, and in furthering the work of His Church, and is ever at the side of the sick and dying." Surely we are not wrong in accepting this as a happy token of what is to come.

In this and in many other respects, I doubt not your experiencing the truth of that other proverb, which our Lord uttered at the well by Sichem for the encouragement of His missionaries: "One soweth, and another reapeth." Your chosen field is far from being altogether wild and rough; others have been labouring there; and you the first mission sisters whom the English Church will [have sent out] will now have to enter on the fruit of their labours. Be it more or less, it will be an earnest of the Holy Spirit working in the hearts [of the people], to prepare them for the further help which He has disposed you to offer them.

Of this men see and hear; but He who has promised to be with us has deep mysterious ways, ways of working in silence to bring about the good which He is providing for those whom He sees fit for His kingdom; and it becomes us humbly to brace up our faith and hope by meditating sometimes on those unrevealed means of grace. Who knows but at this very time, somewhere in the country to which our thoughts are being drawn, tender women, mothers, wives, and sisters, in temptation, or in trouble for others who are so, may be praying for just such help as you by His grace will bring to them. God grant that there may be many such prayers--that ours may be worthy to meet them, as it were, in the air, and that both may go up as sweet incense for a memorial before God. Who knows [315/316] but that there may be some "women of Samaria," the course of whose life may be receiving such a turn from God's providence, even in the very sins which He permits but overrules, that by and by she may come, as it were by accident, to the place where some of you will be, and bring a heart ready to hear the words of love and truth which you will say? O my dear brothers and sisters, were it but one soul won in this or any other way to faith in Christ and eternal life, how great, how glorious, how unspeakably sweet and blessed the portion of him or her whom God shall so employ! Think of the apostle's saying, "That I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." And think, each one of you, what it must be to have the witness of the Lord himself from His throne of glory, "Thou, even thou, has been My instrument in bringing this sinner to penitence and perfection; well done, good and faithful servant; do thou--with him or her whom thou hast brought to Me--enter into the joy of thy Lord."

We know not what that "joy" will be, but thus much we know, that it will in part be the same joy which is felt in heaven, in the presence of the angels of God, over one sinner that repenteth, the same joy of which He spake, when He promised His true missionaries not only wages in this world,--the comfort of His loving presence and the delight of working for Him only,--but fruit gathered unto life eternal; when "He that soweth"--that is the Son of man himself--"and he that reapeth," shall "rejoice together."

God only knows which of us all will persevere and win that crown; but we and you may humbly thank Him and take courage from the very lessons providentially read to-day. Our cause cannot fail, for it is written, "The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea," (Hab. ii. 14.) Our strength will be proportioned to our need; for we have Him with us who twice fed thousands with a basket full of bread and fish, (Matt. xv. 32,) who has built a home on the rock for such as take up His cross. We hear His prophet resolving, that if all seem failing on earth, he will "rejoice in the Lord," he will "joy in the God of his salvation," (Hab. iii. 18.) And, what seems to come very near to you, my sisters, we have many of the women, S. Paul's fellow-labourers, the like of those concerning whom he says, "Their names are in the book of life,"--we have them reckoned up one by one, with most affectionate blessings sent from a far land and acknowledgements of labour--"much labour"--done "in the Lord," (Rom. xvi.)

[317] And He has sealed all these good words to us by permitting us to partake of His blessed Sacrifice and Sacrament.

Is it not, we may humbly think, as if we heard His voice saying, "Go forth in the strength of the Lord God"--only have no selfish ends--"Make mention of His righteousness only."

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