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Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church.2010/02/28/30-ideas-for-promoting-hymn-singing/”>30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church.
Notes: James Oren Thompson (1834-1917) was an American pastor. During the Civil War he fought with the infantry of the Union Army. In his later years, he served as the State Board of Agriculture of West Virginia. The original title of this hymn was, as given here, A Call for Reapers. Twenty-five years later, a few books began using the first line as a title, Far and Near the Fields Are Teeming.
For good reason, the province of Saskatchewan is known as the breadbasket of Canada. With rich soil, and advanced methods for taking advantage of a shorter growing season, it is not only a major producer of wheat and other crops for our own country, but supplies other nations too.
If you’ve lived your whole life in a rural area, you may find it difficult to identify with the culture shock my wife and I experienced when we moved west from populous Southern Ontario, twenty-seven years ago. City folk from Toronto don’t see many commercials for tractors and fertilizer on television. Nor is there farm machinery lumbering down the shoulders major highways back east, highways snarled with streams of rush hour traffic. It’s a whole other world here–and we love it!
Not surprisingly, in the ancient times covered by the Bible, society was largely agrarian, and people were intimately familiar with various forms of farming and gardening. In fact, it was God Himself who planted the first garden (Gen. 2:8), a garden which Adam, and likely Eve too, were commissioned to work, and care for (vs. 15). A few generations later, Jabal is noted as the founding “father” of those who raise livestock (Gen. 4:20).
Gardens mentioned in the Word of God figure in our spiritual lives as well. It was in Eden that our first parents were tempted by the devil–in the guise of a serpent–and sinned against God, infecting the whole human family with sin’s corruption (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:6). It was in the garden of Gethsemane that the sinless Son of God submitted to the Father’s will that He die for the sins of fallen humanity (Matt. 26:39; cf. Phil. 2:8). And it was out of a garden tomb that the Lord Jesus emerged, on the following Sunday morning, triumphant over death and the grave (Jn. 19:41-42; Matt. 28:1, 5-6).
In the Scriptures also, agricultural imagery is used to depict service for the Lord. As with farming, there is sowing and reaping, a sharing of the message, and a harvest of results, Jesus urges us to pray that the Lord would “send out labourers [servants of God] into His harvest” (Matt. 9:38). The Apostle Paul describes his ministry this way: “I planted, Apollos [another Bible teacher] watered, but God gave the increase” (I Cor. 3:6).
After the Lord Jesus taught a Samaritan woman by a well about the water of eternal life (Jn. 4:13-14), she hastened into the nearby city of Sychar to bring others to listen to Him, wondering if He might be the promised Messiah (vs. 28-29). They came to see (vs. 30).
It’s then the Lord said to his disciples, “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” (vs. 35). I believe it was the white-robed Samaritans, making their way across the fields toward them that Christ described as the ready harvest. “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him” (vs. 39).
In 1885 Pastor Thompson wrote a hymn about Christian ministry and evangelism. It makes extensive use of agricultural imagery, applying a Bible promise in a spiritual sense. Psalm 126 speaks of the Jews returning to their land after seventy years of captivity in Babylon (vs. 1-3). They were dismayed to see buildings in ruins, including their temple, and the fields choked with weeds. It was in grief over their loss that they sowed seed. But at the same time there was the promise of new life.
“He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Ps. 126:6).
In Christian ministry there is both grief at what sin has done, and hope that the Lord will work in hearts, through His Word, and by His Spirit. In that secondary sense, the above verse can be applied to our labours for Christ. Thompson’s hymn says:
CH-1) Far and near the fields are teeming
With the waves of ripened grain;
Far and near their gold is gleaming
O’er the sunny slope and plain.
Lord of harvest, send forth reapers!
Hear us, Lord, to Thee we cry;
Send them now the sheaves to gather
Ere the harvest time pass by.
CH-3) O thou, whom thy Lord is sending,
Gather now the sheaves of gold;
Heav’nward then at evening wending,
Thou shalt come with joy untold.
1) Jesus calls God “the Lord of the harvest” and says it is “His harvest” (Matt. 9:38). What is the significance of that?
2) What service have you been performing to help in the Lord’s harvest?