The Colour of the Fields, and their Fitness for the Sickle
William Huntington (1745-1813)
Beloved of God,
I AM more and more convinced of the necessity of seeking wisdom, knowledge, and understanding with fresh life, and a supply of every needful grace, from the Lord God Almighty, who giveth liberally, and upbraideth not. In searching the scriptures, how many dark and deep mysteries present themselves to me in almost every page! And, if you consult the judgment of good men, who have written comments on the word of God, it is ten to one you do not get that satisfactory information you seek after. They have consulted the ancients that went before, and have given up their own judgment to them, seldom receding from the old beaten path which they have trodden out; so that we have the old light revived, and but little new brought forth and set before us; and the reason is, because, instead of seeking to God by prayer, they rest satisfied with the opinions of others, as if all wisdom had centred in the ancient fathers.
The following words in John's gospel have puzzled me for many years. "Behold, I say unto you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest," John, iv. 35.
The difficulty with me appears to be in the colour of the fields, "they are white already to harvest."
The Lord had begun his good work in the poor woman at Jacob's well; she came to draw water, and he discoursed with her of living water, namely, the Holy Spirit and his grace.
The Lord being, as the apostles imagined, hungry and weary, they press him to eat. Our Lord diverts their attention from natural to spiritual provision, saying "I have meat to eat that ye know not of;" which he explains by telling them that his meat was to do the will of him that sent him, and to finish his work. Thus the Lord discourses both of natural and spiritual water; of literal and spiritual food.
The poor woman, having found her inmost soul searched, and her hidden works of darkness brought fresh to her mind and memory, and set before her eyes, was so bewildered that she forgets her pitcher, and runs into the city; and, in a great hurry, staring, and panting for breath, and all in confusion, cries out, "Come, see a man that told me all that ever I did;?Is not this the Christ?" This outcry collected a multitude of people about the poor creature, who, when they understood what the woman's outcry was about, flocked out of the city in great numbers, to see and hear, as this poor woman had done.
Upon sight of this multitude coming forth, our Lord asks, "Say not ye, there are yet four months, and then cometh harvest?" It is thought that our Lord had been eight months in Judea since the last passover which he had kept at Jerusalem; and that in about four months more the next passover would come on, and at the same time one of their harvests would come also; by which he means harvest in the literal sense; and then he brings in a spiritual harvest:
"Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest." By these fields cannot be meant corn fields: for, if there were four months to harvest, the corn must have been but newly up, and therefore very green, and by no means white. And, if the ground was really white, the sun must have scorched and burnt up the green blades of the corn; and, if so, they might look in vain to the end of four months, for there could be no harvest at all that year.
I shall drop a few thoughts upon the harvest, and then explain what our commentators overlook, or bury in oblivion; namely, the white colour of these fields.
1. That a harvest of souls, or a large crop of elect sinners, are meant by this harvest is plain; because the corn harvest would not come on for four months, but the spiritual harvest was already white, and fit to cut.
2. There is a harvest at the conversion of souls, when the sickle of the gospel cuts men off from the old stock of self-righteousness and fleshly confidence, and gathers them out from among the wicked, brings them into the bond of the covenant, and they are bound up in the bundle of life with the Lord our God. Hence our Lord says, "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that he will send forth labourers into his harvest," Matt. ix. 37, 38.
Wheresoever and whensoever the gospel comes in the power of it, it is then time for men to sow to themselves in righteousness, and to reap in mercy, Hosea, x. 12. And, when these spiritual seasons are over, when the gospel in the power of it is removed, we may lament, as the prophet does, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved," Jer. viii. 20.
3. By harvest is sometimes meant the end of the world, when the godly will be gathered out of this world, and from among the wicked; and when this world, and the men of it, will have no grain left, it will be a field of stubble, the refuse of the harvest, and nothing else. "Behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble, and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch," Mal. iv. 2. This sense of the word harvest our Lord gives in his answer to the disciples, when they ask him to explain the parable of the wheat and tares; who answers, "He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels," Matt. xiii. 37, 39.
Now these fields are said to be white, which is the general colour of rye, wheat, or barley, when the corn is full, when the sap of the straw is dried, up, and when the straw and the ear are changed by the heat of the sun. But these fields were Samaritans. And what where they? Why, they were a mongrel people, partly Jew and partly heathen. The kings of Assyria having sent the ten tribes into captivity, he re-peopled the land from his dominions with people of different nations, but all idolaters. And Sanballet, the governor of Samaria, built a temple in opposition to that at Jerusalem, which drew many of the profligate Jews over to the Samaritans; and this mixed multitude the Jews looked upon to be no better than devils, as appears by their vile speech to Christ, "Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?" The difficulty is, in solving what that can be that is called white in such a dark company as this? Were they not the worst of sinners? And is not all sin the work of darkness? And do not such walk in the ways of darkness? And are they not, by nature and by practice, as black as the tents of Kedar? And is not blackness and darkness for ever said to be reserved for such, if they die in such a state as this? All this is true, and worse things than these may be said of such sinners, and these things make them as black, as the devil himself. And yet our blessed Lord, who is a better judge of colours than we are, could see something white in them, though we cannot.
1. Sinners are said to be white when they are cleansed from sin, "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool," Isa. i. 18. But then it may be asked, Were these sinners in a pardoned state, or had they received the knowledge of salvation by the remission of their sins? No, they had not. But Christ was their surety; he had undertaken for them; he had been already circumcised; by which ceremony he was then become debtor in their room and stead. Their sins were placed to his account on the eighth day; the body of the sins of their flesh was put off from them, and laid upon him, by the circumcision of Christ. Read and compare Col. ii. 11, Isa. xliii. 6. And in this sense they were white, though the great atonement was not as yet applied to them. And this may be seen in a similar circumstance. You read, in Acts the tenth of Cornelius being ordered by an angel to send for Peter. Peter is previously prepared for this embassy, by a vision from heaven. A sheet appears to him filled with all manner of four-tooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And a voice came to him, saying, "Rise, Peter; kill, and eat." To which Peter objects, "Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean." And the voice answered, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common," Acts, x. 15. The centurion's company was no more converted at this time than the Samaritan multitude were, at their coming out of the city. And yet the heavenly voice told Peter that God had cleansed both Cornelius and his Gentile friends, and therefore these must not be called common, but rather uncommon, and men wondered at, Zech. iii. 8. In the same sense these Samaritans were white, and ready to harvest; and only wanted cutting off from the old stock, and being gathered from the stubble, and to be accepted of God in Christ, when they would be at once complete in him. Two things have just come into my mind, which I will not conceal.
1. When our Lord saw this multitude of Samaritans coming out to him though he was very hungry, and his disciples knowing this, "prayed him, saying, Master, eat;" yet he would not, but told them that he had meat to eat which they knew not of. "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me," which is the conversion and redemption of sinners. Compare this with what follows. "Ands as the man from Cornelius drew nigh unto the city of Joppa, Peter went up upon the house top to pray about the sixth hour," or at twelve o'clock, "and he became very hungry," as Christ was at the well of Samaria; "And, while they made ready for Peter, he fell into a trance." Then came the vision and the voice, "Arise, Peter, kill and eat." Peter was very hungry, so was Christ. Peter would fain have eaten, but Christ would not. Peter was bid to feast upon the conversion of Gentiles, and Christ's meat was the conversion of the Samaritans.
2. I look upon Peter's vision, of the sheet and beasts, to be the best explanation in the world of that law, in the eleventh chapter of Leviticus, which respects clean and unclean beasts, reptiles, and fowls. They who have time may read, compare, and consider. But I shall return to my subject.
1. Elect sinners are said to be white when God separates them from among the ungodly. "When the Almighty scattered kings in it, it was white as snow in Salmon," Psalm lxviii. 14. This psalm respects the children of Israel's deliverance from Egypt, where they had lain among the pots, but now they had the wings of a dove, God having borne them as upon eagles' wings, and brought them out of their bondage. The kings that were scattered were the confederate kings of Canaan, and the devils among them, whom God by Joshua defeated and scattered, and when this was done God's hill was as white as snow of Salmon, because the Lord was among them, as at Sinai in the holy place In this sense the chosen Samaritans were white. They were chosen in Christ, set apart for God, and separated from all others in the purpose of God, and in the decree of election; and the following passage means no less?" Sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called," Jude 1. In this decree all heathen kings and subjects, and all the devils among them, were scattered from the elect, and not included in this purpose. Hence the elect are called Christ's seed and offspring before conversion, Isa. xliv. 3; and the others are called the seed of the serpent. The colour of these fields is their sanctification and cleansing in the eternal purpose of God. And the voice spake unto Peter again the second time, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common," Acts, x. 15. And Peter afterwards owns that God had shewed him that he should not call any man common or unclean. These God had sanctified and cleansed, though the atonement had not been applied, nor was the Holy Ghost yet given to renew them; yet they were not common things, but very uncommon; nor were they to be called unclean, for the voice said that God had cleansed them. Christ appears in the presence of God for us. And they were completed in their head, and without fault before the throne. This is God's account, who is the best judge. And, though carnal reason and unbelief in us tell another story, widely differing from this, nevertheless I believe God's account to be strictly true.
That which makes black sinners white is the imputation of Christ's righteousness, called the best robe, the wedding garment, and the clean linen, white and clean. But then these Samaritans, and Cornelius's company, were no more justified at this time by faith than they were purified by it. And yet our Lord says they were white, and even white in this sense. For Christ was set up from everlasting, &c. "made of God unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption." And, if they were cleansed and clean in him, they must be just in him; unless we put asunder what God hath joined together, by separating sanctification from justification.
But Christ is not divided. Christ is made of God unto us all these. They were in him, and their sins were upon him, and their sentence was borne by him, and his atonement and obedience were theirs, according to God's council and covenant; and therefore he speaks of them not as in themselves, for hell itself cannot be blacker; but he considers them in himself, and such as they were all fair, and there was no spot in them. "Behold I say, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest."
The word of God is sometimes compared to a how and arrows, sometimes to a hammer, a fire, sometimes to a sword with two edges, and sometimes to a sharp sickle, which is to gather and to cut; and this is the use of the gospel. It is to gather poor sinners to Christ, who is the church's head. He is the father, master, and king of his own household. God has made us accepted in the Beloved. This sickle is to cut down the best and worst among men, and to cut him off from the old stock on which he grows, and from among the stubble to which he is fastened. A sheaf in God's harvest is a cluster of believers in the bond of peace, and enclosed in the love of Christ. Shocking these sheaves, or setting them up in tens, shews that they are the tithes of our great High Priest; see Levit. xxvii. 32; Isa. vi. 13. And, as this shocking of the sheaves is the last work in the field, and is a preparing of the crop for housing, so Job's death is compared to it. "Thou shalt know also that thy seed shall be great, and thine offspring as the grass of the earth. Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh (ascendeth) in his season." This will be the harvest-home; "Gather the wheat into my barn." "I have sowed and ye have reaped; and the time cometh when he that soweth and they that reap shall both rejoice together."