SLEEPING IN HARVEST
Dr R G Lee
1926

    He that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame (Proverbs 10:5)

    Frequently I think of the solemnity of midnight. Midnight — when the stars keep sentinel duty on those battle fields of the skies where once "the stars in their courses fought against Sisera." Midnight — when the veil between the frail present and the eternal future grows thin. Midnight — when the chariot wheels of vanity roll here and there. Midnight — when vice and misery are abroad. Midnight — when even an atheist almost believes in God. Midnight — when the whole world stands "black and breathless as a nun!" Midnight — when there is oft stillness like the terrible stillness of heartbreak. Midnight — when the pitiless and passionless eyes of worlds beyond ours burn man's nothingness into man. Midnight — which is the outlaw's opportunity and the burglar's day. Midnight — which is the black mantle under which light-shunning theft and vile felony, murder and shameful deceit, as comrades, travel abroad. Midnight — which bad men love, because their deeds are evil. Midnight — which good men love, because of Him who reigneth above darkness. No wonder Lowell said: "O wild and wondrous midnight, there is a might in thee to make the charmed body almost like spirit, and give it some faint glimpses of immortality!"


    But beyond the wonders of midnight to me is the mysterious wonder of sleep. When sleep comes to eyes, the whole body is ruled. The feet walk not, the hands lose their skill and are at rest, the ears hear not, the tongue seldom speaks — when sleep sets up her throne on the eyes. Wonderful sleep. Sleep — which is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, rest for the weary, recreating for the wasted. Sleep — which makes the shepherd equal to the monarch, the fool equal to the wise. Sleep — which is so deathlike we dare not trust ourselves to it without prayer. Sleep — which is to the homeless a home, and to the friendless a friend. Sleep — which receives obedience from the babe in the cradle and from the criminal on the jail cot. Sleep — which is a welcome visitor in the palace and in the hut, on the farm and in the city, on the sea and on the land.

Sleep, that knits up the raveled sleeve of care;
The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath:
Balm of hurt minds; great nature's second course;
Chief nourisher in life's feast!

    Sleep — which is pain's easiest salve, and doth fulfill all the offices of death except to kill. Sleep — the antechamber of death. Sleep! In it oppressors soothe their angry brows. In it the oppressed forget tyrannic power. In it the wretch condemned is equal to the judge. In it the sad forget their sorrows, the bereaved their losses.

I. THE VALUE OF SLEEP.

    The fact of sleep we do not deny. Every living creature this earth has known and does now know sleeps. The white cranes of the air and the black monsters of the sea sleep. The minnow of the shallow fill sleeps. The whale of the ocean sleeps. The fishes in the coral parlors of the deep sleep. The creeping things in the mud sepulchers of the ocean sleep. The serpents in the slime of the earth sleep. The beasts in the jungles sleep. The swine in the wallow holes, the sheep of the pasture lands, and the cattle on a thousand hills sleep. The gulls which float on the sea waves and the eagles which nest on the pinnacles of the crags sleep. The sparrows of the hedges and the fowls of the barnyard sleep. The fool and the philosopher, the soldier and the sailor, the prince and the pauper, the queen and the washerwoman, the king and the clown, the plowman and the poet — all these sleep.

    The necessity of sleep we do not deny. As water is a necessity for the flesh, as food is a necessity for the stomach, as air is a necessity for the lungs, as light is a necessity for the eye, as garments are a necessity for the body, as rain is a necessity for the fields, as fire is a necessity for roasting — so sleep is a necessity for all.

    The rich man could live without servants, but not without sleep. The king could live without royal attendants, but not without sleep. The beggar could live without a bed, but not without sleep. The scholar could live without pen or books, but not without sleep. The athlete could live without training, but not without sleep. The child could live without play, but not without sleep. We could live without the sense of sight and the sense of hearing and the sense of touch and the sense of smelling but not without sleep. Always indispensable is sleep.

    The blessing of sleep we do not deny. If we could not sleep when the muscles are sore and the body tired and the mind all a-fag how wretched we would be. "The sleep of a laboring man is sweet. " If we could not sleep in sorrow — how full of torture the nights would be. If trouble or pain or distress or grief kept us forever awake — not long could we live The one experience common to all — the experience of Abraham "mid the deep darkness," the experience of Jacob at Bethel and of Daniel in the den and of David in the sheep pastures and of Jesus on the ship and of Nero on the throne — is the experience of sleep. All men everywhere, in frozen north lands and in sweltering tropic places, acknowledge the blessing of sleep. What the river is to the desert, transforming it, is sleep to the body, bringing recuperation and a rebuilding of the waste places. What the mother's milk-full breast is to the child, giving it nourishment, is sleep to the tired body, giving it new life. What the anesthetic is to the pain-ridden limb, giving oblivious rest, is sleep to the sorrow-smitten mind and heart, giving new strength.

    One of the most excruciating tortures of the Dark Ages was the walking agony — the keeping of prisoners awake until they became gibbeting idiots or fell dead before their inquisitors. Life without the complete relaxation of sleep is impossible, unthinkable. Yes, sleep is a friend. And sleep may be an enemy. Like many another blessing from God, it can be misused and turned against us, which brings us to the place where and when we are ready to say:

II. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN SLEEP IS SINFUL AND SHAMEFUL.

    This the text surely teaches. This observation can truly shout from the housetops. This experience can make known in the inner chamber. This history loudly proclaims. This we ourselves know. Sleep, the necessity, the blessing, the indispensable experience, can be at tires and does become at times, sinful, dishonorable, shameful, a thing of the devil, the unwanted badge of disgrace. "He that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame!" Sleep is a blessing and harvest is a blessing. But to sleep in harvest is to brand ourselves as sons and daughters of shame.

    The nurse must sleep, but for her to close her eyes in sleep when her patient's condition demands strict and constant attention is dangerous for the patient and shameful for her.

    The surgeon must sleep, but he is criminally negligent if he sleeps when his patient has been prepared for the knife. A son of shame indeed is he — if he is asleep when he should be alertly awake to tie a severed artery or to set a broken bone. The policeman must sleep. But he is inexcusably I careless of the welfare of others, shamefully slothful in his protective position, if he goes to sleep while assassins sneak about, while thieves break through and steal.

    The fireman must sleep, but not when the city burns. Nay, not even when one small cottage is being eaten up by flames. For a fireman to turn again to his pillow while the fire alarm rings in his ears is shamefully worthless.

    The engineer must sleep . But not when he is at the throttle — not while his engine plunges through the midnight or sweeps along at noonday. Death to himself and death to others and damage to property would result from such diabolic disregard.

    The soldier must sleep. But he must not, he dare not, sleep when he is on sentinel duty. Surely cloth the penalty of death descend upon him who sleeps when he ought to be watching from the city walls or from the lonely outpost. Teaching us what  That there are times when sleep, sleep the necessity and sleep the blessing, is dangerous and dishonorable and inexcusable.

    The captain of the ship must sleep. But poor captain is he who sleeps when icebergs adrift or storm clouds all arise on the horizon or furious winds lash the seas demand constant and keen watchfulness.

    The signal man in the railroad tower must sleep — sometimes. But never should he be so recreant to trust as to sleep when on duty, when fast trains hurtle in sight and signal for closed switches.


    The lighthouse keeper must sleep. But how great a menace is he to the ships seeking to avoid the rocks and the shallow shore if he sleeps when the lamps are unlit and the signal lights false.

    The mother must sleep, but not when her child's life depends on her being awake and wakeful. How cruel would that mother be should she sleep while her child, with no language but a cry, called to her for help in the battle of disease. What a shame would careless or intentional sleep be.

    The shepherd must sleep, but not when wolves and coyotes prowl about snatching lambs from folds here and there. How unlike a true shepherd is any shepherd who sleeps while wild animals drink fountains of blood from the throats of his flocks.

    The watchman on the walls must sleep — at times. But never when the enemy seeks to enter the gates of the city by strategy or open attack.

    The life savers on the wave-washed and storm-beaten shores of our land must sleep. But how utterly cowardly is it for them to sleep when from out the ghostly pallor of the sea there comes the signal of a crippled ship — when from out the howling uproar of the storm a human voice calls in distress.

    The preacher must sleep. But he must not sleep when in the dead of night a dying man calls for someone to show him the way from darkness to light, from bondage to liberty — not when a breaking heart with its cry awakes him seeking comfort. Nor must he sleep when theological snipers from behind pulpits and college chairs attack God's Word — nor when false teachers in sheep's clothing are about, seeking whom they may devour.

    Jonah had to sleep. But he ought not to have been asleep on a ship going to Tarshish when God wanted him in Nineveh preaching to that great city, God's message.

    The five virgins had to sleep. But how foolish they were to sleep while the bridegroom tarried, while they had no oil in their lamps. Abner had to sleep. But had he been true to his king he would not have slept when it was his business to watch while God's anointed slept. Eutychus had to sleep. But how unfortunate and tragic that he slept while Paul, the great genius and the great preacher, opened the treasure house of God's truth. The tragedy represented in that twentieth chapter of Acts lies in the fact that Eutychus was able to sleep in the presence of a preacher to whose voice twenty centuries have intently listened. Paul was an orator who today is recognized as the greatest preacher who ever pro. claimed the Gospel of Christ, and while this great world genius preached there sat in the window a certain young man named Eutychus, "being fallen into a deep sleep." And what that young man did at Troas, many have done when the time came to gather sheaves of truth.

    Over in Athens once a man, a great man with eyes that saw afar, talked in the market places to the young men about the destiny of their souls. But they, "asleep in harvest time," led him to jail, forced the poison cup upon him, and ushered him out of the world. Then, too, you remember how there came into Florence, Dante and the great Savonarola, one a mighty poet who could reach from pole to pole with the outstretched wings of his poetic powers, one burning with eloquence vividly like a volcano in eruption at midnight. But the people were asleep in the day of harvest. They treated as garbage the principles of life conduct spread before them like ripe harvest fields by men who saw afar. And they of Florence flung themselves like folks in the ravings of nightmares, to thrust them out of the city, or to burn them in the public square, for the delectation of a sordid and stupid populace shamefully asleep in the time of harvest. Truly "He that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame!"

    And so they of the days of Jesus, in a sort of stupid somnambulism, thrust Jesus out of their synagogue and out of their village. Disgracefully asleep in harvest they! And when He was hanging stretched upon the Cross, about Him were a lot of stupefied folk with heavy eyelids seeing nothing in the most tragic event in the history of the world. What did it matter to the Roman soldiers, gambling at the foot of the Cross, with "their callous intellects and thoughts as torpid as the rusty waters of a sluggish stream," that the sun went down at noon and the earth was darkened in the clear day (Amos 8:9) In the moment that the Son of God forgave the thief, and offered His prayer to the Father, and breathed His last, these stupid men, blindly asleep with wide open eyes, all unconscious of the eternal value of things, were concerned only with the Goat of the Carpenter. Sons of shame they were, forever pilloried in the contempt of the world, as those who slept in the harvest days!

III. SLEEP IN HARVEST CAUSES SHAME.

    Why? Because it shows a lack, a shameful lack, of a sense of responsibility. How sad, how tragic, how shameful it is when fields are ripe unto the harvest — and many feel no sense of responsibility as to gathering in the sheaves.

    Yonder on Mt. Carmel while Elijah prayed, Ahab went up to eat and to drink. Ahab had no sense of responsibility. Elijah did. Within the sacred precincts of the Church the Ahab spirit and the Elijah spirit may be found. Some, in the face of great harvest fields, sit down to eat and drink, and rise up to play. Many disport themselves on the seashore — half Glad and half pleasure mad. Some roam the hills and dash at the risk of their lives in speeding motor cars along every highway. Many lounge in clubs and hotel lobbies. Many lie abed at home. Many are habitual screen gazers. Many sit in stupid idleness, all unheedful of the long spiritual drouth and of the consequent need and famine of the world. If the preacher preaches to varnish — what matters it? If the "little foxes" spoil the vines in the Lord's vineyard — what matters it? If ripened fields go to waste — what matters it? If Kingdom plans die at birth — what matters it? If the Gospel chariot wheels lag — what matters it? If men die in the miry clay — what do they care? If worms of sin are gnawing at the fairest flowers in the garden of life — what do they care? The spirit of Ahab is theirs. They are interested only in what will minister to the senses or give them ease and physical pleasure.

    But praise be to God — the Elijah spirits are among us, too. There are those who from their purses hire men to go forth into the ripe harvest fields. There are those who sharpen the scythes for those who bend their backs to the reaping. There are those who furnish twine for those who do the binding. There are those who sweep the garners when the sheaves are to be brought in. There are those who stand up and out against the prophets of Baal — and feel the responsibility. We do have our Elijah's who climb to the summit of Carmel and bow their faces between their knees and pray for the Church and for the youth of our land and for the salvation of America, feeling a great responsibility. There are those who climb to the Carmels of their communities, and in God's houses of prayer have confessed their sins and prayed for and worked for the peace and progress of mankind and the advancement of the Kingdom of Christ.

    Why does sleep in harvest cause shame? Because the harvest will not wait. Harvest time is crisis time.

    This crisis must be vigorously and promptly met. Grain once ripe must be gathered in at once or it will fall to the ground and be lost. "There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at its flood, leads on to fortune." Doors once opened but unentered may close again. Minds made susceptible but not won for Christ may turn away and become hardened. Truth resisted once is easier to resist next time, you know. We must strike while the iron is hot. It is now or never — when the harvest is ripe and ready for the reaping.

    Why are those who sleep in harvest sons and daughters who cause shames Because the harvest will not reap itself. The harvest needs men — to reap in the high places. The harvest needs women — to glean in the corners. The harvest needs men and women to gather it in. When the harvest is on — how shameful it is when the Church itself is a cemetery where the living sleep above the ground and the dead beneath the ground.

    There is no time for play when the harvest is ripe. To sleep in harvest time is to sleep in a time of supreme need. This is what the disciples did that night, that awful night, when Jesus was in prayer in Gethsemane, in blood-sweating agony in Gethsemane. They slept in the time of urgent need.

    Now a man asleep is useless. He toils not, neither does he spin. A man asleep has lost his savor. No use to make impassioned appeal to him about Body most daring enterprise, for he is asleep. He cannot be used in any program in the Church, for he is deaf to all the holier calls. He is blind to all the loftier visions. He is a spiritual nonentity. He does not count. He weighs nothing on Bodes scales of requirement. He is powerless as a tombstone — as impotent as spots of dried blood. The Church needs him; God needs him; every good cause needs him. But he is asleep.

    Robert Browning says: "Be sure they sleep not whom God needs! " God wants us spiritually wide awake today. His program is so tremendous and so colossal that it should enlist the heart and hand of everyone. Oh, it is our shame today and may be our lasting shame in death that God needed us — and we slept. "He that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame."

    Back to Gethsemane's garden! We can be awake when it is too late. It was so with the disciples whom Jesus told to watch that night. That night in the garden when the "sufferings of Christ's soul formed the soul of His sufferings," Jesus came to those whom He had asked to watch and found them asleep. He cometh the third time and findeth them asleep, and He said "Sleep on now! " Sleep on — and take your rest. The hour was past — for them. The fine opportunity was gone. Those three disciples might have done something an hour ago that is now impossible to them — forever. If they had been awake, they might have comforted the Son of God in the grim loneliness of His agony. But! It is too late now. Too late to give one bit of sympathy to the suffering heart. Too late to wipe away one drop of the bloody sweat. Too late to share the agony of the soul "exceeding sorrowful unto death." Too late to comfort Him now. God had sent an angel to do what they had had the chance to do and failed to do.

    Christ is saying with pathos indescribable to you and to me today: "Can you not arouse yourselves from your sleep, shake yourselves from this lethargy of death, and watch with Me in this great harvest nights" Men and brethren, are we acting as we ought to act in the time of harvest? Men and women, are we saying with the disciples of old, "our months and then the harvest"? Or are we throwing our God-given energies and resources unreservedly into this great enterprise for God and for souls at this crucial hour? Is the harvest song in our hearts and the harvest blades in our hands while the "fields are white unto the harvest"?

    O heart, heart, know ye not that while you are asleep the forces of evil are stirring, planning, organizing, marching with their swords and staves to humiliate the Son of God in a malicious night attacks "Be sure they sleep not whom God needs!" "He that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame!" "Awake, thou that sleepeth!"
 

    Dr R G Lee

    1926