The Witness of Harvest
Acts 14:15-18
And saying, Sirs, why do you these things? We also are men of like passions with you…

We are met to acknowledge the goodness of God in giving us the fruits of the earth in their season. It is a supreme function of the Church to idealise common things, to give a religious interpretation to all the great interests and occasions of our earthly life, and by means of prayer and praise, silent meditation and spoken discourse, to make men and women more truly and deeply conscious of the Eternal Presence and Care. The harvest is really an occasion which has a direct relation to all our lives. For us the sun shines and the rain falls, and the order of creation keeps its unbroken course, and the miracle of growth and fruition is yearly wrought. Agriculture is not only the oldest but the most fundamental of all human industries. Our whole social order rests upon it, and all our interests and activities are affected by it. We live by bread, though not by bread alone. Our daily bread is the material basis of all our higher functions and energies — trade and politics, science and art, law and poetry, religion and philanthropy.

1. A harvest thanksgiving service is helpful to us by making us include what are called the works of nature in our devout meditations. There are not a few religious people upon whom the manifestations of power and wisdom, of beauty and goodness in the natural order of the world are in a great part thrown away. In his diary of his travels on the Continent the saintly Fletcher laments the delight he took in the beauty of the Rhine as an evidence of his worldliness, and the type of religionists which he represented is far from being extinct. We need not judge them; only we have a right to turn to the book of Job, to the Psalms, and the parables of Jesus to prove that the highest order of the religious mind is that which is most alive to the spiritual significance of material things. By the whole-souled religious man nothing natural is treated with indifference. Every instance of beneficent order and ministry deepens his sense of the Divine wisdom and goodness. The moving life of nature is a parable of the higher life.

2. A harvest thanksgiving service is a distinct and beautiful confession of God as the living God, in whom we and all creatures and things live and move and have our being. Anything that helps to quicken and deepen this confidence is of real use when there is a spirit abroad in the world which would wither and destroy it. Physical science is in the ascendant, and the language of the ancient Scriptures which represents God as the living God, the living Spirit of thought, order, power, beauty, and goodness that pervadeth all things, does not appeal to us as it once did. The danger to faith is not in results and theories, but in the excessive and exclusive concentration of men's minds on the material side of things; in such an absorbing attention to one class of facts that other facts of transcendent importance are slighted or ignored. Indeed, all the great results of our latter-day knowledge instead of making the world less divine make it more divine, and if their significance was by us truly realised, then, instead of being set forth in abstract propositions and mathematical signs they would be expressed in poetry and set to music. The gains of science, instead of being the losses of faith, only enlarge, make more wonderful and glorious, the temple in which God is seen and worshipped. But there is another form of modern thought which some seem to think strikes at the root of the faith which gives meaning to this service, and is simply fatal to the spirit of thanksgiving to God. It is a human Providence, we are told, which makes us what we are and gives us what we have, and if we are to give praise and glory to anyone for the things which make the world beautiful, and human life fair and good and worth living, let it be to humanity, to the men in past and present times through whose thought and labour and sacrifice this hard, unfriendly earth has been subdued, and discoveries and inventions have been made, and all the things which are covered and expressed by the word "civilisation" have been won. It is little or nothing that any deity outside humanity does or has done for us; let us be grateful to mankind. Yes, grateful to mankind we ought to be; but must our gratitude end there, and the sacrifice of our thanksgiving be only for human altars? Nay! After we have done all that is meet and right in the way of expressing our gratitude to the human race and to individual members of the race, we still have left in our hearts an immense fund of gratitude which can only spend itself on one object, one Being, one God, the Father of all, who is above all, through all, and in all. The earth, God has given to the children of men, and like all God's best gifts we have to work for it in order to win it. And whence the power to work? In the last and final analysis we must ascribe all to God, confess the human providence to be after all the Divine Providence, and bow down before the Deity who not only transcends but is immanent in His creation and in His children, the ultimate and everlasting Source of all.

3. A harvest thanksgiving service is a recognition of the Divine presence in the regular courses and ordinary processes of nature. Among men from age to age the extraordinary phenomena have been regarded as most Divine. "If the sun were to rise but once," says Bishop Hall, "we should all be ready to turn Persians and worship it, but because we see it rising and setting every day no man regardeth it." Like the Jews of old, unless we see signs and wonders we will not believe. But to the devout and deep-seeing man the whole earth is full of the glory of the Lord, its sights and sounds a constant and continuous revelation of the living God; and for him to be impressed with the thought, "Surely God is here," things do not need to be invested with scarlet robes. The daily dawn, the depths of the midnight sky, the spring flowers breaking from the earth, the loveliness of June, the golden glories of the autumn, the outspread snow, are to the wise man none the less wonderful because they are familiar.

4. A harvest thanksgiving may also remind us that in our sowing and reaping, in our buying and selling, and in all our material interests and concerns we have to do with God. What atheism worse than that which excludes God from the world of daily life, which gives us practically a world without God except so far as the Church is concerned, which conceives the Lord of heaven and earth to be only interested in ecclesiastical assemblies and conferences, in missionary and evangelistic schemes, and societies for converting Jews, and such like things! We need to be reminded again and again that there is but one God, one law, one life, that the kingdom of God ruleth over all, over our cornfields as well as over our mission fields, over our shops as well as over our churches, over our domestic and business relations as well as over our holy orders and our ecclesiastical connections, over farmers, tradesmen, bankers, architects, lawyers, clerks, artisans as well as over bishops and curates, Scripture readers and travelling evangelists. Until we believe this and act upon the belief, the life that now is will never be what God meant it to be, and what it ought to be — a Divine discipline and service, holy throughout unto the Lord.

5. A harvest thanksgiving service reminds us in a very vivid and impressive way of the ever-old and ever-new fact of the Divine goodness. There are three aspects of the Divine goodness which the harvest more especially puts before us: first of all its free character. Its bounty is God's flee gift. Though we must work with God to get the Divine blessing out of many things, for we are not God's paupers but His children, yet from the help we get from the daisy at our feet to the unspeakable help that comes from the Christ dying on the Cross, it is all in a most real and profound sense the free gift of God. Then, secondly, harvest speaks to us of the universal character of the Divine goodness. The ungodly man who obeys faithfully the natural conditions which are but another name for the Divine order and will, succeeds as well as the godly man, even better, if the godly man is ignorant, indolent, and careless. God is good, and His tender mercies are over all His works. Then, again, harvest speaks to us of the constancy of the Divine goodness. While the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease. O that men would praise the Lord for His goodness! Thanksgiving is born of a reasonable spiritual confidence in the Divine goodness. The mystery and sublimity of the universe may excite wonder and awe, but only the sense of the essential goodness of the universe can awaken and nourish gratitude. Gratitude in its highest sense and noblest quality is only possible to the man whose religious faith enables him to trust the world and life as meaning good to him and to all men. But how is gratitude to be shown? Only let gratitude be felt, and it cannot help showing itself. Words of thanksgiving are good when they are sincere, and expression develops and strengthens the inward feeling. But words are not the only form of self-expression, nor the highest. And how displeasing to God must be some kinds of thanksgiving — empty words, or the thanksgiving of successful wickedness, of men whose good things have been got by cheating and lying, by unjust and unbrotherly competition, and by grinding the faces of the poor! The praise God likes best is the praise of the life. Not in words only, but in acts of sympathy and loving kindness, in love giving itself in service to mankind, in lives consecrated to truth and goodness, to duty and charity, let our souls ascend now and always in thankfulness to God.

(John Hunter.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:

WEB: "Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to the living God, who made the sky and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them;

The Voices of the Harvest
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