Summer Gathering for
Words for Life's Sunny Days
J.R. Miller, 1901
"He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son!" Proverbs 10:5
We ought to begin in early youth to gather beautiful things into our life — gentle thoughts, noble truths, pure memories, inspiring influences, enriching friendships. Then we shall have a treasure-house from which to draw in the days when work is hard, when sorrow comes, when the resources of gladness fail.
Life's providential adjustments are perfect. For every need, there is a supply. Those who do each day's duty in its day, shall not lack in any future. When there is a lack for which there is no provision ready, there has been a thread of duty dropped somewhere in the past. An opportunity has been allowed to pass unimproved, and now perhaps long afterward — a need emerges and there is nothing with which to meet it. If we are always diligent and faithful, we shall always find ready to our hand what we need in any new experience.
So we carry in our present the provision for our future. There is a Bible proverb which says, "He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son." In its simplest form, this saying refers to the gathering and laying up of food in the summer days. There is a season when the harvest is waving on the fields, when fruits hang on the trees and vines, when earth's good things wait to be gathered. That is the time when men must be diligent, if they would lay up in store for their winter's needs. Not long does the opportunity wait. No sooner are the fruits ripe, than they begin to decay and fall off.
No sooner is the harvest golden, than it begins to perish. Winter follows summer. Then there are no fruits on the trees and vines, no harvest waving on the fields. The hungry man cannot then go out and find food, and if he has not gathered in summer, and laid up in store, he must suffer lack.
The other part of the proverb teaches: "He who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son!" We have all seen that kind of son. A great deal of the world's poverty is caused by laziness — the failure to gather in summer. A man idles away the days when he ought to have been diligent — and then finds himself in need in the days when even diligence would not avail, and when he may as well sleep on and take his ease. If we accept life's opportunities and make reasonable use of them, we shall not likely lack even in the time of famine.
The Bible is a wonderfully wise book. It is full of counsels which touch every point of life. It abounds in exhortations to diligence. It has no sympathy with idleness or indolence. The Book of Proverbs is specially full of the gospel of work. "He becomes poor, who deals with a slack hand; but the hand of the diligent makes rich." "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest." So, everywhere, this lesson of timely diligence is pressed. "He who gathers in summer is a wise son." He does not lack in winter. When the bitter cold comes and he cannot work, when the fields and vines are bare and he cannot gather food — he has but to turn to the stores he has laid up, and there he finds all that he needs to feed his hunger.
Primarily the counsel is for the farmers, who gather their sustenance from fields and orchards, where only for a brief season do the harvests and fruits remain. He who does not sow in seed-time, will have nothing to reap in the time of ingathering.
But the principle has wide application. Life has its summers and its winters, its times of health, plenty, and opportunity — and then its times of sickness or want; and these seasons of need must feed from the stores laid up in the days of abundance.
There are times when men can have employment, with corresponding wages — and then they should save from their earnings and lay up in reserve for the times when they will have no work and consequently no wages. If they do this, they will never suffer lack. But if they eat up all their harvest in the time of plenty, they will go hungry when the fields are bare. Every life, every home, has experiences of special need. Sickness comes. The bread-winners must cease their toil. Then there are pinching times — if there has been no forethought, and if nothing has been saved and stored from the plenty of brighter days.
It is a wise rule to be adopted in youth and steadily adhered to through all life — never to spend quite all one's earnings or income, but always to lay by at least a little in store. If one's income is small, one's expenditures should be less. We should learn always to live within our means. If we fail to do this, debt is the inevitable result, and debt is a bondage which soon crushes out hope and paralyzes energy. The rainy day comes sometime in every life, and if there is no reserve spared and garnered from the sunny days of plenty, there can be no escape from debt. We must then borrow from some source, either from the stores of the past — or from the avails of the future. To turn to the latter resource, is to make life harder in the days to come until the debt is cancelled. Young people should learn this lesson. If it was thought important enough to be put into the Bible, among the words of eternal life — then it is important enough to put into a human book and to be heeded by everyone: "He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son!"
The lesson falls under two heads. Everyone must gather in harvest. Everyone must work while it is day. The promise that we shall not lack, is conditioned upon faithful diligence in the time when we can be busy. When we pray for daily bread, it is our daily bread for which we are taught to ask, and no bread can be ours until we have earned it. The lazy and indolent man is preparing poverty for himself! He cannot have God's blessing, and he has no promise of divine care when the empty days — days of need, come upon him.
Then everyone should gather, that is, lay aside, in harvest, in the plentiful season, because it will not always be harvest-time. There will surely be a winter after the summer, and the winter must feed off the summer — or be in want. After the seven years of abundance, there will be other seven years with no ingathering. But he who stores away the surplus of his plenty, will not go hungry in the times of scarcity.
There are other harvest-times in life in which we must gather, or we shall be in want in the other winters that will also come.
YOUTH is a summer. It is a time . . .
for receiving instruction,
for gathering knowledge,
for the formation of habits,
for the knitting of the thews and sinews of character,
for the choosing of friends and the weaving of friendships.
In youth the days are long and quiet, and free from care, burden, and responsibility. Other hands toil then, other brains think and plan, other hearts love and suffer — that youth may be happy and unanxious. Later comes real life with its duties, its responsibilities, its cares and struggles, its sorrows, its burdens. But he who has gathered in the summer days of youth, shall not lack in the winter of adulthood. A youth-time diligently improved, prepares one for whatever severer days may bring.
We are not living in a world of chance; this is our Father's world. There is no doubt, therefore, that in the wise providence of God, there come to everyone in youth, opportunities which if properly improved — will prepare for noble, beautiful, and successful life in the mature days.
It is easy to see how this is true in good homes, where children are trained by faithful parents, in the midst of kindly and encouraging circumstances, under healthful and wholesome influences. Their youth-time is one long summer, with golden harvests on its hundred fields, with nothing to do but to reap and gather into life's barns.
But it is true likewise of those who grow up in poverty, amid hardship and in stern conditions. These have their opportunities as well. It is well known that many of the world's best and greatest men, have gathered on what seemed bare and rugged fields, the store of good and of strength which in later years gave them fruitful living. A true and wise use of the opportunities that are given in youth, whether they come in the sunshine of comfort and ease, or in circumstances of poverty and hardship — will fit one for whatever of task or struggle may fall to one's lot in the after days.
God has a plan for every life, and that plan takes in the life's training and preparation — as well as its work and service. There is always opportunity, too, for just the right preparation that is needed for the mission which is God's thought and plan for the life. But if we miss the preparation, then we shall fail in the work that we were meant to do. If we would be ready for the opportunities and responsibilities of tomorrow — then we must accept those of today.
There is an old Persian legend of a pavement under which lay lumps of gold. The man who lifted none of the pavement would get none of the gold. He who lifted part of it might or might not find the gold. But he who lifted the whole of it, would certainly secure the treasure. Under every day's pavement, gold is buried. But we must lift the stones, if we would find it. If in our indolence or neglect, we leave one stone unlifted, the gold may be under that one, and we shall miss finding it.
The important thing is that opportunities shall be improved. Youth must gather in its summer time, whatever the harvest may be. Nothing is surer, than that indolent early years, mean failure in manhood. One may neglect the tasks that the days bring, because play is easier or more congenial to the taste, but these tasks are links in the chain which brings one to success, and if any of them are dropped, even one, the chain is broken. A lesson missed in school, may be the cause of failure some day, years hence, when the little fragment of knowledge or instruction or discipline lost that hour, shall be necessary in order to win some high honor or to accept some coveted promotion.
Every opportunity a boy loses, is a chance for misfortune in afterlife. By and by when he stands before life's open doors, he will not be able to enter them. When he fails great duties and solemn responsibilities, he can only hang his head in shame. He has idled away his summer, his gathering-time — and now when winter is upon him and he cannot work — he has no reserve from which to draw.
But the young person who improves all his opportunities in youth, who is diligent in his studies, who gathers knowledge, wisdom, and strength, and the qualities of noble character in this summer-time of his life — will come up to the responsibilities of his later years prepared to accept them and meet them with honor.
We grow by bearing burdens, by doing difficult things, by enduring hardship, by toil and struggle. This is the only way to grow into noble and worthy character. The easy life may seem more pleasant, but it does not yield the heroic qualities that belong to the highest manhood.
This law applies also to spiritual life. In one sense we cannot lay up grace in store any one day, for a future day. No summer's gathering, will do for winter's use. Today's help will not do for tomorrow's needs. Today's strength will not suffice in tomorrow's temptations and trials. Today's comfort will not lighten the darkness of tomorrow's sorrow. The manna fell each morning, enough and enough only for the one day. It could not be kept over. It is so with spiritual food. It must be received every morning fresh from Heaven. We cannot lay up in seasons of special devotion, supplies of divine grace to suffice through periods of prayerlessness and worldliness. We cannot pile away in our heart's storehouses on Sunday spiritual vitality, to last us through a whole week of secularity. We must keep ourselves all the while in living communion with Christ, receiving continuously from Him fresh supply for our continuous need.
"Abide" is the word our Lord himself uses. We must abide in him. Life must be received hour by hour direct from Christ's warm, throbbing heart. There must be no breaks in the believing that receives from the divine fullness, grace upon grace. We carry in us no reservoirs in which divine life may be stored to last us over times of spiritual drought.
Yet there is another sense in which in our spiritual life we may gather in summer for winter's use. For example, in the times of quietness and security — we may store in our heart the resources we shall need to draw upon for meeting temptation. Childhood and early youth in a true Christian home, are in a large measure sheltered from stern assaults and conflicts. The atmosphere is kindly and congenial. The influences are helpful. There is a mother's bosom to hide in. There is a father's hand to lead and protect. The family altar, with its daily worship which brings us together in prayer, holds all the household close to God's feet. The sin of the world outside, has the spray of its tides dashing against the windows; yet within the sacred walls, there is a holy life, unperturbed, unstained, loving, gentle, and true. The child that grows up amid the kindly influences of a home of love and prayer is sheltered from the temptations that make the world outside so perilous a place in which to live. This period is the summer of life to those who are blessed with its privileges.
But the winter comes. No one can live always in such a home shelter. There will come a time sooner or later, when the children must go out of the sweet, safe home — to face the temptations and meet the antagonisms of the world. It is possible, however, in the days of quiet in the home, so to gather and garner spiritual resources that in the conflicts and struggles of the after days, the life shall be safe.
When men build a great ship to go upon the sea they store away in its keel tremendous reserves of strength — massive beams and stays, and heavy plates of steel. What does it all mean? There is no need for such immense strength now. If the ship were to sail only in some peaceful river or even on the ocean on its quiet days — it would be a foolish expenditure at such great cost to put such strength in her frame. But the builders are equipping the vessel for the wildest storms that she may ever have to face on the sea. They are building her, not for ordinary sailing in smooth waters, but for the fury of the most terrific tempest.
So human lives should be built in the home, in the days of happy youth, not merely for the sweet experiences of the sheltered home itself, with its love, gentleness, and peace — but to meet the sternest buffetings and the sorest testings that any possible future may bring.
Christian principles should be fixed in the heart so firmly, that nothing can ever swerve the life from them. Habits should be so wrought into the conduct, that nothing can ever change them. Conscience should be so trained, that it shall do its duty with inexorable fidelity in the sorest stress of temptation.
Daniel and his young Hebrew friends had been brought up in godly homes, where they were taught the word of God with great faithfulness. There they had gathered into their souls rich stores of divine truth which had been wrought into materials for noble character — reverence, courage, strength, wisdom, and all needful moral qualities. In their early manhood, when they were scarcely more than boys, they were carried away into a strange land, among heathen people. There they were exposed to peculiar trials. But they resisted every temptation and stood the severest test. It was because away back in the quiet days of early training and discipline, they had gathered reserves of moral strength and courage in their hearts.
The same thing is continually occurring. Young people go out from their sweet homes, from love, prayer, and obedience — into a world of spiritual enmity and antagonism, where they encounter all forms of subtle temptation. Yet they pass unharmed through these insidious dangers, because in the summer days they have gathered into their life the qualities of character which make them invincible. The reason many men fail in the hard testings — is that they have not used their opportunities to prepare for these difficult trials. They get through the easy times without serious trouble — but they fail when the hard days come.
We have a suggestion here of the responsibility of parents and teachers and of all who have to do with the education and training of the young. Their sacred work must be well done, if the lives they send out into the world are to be prepared not only for the largest usefulness, but for steadfastness, stability, and incorruptibleness of character. They should teach truth, with conscientious carefulness. They should train mind and heart, with all wisdom. They should seek the most perfect discipline of character, in those they are training. They know not in what circumstances those young lives shall be placed in after years, through what experiences they shall pass — what serious and delicate duties shall be put into their hands — in what positions of responsibility and trust they shall be called to stand — what vital interest may sometime depend on their wisdom, fidelity, and strength.
Men said the old smith was foolishly over-careful as he wrought on the chain he was making in his dingy shop in the heart of the great city. But he heeded not their words, and only wrought with greater painstaking. Link after link he fashioned, and at last the chain was finished and carried away. In time it lay coiled on the deck of a great ship which sped back and forth on the ocean. There seemed no use for the chain, for the great anchor was never needed, and the chain lay there uncoiled.
So years passed. But one night there was a fearful storm, and the ship was in sore peril of being hurled upon the rocks. Anchor after anchor was dropped, but none of them availed; the chains were broken like threads. At last the great sheet anchor was cast into the sea, and the old chain was quickly uncoiled and run out until it grew taut.
All watched to see if it would bear the awful strain. It sang in the wild storm, as the vessel's weight surged upon it. It was a moment of intense anxiety; the ship with its cargo of a thousand lives, depended upon this one chain. What now if the old smith had wrought carelessly even on one link of his chain! But he had put honesty, truth, and invincible strength into every part of it — and it stood the test, holding the ship in safety until the storm was over and the morning came.
In the same way, those who, in home or school or college, train a young life, know not for what momentous responsibilities they are fashioning it, for what hours of testing, for what mighty outcomes. But they should do their work so well, that never in any circumstances shall the life fail through ignorance, through weakness, through lack of truth.
It is their duty now, in the life's summer, to store away in it the reserve of wisdom, of strength, of faith, of love, of endurance, which it may need. Should the life break or fail in the testings of future years, because of the inadequacy of its early furnishing, the mistakes of its training, or the imperfectness of its discipline — it will be the fault of those who, as parents or teachers, were unfaithful to their trust.
There are many ways in which this lesson may be applied. One is in preparation for meeting TEMPTATION. In one of Holman Hunt's pictures he shows Jesus in the carpenter's shop at Nazareth. It was in his early youth. Along the side of the shop is a little case containing a collection of ancient scrolls. The artist would represent our Lord as having his little library of sacred Hebrew books in the shop where he worked at his trade — the suggestion being that in his resting moments he turned often to them to read and ponder over their words. Thus he stored the sacred truths in his memory. No doubt this was the custom of Jesus. He studied his heavenly Father's words diligently, until his heart was full of them. Then, when he went out from his quiet home, and when the tempter came to him, he had but to bring out a divine promise, a word of Scripture, as one would draw an arrow from a quiver, and with it repel the enemy.
Young people should take the lesson. Now life is easy for them. Home's shelter is over them. Home's love shields them. They have opportunity now to read the Bible and other good books. By and by, they must meet temptation in some of its insidious forms. In these bright, sunny days, they should gather into their life stores of moral and spiritual strength from which to draw when they go forth to encounter the world's fierce temptations. Memory should then be filled with words of God. The essential principles of Christianity should be so established in their mind, that no assaults of scepticism can ever make them doubt. The fundamental laws of morality should be firmly fixed in their conscience as the inflexible rule of conduct, from which nothing ever can cause them to depart. Their habits of spiritual life should be so wrought into the very texture of their being, that they will carry their religion with them, out into the world, as they carry the features of their face or their throbbing heart. Into the ship of their life, their character, as they build it in the quiet bay of youth — they should pile massive strength which the powerful energy of the stormiest life can never possibly overcome.
Gathering thus in summer, they shall not lack in winter. But if they do not do it now in youth — they never can do it. The soldier cannot learn the art of war after the battle has opened. If he has not been diligent in the days allotted him for instruction and for discipline, he cannot stand before his foes when the conflict opens. Losing yesterday's opportunity for training — we cannot meet today's stern struggle.
The same is true of preparation for SORROW. Into every life, sooner or later — sorrow will come. In one sense, too, we should not seek to know it beforehand. We ought not to look forward to sorrow, with fear and foreboding. God does not want us ever to do this. He does not promise us grace in advance; we are to live day by day.
We are not to think of grief before it comes; it is better that we let God lead us on step by step, preparing us for each event as he brings us to it. Yet we ought to live so that when grief comes, we shall not be taken unprepared, without any resource of comfort to which to turn.
The foolish virgins had only their own little lampful of oil, with no reserve. When the midnight hour came and they needed light — their lamps were going out, and they could not refill them. The wise virgins, on the other hand, were not left in darkness when their own lamps had burned out, for they had a reserve of oil in their vessels. If we have a store of divine promises and consolations hidden in our heart, gathered and laid away there during the sunny days — then we shall never be left in darkness, however suddenly and deeply the shadow may fall upon us.
Here we see the value of memorizing Scripture in days of childhood and youth. Sometimes people ask, "What is the use of teaching children long Bible verses, the words of which they do not understand?" The use may not be apparent at the time, but later in life it will appear. The words lie in the memory, and seem to avail nothing. But they are set in the life, and some day there will be a sorrow or a trouble, and it will grow very dark. Then, through these divine words, long waiting for a time of use, there will flash out the pure, sweet light of divine love, making them like incandescent lamps to pour the soft rays of heavenly comfort upon the night of grief.
Many older Christians know this from personal experience. Verses of God's word memorized in youth, which have lain in their heart for years, not seeming to have any real meaning for them, giving no light of comfort — have suddenly begun to flame out in heavenly brightness, yielding precious comfort. Gathered in sunny hours and stored away in the memory, they were like stars in the sky, invisible in the sunshine, but coming out in calm, steady light when night came on.
A touching story is told of a young man who was rapidly losing his eyesight. The physicians told him that he would be able to see but for a few months. At once, accompanied by a sister, he set out to travel over Europe, taking a last look at the beautiful things of this world, before his eyes should be closed forever. He wished to have his memory stored with lovely pictures of mountains, lakes, and waterfalls, of noble buildings and works of art, so that, when he should no longer be able to see, he might have these beautiful visions in his soul to lighten his gloom.
Today we are in life's rich sunshine, with beauty all about us. But darkness will come to us sometime — days when the light will fade away, the vision grow dim, and the shadows thicken. We should prepare now, while we can see, against the coming of these dark days. We should walk in the light, while we have the light. We should train ourselves to see all the beauty we can find in God's works and words. There really is beauty everywhere in the natural world as well as in the spiritual, and we ought to see as much of it as we can, to get the pictures printed upon our soul. We should gather while we may, into our heart — all the love, joy, and gladness that we can store there. Then, when the night settles down about us, we shall have light shining within.
Someone writes of sitting on a winter evening by an open wood fire, and listening to the singing of the green logs as the fire flamed about them. The writer's fancy is that, when the tree stood in the forest, the birds came and perched on its boughs, and sang their songs. The wind, too, breathed through the branches, making a strange music. One day a child sat on the moss by the tree's root and sang its happy gladness in a sweet melody. A penitent, wandering in sadness in the evening shadows, knelt there, and with trembling tones, amid falling leaves, spoke to God of his sorrow for sin, and his desire for forgiveness. And all these notes and voices sank into the tree, and hid away in among its fibers. There they slept, until the tree was cut down and part of it became a log in the cheerful evening fire. Then the flames brought out the stored music.
This is only a poet's imagination. But is there not in it a little parable of many a life? Along the years a thousand influences play about it. Childhood's songs fall upon the ear. Home's sweet music breathes around it. Love sings its gentle songs. Nature's voices cease not to make melody in the ear. Life has its varied notes and tones, some glad, some choked in tears. Books, companions, friends, circumstances, experiences, emotions, feelings, all kinds of scenes in their ceaseless play, drop their myriad notes of music — and they all steal down into the heart and hide there. Years pass, and the easy life gives out no praise, sings no song to bless others. At length grief comes, and in the flames of trial, the long-imprisoned music is set free, and afterwards sings itself out in praise to God, and in notes of love to cheer and bless the world. Gathered in life's long summer and stored away in the heart — it is brought out in the hours of suffering and pain. Many a rejoicing Christian never learned to sing — until the flames kindled upon him!
In Rose Porter's delightful little book, "Summer Driftwood for the Winter Fire," an old man bids goodbye to his grandchild as she goes away on her vacation, and says to her, "Remember, little one, gather the driftwood that will light the winter fire." The child laughs and says that she is going to have a good time while absent, that she will bask in the sunshine and gather flowers and listen to the birds. "Ah, Annie," says the old man, "the flowers will fade, the sunshine be hidden when the winter storm-clouds come, and the song-birds will grow silent. Find something lasting. Begin to gather wood now, which will warm your heart when the winter of life comes, child."
No wiser counsel could be given to the young. People lay up firewood in the summer, when there is no need of fire — to burn in the winter, when bitter winds blow and the air is keen and cold. So youth should gather into its heart the thoughts, lessons, memories, and truths, which will make both warmth and light when old age draws on.
Let the sunshine into your heart these bright days, you who are young — God's sunshine of grace and truth. Read good, uplifting, helpful books, which will leave lofty and inspiring thoughts in your mind. Especially read the Bible daily, study it, and hide its divine words in your heart. Do beautiful things — things of love, of unselfishness, of helpfulness, things that are true, honorable, just, pure, and lovely. Nothing darkens life's winter days — as do memories of sinful things. Nothing makes life so sweet in old age — as does the memory of right, good, and kindly things wrought along the years.
Gather about you, too, in the sunny days, gentle and worthy friends. Be sure they are worthy, those you take into your heart, for unworthy friends oft-times make bitterness and sorrow for the dark days of those whom they disappoint. Weigh well the character of your friends and choose and take into your life only the good, the pure, the noble, the honorable. Above all, gather into your soul the sweet friendship of Jesus Christ, and let his words bless your life and fill and sweeten your heart.
Then when the winter days come, the memories of all these precious things will abide and will shine like soft lamps in the gloom. Truly has it been said, "The memory of things precious keeps warm the heart that once did hold them." Such gathering in the summer days of life, will make the winter of life cheerful and bright.
In youth, then, lay up for manhood and womanhood.
In the school-days, prepare for meeting life's duties and responsibilities.
In the years of strength, gather for the times of feebleness and old age.
In times of plenty, store up for times of famine.
In times of joy, find the divine comforts to turn to in sorrow.
In the bright days, prepare lamps to light at nightfall.
In summer, store away wood for winter's fires.
All earthly life is a time for gathering. Not a day should pass when we do not lay up something for the future:
some new bit of knowledge,
some new lesson of experience,
some new word of God to rest upon in trouble,
some new joy of pure friendship to warm the heart,
some new strength received by overcoming,
some new meaning of love or beauty.
That is the way to grow strong, and rich, and good, and helpful. Old age is the harvest of all the years that have gone before. A life of summer gathering — gives a beautiful, wise, noble, happy, and useful old age!
In the same way, this present world is a place to gather in for Heaven. We shall be there — what we make ourselves here. We shall find there — the treasures we have gathered here. We shall gather there — the harvest from earth's sowing. Our crown there — will be woven of the blessedness of faithful obedience to God, and service of love for our fellow men!