James Smith, 1860
Many of God's servants have had to live and labor in very trying times. They have labored hard and enjoyed but little success. They have watched and waited until they have been wearied, and then they have given vent to their feelings in some strong and painful exclamation. So did Isaiah. So did Jeremiah. So also did Micah. Hear his words, "Woe is me! For I am as when the summer fruits have been gathered, as when the vintage grapes have been gleaned — and there is no cluster to eat, no first-ripe fruit for which my appetite desires." Micah 7:1
THE COMPLAINT. It refers to better times, more fruitful seasons. The former times were not always the best — but there have been some pleasant, and precious times, in the Church of God.
There have been spring times, or times of quickening, when the dead in sin have been quickened together with Christ; and when dull and dispirited souls have been revived, and have received new life.
There have been summer times, when there has been much fruit, and many have been added to the Lord. Believers have been fruitful, in every good word and work.
There have been harvest times, when there has been ripe fruit and plenty of it. Reaping and gathering have been pleasant, and success has rewarded pains.
The complaint is of the present. It is late in autumn, or the beginning of winter. Now there is little life in the Church, or in the soul — little beauty in Zion's assemblies, little fruit on the Lord's vines. Conversions are few and questionable. Professing Christ is rare. Here is but little fruit-bearing. No clusters, or companies of choice, united, lovely believers. Clusters have the finest grapes; when these are gathered, what are left are small and withered. So we see now, many professors are like these grapes, they are very indifferent professors, and seem but a poor reward for so much toil, expense, and self-denial.
In many places, the Lord's servants have to complain, that only gleaning grapes are left in them; they have no fresh, ripe, delicious clusters. Members are added by units, not in clusters; they come forward but seldom; the Lord no longer adds to the Church daily, such as shall be saved.
THE DESIRE. "There is no cluster to eat, no first-ripe fruit for which my appetite desires." I desired to see and enjoy the fruit of my labor, the answer to my prayers, the reward of my faith. The first ripe fruit is generally fine, rich, valuable, and delicious; and some converts answer to this. They are very decided, devoted, and determined Christians — a comfort to the pastor, a credit to religion, and the glory of Christ. Men full of faith, fervor, zeal, activity, and self-denial.
The first ripe fruit, after the Holy Spirit descended on the Church, was precious fruit —
what union was enjoyed,
what communion was realized,
what faith was exercised,
what courage was displayed,
what liberality was manifested,
what love to each other was shown.
Well may every minister of Christ exclaim, "My soul desires the first ripe fruit!" O for such fruit now, and plenty of it!
THE EXCLAMATION. "Woe is me!" As if he had lived too late, or lived too long, or lived in the wrong place, or lived in a very bad season. And does not this seem to be the case with some of us? Revivals have been — but they are past. We had the first ripe fruit once — but we have none now. In other places the Lord works gloriously — but not where we are. The present to us seems to be an unfruitful season, for we sow, plant, and prune — but there are no clusters to eat.
"Woe is me," I am dispirited, and ready to cry out, "I have labored in vain, and have spent my strength for nothing and in vain!"
"Woe is me," I am dejected, and sorrowfully ask, "Who has believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?"
"Woe is me," I am unhappy, because I have no spiritual children, no success in my work.
"Woe is me," I seem to labor to little purpose, there is only a little late fruit left, and that but of little account.
Christians should be like clusters on the same branch, forming one bunch; they should get together, and keep together. It is no credit to us, nor to God's church, nor to Christ himself — for us to stand aloof from the Lord's people, as if the Church was too bad for us, or we were too bad for the Church.
Who utters this exclamation now? Many a dispirited pastor, many a disheartened evangelist, many a discouraged Sunday school teacher. Yes, many can say with the prophet just now, "My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me!"
Who CAUSES the exclamation?
The lost sinner who trifles with conviction.
The professor who mixes with the world.
The lukewarm soul that neglects God's house and ordinances.
The secret believer who does not profess his faith, or confess his Lord.
The backslider who wanders from the right ways of the Lord.
The Church that is cold, or contentious, or inactive.
The Sunday school that is formal, lifeless, and inactive.
The teachers who are conceited, and proud, and self-willed.
In a word, all may take part of the blame, who are not like the first ripe fruit.
Who notices and registers the exclamation? Our Lord hearkens and hears, and a book of remembrance is written before him. He sees his discouraged servants, and sympathizes with them. For wise and holy reasons, he may still allow them to be thus tried; but he will bring them forth to the light, and they shall behold his righteousness.
The day is coming when in the sunshine of his countenance, when in his glorious presence . . .
every sigh will cease,
every groan will be hushed, and
every tear will be wiped away —
and a crown of righteousness will be awarded to many who were faithful, though they did not appear to be very successful.
Servant of Jesus, look forward, your master is coming, and then the tables will be turned. Then it will be seen, that many who appeared to be very successful, had their reward here; while your reward will be enjoyed under brighter skies, in a better world. Soon, very soon, will you rest from your labors; and your works, whether successful in man's estimation or not, will follow you. Soon, very soon now, your Lord will come, to give reward to all who fear his name, small and great. May we be ready for his appearing, and be this our daily cry, "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!"