"HO! REAPERS OF LIFE’S HARVEST"
"The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few" (Matt. 9.37)
INTRO.: A hymn which tells us that the Lord wants us to work as laborers in his plenteous harvest is "Ho! Reapers of Life’s Harvest." The text was written and the tune was composed both by Isaac Baker Woodbury, who was born at Beverly, MA, on Oct. 23, 1819. At the age of thirteen, he moved to Boston and began to study music with Lowell Mason (1892-1872). In 1838 he spent a year abroad studying music in Paris and London. Upon his return to Boston he spent several years teaching music, playing the organ, and conducting choral groups there but in 1849 moved to New York City, NY, where he was song director at the Rutgers St. Church and edited a couple of music journals, World of Music and the American Monthly Musical Review. Also he published a number of tune books, such as Dulcimer, or New York Collection of Sacred Music in 1850, Liber Musicus in 1858, Cythara in 1854, The Casket in 1855, and New Lute of Zion in 1856, which were exceedingly popular. I have not been able to find any information on the date of this song or its origin of publication. Woodbury also composed several others tunes, some of which are often used in many of our books with "Take My Life, O Father, Mold It" (Dorrnance), "One Sweetly Solemn Thought" (Ozrem), and "Speed Away."
After contracting tuberculosis, Woodbury travelled in the Mediterranean and Florida. His other musical works include oratorios, cantatas, choruses, and piano pieces. In 1858, his health began to break down due to overwork, and he decided to regain his strength by wintering in the south, but three days after his arrival in Charleston, SC, he died there at the age of 39 on Oct. 26, 1858. According to Ira David Sankey, "Ho! Reapers of Life’s Harvest" was reported to be the favorite hymn of President James A. Garfield, who was a member of the Disciples of Christ, and it was sung at his funeral after his assassination in 1881. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson. The only other book from my collection that I have seen it in is Wonder Hymns of Faith, published by the Standard Publishing Co. of Cincinnati, OH, a Christian Church publishing house.
The song encourages us to recognize the need to be reapers in the Lord’s harvest.
I. Stanza 1 emphasizes the importance of the work
"Ho! Reapers of life’s harvest, Why stand with rusted blade,
Until the night draws round thee, And day begins to fade?
Why stand ye idle, waiting, For reapers more to come?
The golden morn is passing, Why sit ye idle, dumb?"
A. God has a harvest that He wants reaped: Jn. 4.35
B. We should not wait idly but get to work as quickly as possible: Matt. 20.1-7
C. Because the golden morn is passing, we need to get busy planting and watering: 1 Cor. 3.6-9
II. Stanza 2 emphasizes the method of the work
"Thrust in your sharpened sickle, And gather in the grain;
The night is fast approaching, And soon will come again.
The Master calls for reapers, And shall He call in vain?
Shall sheaves lie there ungathered, And waste upon the plain?"
A. The sickle is the instrument that was most often used to bring in a literal harvest: Mk. 4.26-29
B. This represents the activity required to gather in the grain: Matt. 13.23
C. Thus, the work that we are called to do is reap in the sheaves: Ps. 126.5-6
III. Stanza 3 emphasizes the timing of the work
"Come down from hill and mountain In morning’s ruddy glow,
Nor wait until the dial Points to the noon below;
And come with stronger sinew, Nor faint in heat or cold,
And pause not till the evening Draws round its wealth of gold."
A. The Master calls us to come down from hill and mountain to work in His vineyard: Matt. 21.28
B. He wants us to approach our work with strength of sinew to endure the hardships: 1 Cor. 16.13
C. And we should continue working while it is yet day for the night is coming when no one can work: Jn. 9.4
IV. Stanza 4 emphasizes the reward for the work
"Mount up the heights of Wisdom, And crush each error low;
Keep back no words of knowledge That human hearts should know.
Be faithful to thy mission In service of thy Lord,
And then a golden chaplet Shall be thy just reward."
A. We certainly need to act with wisdom in doing the Lord’s work: Matt. 10.16, Jas. 3.13-18
B. Also, we must keep back no words of knowledge but declare the whole counsel of God: Acts 20.20-21, 26-27
C. Then, if we have been faithful in our work, we shall receive a golden chaplet or crown: Rev. 2.10
CONCL.: In the very beginning, even before man sinned, God gave him a work to do in dressing and keeping the garden. After the fall, man’s work was increased so that by the sweat of his face he would earn his bread. Just as work is important in the physical realm, especially the sowing, cultivating, and reaping of crops to provide for our needs, so similar work is important in the spiritual realm, and God wants each Christian to participate in this work as He calls, "Ho! Reapers of Life’s Harvest."