And the feast of harvest, the first fruits of your labors, which you have sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering…
This was their Pentecost; so called from a Greek word signifying "fifty" — because it occurred on the fiftieth day from the feast of unleavened bread. It was, properly, a harvest festival, in which the Jew offered thanksgiving unto God for the ripened fruits of the earth. To understand the peculiar interest the Jew took in this holiday, you must remember that the Israelites, after their establishment in Canaan, were almost entirely a nation of farmers. The peasant and the noble, in their respective spheres, were alike husbandmen. And the whole land of Israel was in the highest state of cultivation. Now, to such a people, inhabiting such a country, the feast of harvest was necessarily a grand festival.
1. We, too, want great national and religious holidays, to keep in mind great national providences.
2. We need them, moreover, as verily as the Jews, for their conservative political influence — to counteract the sectional and unsocial tendencies of our great tribal divisions. If we could come up nationally to such Pentecosts, then no living man would ever again dare breathe of discord and disunion — for chords, tender as our loves and stronger than our lives woven of religion and holy with old memories, as the memorial festivals uniting Judah and Ephraim, would bind us together and bind us to God!
3. Meanwhile we need such pentecostal holidays for those personal advantages which they brought to the Hebrews. They furnish that harmless relaxation so constitutionally necessary to our highest well-being. Real pleasure, as well physical as moral, is always the true law of life. True virtue is genial and joyous, walking earth in bright raiment, and with bounding footsteps. And the nervous, restless, unreposing, devouring intensity of purpose wherewith our men follow their business, is as disastrous to the nobler moral bloom and aroma of the heart, as a roaring hurricane to a garden of roses. Above all, our religious nature needs them. The true joy of the Lord is the Christian's strength. Cheerfulness is a very element of godliness.
4. This is our Pentecost — our feast of harvest. And even in its lowest aspect, as a grateful acknowledgment of God's goodness, in preserving for our use the kindly fruits of the earth, it is a fitting occasion of thankfulness. It is scarcely possible to over-estimate the importance of agriculture. It surpasses commerce and manufacture, as a cause is superior to its effects — as an inner life is of more moment than its various outward functions. Meanwhile, the reflex influences of industrial agriculture on our physical and social well-being are as well incalculable. After all, the finest products of our farm-lands are found in our farm-houses. Things better than corn and cabbages are grown on plough-ground — bone, muscle, sinew, nerve, brain, heart; these all thrive and strengthen by agriculture. The specimens of strong, hale, common-sense manhood seen at our annual fairs are a finer show than all the fat cattle and sheep, and noble horses, and the brave array of farm-fruits and implements. Agriculture purifies morals, chastens taste, deepens the religious element, develops the individual man.
5. Our thanksgiving is partly in view of the ripened fruits of the earth; but mainly in view of other and higher blessings. And in this regard as well, it is properly — a feast of harvest. In respect of all things — not merely the natural fruits of the earth, but all great human interests, political, intellectual, religious — we may be said to live in the world's great harvest time. We have reaped, and are reaping, the ripened and ripening fruits of all earth's past generations. Consider this a little.
(1) First: This is true — politically. Philosophically considered, the grand end and aim of all civil progress is human freedom — the highest development and culture of the individual and free manhood. Monarchy the one-man-power, oligarchy the few-men-power, are but the successive stages of the growing life, up to the ripened product of the true democracy — the all-men power. To this end hath tendered all political progress; and beyond this there is no progress. This is the harvest of earth's long political husbandry, and we are reaping it.
(2) Then passing from the political, the same thought is true in regard of the intellectual. It is a thought well worthy our pondering, on an occasion like this — that we live in the harvest-time of mind and thought! Carefully considered, the development of the "mental" follows the law of material development. "First, the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear." Genius is first poetical, then practical. First, the flaunting blossom; then the substantial fruit. From the beginning, man's law of intellectual progress has been from the abstract to the practical — from ideas to facts. The practical, being the fruit of the imaginative, as the ripened corn is the fruit of the plant's inner life. In past generations, intellect has been busy in a rudimental husbandry — felling the great forests; draining the low marshes; subduing the rugged soil; scattering the seed; and watching and waiting for the increase. The old philosophy; the old civilization; the old polities, civil and ecclesiastical; the old chivalry; the old poetry — these were the thought-germs, the thought-leaves, the thought-blossoms, which have ripened, and are ripening around us into God's glorious fruit! We live in earth's prodigal and luxuriant autumn — in times when marvellous things are the rule, and mean things the exception — in an economy of prodigies, each one a seeming miracle to men's earlier comprehension, and yet all, only the ripened development of their own thought-germs. And if the law of all husbandry be "to sow in tears and reap in joy," then our thanksgiving, that we live in these eventful times, should be unto God, this day, a great feast of harvest!
(3) Passing this, we observe once more, and finally, That this same law of development we have been tracing through the political and intellectual, will be found to rule in the spiritual — and in this regard should we mainly rejoice that we live in life's harvest-time.
6. In respects, then, like these, political, intellectual, religious, we live in times of unexampled blessedness. We have come up to Zion from hills purple with vintage, and valleys golden with corn, in the rapturous harvest-home of the mortal! And it becomes us to keep festival before God as the old Jew kept his Pentecost. As men, as patriots, as philanthropists, as Christians, our cup of joy mantles brightly. What more could God have done for us that He hath not done? What people can be happy before God, if we are not happy? Living here, in this nineteenth century, free men — free Christians — we seem to stand on the very mount of God, flung up in the waste of ages, for the enthronement of His great man-child! We look backward, and lo! all the past has been working together for our national and individual beatitude. Patriarchs, prophets, bards, sages, mighty men, conquerors, have all been our servants. Generation after generation, that have lived and died — great empires, that have risen and flourished, and trod imperial paths, and passed away for ever — seem to rise from their old death-dust, and march in vision before us, laying down all their accumulated thoughts, and arts, and honours — all the trophies of their mighty triumphs, in homage, at our feet! We look forward, and the eye is dazzled with the vision of the glory about to be accorded to God's kingly creature, man! when standing upon this redeemed world, he shall assert his birthright — a child of God here! an heir of God for ever! Verily, we have cause for thanksgiving. "The Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad." Let us give, then, free course to our grateful emotions! Thankful for the present, trustful for the future, let us rejoice before God "with the joy of harvest."
Parallel VersesKJV: And the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field.