Here is Jeremiah’s lament over the spiritual lostness, deadness, and fruitlessness of his countrymen. Destruction is coming upon them because of their sin. The situation is dire. Repentance and redemption are paramount. And yet here they sit, at the end of summer, unchanged and unsaved. “Harvest is past, summer is ended, and we are not saved.”
Now Jeremiah may have written these words, literally, at the turning of summer into autumn, after all the fruits had been harvested, preserved, and so on. But Charles Simeon was probably correct when he saw in Jeremiah’s harvest and summer imagery a metaphor for the spiritual privileges that the people of God enjoy.*
Living under the consistent sound of the word of God is like dwelling in a land of perpetual summer! And I’m not thinking of the scorching, dry summers that many of us have come to dread … but summer in the sort of place where the mix of sun and rain are just right for growing things like tomatoes, and beans, and peppers, and blueberries, and so on! And (especially in those days before the supermarket) what a pity to live in such a place, and yet to find, even at the end of summer and harvest, that you do not have enough food to last you into the winter season! What a perfect symbol of wasted opportunity and squandered privileges!
Well, that seems to have been the situation of the Israelites! The spiritual privileges that had been theirs; the opportunity to hear God’s word from God’s men; the opportunity to have forgiveness and redemption preached to them through the temple sacrifices had all been immense – like the sun and showers of a perfect growing season! But there was precious little spiritual fruit. They had lived their whole lives in a harvest season, as it were … and yet most of them remained spiritually barren! And so it is a poignant lament when Jeremiah cries over his people that “harvest is past, summer is ended, and we are not saved.” The people had squandered nearly all the opportunity that came as a result of their Israelite births!
And Jeremiah’s lament is one that must be cried over some church-goers, even in our own day! Because, oh, what a privilege it is to sit under a sound gospel ministry! You may not have the best pastor or the most anointed preacher … but if you have a real shepherd and a gospel preacher, you have more than most of your neighbors! Your access to the sun and showers of God’s word makes you something like the fruit trees in a land where summer brings, not drought, but every inducement for the trees to produce their fruit. But is there fruit in your life today? And, when the summer of your gospel privileges someday comes to an end, will there be anything to show for the privileges you have known? Will you finally be saved, in the end?
As our physical summer has just come to an end, it is a good time to assess ourselves in regard to what we have made of the spiritual summer time that many of us have enjoyed in the church for many years. A new school year has begun, young people … but have you yet begun with the Lord Jesus? The tomatoes have been harvested and enjoyed, but is there any fruit being borne in our lives for God? Could it be that some of us have been hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ, week by week, for much longer than just these few months of summer, and yet are we still unsaved? Are we still unrepentant? Unbelieving? Unchanged?
Oh, may you not come to the end of God’s harvesting season in this world, or to the winter of your own life, and still be forced to say: “Harvest is past, summer is ended, and we are not saved.”
*Indeed, the whole way in which I unfold the meaning and application of Jeremiah 8:20 in this article is based on Simeon's interpretation. See his sermon on Jeremiah 8:20-22 in his Expository Outlines of the Whole Bible.