What a marvellous thing it is that the Spirit of God should have put into the mouth of the Lord, speaking prophetically, such words as these: "Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain; yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God." (Isa. 49:4.) Blessed Lord, didst Thou even stoop to this, that Thine unspeakably blessed work should seem to be all in vain? Oh, wonderful grace.
Of course we know that the labour was not in vain, but all the eternal ages will be needed to bring out the meaning and blessedness of that wondrous work; still in appearance for the moment this work seemed in vain. May the sense of this grace sink deep into our hearts.
How many the lessons we may learn from the deep pathos contained in these words. We will only allude to a few.
We see first how mistaken are human judgments, how misleading are appearances, now dangerous it is to attempt to judge the work of others or even our own work. We are utterly incompetent to do this, for we know but little of God's plan and His ways for working out that plan, for these are past finding out; we know so little of the hidden springs in the hearts of man which are all important in determining the value of the actions.
How greatly needed the injunction to judge nothing before the time till the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsels of the heart, and then shall every man have praise of God. (1 Cor. 4:5.)
We may be assured that times without number it will be found that the apparently worthless is most valuable, and the apparently most splendid work of no worth.
We learn also not to be discouraged. All we need to ask is, are we where the Lord would have us be? Are we doing what He has set us to do? If so be of good cheer, dear discouraged worker, even though your work seem an utter failure.
Every servant of the Lord in downright earnest knows well the discouragement of the apparent wreck of that which he is doing. The lowly and the humble are specially prone to this discouragement, but the proud and self-satisfied know it not. Yet God does not want us to be discouraged, even though all appear to be in vain. He knows we are poor things, yet He has called us to put our hand to the plough, knowing we should oft make crooked furrows and imperfectly plough up the soil. Yet knowing this He chose us, He put the work into our hands, and, failure though it seem, yet our labour is not in vain in the Lord. Ours to do His bidding, His to give success or failure, but even the failure is no failure, it is part of the ways of God to bring about His purpose. There is a needs-be for all the trouble, the ruin, the break up, the fiery trial, the bitter tears. Therefore let the tired, weary, baffled worker look up and take courage and count upon the Lord, all will be well.
Only let him who is pleased with himself and his work, and who judges that of others, tremble, for the first shall be last and the last first. He putteth down the mighty from their seats and exalts them of low degree.
Go on then, my fellow-workers, fear not, press forward, the result will be blessed, the Spirit of God is in you, He is working out in you and by you something of God's great plan for the glory of the Son, and the tearful, plodding sower and the joyful reaper will assuredly reap together, and many a one who has done nothing will have done much, and many who think they have done much will find how little it is. The barren bears seven and she with many children has waxed feeble.
Blessed Lord, may we thus learn the gracious lessons that Thou art so patiently teaching us; may we learn of Thee who art meek and lowly in heart, and when all our work seems breaking up, be able (in humility, confession of sin and self-judgment, but with deep thankfulness) to say, "Even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in Thy sight."