Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.
There are two principal causes of the discouragement of the Christian. The first is the greatness of the task which God sets before him; the second is his inability to accomplish it.
I. We are so constituted that every time the ideal of love and holiness to which the Gospel calls us is presented to us in its sublime beauty, our heart vibrates with a profound assent, and we feel that it is for this end that we were created. But when we must not only admire but act, when we must no longer let the imagination kindle at a perfection which ravishes it, but must realise this perfection in life, then we measure with dismay the distance which separates us from it,—discouragement seizes us. See what takes place in human affairs. Let a commonplace mind propose some end, commonplace like himself; it will cost him but little trouble to attain to it; artist, thinker, or poet, he will be easily satisfied. But let a true genius conceive a sublime ideal, let him seek to reproduce it, you will hear him mourn over his failures! Each of his efforts will perhaps produce a masterpiece which will satisfy everybody but himself. If God demanded less of us than holiness, He would be inferior to us, and our conscience would exact that which He Himself no longer exacted.
II. The second cause of the Christian's discouragement is the ill-success of his efforts. It enters into God's plan to conceal from us almost always the results of what we do for Him. Why does God will it? (1) That faith may be exercised. Picture a Christian life, where each effort will bear its fruits, where response will follow prayer, harvest seedtime, and the joy of deliverance long and painful sacrifices. In such a case, who would not be a Christian? Self-interest would be the first motive with all, and the kingdom of God would be peopled with mercenaries. (2) God treats us thus to humble us. (3) In this school He teaches us gentleness and compassion. Success alone will never develop these.
III. The fruit of our labours is only hidden; it will appear in due time. And even when nothing of it shall remain upon the earth, and the indifference of the world shall seem to conceal for ever your labours and your sacrifices, there will be left to you the consolation of the prophet: "My judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God." This it is which ever constitutes the strength of the Christian. Solitary, deserted, despised by men, he has for Witness, for Approver, for Judge, the invisible Master whom nothing escapes, by whom nothing is forgotten.
E. Bersier, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 305.
I. This is just the language which we find at times forcing its way from the lips of most of those great men who have felt most conscious of having a mission from God. Those who have most deeply and radically influenced for good the minds of their generation have been usually distinguished by fits of profound melancholy; regret that they have ever entered on their heroic course; weariness at the opposition which they meet with; distrust of their own fitness for the task; doubts whether God has really commissioned them to act on His behalf. Why is this? It is because God's results are for the most part secret. A man who sets a great example is hardly ever conscious of the effect which his example produces. If his plans are not carried out precisely in the way and to the end which he had originally contemplated, he persuades himself that they have been an utter failure, that no good can have arisen from them; whereas the truth is, and other persons see it, that the particular plans were from the outset worthless, in comparison with the exhibition of character by which the very attempt to execute them was accompanied.
II. The cross of Christ is the true guide to the nature and the value of real success. What a failure was the life of Christ, if we measure it by immediate results! No wonder that the cross was to the Jews a sore stumbling-block, and to the cultivated Greeks utter foolishness, just as it would now appear to most of us. For even we, the heirs of eighteen centuries of faith in the Crucified One, seem hardly yet to have learned the lesson that the suffering, self-sacrifice, devotion to principles, and heedlessness of immediate consequences, are the indispensable foundations of all permanent success.
H. M. Butler, Harrow Sermons, p. 308.
I. Some persons give themselves much unnecessary pain by underrating their real service in the world. The question of good-doing is one of great subtlety. The quiet worker is apt to envy the man who lives before society in a great breadth of self-demonstration. It is as if the dew should wish to be the pattering hail, or as if the soft breeze should disquiet itself because it cannot roar like a storm. We forget that whirlwind and earthquake, fire and cloud, tempest and silence, have all been God's messengers; and it would be foolish of any of them to suppose that it had been of no use in the world.
II. The text shows the true comfort of those who mourn the littleness and emptiness of their lives. "My judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God." God knows our purposes, our opportunities, and our endeavours, and He will perfect that which concerneth us. The intention of the heart, which it was impracticable to realise, will be set down to our favour, as if we had accomplished it all; and some of us who think that our inheritance can be but very bare and fruitless, will find that instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree, and instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle-tree, and our little portion in Israel shall become a great possession.
Parker, Pulpit Analyst, vol. i., p. 661.
References: Isaiah 49:4.—J. Ker, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 352; J. Keble, Sermons from Advent to Christmas Eve, p. 401. Isaiah 49:6.—R. Veitch, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii., p. 293. Isaiah 49:8.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ii., No. 103; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 3. Isaiah 49:11.—A. Maclaren, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 125. Isaiah 49:13-20.—C. Short, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 163. Isaiah 49:16.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix., No. 512; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 312. Isaiah 49:20, Isaiah 49:21.—Ibid., My Sermon Notes: Ecclesiastes to Malachi, p. 240.
And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me;
And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.
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.
And now, saith the LORD that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, and my God shall be my strength.
And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.
Thus saith the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the LORD that is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he shall choose thee.
Thus saith the LORD, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages;
That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.
They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.
And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted.
Behold, these shall come from far: and, lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim.
Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.
But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.
Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.
Thy children shall make haste; thy destroyers and they that made thee waste shall go forth of thee.
Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold: all these gather themselves together, and come to thee. As I live, saith the LORD, thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all, as with an ornament, and bind them on thee, as a bride doeth.
For thy waste and thy desolate places, and the land of thy destruction, shall even now be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants, and they that swallowed thee up shall be far away.
The children which thou shalt have, after thou hast lost the other, shall say again in thine ears, The place is too strait for me: give place to me that I may dwell.
Then shalt thou say in thine heart, Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children, and am desolate, a captive, and removing to and fro? and who hath brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; these, where had they been?
Thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.
And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.
Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered?
But thus saith the LORD, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children.
And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh; and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine: and all flesh shall know that I the LORD am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob.