Apparent Failure
Isaiah 49:4
Then I said, I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the LORD…

I. SORROW FOR THE FAILURE OF LABOUR. In thinking of this we may go down to a still lower stage than that from which these words sprang in the heart of this man of God. The complaint is made by many who have never sympathised with his high aim or shared in his Divine work.

1. Take the first of the two great objects that call man to labour — the gratification of self. How few prizes are drawn for the many blanks! When some one spoke to Napoleon of his Italian campaign, and asked if that marvellous part of his career did not give him exquisite pleasure, he replied: "It did not give me one moment of peace. Life was only incessant strife and solicitude. The inevitable battle of the morrow might" annihilate all memory of the victory of to-day." We may call to mind the saying of poor Keats when dying: "I have written my name in water"; nor would it probably have comforted him much more at that time to think he had engraved it in marble. Even affection and sympathy — how often are they not reciprocated, or returned with ingratitude, or felt to be not of the deep kind the heart had yearned for!

2. The second is God and the good of His world. The higher a man's idea of what the condition of the world Should be — of what a reign of righteousness and happiness there might be if God had His due place — the more likely is he to be depressed at times by the view of things around him, and the slow way in which all our effort is bringing us to the goal.


1. Take first, again, that class of men who have set before them in life some personal object, and have been disappointed in it. The great temptation in such cases is to brood over and magnify their disappointment.

2. Then, as to those who have a higher aim in life than any mere personal one — who are truly seeking the glory of God and the good of their fellow-men — they have also their temptations under failure. We are so ready to judge of the plan of the world by our own little share in it, and to think all the war is lost when our small detachment suffers a check.

III. THE RESOURCE WE HAVE IN THE MIDST OF THIS SORROW FOR FAILURE. "Yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God." There are two things this speaker fixes upon, and they are a powerful stay if we can bring them as clearly and confidently to God as he did. "My judgment is with the Lord." I can appeal to His decision for the character of my motive. It was, so far as I knew it, pure and true. "My work is with my God." I can cast on His decision the result of my labour. I do not say that any mere man can do this with a perfect assurance that all is right with him, and that He who searches the hearts, and tries the reins, can absolve him as faultless; but I do say that there are men who, by the grace of God, can appeal to God Himself for the sincerity of their aim. Let us see how it should influence both the classes we have been considering.

1. Those men who have been seeking some personal object in life, and have failed in it, may learn much here. Let us take it for granted that there was nothing sinful in your aim, and that you did not wish for any good, inconsistent with the rights and the happiness of your fellow-creatures. It seems very hard to you that you should be denied what many of them enjoy, and you can scarcely help comparing your lot with theirs, with a sense of bitterness, at least of regret. Here is a more excellent way of it. Instead of putting your life beside theirs, refer yourself to God's judgment. If you can put the case truly before the Judge and Controller of life, you may find something in your life to correct, and something also that will give comfort. May it not be that you have been making the aim of your life too narrow, even as it concerns your own welfare? You have been thinking, perhaps, of worldly position and acknowledgment, more than of the building up of your character in what is true and pure and godlike — more of your outward than of your inward and real life. These failures may be to teach you to begin again, and to aim at a wider basement and a higher top-stone — to take into your edifice the soul's interests, and to let its front look Godward and heavenward. And you have been making, perhaps, the aim of your life too narrow as it concerns your fellow-men. You have made self too exclusive. If you come, after all the failures of life, in this submissive spirit to God for His judgment, He will give you not only means of correction, but comfort. Though you may have lost what you once reckoned the good of life, there is another and higher good still open to you, not merely hereafter, but here. God can teach you how to build on the ruins of former hopes — nay, He can show you how you may take the very stones of them that have fallen and lie scattered around, and may joint them into a new and most beautiful and enduring structure. You may never in this world have the keen thrill of joy your heart once panted for, but a conscious and deep peace will recompense its absence, — more satisfying and more abiding.

2. There is a resource here, also, for that nobler style of men, who have laboured for the cause of God and their fellow-creatures, and have failed to find the success they sought. It may seem strange at first sight that there should be such failures. Yet there are some things which make it not so strange, if we will but reflect. Are we sure that our motives are always as high as we ourselves fancy, and may not failure be meant to send us back to sift and purify them? Our very despondency may arise from our having looked too much to success and too little to duty. God must have standard-bearers who are ready to make a shroud of their colours, and how can they be known but in hours of defeat? And, though our motives are pure, is our work always wise? Are Christians to expect that carelessness and rashness will succeed, simply because of good intentions? After all, however, the great resource we have is to fall back on this appeal "My judgment

is with the Lord, and my work with my God." Man judges by success, God by simplicity of heart; and many an unnoticed effort and inarticulate prayer that never seemed to touch the conflict shall share in the full triumph of the victory. Those who have failed to find position or comfort, fame or sympathy in the world, may have One who can bear His share with you here, who chose this place in life, which you call loss, that He might be nearer you, and show you that life has greater things than all you have coveted. Those of you who complain that you have laboured for your fellow-men and God with small return, have One here who gave up infinitely higher things, and met from men a more cruel award. Let all be done under the cover and trusting in the strength of Him who alone "works all our works in us." Let the sinful past come under this shadow to find forgiveness; the narrow and selfish life, to find a new and lofty aim; and all our fears and griefs and disappointments, to find comfort and hope in Him who entered the world to redeem it from fall and loss, and to make every true life succeed at last, even where it seemed to fail.

(J. Ker, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: But I said, "I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely the justice [due] to me is with Yahweh, and my reward with my God."

A Mistaken Estimate
Top of Page
Top of Page