And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. (John 4:27)
Discouragement and apathy in the service of the Lord is widespread. We must not cast aside the plain statement of the Scripture to follow our own way. The exhortation by Charles Bridges is a fruitful meditation. Labor through it until understanding, as it will cure many a frustration in our labors for the Lord Jesus Christ.
More directly also – Ministerial success must be viewed, as extending beyond present appearances. The seed may lie under the clods till we lie there, and then spring up. Of the prophets of old “that saying was true; One soweth, and another reapeth;” they sowed the seed, and the Apostles reaped the harvest. As our Lord reminded them – “Other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.” And is it no ground of comfort, that our work may be the seed-time of a future harvest? Or, should we neglect to sow, because we may not reap the harvest? Shall we not share the joy of the harvest, even though we be not the immediate reapers of the field? (John 4:36-38) Is it not sufficient encouragement to “cast our bread upon the waters,” that “we shall find it after many days?” “In the morning” (as the wise man exhorts us,) “sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand; for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that; or whether they both shall be alike good.” (Ecclesiastes 11:1, 6)
It has been admirably observed on this subject – ‘In order to prevent perpetual disappointment, we must learn to extend our views.’ To seek for the real harvest produced by spiritual labours only in their immediate and visible results, would be not less absurd, than to take our measure of infinite space from that limited prospect, which the mortal eye can reach; or to estimate the never-ending ages of eternity by a transitory moment of time – It often happens, that God withholds his blessing for a time, in order that, when the net is cast in “on the right side,” it may be clearly seen, that “the multitude of fishes” enclosed are of the Lord’s giving; lest men should attribute their success to a wrong cause, and should “sacrifice unto their own net, and burn incense unto their own drag.” We may add to this the recollection of the extensive results from “the day of small things.” Only two souls appear as the immediate fruit of the vision of “the man of Macedonia;” but how fruitful was the ultimate harvest in the flourishing Churches of that district! Our plain and cheering duty is therefore to go forward -to scatter the seed- to believe and wait.
Yet must there be expectancy as well as patience. The warrant of success is assured – not only as regards an outward reformation – but a spiritual change of progressive and universal influence. The fruit of Ministerial labour is not indeed always visible in its symptoms, nor immediate in its results, nor proportioned to the culture. Faith and patience will be exercised -sometimes severely so. But after a pains-taking, weeping seed-time, we shall bring our sheaves with rejoicing, and lay them upon the altar of God, “that the offering up of them might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.” Meanwhile we must beware of saying – “Let him make speed, and hasten his work that we may see it.” The measure and the time are with the Lord. We must let him alone with his own work. Ours is the care of service – His is the care of success. “The Lord of the harvest” must determine, when, and what, and where the harvest shall be. (Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry, 75-76)