Back to Contents
Natural Emblems Of Spiritual Life
By A. B. Simpson
Vessels Of A Great House
"But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor and some to dishonor.
If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work." II Timothy 2:20-21
WHAT a wonderful commentary on the artificial means of human life which civilization produces may be seen by visiting the various departments of some ancient museum. The instruments of savage life are very simple but the modern departments contain an endless variety of porcelain ware and pottery and elaborate work in metal greatly in contrast with the other. As life advances in the scale, man's needs increase. A housekeeper has no end of needs. If you should start to furnish a house newly today, you would soon be bewildered at the endless fulness to some extent. We may be vessels to honor, I am sure of that, if not to distinction.
If we are vessels to dishonor it is because we are not fit for anything else. No mistress would use a silver vessel to hold kitchen slops. If you are used for that it is because you fill yourselves with slops. There are some people who take in the devil's slops all the time. They are scavenger vessels, and are fit only for that. Ah! dear friends, if we use our lips as members of unrighteousness to give out nasty things, how can we think of giving them to God to carry pure water to His children? You cannot be so used unless you are a pure vessel. You would not take a nasty, dirty tin vessel to drink from if there was a clear, crystalline vessel at hand. If God is to use you, you must be ready.
There is an infinite variety in these vessels. No Christian can say to another: "You are not like me ; I am sorry for you." God is not so impoverished in resources that He must make every vessel alike. In dealing with souls I have often felt like calling some worker, after I have said all I had to say, for God so greatly blesses different instrumentalities. He has made His creatures very different, yet with a wondrous adaptation to each other and He means that all shall work together for good. The kitchen vessels are not used in the dining-room but they are not, therefore, to think themselves of no use. I don t know, which are most useful.
Some of God's children are used in prayer, some in preaching, and some in testimony, and He sends the feet of some up garret stairs on quiet messages of cheer and help. All are for the Master's use. I am so glad for this people God has placed me over. There is more variety among them than I have ever seen together before. I thank God even for eccentricity if it is genuine, and not put on to make the person peculiar. If it is simple and genuine and true to God, He can use it greatly. He has gathered into the church a few who have had the advantages of culture and refinement, and a few who have had very little in their surroundings that was elevating. There are some here who have known the bright side of life, and some who have known its hard side and are acquainted with trials. There are differences of race, and of character, and temperament, but all are one in Jesus Christ, and through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost the love of God can make out of this people many vessels to honor in His service.
These vessels are to be cleansed vessels. "If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor." He is to be clean not only in a general way, but so clean that not a single stain remains. It is to be a thorough cleansing by blood, by water and by fire. God takes away the guilt of sin by the Atonement of Christ. Then as stains appear on our outward life, they are to be washed away by the Holy Ghost. The inner fibre of our nature can only be cleansed by fire. The evil in the heart must be burnt out.
Are you so cleansed, dear friends, not only from the grosser stains of life, but from the ten thousand little stains that come thick and fast from every-day life, the little annoyances and frets and alienations that are keeping you now from the interest in Christian work you ought to have, and from the Joy and gladness in God you might possess? Are you cleansed from the stain of old service? The water that was in your pitcher last night is not clean today. Your milk pitcher is defiled with the stains of yesterday's milk. It must be cleansed before you put fresh liquid in. It is not clean because it is not fresh. The service of yesterday is not clean unless it is fresh.
It must be washed by blood and water and fire, and so kept sweet and clean. Do you know what it is to feel a difference in the joy of your work? Do you remember how easy it used to be to work for souls just after your conversion? Why is it that you are embarrassed to sit down now by the side of some unconverted person and try to lead them to Christ? What is the matter? You are not clean - that is the trouble. There are some stains from yesterday's work, or from something else, on you. There is something there that needs to he burned up or washed away. And God wants to give you this perfect cleansing. You cannot grow unless the heart is kept clean.
If there is in it any petty sin, or strife, or jealousy, or envy, if you are harboring any malicious thought against another, or any spirit of unkindness even, there is uncleanness; and you do not know what crawling vermin will get into a vessel that is sour. You need to get it washed out. If God is to use you as a drinking vessel, you must be cleansed. Let the Holy Ghost wash you. Hold still in the fire that He will put you in till nothing remains in you that will burn, and until you are thoroughly purified. Then God can use you. He cannot use an unclean vessel. It would spoil all that was put in it. If your heart or lips are unclean, how can God defile the Holy Ghost by pouring Him into you? How can God defile any of His dear children by sending you to feed them or to give them water that has been soiled by coming through unclean lips? He cannot and He will not do it. Oh that you would go to the Lord this day, and know, as Isaiah did, of having a live coal laid upon your mouth, and hear the Lord saying with you, "Lo, this hath touched thy lips ; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged." Then could God use you as a clean vessel to refresh and bless His children.
We are not only to be cleansed vessels, but empty ones also. There must be nothing stored away in us. We must be disengaged from all other and stronger claims, especially our own claims of self-interest and self-will. We are so apt to be full of something else besides God. Our own plans, our own ideas of things, our own confidence, our own strength, so fill us that we cannot be greatly used. God wants an empty vessel as well as a clean one, and one that always remains empty. He would have us feel as needy as ever. If we are conscious of our great disability, but of His great ability also, we are empty. Dear friends, are you free from all pre-occupying cares about today? Are you free for His commands and ready for His work alone? Are you an empty vessel that He can use for His own glory?
When we are really empty, He would have us filled with Himself and the Holy Spirit. It is very precious to be conscious of nothing good in ourselves, but, oh! are we also conscious of His great goodness? We may be ready to admit our own disability, but are we as ready to admit His ability? There are many Christians who can say, "We are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves," but the number, I fear, is very small who can our sufficiency is of God. Dear friends, have you got such a hold of God that you can say this? Are you quite sure that He is able to provide for every want in you, or do you feel that you must supply it yourself?
Are you believing that God does now supply every lack in your heart and in your life, so that all tumbling is taken away, and you are endued with power for His service, as Elisha took the vessels and filled them before they were set aside to be used? Our Saviour at Cana ordered the water-pots to be filled to the brim. Then the water was made into wine, but not until the vessels were full. God wants His children to have always a full heart. We must have the other experience of being empty, but we must not stay there. We must get a glad, full heart, and then others will be able to drink from our abundance.
The apostle next gives us a beautiful word. We are to be meet for the master's use. That is, we are to be set apart and sanctified. The word means hallowed. There is a great difference between being cleansed and sanctified. Cleansed means simply to be washed from actual defilement, but the other has a very different meaning. The first would make us mere negative beings with no harm in us and no great good. To be sanctified means to be actually set apart by God, as the vessels in the ancient tabernacle were, to a sacred use. Cleansing is the negative side of religion, but sanctification is the positive side. It means a whole-hearted surrender of everything to God, and it is not an unreasonable requirement. Indeed, it is our reasonable service.
It is not the sacrificial lamb tied on altar in fear and trembling, but it is Isaac springing on the altar with glad delight, saying, "Lo, I come ; I delight to do thy will, 0 my God." How many people there are who want to thus yield to God, who wish they were able to yield, but who fail to do it. The vessel must be a fully surrendered one before He can have the right to take it. The Greek word here is very strong. But for the love that comes with it, it would seem hard. The idea is that we are in the hand of a despot who has a right to dispose of us as He chooses. He controls us entirely. It is possible to do Christian work and do it as our own master; but if God's blessing is to rest upon it greatly, it must done from a heart that is always in direct contact with and wholly under His control.
We must be able to say as Paul did, "Whose I am and whom I serve." He called it a bondslave. In a great house there can be no question about the ownership of the different vessels. In Windsor Hotel the name of the hotel is stamped on every one of them. In England the crest or monogram of the owner is burnt into every dish among the wealthy classes. God does not want any vessel in His great house that has not His monogram so burnt into it that nothing ever can get it out. You are to do His work, dear friends, not because it pleases you, but because you belong to Christ, and are altogether at His disposal. Take this thought with you as you go away this morning, "I must be at His disposal. I must be meet for the Master's use." That is, profitable: It is the same word Paul uses of Onesimus in his epistle to Philemon. "Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me." It is an unusual word.
It does not mean the vessel is merely sanctified in itself, but God counts it worthy of whatever use He chooses to put it to. He does not want children whom He cannot use, who are not profitable to Him, who are so weak that they break if anybody leans on them. Ah, no! He wants vessels He can count on, vessels that will stand some risk, and that will repay Him for the price He has paid for them in the suffering and death of His dear Son.
He expects us to be prepared, or, more literally, ready for every good work. You know how pleasant it is in Christian service to meet with a ready worker, or a ready speaker, one we can get up off-hand and give his Master's message without a week to prepare it in. An employer knows what a ready worker is. He somehow impresses you when you look in his face that he knows all about it, and you can tell him at once to go on with the work. Some are so slow and have so little general knowledge of the work that no one employs them willingly. A ready man is a man of value always. He is able to use right hand or left, as occasion requires. He is not one-handed.
So, dear Christian friends, God wants us always to be ready for His work, perhaps on the street at night, perhaps on the way to church, perhaps in the social meetings, perhaps at home; always ready whether we feel like it or not. He wants ready workers, ready to go out on the street and bring the lost ones into our meetings, ready to speak to any who need a helping word wherever we meet them, ready to give a testimony for Him without stopping to wonder if we dare till the opportunity is lost; ready to shoot the game on the wing without waiting for them to sit down and invite us to shoot; ready out of season as well as in, ready in rainy weather as well as fine; always ready for the Master's use, not sometimes, but at all times. May the dear Lord make us thus ready to do His work.
How are we to become ready for the Master's use?
First we must be sure of the salvation of our own souls. There can be no service before that is settled.
Next we must be free from trouble. God cannot use us if we are bothered about our own affairs in any degree. We must have rest of soul from all these things, and then we may be able to help somebody else love their burden.
We must have a real love for souls. Not a spasmodic emotion that cannot be depended on, but a deep, settled appreciation of the value of an immortal soul, and a careful weighing of all the difficulties that lie in the way of winning them for Christ. Then there must follow an unvarying determination to work for them in spite of every difficulty that may arise.
We must be baptized with the Holy Spirit if we are ready for the Lord's work. There is such a thing as living constantly under the rain drops, or soft dew of the Holy Spirit every day and every night. And without this perpetual refreshing and strengthening our work will lack power.
We must have faith for the work. We must expect results. It is the determination of faith that will not take a refusal, but persistently claims a blessing on the work, that usually gets it.
We shall have great need of patience, for a great deal of the work will be done by plodding along day after day, seeing evil as well as good mixed up in the service, but not discouraged by it. Christian people never yet did a work that was worth anything but the devil tried his best to have a hand in it too. Yet the Lord would not have us beaten back by any of his devices, and so we must patiently labor on in spite of it all. We shall need to exercise much self-denial. It will be easy, romantic work, but we shall sometimes find it hard. There will be many a burden resting on the heart, and the service will often be a real labor. Paul found it so. He was in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. But how gloriously he persevered, and won grand results in spite of it all.
We shall have need of vigilance to see opportunities of service, and use them promptly or they will slip away forever.
We must be much in prayer. Our lives must be full of it if we would have power over others.
We must keep in such nearness to Christ that we shall always be ready with our testimony or word of advice, or warning, or cheer, as may be needed. One great trouble usually in evangelistic meetings is that people come to them from their work so tired that the meetings are apt to be dead and heavy at first. It takes an hour perhaps for the Christian people to get ready for work, and the whole strength of the meeting has been spent in getting them where they can help others. Oh, that they would come to the services from seasons of retirement where they have been filled with the Holy Spirit. The overflow of His presence would soon be felt by the unsaved, for they are very quickly influenced by the spiritual states of others. The work depends very much upon the condition of the Christian workers who go to it, even if they do not say a word. See to it, dear friends, that the silent influence of your presence is telling for Christ.
The last thought I want to leave with you this morning is that God wants you to be a vessel unto honor, and He will so use you if you are near enough to Him for Him to lay His hands on. If your service is to His glory, will it not also be to your honor? In passing through some great museum, how interested we are in looking at some little thing that has been, used in a glorious way. It may be the pen with which our country's constitution was written, or it may be a cup from which, some great man drank. So I think it will be glorious in Heaven not only to see the souls that are saved, but also the persons who were used to bring them there.
We shall be glad to meet the saintly Augustine, but will we not also look with loving interest at the mother whose prayers and counsel turned him to his Lord? I don't know but we shall be as glad to see the humble Sabbath-school teacher who spent nine months of labor and bought three suits of clothes before she finally got Robert Morris to the school, as we shall to look at the great missionary himself. The worker will be forever linked to his work. You cannot separate them. Ezra and Nehemiah labored on patiently in their obscure work in Jerusalem, but God did not forget it. And He will write the work of this coming summer in enduring tablets that will bring honor to His workers and glory to His dear Son. It is surely honor enough to be able to bring some blessings even to a humble little child, but far beyond the present blessing God will honor it. "He that reapeth receiveth wages and gathereth fruit unto life eternal."
Let us thank Him that we have still the opportunity of laboring in the harvest field. May the dear Lord make you dedicated and sanctified vessels in His great house ; may He count you profitable servants ; may He find you ready workmen always on call; may He honor you far more than He does me in the work of this summer. I am but the hand upon the dial. A faithful, loving people are the real spring of all the work. May He be able to bring glory to many of you because of the earnest, faithful, effectual work you shall do for Him this year.