God’s Oil and Our Vessels.
The aim of this address is to help those children of God who feel that they are living an anaemic spiritual life. We might have so much: we have so little. The writer himself knows far less than he ought of this greater fulness; but he thinks he sees from Scripture how the empty vessels can be replenished. His prayer is that every word may be used to the glory of our Lord.
Oil, in the Scriptures, frequently stands for the Holy Ghost. We read of Christ, that “God anointed Him with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 10: 38); and He says Himself,- “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me” (Luke 4: 18). Prophets are ‘sons of oil.’ Of Zechariah’s two olive trees it is written:- “Knowest thou not what these be? ... This is the word of the Lord, … Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts… These are the two sons of oil, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth” (Zech. 4: 6, 14). The oil that consecrated priest, prophet, and king; the oil mingled with the meal offering; the oil in the torches and vessels of the Virgins:- all stood for Him who, at Pentecost, was as oil poured forth, the Feeder of fire, the balm to the heart bruised and broken by sin. The Holy Spirit is the oil of God.
Elisha finds a widow with her creditor at the doors. “The creditor is come to take unto him my two children to be bondmen” (2 Kings 4: 1). Who is the widow? Here is a statement recently made by a child of God. “I saw how complete was my judicial standing in Christ. I rejoiced in the truth of the Lord’s Coming. I apprehended my position in heavenly places with Him... Yet, the Christian life contemplated in the Bible was a life of victory and triumph; my life was one of failure and defeat. Even the knowledge, through all my failure, that God loved me only added to my burden; for to feel one’s self a child, and yet to be unable to act like a child, cannot but be a source of bitter sorrow. At times I went through agonies of conflict in my efforts to bring about a different state of things. I resolved, I prayed, I wrestled, I strove.” Here is the widow.
Elisha asks:- “What hast thou in the house?” The widow answers,- “a pot of oil.” God’s habit is to take what is and out of it to build what shall be. The widow reveals the one fact of foundation significance out of which the whole narrative flows. The Holy Ghost is already. in the house. “The Father … shall give you another Comforter, that he may be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth” (John 14: 16). The Church is the permanent abode of the Holy Ghost. Moreover, no disciple, however beggared of grace, is without the incalculable treasure of the pot of oil. “Know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you?” (1 Cor. 6: 19). The believer most bowed down, most battered, and weary, and faint, beset with the sorest temptations, can always answer,- “Thine handmaid hath not anything in the house, save a pot of oil;” and in that saving clause is involved the whole power of the Godhead. There is oil in the house.
Now Elisha begins to act. The foundation is right. The woman has that which can make her incalculably wealthy before God. He now directs her thus:- “Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbours, even empty vessels; borrow not a few. And thou shalt go in, and shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and pour out into all those vessels; and thou shalt set aside that which is full.” There are two peculiar things about this command of the prophet. (1) God is not once named: He is assumed as the silent background in every life. Who had the oil somewhere in the cellars of heaven? God. Who could draw abundance out of abject poverty? God. Whose heart was beating with quiet, watchful love, waiting to be gracious? God’s. Sometimes when we name Him least, He is doing most: God has the oil, and He wants us to have it too. He is silently waiting for us to bring the vessels. And (2) it is the same oil throughout. The oil for life is also the oil for living. We obtain saving grace without works: we obtain sanctifying grace apart from works. Grace is always the gift of God. A faithless soul might have replied:- “You tell me to get many vessels to hold oil which is already held in one; but my trouble is, not the absence of vessels, but the littleness of the oil.” But the prophet knew the multiplying power of grace which has once become resident in the soul. “I was almost ready,” continues the writer above quoted, “to give up in despair. In this time of need God threw into my company some who declared they had discovered a way of holiness. I asked them their secret, and they replied, ‘It is simply in ceasing from all efforts of our own, and trusting Jesus.’ Like a revelation the glorious possibilities of a life such as this flashed upon me.” The pot of oil is sufficient for every vessel that can ever be brought: the oil is the same throughout.
Observe the command in detail. “Go, borrow thou vessels.” What does this mean? “I began to long after holiness. I began to groan under the bondage to sin in which I was still held. My whole heart panted after entire conformity to the will of God, and unhindered communion with Him.” It means that we intensify our spiritual ambitions, enlarge our capacities for receiving, expect the mightiest things from God, and make preparations for their coming. Borrow many vessels to hold the overflow from the one. “Borrow of all thy neighbours.” Here sits a redeemed soul, cold to the world’s redemption, alongside one burning with missionary zeal: let him borrow his neighbour’s vessel and bring it to the flowing oil. Here is a deep, but un-obeying, student of the Word; across the street lives an old and ignorant believer, yet one whose whole life is an aroma of Christ: let him borrow his vessel, and catch God’s oil. Let the watcher for souls watch also for the Lord: let the aspirant for the crown meanwhile pluck souls from the burning. Covet all gifts and all graces. “Borrow thou not a few.” Bring every jar you can get; it is grace abounding; until the whole heart shall throb to the whole work of God when all that interests God, shall interest us when the capacities of the soul shall more nearly correspond to the fulness in God when all the vessels shall be full of oil. Eph 3: 19. “Bring ye the whole tithe into the storehouse and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Mal. 3: 10).
Notice some peculiarities of this remarkable scene of the silently flowing, silently flowing oil, replenishing jar after jar. (1) The oil is boundless. There is no gaping poverty in our life which God is not willing to fill till the brim is flushed. “God is able to make all grace” - every kind of grace – “abound unto you; that ye, having always all sufficiency in everything, may abound unto every good work” (2 Cor. 9: 8). Again, (2) the vessels must be brought. All vessels outside remain empty. Great agony, and sore discipline, are often needed before the soul will increase its vessels, and bring them; but, once brought, nothing is to be done but to receive the pouring. But the vessels must be brought. “If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them” (John 13: 17). Again (3) God’s giving is only limited by our capacity for receiving. “And it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said unto her son, Bring me yet a vessel. And he said unto her, There is not a vessel more. And the oil stayed.” God does not waste His oil if we cannot catch it, He does not pour it and when we stop bringing vessels, the oil stays. “How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him” (Luke 11: 13): but how much? just as much as we have empty vessels for. A true vacuum in a globe suffers a tremendous pressure from the outside air: so the inrush of the manifold grace of God into the heart is according to the emptiness, size, and number of our vessels. “0 Corinthians, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us” - much less in God – “but ye are straitened in your own affections. I speak as unto my children, be ye also enlarged” (2, Cor. 6: 12). Again (4) God goes on pouring until the vessel .is full. “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5: 18). The writer quoted earlier concludes thus:- “God sent to our house a young man, whose soul was in great darkness because of doubts concerning salvation. It was my privilege to point him to Jesus as a Saviour just suited to meet his needs; … and as I talked to him, and set forth the boundless love of Christ, and His Divine power to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by Him my heart was rebuked for my own unbelief. Couldit be that the Saviour, who was willing to forgive the sine of the rebel, who would be unwilling to deliver the longing soul of one who loved Him and panted to follow Him, from the present power and dominion of sin? Could I exhort this poor, doubting soul to trust that Redeemer whom I myself was afraid to trust?” He discovers that the oil is the same throughout. “The last barrier of unbelief was broken down. Jesus revealed Himself to me as so worthy of my utmost confidence, that I could not help trusting Him. He showed Himself to me as a perfect, and complete, and present Saviour, and I abandoned my whole self to His care, telling Him that I was utterly helpless, that I could not feel, nor think, nor act, for one moment as I ought to do; and that He must do it all for me, all ... I trusted Him utterly and entirely. I took Him for my Saviour from the daily power of sin, with as naked a faith as I once took Him for my Saviour from its guilt.” Here is the emptying and bringing of the vessel. God did the rest. “And now, if I am asked what is my life, with a deep and abiding sense of my own nothingness, I can only answer that Christ is now my life. Once I had truth about Him, but now I have Himself! Once I tried to live in my new nature independent of Him; now I am joined to Him in a oneness that is indescribable, having no life but His - lost and swallowed up in Him. Not that I never leave this blessed abiding-place, and walk in the flesh again, to my unspeakable anguish and regret. But Christ is always the same; and the way of access by faith is always open. ... More than all I so longed for is made mine now by faith; and I am satisfied.”
The supreme practical point remains. How is the oil to be obtained? “Thou shalt go in, and shut the door upon thee.” The power to live a holy life resides in God: we must pray that power down. We must pray the emptiness out of our vessels. The oil flows behind the closed door. “Thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret” (Matt. 6: 6). “Night and day,” says Whitefield, “Jesus fills me with His love. … I walk continually in the comforts the Holy Ghost. … My heart is melted down with the love of Jesus. … The sight I have of God by faith ravishes my soul: how shall I be ravished when I see Him face to face! ... I would leap my seventy years, and fly into His presence.” Put no limits to the power of the Holy Ghost: what He has wrought in others, He can work in us: we too may have the burning heart, the brimming grace, the holy life. Acts. 2: 39. But it is only for the soul prostrate on its face in closet prayer, who will part with the Angel, but not with the blessing. “As the hart planteth after the water-brooks so panteth my soul after Thee, O God!”
How mighty is the difference between the empty vessel and the
full! Francis Tauler was a prince of
preachers in Strassburg. A stranger from
a distance one day told him that he did not know his Lord intimately enough to
preach His message, and advised him to withdraw into silence until the love of
Christ should fill his heart to overflowing. Tauler, deeply moved, withdrew
into long months of meditation, prayer, and weeping. A vast crowd assembled to hear him preach
once more. Again and again he tried to
speak, and again and again he broke down weeping, and the crowd dispersed
without a sermon. Some weeks after, in a
second attempt, he spoke from the words, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh.” “The joy,” he
was saying, “of the Bride, the soul, with its
Bridegroom, Christ, is so great that no man can conceive it,” when
suddenly a man shouted, “It is true!” and fell
to the ground insensible. When the
sermon was ended over forty people, overwhelmed by the Spirit of God, were
found lying unconscious; and thus began the great revival which swept through