The GOSPEL TRUTH
PRICE and POWER
"Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil." II Kings 4:2.
This is one of the very fascinating stories of the Old Testament. You will recall that one of the sons of the prophet had died. He left a widow and two little sons. It would appear that at this particular time this widow was in financial difficulties, and the creditors were coming to take her two sons to be bondmen. In her distress she sent for the man of God: she sends for the prophet Elisha and tells him her pitiful tale. He listens and then asks the question, "What hast thou in the house?" and she answered, "Nothing," or as we have it in our Gaelic Revised Version, "Nothing at all, save a pot of oil." Then the prophet speaks again and calls upon her to send her two boys out and collect as many empty vessels as they could lay their hands upon. They did that and went on bringing until one of the sons, addressing the mother, said "There is not a vessel more." Then we read the significant words, "The oil stayed." Now that is the story and the setting of my text. There came a moment when the supply of oil stopped, not because the source had dried up, but because the capacity to receive what was flowing at that moment had failed.
It seems to me that the simple truth we have here is this, that God wills to give Himself; He wills to give Himself again, again, and again, so long as we keep bringing that into which He can pour Himself. He kept giving so long as they kept bringing that into which He could pour Himself. Now this is a very suggestive story, and I want to direct your attention to three very simple thoughts suggested by this incident. First of all, we hear the expression of a great need: "Thy servant hath nothing at all," nothing at all, save this little pot of oil. That is the expression of a great need. Then we have here also the inspiration of a great confidence. She said "call the man of God" in confident anticipation that God was equal to the situation. That was why she sent for him. And lastly, the replenishing and the empowering of obedience. She went and she did what the prophet commanded her to do, and the miracle happened.
First of all then, let us consider our first thought--the expression of a great need: "Thy handmaid hath not anything at all in the house save this little pot of oil." Newberry suggests that it was a pot of anointing oil, possibly used by her late husband, but since the day of his death it had stood on the shelf. Nothing at all save this little pot. Now that was not very much, but what I want you to observe is this, that the prophet saw in it something upon which he could work; something through which the miracle was going to happen. Notice that when she makes reference to her need, when she speaks of her destitution her eye rests upon the pot of oil. Nothing, save this. Is my sense of need and your sense of need the very ground on which God can work? Oh, how true it is that hunger, real hunger, creates a capacity for God. "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled." And the reason why we are not filled is simply because we are not hungering after God. We may be hungering after other things, but not after righteousness.
I believe that God is true to His promise.
I believe that He is a Covenant-keeping God, I read in the Word that they that hunger shall be filled. The crisis of conversion is ever to be regarded as a conviction of guilt, but the crisis of sanctification is a conviction of want. You have it expressed in the words of the poet--
"Oh, when shall my soul find her rest,
My strugglings and wrestlings be o'er,
My heart by my Saviour possessed,
Be fearing and sinning no more?"
There you have the cry of want; there you have hunger expressing itself; there you have a true longing after God; there you have a vessel into which God wills to pour Himself. Oh, may God create within us a hunger. Perhaps your sense of need is pardon. You are conscious of a sense of guilt. Why? You are still a stranger to grace and to God, conscious that you have sinned against Him, that you have rebelled against the Most High, and that your sense of need at this very moment is for pardon.
"Him who pardoned erring Peter never need'st thou fear,
He that came to faithless Thomas, all thy doubt will clear,
He who let the loved disciple on His bosom rest,
Bids thee still with love as tender, lean upon His breast."
Let me assure you that a sense of need, a consciousness of guilt, is a vessel into which God wills to pour His pardon and His recovering grace.
Or you may be conscious of defeat; conscious of having failed God. Let us never forget that God's character before the world is committed to you, it is committed to me, committed to His people. If we fail, in the eyes of the world, He fails. If we fail, His name is beclouded, His luster is dimmed and men are not drawn to Him, but rather are driven from Him. Yes, God's character before the world is committed to you, and maybe you have made this discovery, that you have been a poor representative, and you are gripped by a sense of failure.
I recall just now words spoken by the late Dr. Stuart Holden at the 1924 Keswick. He told us of a man he had in his congregation, a Christian worker, a man used of God, but who unfortunately at an evil hour slipped badly. Oh, "let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." This man fell and he was serving a seven-year sentence in one of our penal settlements. Through the instrumentality of Dr. Stuart Holden the man was led back to Jesus, led to know the recovering power of the precious blood of Christ, and on the fly leaf of his cell-Bible he wrote words which he. requested might be added to that unscriptural poem, "The bird with the broken pinion." You remember the words at the end of every verse: "But the bird with the broken pinion never soared so high again," this man wrote, "But the soul that comes to Jesus through failure, shame, or pain, by His wondrous love and mercy may soar as high again." A sense of need, and the spirit of repentance is a vessel into which God wills to pour Himself in recovering grace. Is there not everywhere today a sense of need? I find it everywhere.
We have tried this and that in an endeavor to create interest in the minds of men for the things of God, but is it not true that we have come back from every endeavor with a sense of baffling and frustration, and we have said again and again, "It cannot be done on human levels"? There is a cry everywhere today for God to do something; God is preparing a vessel. It may not yet be clean enough for God. -- Has He begun to handle us? Has He begun the process of cleansing? "Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord." God will not pour His Holy Spirit into that which is polluted by failure. God wants a clean vessel. Are we clean? Yes, I say again, there is a hunger, and that is why we are encouraged to believe that revival is near.
I think again of those people in the Hebrides. How they longed and how they prayed and how they waited and how they cried, "Oh God, rend the heavens and come down," and all the time God was handling them; all the time God was dealing with them and the process of cleansing went on until the moment came when angels and archangels looking over the battlements of glory cried, "God, the vessels are clean, the miracle can happen now." I believe that with all my heart; it is the deep conviction of my soul that they are ever gazing over the battlements of glory and waiting for a prepared people. It is one thing to shout it, it is one thing to sing it, it is one thing to talk about revival, but give me a people on their faces, seeking to be rightly related with God, and when that happens, we will soon know the impact of God-realization in our country.
Now, I'm not saying that the need is articulate everywhere, but the failure of man's best endeavours is apparent to all, and I believe the day is not far distant when, in a sense of desperation, when at the end of her endeavor, the Church will cry, and God will take it in hand. Are we there? In the case of the widow her need became articulate, and she cried, "Oh, man of God, come? the situation is desperate, my two boys are to be removed from me. God, come and deal with the situation." This was a youth problem indeed, and the coming of God solved the youth problem, but the miracle had to happen. Thank God the miracle can happen. Is it going to happen? We know that God can give us a great many things, but He cannot give us His best gifts unless we hunger for them. For instance, He cannot make a man wise if he refuses instruction; He cannot save a man from his sins if that man wills to hold on to his sins with both his hands; He cannot make a man holy if he has not aspirations after a holy life. Is it not true that the need of the Christian Church today is just holiness; a people desirous of walking in the ways of God?
It was once my privilege to speak to a group of young people, and what a joy it was to sit listening to their aspirations and their longings; what a privilege it was to speak to them about the power of an indwelling Christ, and I remember saying this: "The greatest thing about us all is not what we say, it is not what we do; the greatest thing about us all is our unconscious influence, and that unconscious influence impregnated by the life of Jesus." The power, the dynamic of a God-possessed personality. Let that loose and revival is at the door. A baptism of holiness, a demonstration of godly living is the crying need of our day. So if you measure the intensity of your desires, you will measure the capacity.
God is not going to respond to a feeble fleeting wish. Just for a moment suppose that those boys of the widow while holding the vessels under the spout of oil were more interested in watching a butterfly in the sun than on keeping their eye fixed upon the oil; the chances are that most of the oil would have been lost. Yet is that not the way many of us come to God? We long for revival, we are longing to see a movement in our own community, in our own Church, Hall or Assembly, and we are crying "God send it," but heaven cries: "Is your eye fixed upon Me?" "Get rightly related to Me." I read in the Old Testament story of "men who feared the Lord, but they served their own gods." Do we profess to fear Him, but are we serving our own gods, our own interests? May God lead us into truth.
Is there a hunger, is there a cry, "I've nothing, I've nothing, save a sense of need." Bow in His presence and acknowledge it, and bring that vessel of honesty, sincerity and of true seeking after God, and the promise will be fulfilled, "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty." Remember that revival has got to do with God's people. I sometimes say, at the risk of being misunderstood, that we do not pray for revival in order that souls may be saved, but souls are saved in their thousands when we have revival, when the thirsty are satisfied, then the floods come on the dry ground. If you want revival, get right with God. If you are not prepared to bring the "last piece," for God's sake stop talking about revival, your talking and praying is but the laughing-stock of devils. It is about time we got into the grips of reality. Are we thirsty?
"I hunger and I thirst,
Jesu, my Manna be."
Is that your prayer?
But further will you notice that this woman was inspired by a great confidence. Yes, the man of God was there, and could she but get into touch with him the miracle could happen, the boys could be left at home and the youth problem solved. She got in touch with him, I'm not sure how, I cannot say how difficult the path was, but of this I am certain, she got in touch with him, and through getting in touch with him the miracle happened. Why is the miracle not happening today? We are in touch with churches, we are in touch with missions, we are in touch with conferences and conventions for the deepening of spiritual life; I would to God we could get into touch with Him. The miracle happens there. . Yes, that was her confidence and she set before Him:
"Faith, mighty faith the promise sees, And looks to God alone;
Laughs at impossibilities, And cries, 'It shall be done.'"
That was what inspired that saint of God in the Hebrides to pray: "God, You promised revival and if You do not send it, how can I trust You again?" I say that prayer must have gladdened the heart of God. That is the inspiration of a great confidence; God has promised and God will fulfill His promise. God is the God of revival and He will revive us again. God is a God of power and He will find a willing people in the day of His power. The inspiration of the great confidence! Desire is one thing, confident anticipation that the desire will be fulfilled is quite another thing. And I want to point out that the two go together. This is just another way of saying "according to your faith be it unto you." I am afraid many of us have our expectations fainter than desire. We pray for strength, we pray for holiness, we pray for revival, and nothing seems to happen. Why? For the simple reason that we do not expect it to happen. Why did the widow send for the prophet? Because she expected the miracle to happen.
There is a place beyond consecration, there is a place beyond sanctification, and that is the place of implicit confidence in God. It is not easy to stand in that place, but I have known men and women who stood there, and I have seen before my eyes the miracle happen.
Beyond consecration is the promise of God: "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground." "The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son," suppresses? No! Counteracts? No! We have coined such phrases outside the Holy Ghost, now let us use Holy Ghost language; "The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin." So that in the presence of God we cry--
" I am crucified with Jesus and the Cross has set me free,
Now I live again in Jesus and He lives and reigns in me."
That is the secret of holiness, not my holiness, but His. "Jesus empty me and fill me with Thy fullness to the brim." That is His promise, not only power but purity. I would say that the peculiar prerogative of the Holy Ghost is to purify and then empower.
That brings us to the last point, and it is brief. Think of the replenishing and the empowering of obedience in the woman. She went from him and shut the door. You see, the need was met when the conditions were fulfilled. So I read in the Word of God, "If any man will do His will he shall know." He shall know many things within the will of God. He shall know deliverance, he shall know the realization of an indwelling Christ, he shall know the power that enables him to walk in the ways of God's commandments, he shall know God. I want to say humbly and reverently that to me the greatest reality, the greatest fact in life is just the presence of the Lord Jesus. And I love Him; that to me is greater than preaching, it is greater than seeing revival. I thank God for what I have seen in that realm, but the greatest thing of all is just to have fellowship with Jesus. Well, if we do His will we shall know that. Here you have a case of general principle. Desire and wishing are all right and well, but unless they are backed up and verified by experience and by obedience, desiring will not bring God's blessing to the soul.
Was it not Hudson Taylor who said while addressing a meeting in Perth, "God gives His Holy Spirit not to those who long for Him, not to those who pray for Him, not to those who desire to be filled always; He gives His Spirit to those who obey?" And after all, salvation and sanctification are realized from the human side in obeying God. Are you going to bring your empty vessel? If you do, He will fill it.
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