We are going to make a beginning with some meditations in relation to what I have called rather awkwardly "The Workshop of God" or "Vessels Meet for the Master's Use". The words, as you know, are taken from 2 Tim. 2:20,21.
"Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some unto honour, and some unto dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these (vessels unto dishonour), he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, meet for the master's use, prepared unto every good work."
In the Bible God is represented as working upon material, and believers are said to be that material. We will therefore put this into an imaginary form. Imagine God having a workshop, and as we approach God's workshop, we shall find that there are certain words written on the door.
"Called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28).
"The purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph. 1:11).
"We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared" (Eph. 2:10).
Those three things meet us as we approach the workshop of God.
They resolve themselves into God's purpose; God's calling according to His purpose; God's work unto the realisation of His purpose.
Now I hope you are very clear as to what is on the door, that you recognise what it is all about, and what this workshop means.
We go inside, and inside the door we shall find a little room, which, if it were a doctor's place, would be the consulting room, but here, being a workshop, it is the place where the great Divine Workman, the Lord, meets those who are to be His workmanship in order to have an understanding with them. Before He can begin His work upon them, He must have an understanding with them on certain matters. Now you must follow this very closely, it is very important. If we miss this, we are going to be in trouble very soon when the work begins. There must be a basic understanding with us by the Lord before He can really get on with His work.
God's Method of Working
Firstly, He will say to us: "I want you to understand that the work is not going to be pleasant to your natural life. In here, when I get to work, you will not find it always easy. Indeed, you will, in your own flesh, find it often very difficult indeed. You will even often feel like running away, getting out of this workshop, taking yourself out of My hands, and saying, 'I have had enough of that, I cannot stand any more of it.' Understand that that will be so from time to time. If you will settle that, and if you will accept that before we begin, we will be able to get on very much better, so that when those times come and you feel bad about it, you will remember that I told you and at the beginning we had that understanding."
You know quite well that that is only one way of putting other things that we have in the New Testament. The Lord Jesus warned those who were His would-be disciples that they were really in for trouble and difficulty if they came with Him. The Lord is very faithful at the outset and must have this understanding, because He knows that He will not be able to get on unless it has been accepted from the beginning.
Then He will say, "You do understand, do you not, the necessity for this work, the necessity for all that is going to take place? You understand that human nature and human life is all in disorder, all wrong, it is all mixed up, and some very drastic work upon human life is a necessity. It is very necessary for Me to do things that are not going to be pleasant if we together are going through to the realisation of that great purpose. You see, because human life, human nature, is so twisted and mixed up and so other than I meant it to be, there will always be an element of correction in My dealings with you; there will always be an element of reproof, putting right. Are you prepared to be put right? If you are always going to be right and putting Me in the wrong, we shall not get on very far. If you are from time to time going to think that I do not know what I am doing, that I am wrong, I am not doing the right thing, or I am not doing it in the right way, which means that you know better than I do, then I shall have to stop, we shall not be able to go on. Do you understand and do you accept that?"
It is a very serious talk He is having with us in His little ante-room before He starts work. If we get these things settled at the beginning, a lot of trouble will be saved later on.
God Deals With Us As Accepted Ones
But then He will say another thing to us, a tremendously important and helpful thing. When He has said, "I want you to understand how necessary it is for Me to correct the wrong, to reprove, but there is another thing that will always make it very difficult for Me to go on, and that is for you to give too much place to the ideas of condemnation, judgment and disapproval. While recognising the need for correction and reproof, if you exaggerate that or make too much of that, you will make it exceedingly difficult for Me; again I shall find it necessary to stop." He will say some things must be settled before we start and one is that you are a forgiven person, "I am not dealing with you now as with the world. I am dealing with you as a child of God, and as a child of God you are a forgiven person. Remember that My forgiveness has gone through all tenses, past, present and future, and it has gone into all realms of conscious and unconscious sin. I know a great deal about your sin and sinfulness, and I have not only forgiven you for what you know to be wrong; I have forgiven you all that is true about you that is wrong that I know, and you do not." You know the Old Testament provision in the sacrifices was for unconscious sin as well as known sin. If he shall sin unconsciously, unwillingly, unintentionally, there is a provision. The cross takes sin in its entirety and you must understand that you are forgiven, "Just as far as My forgiveness goes, you are a forgiven sinner, and therefore you must not continually raise this question when I am dealing with you in a hard way saying, 'It is because of my sin.' You bring that up and the machine stops. We shall have to keep everything in suspense until you have got on the ground of 'no condemnation'. Moreover, you are accepted. You came in through that door 'called according to His purpose'. You are coming in as a called one, you heard the call, you responded to the call, you came, you are accepted. If you constantly raise a question about your acceptance, the work is hindered. No, you are accepted! Further, you must understand that inside here it is all grace. It is under grace, not the condemnation of law, not judgment, inside here it is all grace, I am doing everything on the basis of grace. Do you understand that? That is favour without your meriting it. Settle that and we will get on. You are going to have bad times, but remember grace is governing. And then do understand that all that I am going to do with you, although it will often seem altogether to the contrary, is going to be constructive. I am working on the constructive basis. I am not out to annihilate you, to destroy you, or to bring you to nothingness. I am out to make a glorious thing of you and everything is governed by a constructiveness of intention."
The interview stops there. Well, what about it? He will say to us, "Are you clear on all that, do you consent to all that, do you accept all that? Is that settled?" We say, "Yes, Lord, by grace we will seek to keep there about it all". "Very well," He says, "now we can get to work".
And we come next to God's starting-point, which includes all that we have said, for all His work with us and in us is in a phrase used by the apostle Paul about himself: "a man in Christ" (2 Cor. 12:2). We are supposed, at this point, to be in Christ. That means two things. Christ is our sphere and God is doing everything with us as centred in Christ, not apart from Christ. That will settle quite a lot of these other questions. Accepted, yes, but in the Beloved, that is, in Christ (Eph 1:6). Christ becomes to God everything for us, and from God to us. He is our world.
That means also that Christ is God's pattern and we are in Christ as God's pattern to be conformed to Christ. God is doing everything in relation to His Son. Christ is our realm and Christ is our mould.
Now you see first of all, if you and I are in Christ, God is utterly committed to His Son, and everything that He does with us is going to affect His Son, His Son's honour, His Son's glory, His rights of inheritance. That is why we say "for Jesus' sake, for Christ's sake". It is the ground of appeal. Not for our sake, but for His sake, and the Father at once recognises that His Son has a right above all others, a right to His attention, His care, everything is for His Son's sake. We are in Christ. It is very blessed and very important. 'A man in Christ'. So that what God does with him He is not only doing with him, He is doing to His Son. The Father does not need to be kept right, of course, or righteous, but if He did need to be, Christ would keep Him right because He has merited, He has paid the price for everything, not for Himself, but for us.
Then the Father is looking on the Son as the well-beloved, the One of perfect satisfaction, and if we are in Christ He is going to make us Christ-like, conform us to His image, so that at last He will be as satisfied with us as He is with His Son. We are in Christ. That is God's starting-point. Christ is our sphere and Christ is God's pattern to which He is working. And that means three things: we are positioned, we are given a position in Christ, we are provided for in Christ. Everything required for this work to be perfected, through all the difficulties and all the suffering, is provided for in Christ. We touch that again in another way presently. Positioned, provided for, conformed to Christ.
The Material upon which God Works
Now we turn to the material that God takes up and upon which He is going to work. One great word comes in at that point where the material is concerned, and that word is redemption or redeemed. It is material that is redeemed. That means, of course, that it has been lost, it has been worthless, it has been out of the way of Divine purpose. It has been altogether in another realm and of another kind, going in another direction, and from all that it has been redeemed.
It is redeemed material, but redemption has two aspects. It is redeemed from. The words of the Psalmist are perhaps the best for describing that. "He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay" (Psa. 40:2). That is redemption - redeemed from a horrible pit, from mire.
And redemption is not only from, it is unto. We are redeemed unto the great purpose of God. It is redeemed material.
(Here three objects are introduced: a block of very rough wood; a piece of the same wood partly moulded; and a candlestick of plain wood brightly painted).
I am going to treat you as children and take an object lesson. I have here a very poor piece of wood. Some of you, with myself, will be quite prepared to admit that we are no better than that in ourselves. If we did not think so at the beginning, we have come to think that way as we have gone on. There is nothing of glory or worth in that piece of wood, and we would say nothing of possibility. Let us remember that. That is the beginning. Whether we do or whether we do not regard ourselves as being such very poor worthless stuff in ourselves, God knows that we are and has made it perfectly clear that we are very poor stuff. "Thou worm, Jacob" (Isa. 41:14), and some of us are quite prepared to accept that, and that "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6). We could just pile it on - what God knows us to be in ourselves as we are. Remember that although the material may be ever so poor and worthless, may be just as poor and weak and wretched as anything can be, it is therefore neither condemned nor rejected by God. We have been perhaps taking a very disparaging attitude toward that. You are a poor sort of thing like this piece of wood: ugly, dirty, cracked! Of what good are you? You can say all that you can that is derogatory to us and it is true, but it is neither condemned nor rejected by God. If for that reason God were to reject or condemn, grace ceases to be grace. It is neither condemned nor rejected by God. To one who was being despised by the self-righteous, the Lord Jesus said, without making light of her sinfulness - "Neither do I condemn thee" (John 8:11). There is no condemnation, and the poverty of the material does not mean that the Lord throws it aside and says, "That is worth nothing, I can do nothing with that."
Now then, He takes it into the workshop and onto His wheel. I have a little workshop, and I took the other half of this piece of wood and put it onto my lathe and got to work, and this is the result. Compare the two. What did I find? That when I put the block on and started to work, all unsuspectedly beautiful things came out? That I found it was much more worthwhile than I had thought? No, all the worthlessness began to come out. Really, I began to discover that there was more that was worthless than I thought. All its weaknesses and flaws came out when I put the tool on that swiftly whirling block, it began to show up, and I had endless trouble, and I have given it up. Why? Because when I put the tool on, I found it was too soft to work, it went to pieces almost every time I put the tool on it. It would not stand up to it. Oh, how much reducing I have had to do because the thing would not stand up to it! It broke down, it splintered, it was too soft.
It does not serve the purpose for which I meant it. I had something in my mind that I was trying to get into that piece of wood. I had in my mind something that was needed for a purpose, but I could not make it because of the wood; it was too soft. But then I also came up against something that was too hard, and it broke the point off my instrument, it would not yield. On the one side it was yielding too easily, on the other side it had something that would not yield, and so at length I had to put it away; it is of no use.
However the analogy breaks down (analogies always do break down) you have to admit two other things into this workshop. One is, supposing the wood had a will to choose; instead of being just a piece of dead wood it had a will so that it could choose what it would do. We are such. God is not just dealing with us as bits of wood, or stone, or even clay. We have a will. But then, even so, another factor must come in. Supposing there are extra resources at our disposal, that if in ourselves we are too soft, there is strength that we can take, or too hard and there is something that can get rid of the hardness. Supposing there are those extra resources and we have a will to take those resources. That changes the whole situation. And that is how it is in the workshop of God. There are extra resources: there is strength, there is grace. If we are in ourselves too weak, if we cannot stand up to it, if we are too soft, if we break down every time the Lord tries to do something with us, what is the solution? Are you going to say, "That is how we are made, we are too weak, the Lord will never be able to do anything with us"? Supposing the Lord answers, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for My power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). "You can choose My strength in your weakness and we will get through". There are the extra resources. Are you going to choose, to use your will over this?
It is just at that point that we pass from something that is only a parable to the spiritual reality.
The Lord's Covering of Poor Material
What shall we do with this piece of wood? We could paint it. If I put two or three coats of nice bright lustrous enamel on this, it will be acceptable, you would be surprised. Well, would it? This candlestick does not look too bad. It depends on who paints it. If we begin to paint ourselves and cover up what we are by putting a cloak of righteousness on ourselves, the Lord does not believe in make-believe, (I was going to say make-up), He knows what is underneath and it will not pass with the Lord. It might pass with the world, it looks very nice, but I know the value of that. It is not worth anything. It is just something exceedingly poor, covered over with artificial goodness and false righteousness. That is one side of the Bible. The Maker knows. He knows all about us, He knows all about our pretences, all our make-believe, all our make-up. It does not pass. Sooner or later, if He gets hold of us, He will strip us of all that. He stripped Saul of Tarsus of it all, but that is only one side.
Supposing it is the Lord Who puts the paint on, and says, "Yes, I know all that you are in yourself, how poor, how weak, how faulty, but I cover you with My righteousness, I put on you the garment of righteousness and the garment of beauty. It is not yours; it is what I give you." We will always know what we are in ourselves; we know what is underneath. There is no room for boasting, pride, flaunting ourselves, and making believe that we are something. We know differently. We know it is all of grace. But is it not wonderful that that is just what the Lord does? We are still the same in ourselves as ever, poor stuff. We could not stand up to anything if we were left alone, and yet we are clothed with all the righteousness and all the grace and all the glory of Christ. It depends on who puts the paint on, whether we are putting it on ourselves or whether the Lord puts it on, and the Lord, by covering and hiding, and putting His beauty and glory on us, can make something very beautiful of what is otherwise very ugly and very worthless.
Vessels meet for the Master's use, prepared unto good work, called according to His purpose, His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works.