"A vessel unto honour, sanctified, meet for the master's use, prepared unto every good work" (2 Tim. 2:21).
"That He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He afore prepared unto glory" (Rom. 9:23).
What we are concerned with is God's forming of vessels. God is forming, or seeking to form, vessels. The one great vessel, of course, is the church as a whole. That, as we have pointed out before, is the comprehensive and inclusive vessel of the ultimate glory - "Glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever" (Eph. 3:21). Within the church as a whole there are the churches, and these are represented also as vessels, lampstands, each respectively being a lampstand, something formed, a vessel, a light bearer, a Life bearer. A local company is as much in the workshop of God and on the machine of God as anything else is. Do understand that the Lord is concerned with a company or with companies. Many of you are bound up with the company here, some of you with other companies of the Lord's people in other places, but remember the company is a vessel or an intended vessel. The Lord is dealing with that as not so many individuals and not only as a part of some greater whole, but as some local collective vessel, dealing with it on the great principles of a vessel for His glory.
Within the local company, as within the church as a whole, there are individuals. They are each one meant to be vessels wrought by God to serve Him. The Lord's object is not just that we should know a lot, His object is that we should serve a lot, and the individual is dealt with not in the light of knowing a lot, but in the light of serving the Lord. We may have to adjust our minds as to what service is. Ultimately service is the manifestation to His glory, to show forth the excellencies of Him. However that may be done is with the Lord. But service is the object of the individual.
And then there are various other kinds of vessels. There are the vessels of particular ministry, different ones called, foreknown of God, foreordained of God, to fulfil particular ministries, and they come onto this bench, onto this machine of God in particular ways. And let me say any two being brought together as a vessel in marriage, have to have particular dealings of the Lord with them to be that united vessel to serve the Lord. God desires to form vessels, and the governing idea is vocation, service.
God's Beginning - a Sense of Dissatisfaction
Now, how does God begin with us? God does not begin objectively; that is, outside. God begins inwardly, subjectively. And what is the first thing that indicates that God is making a beginning? It is the introducing into us, as His own people, of a sense of His own dissatisfaction. Every move of God in history has begun that way. Those concerned, for whatever purpose they may have been called, have become aware of some real dissatisfaction in their hearts, dissatisfaction maybe with themselves, with conditions as they are, but some deep sense of dissatisfaction. I am not talking about malcontents, the people who are always 'against the government' and who can never be satisfied with anything, always criticising and finding fault, no matter what you do. They are just the contrary to what I am talking about. I am talking about a Divine discontent which approves everything that is good and excellent, makes the most of the least that there is of the Lord. Such people say, "This cannot be all that the Lord wants; I sense the Lord wants more than this. This is either less than what the Lord wants, or it is altogether other than what the Lord wants." This is a mighty working of this something inside that never allows you to settle down with the mediocre.
The apostle Paul, who speaks so much as a chosen vessel concerning vessels, was the most vehement enemy of anything mediocre. He would never accept anything less than the uttermost for God. There was something in him. Look at all that he had by inheritance, by Judaism and his natural life. He said, "I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." "I count them as refuse in comparison" (Phil 3:8). Here is a man in whose being there has been inculcated this dissatisfaction of God, and we shall never get anywhere with the Lord and the Lord will never get anywhere with us if we are easily contented with the spiritual life, easily contented with something quite good and take that as the best. This is the thing that moved the men of God of old. It was this mighty impulse of God's dissatisfaction that extricated Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans. He became aware that God was not accepting that world and that condition. God was after something more, and whether God appeared to him visibly or not is not the point. It was what came into his soul and what remained in his soul. And what was the mightiest force at work within him? It was, on the one hand, dissatisfaction with things as they were spiritually in this world. On the other hand, a sense that God meant more than this, and he was called to it. That is the beginning point with God, a oneness with Him in His Divine, His holy dissatisfaction. This, surely, is the essence of conviction of sin, which is a rising up within of this sense that things are not right, are not as they should be, and that God is not in this. Conviction of sin is Divine dissatisfaction.
The Will of God
Now the next thing. The will of God, which is the principle of this dissatisfaction; it is only giving it a phrase. What is this sense of discontent, dissatisfaction, this restlessness that has come into me so that I cannot settle down? Put into a phrase: it is the will of God, "Who works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph. 1:11). God's will has got hold of you; you have been apprehended unto the will of God.
The Will of God a Battleground
But then the will of God becomes a tremendous battleground. The will of God is always a battleground. It is always the ground of painful discipline, because by nature we do not accept the will of God, we do not fall easily into line with the will of God. The will of God for us inside ourselves is a battleground. It was with Abraham, it was with Moses, it has been with all the vessels, small and great. The will of God is a battleground, a tremendous victory to be gained, a real ground of discipline, a breaking down.
The Will of God Focused in the Cross
Therefore, thirdly, the will of God finds its focus, its strength, and its fulness in the cross. We see that with the Lord Jesus. He came to do the will of His Father. He did the will of His Father all through His life, but then He found that will focused on, and came to fulness in, the cross. The final, inclusive, immense triumph of the will of God for Him was when from the Garden of Gethsemane He approached and accepted the cross. That is the setting of the workshop.
The Cross the Dead Centre
Now the object lesson. I want you to imagine that what is on the board is the end of a piece of wood. That piece of wood would go onto the machine, and all the work would be done on it as it revolved swiftly on the machine. We are going to watch the first stages of the operation upon this material. We must remember we are the material with which God is working. Diagram No. 1 is just a square block of wood. It has come into the workshop in that form, nothing has been done upon it in the workshop at all. You and I are brought in, having been redeemed, recovered from our lost state, brought from the dark forest of sin and chaos and ruin, brought into God's workshop of His mercy, to be vessels of mercy, of His grace, under the working of His grace.
Now, what is the first thing that has to take place when the Divine Workman gets to work upon this piece of material? Well now, I am speaking, of course, according to the technique of any craftsman in wood of this kind. The first thing that the craftsman will do before he can put that piece of material on his lathe will be to find the dead centre, and so he just draws these diagonal lines from corner to corner and where those lines cross he finds his dead centre. He will do that at both ends of the piece of wood. He must find his dead centre. He is going to inscribe a circle, but that circle will be inscribed from the dead centre. The workman will place the point of his instrument upon the dead centre, and that is tremendously important. A very great deal of trouble is going to be saved by finding the dead centre. If he should be off the centre a little bit and fasten that wood into his machine according to the centre, for ever afterwards there will be something crooked in that work. It will always be wobbly, always out of the straight, and it will mean that he will have to cut and cut very much more deeply because one side will be bulgy, and he has to cut off all the bulge, and that means loss of time and material before he can begin to develop the thing upon which he is working. So it is important to avoid all crookedness and wobbliness. There are a lot of wobbly Christians about, a lot of Christians with bulges. I am speaking metaphorically! This work has got to stand in the light of eternity, no matter what its use is going to be. And this Workman will make no mistake about this point. It is an undisciplined workman, an inexperienced workman, who is careless about the dead centre.
What do I mean by that? Right on the heart, the centre is a cross. The Lord is going to put the cross right at the very centre and heart of our being and work only from that, and it is not until the cross of the Lord Jesus has got right to the centre and heart of everything for us, to be the central pivot and governing point of everything, that God can really get on with His work. These wobbly, bulgy Christians, and these Christians who are such poor expressions of the thought of God are very largely such because the cross is not right at the centre. A great deal of work for God is unbalanced and crooked because the cross is not right at the centre; this is the very foundation of everything. Sooner or later, in order that the vessel might take shape, begin to come into use, you have to come to the place where the cross rules and governs everything, where it is "no longer I, but Christ", "I have been crucified with Christ" (Gal. 2:20). The dead centre of the cross is right there, not the cross out of the centre in some department. We must not say, "Yes, I will accept the cross here, but not altogether, I am quite prepared to surrender certain things to the cross, but not this and not that". We will be bulgy Christians and crooked Christians if there is anything like that. It has to have that place of absolute centrality in the whole of the kingdom and universe of our lives, of our interests, of ourselves. Nothing will go straight unless the centre is right.
The Circle of the Will of God
Then from that centre, seeing the cross is planted there, God draws a circle, and that circle is the circle of the will of God centred in and governed by the cross. And when that circle is drawn, we have discovered the work that has to be done. We now see something of what is necessary if that circle of the will of God is to be all, everything, and nothing else. It has revealed what has got to be dealt with. Put the cross at the centre, draw the circle of the will of God in the life, and you begin to realise what it is necessary for the Lord to do. The circle reveals the basic work to be done.
Corners Dealt With
What is the first thing that it reveals? It reveals four main corners to come off. The Lord begins to deal with our corners. Get into the will of God under the government of the cross, and the corners are the issue. We often speak glibly about having the corners knocked off, but oh, this dealing with the corners is not a pleasant thing at all! We come into the workshop of God with a lot of corners.
When we do really understand the meaning of the cross as set up in the centre of our lives, then to begin with there are these four major corners to be dealt with. I wonder what they are? I think that perhaps it would be almost better if I did not mention them because different people have different kinds of corners, but I think I could say this without being far from the truth. These four corners represent four major aspects of the self-life. It is the self-life sticking out all the time, in different ways sticking out, and not in conformity to the will of God. The cross has got to deal with the self-life. What might it be? Self-will - that is a big corner, and self-will includes a great deal: self-strength, self-determination, self-assertiveness, self on that strong side. It is a big corner and it very often takes a lot of dealing with and it has to come off. To put it in another way, self-will has got to be broken and subdued and subjugated to the will of God, to the cross of the Lord Jesus. The cross of the Lord Jesus represents the end of self-will.
Let us be very faithful with one another about this. We are talking so largely from experience. We know it to be true in our own case and in the case of many others that as usable vessels, vessels meet for the Master's use, many are in a suspended state and an exceedingly limited state because of this strength of self-will. Their wills have never been broken into the will of God. They have never been subdued and subjugated under the cross. It is the tragedy of unusable vessels because of this corner which will not be dealt with. The will comes in. God is not dealing with a dead thing.
The second is self-sufficiency which I shall not stop to comment upon. The third is self-interest, how things affect us, a consideration as to how we stand to gain or lose by something, what it matters to us whether the will of the Lord is done in whatever connection the will of God may be applied, or the cross may be applied; a consideration of our own interests. It is a corner that has to be removed. And make the fourth self-pity. Is it not a thing that is so much stronger than we realise? We think of it so very often as some kind of meekness, but really it is self-pity.
So it is possible that these souls of ours should get to a state where we are afraid to lose something by being joyful. Should we be caught smiling or having a good laugh we feel we are going to lose something spiritually, and therefore we will keep a straight face and no one will ever see our face bend. You can get to that state inside that you feel you are going to grieve the Holy Spirit if you do not keep a very strong hold of yourself and always be very solemn. This is artificial spirituality. Do not misunderstand me and think I am talking about frivolity, because that is a form of self-pity. We could enlarge upon that, but here you have the corners and they have got to be dealt with first of all.
But when you have taken off your four main corners, what have you done? You have only made eight corners; it seems like that sometimes. When you get through one big battle, you find you are up against half-a-dozen more. There is no end to this flesh. You congratulate yourself on having got past one big crisis, and you are up against a lot more. It is like that. The flesh has many angles. We are very angular people naturally, with many awkward corners.
But do you see it is constructive? The very way to the glory is the way of self-discovery. The way to God's perfect end is the way of disillusionment as to our own perfections, the discovery of how utterly worse we are than we ever thought. It is the way of the purpose, and do not think that as you come under the hand of the Lord and the Lord is perfecting that which concerns you, that you are going to be able to think better of yourself than you did before. We never shall. The end of it all will be that we wonder if there is the slightest, remotest hint of anything of value in ourselves. Well, it is like that, but we are getting on with the work now.
So we come on this machine, for the Workman is working away, and He will steadily remove all these corners, subdue them until it is all the circle of God's will entirely.
The Lord Uses Vessels in Formation
Now you will have mentally probably caught on a point which is causing you a little difficulty. You are thinking perhaps something like this. Has all this to be done and completed before we can be of any use to the Lord, before we can be a vessel? That is just where illustrations and object lessons break down. The truth is that if we are in the Lord's hands and He is having a way with us, He is being able to go on with His work, the truth is that we are being used proportionately to the work of the cross that is being done in us, proportionately to the triumph of the will of God over us. Two things are going on. He is working on us and at the same time He is using us. And it is a very serious situation for anyone to come to when they try to serve beyond the work of God going on in themselves. There are many who are doing a lot of work in the Lord's Name and there is no work being done in them. The work has stopped in them, there has been no shaping, growing formation, no working of the cross in them for a long time, but they are very busy in the work of the Lord. That is a serious position. The truth is that God works on with His mighty work within, even while He uses. You can see that in any man in the Bible. God never came to an end of His work in a person before He began to use them, but what He did do was to go on with His work while He used them and He kept them all on the lathe even while they were being used.
Well, the clean circle. We shall come there one day. It may not be in this life, it may be more or less in this life, where the angles and corners are dealt with in entirety. I do not think that will ever be perfected in this life, but some get near to the place where there is no kick against the Lord's will in them, where there is no rebellion or revolt, where the Lord's will is everything. We, as all, covet to be there and we all know we are not there. But that is what the Lord is seeking to do, to bring us to that place where there is nothing but His will, and when He does get there He will have the vessel full of glory. The glory is according to the measure of the cross inwrought, according to the measure of the will of God governing our lives. Usefulness in God's sight and according to heaven's standard is just how far you and I are governed by the will of God, which means how far we are wrought upon and within by the cross of the Lord Jesus.
We have got to that point, we have not got to design yet. Of
course, the workman, when he gets the round with all the corners
off, then he does begin his design. But God's design does so often
wait upon a yieldedness to His will, it does wait upon whether He
can have His way with us, whether we have become subject to Him,
to His design. We do not know what is in His mind concerning
design or pattern. But so far I trust we are able to see from what
has been said what God is after, the way of His purpose, the basis
of it and the background of it, and that God can do something with
people who have very big corners and who have almost endless
corners. Sometimes it calls for a lot of pains and a lot of
patience. You see the finished article today. It looks very nice
and you may admire it, but you do not know the pains that lie
behind, the fearful moments because of the reaction of the
material. But God can do something. There is a piece of wood, not
very expensive, elaborate or wonderful. I have another piece
exactly the same measurements cut off from that. It was an
extension of that, which I put onto my machine and it is now a
bedside lamp, and it is serving a purpose. The pattern has been
wrought into it and the light is shining, and that is what we
want. The point I am making is this - God can make something very
beautiful out of something quite ordinary and commonplace with all
its corners and with all the difficulty. And we are going to be
very surprised and are going to worship and wonder in the end that
ever the Lord was able to make anything out of us, and bring us
into any place at all of service and of value to Himself.
Oh, "vessels of mercy which God afore prepared unto glory". I do not think that means that God prepared before they came into existence, but it means that when the glory time comes, they have been prepared before that. You cannot come to glory without preparation and God prepares unto glory and He prepares beforehand; it cannot all be done at the last minute. It is going on all the time, but the great word is mercy, vessels of mercy.