God's Workshop
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5 - Vessels of Service

Reading: 1 Chron. 28:11-19; 1 Cor. 1:29-31; 2 Cor. 10:17-18.

The fragment from the passage in Chronicles which we will underline is the end of verse 13 - "all the vessels of service in the house of the Lord".

I may say again that we are using simple objects from a very ordinary workshop, with which we may be familiar, as illustrating these lessons. I am not suggesting that the objects used are anything at all in keeping with the chapters that we read, but they will help us to learn some of these lessons. Some of you will remember that right at the beginning we had something like that piece of wood before us, which no one will think is very elegant or beautiful, precious, valuable, or promising. I expect if you had it, you would probably think the best thing to do with it would be to throw it on the fire. It would at least serve a purpose there for a few minutes, and that would be its value altogether. It is nothing worthy in itself. And then I showed you what was attempted with a piece of wood like that which was only another section from the same piece, sawn off from there. I showed you what was attempted with it, seeking to draw the lesson that God Who knows us, if left to ourselves, without His grace, His mercy, His care and patience and interest, without any Divine purpose, would never take us up at all. He would just ignore us, perhaps thrust us aside, and say, "Well, that is worth nothing, I can do nothing with that." But God Who knows us and of what little value we are in that heavenly realm, in that house of God, apart from His infinite mercy and grace, never does throw any person aside. He never does refuse the poorest piece of human stuff. He does not do what we do with people - say they are not worth much, and just thrust them on one side.

And so with that first lesson in my own heart, I said, "Let us see if something cannot be made of this", and I showed you the result of the first attempt upon that piece of very common, poor wood. I told you of the trouble it gave, how at one time it was too soft and went to pieces, another time found something hard in it which upset everything. It is strange that so often the people who are the most morally weak are the most stubborn. They think that their stubbornness is strength of character, but it is nothing of the kind. Stubbornness and strength are two different things. That wood showed that kind of character. But we proceeded, and found we got into considerable difficulty, and so for a time it was put on one side. The Lord does not do that, but I did, to think it out, and to see if something else could really not be done, and that piece of wood worried me. I had started on something and laid it down. There it was, and I could not forget it, it was a challenge, "You started something, you ought to go through with it until you find the thing absolutely impossible." And so I had to come back again. There is no need for me to interpret as I go along. All I am saying is a lesson. I had to come back and take it up again. You remember I went further than that with it.

The Vessel Owes Everything to Another

I am going to show you the result of that unpromising thing, that which had no virtues of its own whatever. Here it is [a wooden lamp]. No one is to laugh and no one is to frown or criticise! That was the piece of wood. We have our lesson. That naturally unlovely, unprofitable block of humanity had the tools applied, some shaping was done, some dressing was put on it, and some adornment was added to it, and it serves a purpose. It stands on a little table. In the dark it serves a great purpose. It shines away. It is not unpleasant to look at. It is doing some useful service. Why? Well, you see, it owes everything to another. That is the lesson. It has nothing in itself. Its own nature will not bear looking into, it is a very good thing that all that is covered up. But because it is covered up, it is given a covering, what it is in itself is hidden, and something that is given to it is seen, and it is adorned with such adornments as it has, which are not its own at all. They have not come from the inside; they have come from another. Shall we say that it owes everything to its master. If I am allowed (for the sake of pressing the lesson) to put it this way: the thing was pitied, the thing became an object of compassion and grace, and then of patience and perseverance, hope, faith, much worth, and some disappointments. But at last, through that vision for it, which was not a vision of its own, for it could never have had such a vision of its own, the vision of another for it, and the master doing everything for it, it was at last brought into contact with the great source of life and light. And all that is needed, of course, is just for the current to be on and the light is there. It is linked up with something not its own, not in itself. It owes everything to another. It has nothing whatever of its own, "That no flesh should glory in His presence" (1 Cor. 1:29). "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord" (1 Cor. 1:31).

And is not that the Gospel in its simple, elementary aspects? We do know that the more we know ourselves, the more prepared we are to take the place of that very ordinary, worthless piece of stuff, and we know more and more that if He does not cover us and hide us, there is not much hope for us. But we do know that there is a wonderful covering, "Bring forth quickly the best robe, and put it on him" (Luke 25:22). The Lord is always seeking to cover the nakedness of our worthless lives with His own merits, His own values, so that He may show forth His excellencies, His light and His Life through us.

The Vessel to Proclaim the Life of Another

But there is another thing about this. You could bring in the most valuable lampstand that this world possesses, whether it were made of ivory or gold, or set with all the precious stones worth countless pounds, bring it in here and put it alongside of this one, and it will give no better light than that. Though it may reflect the light a little better, the light itself is of no better quality. It all comes from the same source. This ought to encourage us. We so often think of better vessels. I may talk about the other side in a minute. "If only I were better stuff, if I were made on a better principle, if only I were worth something, how much better service I could do, what a much better light I could give!" You could not. It is the same light, whatever the vessel is. The cheapest, poorest vessel has to draw upon the Electricity Board just the same. There is no special Electricity Board for a better kind of lamp. It is just the same. And we, however imperfect we may be in ourselves, however deficient of personal merit, can bear the light which is the supreme quality light, the light of the Lord, the light other than which there is no better. It is the same light. So many of us have received the Life and the Light by means of very ordinary vessels who could make no claims for any merit in themselves, but had to say, "It is all the grace of God; as for me, it would have gone ill with me but for the grace of God", and that is the testimony after all. And so that poor old thing, that old painted thing, has a very soft place in my heart. Better things have been made, but that is there. It has spoken, and it has spoken in its poor little way, this imperfect way, nevertheless very definitely and very loudly it has spoken of what the grace of God will do with a very poor piece of material, and I do not know about you, but I need the Lord to talk to me like that continually.

The point after all is this, that the function of that lamp is not to proclaim itself, is not to proclaim its own merits, its own virtues. It is to proclaim the life and the light, the patience, the forbearance, the continuance, the constancy of another. Well, that is where we are to begin with. We should count for nothing if the Lord did not cover us up and hide us, and that in Himself, the so much better One.

The Same Treatment for Both Good and Bad Wood

But I am going to pass to another side of this matter with another object. Here is this [visual aid descriptions are missing]. Some of you have seen that before. How many of you here have been to Kilcreggan, and you saw that as a piece of the cedar tree in front of the house. Well, like that it does not look very much. I brought it home, and took its companion length and put it on the machine, and eventually I will polish it. I did not have time to complete the lamp-stand, but there is the beginning of it. This is a piece of wood that has a lot of qualities; as you can see. It really has a lot of qualities in it, not like the other one with none. The other one, looking at the cedar, might say, "If only I were like you". As we say, "If only I was like so-and-so. They have a different nature, a different disposition, different temperament, different make-up, from what I have. They have chances that I never had; their home and their upbringing and their education and everything ministered to their being something worthwhile." You have argued like that, perhaps, sometimes. It is perfectly true that as one wood differs from another, so we differ one from another in those natural qualities, shall we call them "virtues" (I do not know that we can call them virtues, but there they are). But are we, after all, right in drawing a conclusion and saying, "Well, you have a right to expect something of so-and-so, of such people; you have no right to expect that of me, I am not made as they are." That is natural argument.

You see, although you may think that there are wonderful qualities hidden in this, first of all, you would not like that on your table like that; you would not think that that is a beautiful object. Just as much as the other, the work had to be done on it. First of all, it had to be stripped, and there is no vessel ever used or formed by the Lord that is not first of all stripped. Oh no, this does not get in any more easily than the other, without some very real work, first of all stripping, and then the first shaping; the corners have got to go. It does not look as though it has any corners, but it has to have corners before we can do anything with it. You have first of all to work it down to a square and then take the corners off, and you find you have more corners, and all the corners have to be shaved off to make it a complete round. And that is true of every piece of material, good or bad. And good people have corners, you know. The fact is that when we come into the realm of heavenly things, our best natural life will not stand up to it. Corners are discovered which were unsuspected. You find very often very good people, nice people in the business world, but bring them into the house of God under spiritual tests, and they can be as difficult as anyone else. Something comes up then that is just not going to yield. Indeed, very often those people have bigger battles than those who have no self-sufficiency. So the cedar has to go the same way as the piece of common, plain wood; it has to be stripped, shaped, worked down. You can see the difference in the diameter of these two. How much working down to get it to that, reducing. Do you know anything about being reduced? And you know what the workshop of God is in your reducing. It is not always that romantic workshop of the earth. Sometimes it is a kitchen, the sandpaper of an awkward person at your side, a difficult home, a difficult business, or even difficulties in the assembly, bringing us down, reducing us, and the cedar has to be reduced and brought down just as much as anything else.

But you know, when I put that on the wheel, and started going on some fifteen hundred revolutions to the minute, it did not like it. It flew off the wheel. Someone outside heard and said, "Everybody alive in there?" It was not going to put up with this. A lot of people do that. Perhaps we have all done it when the Lord has started on us, and the cedar does it just as much as anything else. The wood with the good qualities does that sort of thing, just as the worthless thing. It flew off the wheel, and had to be looked for in its hiding-place and brought out again and put back. Have you run away from the Lord, ever taken yourself out of the Lord's hands? Is your name John Mark? We are all like that, good, bad and indifferent. I am trying to make this point, that whatever may be the quality of the thing itself, it has to go the same way as anything else, and it will never be anything in the house of God until it has gone the way of all the others. The same kind of work has got to be done. It was reduced, and treated and polished, and it would have been nothing for its purpose unless that had been so.

Now again, I am holding this [visual aids are missing] at a distance, perhaps you can see a black line running down there. What was that? It's cleft asunder. I came down two mornings after I had gone that far, and found a gap in it. You see what happens to unseasoned wood. The Lord never does use unseasoned wood. He always sees to it that when He brings vessels really into their purpose, they have been really seasoned, and this beautiful thing needed seasoning just as much as anything else. I am not going back to repeat all I said about the work of seasoning, the time that it takes to season a piece of wood, and all the elements that have to be brought to play upon it. The point is that the cedar, as much as anything else, has to be seasoned. There is a real tragedy in what is called Christian work. Sometime ago I told you of a leader, the head of a great missionary society, who told me that fifty percent of the missionaries who went out with their society never returned to the field after their first furlough. One of every two did not go back; they were broken, finished. A little book in India has just been published in which we are told that sixty-five percent of all missionaries never returned to the field after their first period on the field. They cannot go on with it; they are broken, finished. They have not got it in them. Now, what do you think about that? That is a terrible tragedy. I am not only speaking about missionaries. What do you think they feel about it?

Here is this wood, and I do not know what I am going to do with it. I may be able to do something with it, but I will never eliminate that scar. It will always be there, and if it were sensible, it will always know the scar of a breakdown, because it was brought into position before its time. It was called upon, or as things are now, gave itself to something for which it was not really prepared of God.

Now, what is the point? Do you not think that the Lord is really justified in seeing to it that we are thoroughly seasoned, that really a deep work is done? Do you think it is to the glory of God, any pleasure to the Lord, or even right, that servants of His should break down in the very first period of service, and be unable to go on after that, and have in themselves the sense forevermore of, "I broke down on the field"? That is terrible. Therefore ought not the Lord to take infinite pains to get His wood seasoned to do the deep work that will make that instrument, that vessel, able to stand up to things? The tragedy and the trouble with so many of us is our lack of stamina. We are moved too easily; we are carried away too easily. We are so easily put off, people begin to talk to us and we listen. And the Lord is wanting men and women who are immovable, steadfast, always abounding in the work of the Lord, not for a first period, but always; men and women of real stamina, endurance. And does not the New Testament again and again bring its emphasis down upon that? "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast" (1 Cor. 15:58). Steadfastness is a great New Testament virtue. You just will not crack up and crack open too soon. If the Lord has things in His hands, He does not do what we do. I tried it out, and discovered that even in the best, the seasoning is necessary. Whatever it is, however good may be its natural qualities, it just cannot get through without that work of patience that is represented by the seasoning. And if the Lord gets His hand upon us, He is going to season us, and do you not think that that may be the reason why it goes on so long? Some of us are near the end of our course. We have not much longer to go here on this earth in our service, but we are still being seasoned. We are not seasoned yet; we are still capable of cracking, still capable of breaking down.

What does it mean? Oh, the Lord is preparing vessels for eternity, for a heavenly house. And so our whole lifetime, from one standpoint, while there may be usefulness and service, is a preparation for eternal service in that heavenly house. The Lord is going to do a very thorough work, and it seems to me that the process of seasoning intensifies as time goes on. That is the deepening work in us to make us able to stand up to things to the end, to go right through. That is what the Lord would have, and oh, what a lot of ways He employs to do that! He just does expose us to all the elements. He does test us. May it not be that every test that comes our way in the thought of God is meant to produce stamina? It challenges us, first of all, to stand and withstand, and having done all, to stand (Eph. 6:13). The grace of God drawn upon in the intensifying trial puts stamina in to go through to the last mighty victory. "And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death" (Rev. 12:11). "Be thou faithful unto death" (Rev. 2:10). It is this faithfulness in us that the Lord is trying to produce, and not allow for breakdowns.

The Wood Has To Be Brought into the House

Well, where does that bring us? Even with such a piece as this, all that is necessary. And after all, it is not so much different from the other. Of course I could take another line of argument were I disposed to, but we leave that other line about materials and their different kinds, their different make-up and qualities naturally, but let us come to this, that even this has got to be brought from the wild, and for its real justification in life (that is, a vocation, a real vocation) it has to be brought into the house. It may be very nice to be a piece of tree growing out there. It goes on through the years. Perhaps it is better to come into the house to give light and life in the house. Well, at any rate, whatever you may argue about a tree, that is what the Lord intends in the building of this house. The word was, "Go up to the mountain and bring wood", redeem, bring into purpose, bring it into the house. You know the meaning of that message. Our real value is not in growing wild or being out there somewhere. Our real value is in the house of God. That is where God has appointed that we shall fulfil our vocation.

An Appointed Place

Then perhaps there is just this extra factor of finding its own place in the house, a place appointed for it. We bring in a thing like that, we usually put it in a place where it more or less always stays; that is its place in the house. You expect to find it there. And the Lord wants to bring us in and put us into our place in the house, and He would say that every vessel in the house has its own place. Read again that list of vessels. Every one had not only its own function, but also its own place. It was related to something else, it was connected, it was placed, and that is where it was expected to be found. If there were snuffers for the light, you did not expect to find them in the court, you expected to find them near the light. We may not always be able to say for ourselves what it is, but in His ordering the Lord has a place, and if we really move in the Spirit, we shall find ourselves being moved into a place in the house. There has to be adjustment in the house. This becomes our place, our function, our connection, our relationship. It has to come into the house, and it has to be appointed in the house.

The Supply of the Spirit

And then, just like the other, it has to be supplied with all the means of service. They are not in itself, the supply has to come from somewhere else, the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, Paul called it. Now, we all know that whatever may be the natural calibre or qualities, abilities or disabilities, the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ is equally necessary for all, but equally available for all. Thank God there are no favourites in the house of God, there are no favourites in His treatment, in His methods. Because this is better wood naturally than that, it is not going to have better treatment than that. There is no favouritism, it is all the same.

You remember we started by saying that one thing that covered it all was fellowship with God in His dissatisfaction with anything less than His full mind. That must govern us. It is negative, I know, but it must govern us, that we can never be satisfied with anything less than God's full thought.

Now I close at this point with this: the positive aspect of that same thing is that we must be in perfect fellowship with God in His object and His way of reaching it. We must agree. You think that you are being taken by a wrong, unfair, cruel way, a way that raises questions about His love. Believe me, as one who has had to fight out that battle many times through the years, this is true of God: He is taking a way with you and with me which is the only way, seeing we are what we are; He is taking the right way. He would not reach His end by any other way with us. It is not exactly standardised for all people, but it is particular. He is dealing with us particularly, and He is dealing with us according to His own knowledge, and that is the only way in which His end can be reached where you and I personally are concerned. We are going to admit that one day when we are fully in the light. We shall say, "I thought it a strange, hard, unfair way, I thought God was not dealing with me as kindly as He might have done, but now I see that was the only way in which He could reach His end in my case." We must be one with Him in faith as to His object and as to His way of reaching it.

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