by T. Austin-Sparks
Chapter 7 - Vessels for the Master's Use
Reading: 2 Tim. 2:1-3,20-21; 2 Cor. 4:7; Heb. 2:6-7,9.
The object of the Lord is to secure vessels constituted according to the heavenly pattern, the heavenly vision and revelation, which, being distributed here and there in the earth, especially amongst His own people, shall there represent His mind in greater fullness and be for Him the opportunity of bringing His people into that greater fullness into which He has brought them. We can dismiss immediately the merely official aspect of that. We shall have to strip from ourselves the mentality, the conceptions which have grown up with us, in which perhaps we have been brought up and trained, as to the nature of the Lord's work, that is, as to its organised, systematised, official character, and come simply to the place represented in the New Testament where the Lord led men and women into a knowledge of Himself in a very simple, spontaneous way, and then, just where they were as in His will, met the needs of others. And on the very simply, but very effectual basis of spiritual need being met and Christ being in that way ministered, the Church grew. Such a different way from getting an official appointment and recognition to go somewhere and begin to organise a bit of Christian work, and build up something of a Christian character by means; simple or otherwise.
The Lord had vessels in which there was deposited the heavenly treasure and that - quietly, perhaps slowly, but very deeply - meeting this one and that one through that vessel, until there He had a nucleus of those who, on the basis of their hunger and desire for Himself and coming to satisfaction with Himself, represented Him in a very pure way. That is the New Testament Church.
Paul was an elect vessel. Paul went into this place and that place in the will of God, and tested the whole question of spiritual hunger, and the result of his visit was simply the gathering of spiritually hungry men and women. And then, by the measure of light and revelation given in the midst of that little nucleus, there were those who, having their senses exercised, developed capacity under divine influence for leading others and taking spiritual oversight. Thus the church grew. The basic thing is that of vessels with the heavenly deposit, and out from that the Lord carries on His work in a very beautiful way.
Today it is perfectly clear to anybody who has an eye to see, that that is the need. Two things are quite patent. On the one hand spiritual need is not being met in any real, vital or adequate way by the religious order and system of our time. On the other hand, there is no room for a new Christian organisation. It will simply have the same history as all the others, and it no more will represent God's way than what has been and what is. But there is most definitely and positively a place for a feeding ministry today. To put that another way, there is a hunger amongst the Lord's people for Himself. They may not, many of them, know the nature of their own need, but they very quickly recognise what it is they need when they get the supply. Their response is: "This is what I needed; this is what I have been longing for! I did not know there was such a thing; therefore, I did not know what my need was, but, seeing this, I see this meets something in me of which I have been conscious, but was never able to define".
There may be something of the sovereignty of the Lord in this, for just as Judaism most definitely prepared the way for Christianity, so (not in the absolute will of God, but in the relative will of God) the present order, the historical Christian system, may have prepared the way for the spiritual in our time. That is, it may be being used sovereignly by God to bring about this state of disappointment and need. Be that as it may, it is very difficult indeed to fail to see that everywhere today there are those who are conscious that the need in them is not being met, and they may be fewer than we recognise. Nevertheless, there are those here and there who, if only there were brought to them something more of the Lord than is available, they would leap to it and follow on. For that need, which is universal and worldwide, vessels are necessary. In order to be a vessel of the testimony you need not join an organisation, you need to have no official status for that, you need but the mandate from on high, and that mandate is not given on the basis of preferences, it is given upon the basis of our going on with God. You will get a mandate if you go on with God; that is, you will have a ministry under the seal of the Holy Ghost which nothing can hinder. Men may shut all their doors to you, you may have no opportunity given you by the recognised order of things, but God has His doors which no man can shut, and God's doors are always more important doors than men's.
Study again Ezra, and note the devotion of that man to the Lord and to the Lord's interests. There you get the secret of Ezra's choice. It was what he was toward the Lord. And then you mark through the book of Ezra the phrases which recur constantly of this kind: "the God of heaven", "the hand of our God", and you will notice that divine sovereignty is working in relation to that vessel, so that all other things are subjected to that divine sovereignty toward God's end.
The same thing is true of Nehemiah. See Nehemiah's devotion to the Lord. Read that great prayer at the beginning of the book which bears his name, and then note the predominant phrases and words in that book: "The hand of our God was upon us". How often the word occurs: "According to the good hand of our God upon us". That all worked out in a marvellous ascendency over all that was against; and there was a good deal against! But the work was done, the ministry was fulfilled, and that is all that matters.
It is vessels of that character that are needed, separated unto God, heavenly and spiritual in character, by an opened heaven coming to a growing knowledge of Christ, and standing deliberately and clearly for God's full and pure Testimony: "A vessel unto honour, sanctified, meet for the Master's use, prepared unto every good work". That is set over against vessels unto dishonour. There is a good deal of instruction available to us from the Old Testament in this connection. As to vessels unto dishonour, we think of Saul. Saul, who came into a place of responsibility concerning that which was of God, and who had all the opportunity and all the divine provision for being a vessel unto honour, and the Testimony of the Lord was in his hands. But his story is the story of a vessel unto dishonour. Why was it? You can go back much earlier in Israel's history to get a clue.
Time was when the Lord commanded the making of two silver trumpets, and that these silver trumpets were to be committed to Aaron's sons, the priests. They were to be used for certain purposes. They were to be used for calling a solemn assembly; they were to be used for purposes of counsel and instruction; they were to be used for progress, advance, going forward; they were to be used for Feasts of the Lord; and they were to be used for an alarm, for warfare. All their uses, nevertheless, were to be in the hands or the priests, Aaron's sons. Now priesthood is related to sonship, spiritual maturity, and spiritual maturity as a mark of priesthood and sonship speaks of the utter ruling out of nature, the setting aside of all that is of man by nature.
When you come to Saul you have this statement: "Now Saul blew the trumpet" (1 Sam. 13:3), and if you look at the connection, and take into account the general course of Saul's life, you will see that there were no priestly features behind the blowing of that trumpet. That trumpet all the way through is the Lord's Testimony, or what comes through it. It is the instrument of the Lord's Testimony. It is that by which the knowledge of the Lord comes to His people: the Lord's will, the Lord's way, the Lord's time, and everything that belongs to the Lord is made known by the trumpet. The people must be in a position where they have an ear to hear what the Spirit saith, but if that trumpet gives an uncertain sound, a doubtful note, what is going to be the result? Simply confusion, disorder, weakness, defeat and shame. That is all the opposite of glory and honour. So it was with Saul; he blew the trumpet and what was the effect of Saul's taking the trumpet? Israel was brought into confusion, into shame, into defeat, into weakness.
What was it that led Saul to blow the trumpet? He blew it in self-will, in personal ambition, for his own glory. We know the spirit of Saul. When the women sang: "Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands," it says. "Saul was very wroth... and he said, They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands and Saul eyed David from that day and forward". We know that immediately afterward he sought to kill David, and persisted in his attempts to kill David. You see it was jealousy, ambition, personal interest. That is the spirit of Saul; that was behind the blowing of the trumpet. Let us put that quite plainly: that was behind his taking hold of the Testimony of the Lord; that was behind his desire to influence the course of God's people. It was not for the pure interests of the Lord's people and the glory of the Lord Himself, with no regard or concern for his own interests! His association with what was of the Lord was personal association. Position mattered to him, influence and recognition mattered to him. A vessel unto dishonour!
Take others who blew the trumpet. Gideon blew the trumpet, and Gideon's three hundred blew the trumpet. But what a different picture from Saul! The first connection with Gideon is one bearing the marks of humility, self-effacement: "I am the least of my father's house". The Lord said to Gideon: "Go in this thy might"; "the Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour". Gideon had no consciousness of being a mighty man of valour, or of having any might.
Then the Lord's dealings with Gideon were all significant. There is a profound significance in the fleece. The fleece wet, saturated, and all the ground around dry and parched! What is that so far as a vessel of the Testimony is concerned? That with death all around everywhere, there is life within, there is fullness within. Paul speaks of the Life whereby Jesus conquered death being manifested in our mortal flesh. Spiritual death, encompassing, and yet Life triumphant over death in the vessel. The fleece dry and all the ground saturated! "Death worked in us, but life in you. While we are conscious of fighting, of battle with death, even in our very being, at the same time all you are getting life, strangely, from us: the life is yours, while we are battling in our very hearts with death". The two things are found in Paul. It is not a contradiction, but two aspects of one experience. Gideon is constituted upon those spiritual principles, a vessel to take the Testimony.
Then the whole sifting of his mighty army is the getting rid of what is of man by nature in every way, until you have got a sifted company of three hundred who have nothing but the Lord's interests at heart. And if you want a further factor to show that the governing principle of Gideon's use to the Lord was Life triumphant over death, do not forget his barley loaf. You remember he crept in the night alongside the tent of the Midianites, and heard men around the camp-fire telling tales, and one man told a dream, and in his dream he saw a barley loaf come tumbling down into the camp and all the tents were strewn and laid flat to the ground by this barley loaf. One man, with some kind of an uncanny insight, said; "That is Gideon!" Gideon heard that! It was the Lord who was working to give Gideon confirmation of his call. But what is the barley loaf? Barley is always the first fruits of resurrection. And so Gideon became a vessel of the Testimony, with the trumpet of absolute ascendency for the Lord, because he was constituted upon the law of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, which is all of nature set aside and everything for the Lord. That is a vessel unto honour!
Saul represents man in his own strength and glory; the result is dishonour when it touches the things of the Lord! Gideon represents the Lord, and man not figuring in it - that is, man in himself - but the power of His resurrection; the issue is glory and honour!
You can follow that through the Old Testament. We have just selected those familiar, and by no means new, illustrations.
The Lord needs vessels like that. They cannot be made officially. They cannot be constituted academically. They cannot arrive at it naturally. There has to come the crisis, the deep crisis where, in all the meaning of the cross, the body of the flesh is put aside, nullified, and then the Spirit of Life in Christ brings on to an entirely new plain, where the Lord Himself is everything. Such vessels are available to the Lord, and He can do through those vessels wonderful things. Get that vessel, and it will not be long before the Lord sees to it that another hungry soul comes into touch with that one, and these two go on and a third and a fourth, and that is how the work grows, until the Lord has gathered an assembly of those who simply represent the satisfaction that He is to those to whom He is all.
The Lord wants to do something. It is not what we are going to do for the Lord. It is not that we are going to take up Christian work or go into the Christian ministry; it is that the Lord is going to have us wholly for Himself, have a full place in us, and bring us spiritually to a place where need can be met by us. An Ethiopian eunuch may be crossing a desert, and the Lord knows that that man has been disappointed at Jerusalem, and He knows a man miles away who can meet his need, and He sees to it that the empty vessel and the full vessel are brought together. That is the activity of the Holy Spirit.
May the Lord have His opportunity with us. There is a need. There are people who are hungry, who are wanting more, and cannot get it. Our distress is that there are no vessels available, or very few. The vessels are too limited to meet the need, and so the need goes on, because the Lord has not what He needs in vessels. Pray that the Lord will fit vessels and secure them, make them meet for His use, to meet this great need in the world today. There is no question about an opportunity. If the Lord had vessels enough today He could use them. The world is waiting for what the Lord has to give. Then, so far as we are concerned, in the measure in which the Lord wants us to serve this need of His, to bring us to the place where we have means, where we know the Lord and can speak out of an inward knowledge of Him to meet the need. The need will vary in its degree, but even where a very large measure has been given, there is still a sense of need. The Lord make us vessels meet for the Master's use, prepared unto every good work.
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