The Earthen Vessel, the Treasure, the Power

2 Corinthians 4:5  •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 6
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The apostle, beloved brethren, speaks here of the ministry that he had received. He was one who in a wonderful manner lived with God so as to carry out this ministry; still what he ministered was received, only he was a vessel filled in a more than ordinary degree. This ministry especially regards the testimony, whatever the sphere, and therefore the thing that he ministered is ours, so that thus we are vessels, each one in our own little sphere, of that with which he was filled.
The ministry of the Spirit, contrasted with that of the Old Testament prophets, shows that the things must be possessed for ourselves, before they can be ministered to others. Now this is not characteristic of the prophetic ministry. There are three steps in 1 Peter 1:10-1310Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: 11Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. 12Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into. 13Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; (1 Peter 1:10‑13) as to this. The Spirit of Christ which was in the prophets, testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ, and of the glories that should follow. These things are now reported unto us by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven—that is after Christ was glorified. Then we are to have girded loins, and “hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” We stand between the two last, the Holy Ghost sent down and the revelation of Jesus Christ; and So our loins are to be girded while here.
The apostle then shows how the testimony is carried out; it has “shined in our hearts for the giving forth of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Paul had had a revelation of Christ in him, “When it pleased God... to reveal his Son in me.” This revelation of Christ in him was that by which he might preach Him, and it was not only to him but in him, and this latter, of course, in a remarkable way in his case; but in every one of us according to our measure.
In the previous chapter he had spoken of what his ministry was—commonly called “the gospel of the glory;” Christ is speaking from heaven only “once more;” the earth is to be shaken so that now we have the last things. It is the glory that He is speaking of in contrast with Moses, who covered his face. His ministry was of death and condemnation, and even that reflection of glory man could not look at because it came as a demand or exaction from God. If the legal claims had come alone, man might have thought he could have stood it; but accompanied by the glory it was impossible. Man must either hide himself from God, or hide God from himself. The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is not a little bit coming down with Moses, but it is in a Man in heaven, and a Man who was on the Cross. Sin, death, and the power of Satan, are all dealt with together, and now He who has done it has gone far above all heavens. It is not requiring from men what they ought to be, but it is God giving to man. The only part we had in the Cross of Christ was the sins that He bore, and the hatred He met with. There sin has reached its climax in antagonism to that blessed One, and there I see God putting away sin, and from the glory where He has been received comes the testimony that sin is gone, the work is accomplished, and I get the witness of it—the glory of God. That is the thing that is ministered by the gospel of the glory. The Man who has borne our sins, who was made sin, against whom Satan did his worst, is in glory, and of this we have the full testimony in the face of Jesus Christ.
This gives a very distinct character to the position we are in. We are brought by Him to believe in God; God has wrought a work by Him so effectual that He who did it is at God’s right hand, and now I can see the glory, and delight in it. “We all, with open face, beholding the glory of the Lord are changed.” Oh, let me see that! My sin-bearer is in glory! Of course I delight in that. The Holy Ghost comes down because of it and I am sealed! The Christian stands and looks back at the sufferings as the accomplished work of God, and forward to the glory. He knows the accomplishment of the work, and what it leads to, because Christ is in it as a Man when He revealed Himself to Paul. He treated every Christian as Himself. “Why persecutest thou ME?” If Christ owns me as Himself what am I waiting for? I am waiting for Him to come and take me there, to get the thing that is mine, for the Holy Ghost is sent down to tell me that it is mine.
In the early part of chapter 5 he speaks of the power of life which has come into the place of death, so that he can say, I do not want to die—to be unclothed. I see a power come in, and I can be changed into the glory without dying at all. Of course he did die, but it is a present living power, so he says we shall not all sleep; the power of death is broken. If I die, he says here, it is all gain, because I am present with the Lord, my spirit will be with Him, and I shall be raised when the time comes. It is very striking the way in which the Lord speaks to Paul in Acts 26 “Delivering thee from the people (Jews), and from the Gentiles, unto whom now send thee.” He belonged to Christ in glory, so do we. Of course, we have not had a vision, but what he testified of, we receive. The Holy Ghost is sent down as the seal of our persona, and the one thing we wait for is to have this Christ. “To them that look for him, will he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” He came to put away sin the first time. Those who neglect this die in their sins, but to those who look for Him, of course He has nothing to say as to sin; it is a resurrection of life. If I cared for a person very much who was coming to me, I should go and meet him; so Christ comes Himself for us, and, In what condition are we there? We are glorified already when we come to the judgment seat of Christ. Did you ever think of that I Nothing can be simpler. There we shall learn the unceasing grace that cared for us all the way through. Of course in looking back now I see it in measure. The fullness of the redemption that has taken us up is, that we are “raised in glory.” I am like Him when I appear before Him. Then what need have I to fear judgment? What do I fear when I come before Him the second time of His coming? Why that my sins were put away when He came first, and the second time I am perfectly like Him? Christ then sees the fruit of the travail of His soul; because He has made us perfectly happy and satisfied.
We stand between the finishing of the sufferings and the coming in of the glory. The hope of the coming was the first thing lost— “If that evil servant say in his heart, My Lord delayeth, his coming,” (he was that servant still). When the end of the world comes, heaven and earth flee from before His face; that is not His coming! That which He sends to awaken them from sleep (for people wonder that godly men do not see it, though the wise were just as much asleep as the foolish) is the cry, “Behold the bridegroom.” I have a positive revelation that the thing that wakes them up is the testimony that the Lord is coming. The wise though having the oil in their vessels had settled into some comfortable place, and the Lord comes and wakes them up, “Go ye out.” Do you think that if the Lord were to come tonight you would have bright, well-trimmed lamps?
I must warn you that— “in the last days perilous times shall come,” though they are blessed times for all that. It is of great moment to see now that when in 2 Tim. 3, the apostle speaks of these perilous times, the Scriptures are the resource, and knowing too of whom they are learned. If I go and learn of Paul, then it is all right, but if you say the church teaches, then how am I to know? For you all know how the word of God is called in question now. To the word of God there is no handle, it is sharper than a two-edged sword all over, it cuts every way, and if men meddle with it they find no handle. If a man comes to me and talks about readings, and I say to him—How do you like a book that told you all that ever you did? It deals with his conscience. That is the way the word of God is known. Look at that poor woman of Samaria. The Lord had been talking about all sorts of things, till at last He says, “Go, call thy husband.” Then she tells the truth to hide the truth. The instant the conscience is reached there is intelligence of the word of God. Faith’s roots are in the conscience. If I am to have to say to God, there must be faith in it; so when I am in the presence of God, my conscience is there. The place where the word of God gets, is never in the intellect, always in the conscience: when God comes with His sword and reaches the conscience, I know very well that it has a point. When the devil comes to tempt our Lord, what is a sufficient weapon for Him? He quotes a text from the Old Testament, the book that men think so little of.
In 1 Corinthians 2:9-149But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 10But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. 11For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:9‑14), I find three things. The Holy Ghost reveals the things—then by words given of the Spirit we communicate the things, and by the Holy Ghost they are received. It is such a comfort, beloved friends, that what we have is directly from God. You see the character of those who walk correctly—you see the blessed testimony we get of it in the Church of Philadelphia. “Thou hast kept my word.” In the time of all going away to evil, He could say this, the name of Christ has its value in the soul, and the word of God its authority for heart and conscience; just as the word was the thing they kept through grace; remark how strong that is in connection with what I was saying.
In Phil. 2, when speaking of subjection, the apostle says, “Of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth,” but when of reconciliation, he only says (Colossians 1:2020And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. (Colossians 1:20)), “things in earth, and things in heaven.” We are like Eve—she was the spouse of the one who was Lord over creation and all things; she was the help-meet, the one who was associated with him who was Lord. “He hath given him to be head over all things.” What I desire for your souls is, that in the accomplished work you should see that you are saved, and that the Holy Ghost comes and puts us in association with it. If I wait for the glory I know that He is waiting for it too.
Now, we are passing through the world and we have the treasure in earthen vessels. How are we to walk according to the power of the grace He has put us into? Then we come to the walk, meanwhile grace has brought me salvation, and I am looking to the glory to put me into the full result. “We are troubled,” that is the vessel, “but not distressed,” because God is there, perplexed, but “not in despair,” because God is there. All the treasure is put in a poor, earthen vessel that feels all the difficulties and trials of the way, but has the grace of Christ. I have the sentence of death in myself. I reckon myself dead with Christ, so what is bringing death to a dead man? Paul held himself to be dead to sin and everything; he was not insensible to the trial. God was there in the trial as he had given Him the glory. And he learned that the treasure is not here, but there, and that there is no possessed power, but a possessed treasure in a dependent man. If I am alive as to the flesh, and let it act, it spoils the treasure. If the lantern is not clean, the light does not shine out. I have the Christ revealed in my soul, but if flesh comes in, that spoils the testimony. If I reckon myself dead, and a man comes and asks me to amuse myself, I say, I am dead. Supposing persecution comes and my flesh is not dead, I am afraid, and all sorts of things. Paul takes up death in Christ practically, and says, “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus,”—he realizes his place—and I must reduce it to practice, and know that my flesh is flesh and must not stir, and, if I am full of Christ, it will not. If I let the flesh come in it is like letting the glass of the lantern be dirty. The Lord says to Paul, “I see you are in earnest, so I will bring you within an ace of death, that you may realize it.” If there is any tendency in the flesh to spring up, put the red-hot iron on it. Death so wrought in Paul that only the life of Christ wrought from him to the Corinthians. Now, that is testimony. Now you find the blessings we go on into. The man is entirely superior to circumstances. Of the death that God allowed to come so close to him, he can say, “God which raiseth the dead.” Stephen is the copy of Christ in the midst of death—completely superior to circumstances.
Now, beloved friends, this is for you, all things are for your sakes. Paul was for your sakes—do you believe that? The object of God’s delight, the gift, the glory—all is for your sakes. Oh if we only saw that we should get out of the little, narrow path of circumstances we are in. We are made to feel the powerlessness of our wretched flesh as men. “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” If God puts you through the circumstance; He makes everything work together for good, and remember, “He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous,” no, not for a moment. It is only the outward man that is perishing; why, the children of Israel’s clothes did not wax old though they were evil and naughty! But the children of Israel would not go up into the land, so God says, ‘You must turn back into the wilderness, and He turned back with them.’ “He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous.” I never can spend one instant without the power of God being exercised to lead me through the trial and everything: if we only could remember it!
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” the glory that had been put into the lantern; it had been dealt with by death, and now he has the eternal weight of glory. He is breaking down the vessel, and soon he will have the glory, and then there will be no vessel seen at all. Now, there is the Christian!
Now, as referring to the old ministry, there are three things. It does not give life, or strength, or an object, but when I have Christ, I say, Well, I have life; but I am a poor, weak creature, well, I have strength, and I have also an object in view. A grace sufficient for me, a strength needed, and He will help me on the way to death, and more, I shall be like Him in glory. He is learning to reckon himself dead every day by having an earthen vessel, if the earthen vessel meddles with it, it mars the testimony. I must get to know the thing: it is not insincerity, but flesh and blood cannot understand it. It does not follow because this blessed revelation is there that the flesh is broken down. The flesh does not like the cross. I got the blessed treasure in the earthen vessel, and if it is only a vessel it is all right; if not, there comes the dealing, the application of the cross practically to the flesh, delivering us to death for Jesus’ sake. If the vessel begins to stir it spoils the manifestation.
Now let me ask you, Can you say that you so see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ that salvation is settled for you? Is that what the glory of the Man who is in glory does for you? Can you say that you are waiting for the Man who has got the victory to come and take you to the glory Himself? The furniture is all sent on before, as it were, and you are only waiting to go to the house, nothing detains you in the old one. Have you seen what the flesh is? If I look at my place and standing, I say, I am not a child of Adam, I am a child of God, and if the vessel stirs. it spoils the whole thing. The Man who is in glory has become my Saviour; there is no uncertainty, about it. I stand with the only full hope that this blessed Jesus, at a time known to God, will come, and then I shall be like Him and where He is; and through faith we know it now, and the word of God has told us so.
The Lord give you that the flesh in you may be so broken down that you may see and understand the wisdom of God, and see Him, who is the wisdom of God, and who, when He comes again, will see of the travail of His soul, in seeing us in the same glory as Himself, and now to bear about the dying of the Lord Jesus, that nothing but the life of Jesus may be manifest in these mortal bodies!