A Sermon Written At Mentone, By C. H. Spurgeon. *11/8/2012
And it happened, when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There are no more vessels.” And the oil stopped. [2Ki 4:6]
1. As long as there were vessels to be filled the miraculous flow of the oil continued, and it only ceased when there were no more jars to contain it. The prophet spoke no word to stop the multiplying process, and the Lord did not set any limit to the bountiful marvel; the poor widow was not constrained in God, except only in her supply of empty vessels. Nothing else in the universe restrained the flow of the oil: but the lack of vessels to receive it stopped it at once. The vessels failed before the oil; our powers of receiving will give out long before God’s power of bestowing.
2. I. This is true in reference to OUR PROVIDENTIAL CIRCUMSTANCES.
3. As long as we have needs we shall have supplies, and we shall find our needs exhausted far sooner than the divine bounty. In the wilderness there fell more manna than the tribes could eat, and there flowed more water than the hosts could drink, and as long as they were in a desert land and required this provision it was continued for them: when they reached Canaan and fed on the old grain of the land the special supplies ceased, but not until then. In the same way also the Lord will feed his people until they need no more.
4. The widow’s apparent source of supply was only one pot of oil, but this continued to stream out as vessel by vessel was placed underneath it; so shall the little with which the Lord endows his poor people continue to furnish sufficient from day to day, until the last day of life, like the last vessel, shall have been filled. Some are not content with this, but would have the oil run beyond the last vessel, even after their deaths, never resting until they have hoarded their thousands, and have buried their hearts in gold dust. If the oil will only run until the last vessel is full, what more do we want? If providence secures us food and clothing until we end this mortal life, what more can we require?
5. Doubtless in the dispensing of wealth and other talents to his servants the Lord considers their capacities. If they had more vessels they should have more oil. The infinitely wise God knows that it is better for some men to be poor than rich; they would not be able to handle prosperity, and so the oil does not flow, because there is not a vessel to fill. If we are able to receive an earthly gift, it will then be a good thing for us, and the Lord has declared that he will not withhold any good thing from those who walk uprightly; but a talent which we could not receive in order to use it properly would be only a curse to us, and hence he does not burden us with it. All that we can hold we shall have: all that we really need, all that we shall be sure to use for his glory, all that will minister to our highest good, God will pour out from his inexhaustible fulness, and only when he sees that the gifts would be wasted by becoming superfluities, or burdensome responsibilities, or occasions for temptation, will he restrain his power, and the oil shall be stopped. Rest assured that God’s bounty will keep pace with your true capacity, and “truly you shall be fed.”
6. II. The same principle holds good with regard to THE BESTOWAL OF SAVING GRACE.
7. In a congregation the gospel is like the pot of oil, and those who receive from it are needy souls, desirous of the grace of God. We always have too few of these in our assemblies. Many are the vessels of oil, filled to the brim and fastened down — the full Pharisee, the self-satisfied professor, and the proud worldling are such: for these the miracle of grace has no multiplying power, for they are ready to overflow even now. A full Christ is for empty sinners, and for empty sinners only, and as long as there is a really empty soul in a congregation so long will a blessing go out with the word, and no longer. It is not our emptiness, but our fulness which can hinder the outgoings of free grace. While there is one soul conscious of sin and eager for pardon, grace will flow; yes, while there is one heart weary of indifference and anxious to be wounded, grace will flow. “I feel,” one says, “extremely unfit to be saved.” You are evidently empty, and there is room in you for the oil of grace. “Alas,” cries a second, “I feel nothing at all. Even my own lack of fitness does not distress me.” This only shows how utterly empty you are, and in you also the oil will find room for its flow. “Ah,” sighs a third, “I have become sceptical, unbelief has made me hard as the nether millstone.” In you also there is a large capacity for grace. Only be willing to receive. Stand like the oil jar with opened mouth, waiting for the oil to pour out from the miraculous pot. If the Lord has made you willing to receive he will not be long before he has given you grace upon grace. Oh that we could meet more emptied souls! Why should the Lord’s wonders be cut short for lack of people who need to have them performed upon them? Are there no needy souls around? Have all men become rich, or is it a vain presumption which possesses so many hearts? Hidden away in corners where they weep their eyes out because they cannot weep, and break their hearts because their hearts will not break, and cry before the Lord because they feel they cannot pray, or feel, or hate sin; — hidden away in corners, I say, there are truly empty souls, and for these the heavenly oil is still running, is running now. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” No exception in the narrative before us was taken to any vessel as long as it was empty; there was one qualification, and only one, the power to receive indicated by emptiness. Come, then, you needy souls, come to the eternal fountain and receive a wealth of blessing, freely given because you need it, and because the Lord Jesus loves to bestow it.
8. III. The same is true with regard to OTHER SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS.
9. All fulness dwells in our Lord Jesus, and, since he does not need grace for himself, it is stored up in him, so that he may give it out to believers. The saints with one voice confess, “From his fulness we have all received.” The limit of his outpouring is our capacity to receive, and that limit is often set by our constrained prayers; “we do not have because we do not ask, or because we ask amiss.” If our desires were more expanded, our capacity to receive would be more extended. We fail to bring empty vessels, and therefore the oil is stopped. We do not sufficiently see our poverty, and do not therefore enlarge our longings. Oh for a heart insatiable for Christ, a soul more greedy than the grave itself, which is never satisfied: then rivers of the heavenly oil would flow in upon us, and we should be filled with all the fulness of God.
10. Frequently we limit the Holy One of Israel by our unbelief. Nothing hinders grace like this impoverishing vice. “He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.” Unbelief declares it to be impossible that more oil should come from the oil pot, and so refuses to bring more vessels under the pretence of a humble fear of presumption, thus robbing the soul and dishonouring the Lord. Shame on you, you mother of famine, you drier up of flowing wells! What shall be done to you, you lying traitor! What coals of juniper are fierce enough for you, you wicked unbelief? We mourn that our joy is departed, that our graces languish, that our usefulness is restrained. Whose fault is this? Is the Spirit of the Lord constrained? Are these his doings? No, truly, we have ourselves stopped the bottles of heaven. May infinite mercy save us from ourselves, and lead us now to “bring vessels here, even many empty vessels.”
11. Pride also has a horrible power to stop the divinely given oil. When on our knees we feel no pressing necessity, no urgent need, no special danger; on the contrary, we are rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing. Do we wonder, then, that we are not refreshed and feel no delight in the holy exercise? Have we not heard the Lord saying, “Bring me another vessel?” And as we have answered, “There are no more vessels,” why should we be surprised that the oil is stopped? May the Lord save us from the parching influence of self-conceit. It will turn an Eden into a wilderness. Soul poverty leads to fulness, but carnal security creates barrenness. The Holy Spirit delights to comfort every hungry heart, but the full soul loathes the honeycomb of his consolations, and he leaves it alone until it is famished and cries out for heavenly bread. Of this one thing let us be sure, that there is abundance of grace to be had as long as we hunger and thirst after it, and never shall a single willing heart be forced to cry, “The oil is stopped,” as long as it has an empty vessel to bring.
12. IV. The same truth will be proved in reference to THE PURPOSES OF GRACE IN THE WORLD.
The fulness of divine grace will be equal to every demand upon it
until the end of time. Men will never be saved apart from the
atonement of our Lord Jesus, but never will that ransom price be
found insufficient to redeem the souls that trust in the Redeemer.
Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransomed church of God
Be saved to sin no more.
Neither will his intercession lose any of its prevalence for those who come to God by him. To the last hour of time it shall never be said that a single sinner has sought his face in vain, or that an empty vessel has at last been found which Jesus cannot fill.
14. The power of the Holy Spirit to convict, convert, console, and sanctify shall also remain the same to the end of the age. Never shall there be found a weeping penitent whom he cannot cheer with a living hope and lead to Jesus for eternal salvation, nor a struggling believer whom he cannot lead on to certain and complete victory. He shall always be able to work perfection itself in all the saints, even fitness for their holy inheritance above. None of us should despair when we discover anew our own natural inability and deadness. Our hope was never based on created power; a living hope has its foundation in the omnipotence of the Holy Spirit, and that cannot be the subject of question or of change. For the salvation of all the elect the sacred Trinity will work together until all shall be accomplished.
15. Whatever remains behind concerning the purposes of God he has the power to achieve. If there should stand before us a row of empty vessels bearing the names of Babylon overthrown, the Jews converted, the nations evangelized, the idols abolished, and so forth, we must by no means be disheartened, for all these vessels of promise shall be filled in due time. The church of the present day is feeble, and her supplies are quite inadequate for the enterprise before her, yet just as from one oil pot many vessels were filled which were far greater than itself, so by his poor and despised church, through the foolishness of preaching, the Lord will fulfil his august designs and fill the universe with praise. “Do not fear, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” With this assurance believing men may boldly go out among the heathen. The nations are empty vessels, and there are not a few of them; God has given us his blessing upon our cruse of oil, and all we have to do is to pour out and continue to pour out until there is not an empty vessel remaining. We are still very far from that consummation. In our congregations all are not saved; even in our families many are not converted: we cannot say “there are no more vessels,” and, blessed be God, neither may we suspect that the oil will be stopped. With hopeful earnestness let us bring the empty vessels beneath the sacred outflow, so that they may be filled.
16. How glorious will be the consummation when all the chosen shall be gathered in! Then there shall not remain a seeking soul to be saved, nor a praying heart to be comforted, nor a wandering sheep to be sought. Not a vessel shall be found throughout the universe needing to be filled, and then shall the oil of mercy cease to flow, and justice hold her court alone. Woe to the ungodly in that day, for then the empty vessels shall be broken to pieces; since they would not receive the oil of love each one shall be filled with the wine of wrath. From which terrible doom may infinite grace preserve each one of us. Amen.