A Sermon Delivered By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. *2/23/2013
And the angel who talked with me came again, and awakened me, as a man who is awakened out of his sleep, and said to me, “What do you see?” And I said, “I have looked, and behold a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl upon its top, and its seven lamps on it, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon its top: and two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon its left side.” … And I answered again, and said to him, “What are these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves?” And he answered me and said, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.” Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” [Zec 4:1-3,12-14]
1. The prophet, as he tells us in the introduction to his vision, had to be awakened by the angel as one is awakened out of his sleep. His mind was dull and heavy; perhaps he was weary and worn. Do you not often feel a similar lethargy, from which you need to be aroused before your minds are equal to the study of those truths which God is revealing to your souls? May it not then be good, at the beginning of our meditation, to pray the Lord to awaken us as a man is awakened out of his sleep? A divinely mysterious power can brood over us and quicken us out of languor. Have you never felt it? “Before I was even aware my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib.” I had been slow before, but when the Spirit came, then that ancient proverb was fulfilled, “Draw me, and I will run after you.” The touch of the Holy Spirit makes our faculties strong, our powers of thought are greatly enlarged, and we get the key of mysteries which we never had been able to unlock before. Come, blessed Spirit, then, to each one of your slumbering children at this good hour, and arouse us, so that we may see what you would set before us. Like young Samuel, whom you called in his sleep, each one of us would heartily say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”
2. Beloved friends, we live in a world which is naturally shrouded in darkness. The “prince of this world,” “the prince of the power of the air” is a dark spirit loving ignorance and sin. This darkness hovers over all the world as it did over Egypt: a darkness that might be felt is upon the souls of men. We sometimes fear that this gloom will thicken into an awful midnight. When we associate with men in the ordinary vocations of life, and hear their profane language; when we see the angry passions, the earthly propensities, and the worldly policies that prevail among people who are held in repute among their fellow creatures, if we are children of God ourselves we cannot fail to be distressed that the world should still be so dark and so destitute of that knowledge which purifies the heart. Nearly two millennia have passed since the blessed feet of our divine Master touched this globe, and yet it still smokes beneath the hoof of the wicked one. The sun has risen on this Egypt, and yet a miserable midnight covers the guilty people. We are apt, therefore, to become somewhat desponding, lest the light of the knowledge of God should gradually wane, until at length it shall utterly die out. What, then, would become of the world? if the one golden lampstand were taken out of its place, if those who are the light of the world should all be removed, and if the sure word of prophecy, which is like a light that shines in a dark place, should become extinct, what then would be the horrible darkness?
3. Now, I think the vision of Zechariah may remove all fear on that score. Rest well assured that the Pharos [a] which God has lighted to guide men across the boisterous sea and preserve them from the peril of eternal shipwreck shall have its lamps trimmed throughout all time. Until the “Sun of righteousness” shall rise, that lantern shall never go out, for the Lord will take care that the light shall still shine notwithstanding all that the powers of darkness may do or devise to extinguish it. This one thought I beseech you so to grasp that it may strengthen your faith and comfort your hearts; the light of God’s grace has been kindled never to be quenched. To this end I invite your attention to the interesting parable contained in the marvellous vision which Zechariah the prophet beheld and described.
4. I. First, turn aside and see this great sight. Look, I beseech you, at THE WONDERFUL LAMP WHICH GOD HAS PROVIDED TO LIGHT THE SONS OF MEN. “He said to me, ‘What do you see?’ And I said, ‘I have looked, and behold a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl upon its top, and its seven lamps on it, and seven pipes to its seven lamps, which are upon its top.’ ” Here is a lampstand that must challenge the notice of all who gaze at it, for it is of costly material and elaborate form, the work of wisdom, fitted for the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. It resembles the lampstand whose pattern Moses received from God, and yet in some respects it differs from it, as we shall see.
5. The object is scarcely more remarkable than its position. Notice that it stood in the open. Under the old covenant the lampstand stood within curtains where only priestly eyes might see it: from the majority of the people it was hidden. We are very apt to think that, because the Jewish ritual was full of symbols, the worship of the people must have been of so materialistic a character that there was little or nothing to raise the soul to spiritual adoration of the invisible One. But it was not so: to the average Israelite there was little more of symbol than to us. Although it is true that within the holy place there were many symbols, yet there were very few of God’s people who ever saw one of them, and most probably we ourselves know far more about the types than the Jews ever did. The worship was not visible to the camp, for it was within an enclosed space; and when the people were settled in Canaan the actual temple area could only hold a few of the vast multitudes who inhabited the land. Within the holy place of all, the “Holy of Holies,” no man ever entered except the high priest, and he only once in the year, so that those who worshipped God in the further parts of Palestine would for the most part not even see the Tabernacle or the Temple, and when they did go up to Jerusalem they rather believed that the symbols were inside behind the veil than enquired for the furniture and sacred vessels as if they might be allowed to inspect them. Their worship had less of the visible about it than we are apt to imagine: for most of the material emblems were simply certified to them by testimony, and not otherwise verified to their senses.
6. Then, as if to let us know that the light of God did not yet fully shine among men, and that the fulness of grace and truth had not been revealed yet, since Christ had not come, the seven-branched golden lampstand stood out of sight of the majority of the people, shut in within the curtains, enclosed within the holy place. But the lamp which Zechariah saw was in the open air; about this we are quite clear, because he saw two olive trees growing, one on each side of it. It was, therefore, in an open space. Today, beloved, “the veil of the temple is torn in two.” What was mystery before has become plain to us now. Now we see Jesus, and, seeing Jesus, we behold a light such as never greeted the eyes of prophets and kings. Though they longed to see it they died without seeing the sight. Let us take care that we keep this lamp in the open: do not let us permit anyone to shut it up. Let the gospel be preached plainly to the masses of the people. Let the adorable name of Jesus Christ be proclaimed in your street corners. In every place where you can have access to the sons of men let it be known that there is salvation in none other, but by him all who believe shall obtain the forgiveness of sins. Some would cover up the golden lamp with ceremonial observances, and others would hide it away under philosophical quibbles and theological jargon; but may it be yours to be a “city set on a hill that cannot be hidden,” and what is said to you in secret speak that in the light: what you learn in closets proclaim that aloud upon the house-tops. Lift up the beacon so that it may flame afar all over the land and across the sea: let the blaze of gospel light flare out until dwellers in the utmost parts of the earth shall ask, “What is this light? From where does it come from?” and you shall answer, “It is the lampstand of the Lord once hidden among the particular people, but now set out before the nations in Christ Jesus; once concealed under type and emblem, but now revealed by him who speaks no more by parable, but tells us plainly about the Father.”
7. Notice, next, that it was a lamp of pure gold. This is a fact of much significance. We are emphatically told that it was a “lampstand all of gold.” The major vessels of the tabernacle were all of gold, and this I think indicates that the lamp which God has kindled is of the most precious kind. The church, which may be said to represent this lampstand, is as God has made it, of pure gold. Those who are united together in the fellowship of the church of God on earth should be a holy people, precious in the sight of the Lord, as gold is precious among metals. There should be no mixture of dross and tin, no careless reception of carnal men and mere formalists, but those who are elect of God, precious in his sight, and honourable. God’s chosen should be choice men. The lamp which holds the golden light should itself be of gold. The Lord will not use an unholy church to be his light-bearer, and where there is an apostasy concerning doctrine, an absence of spiritual life, or a defection concerning holiness of conduct, he will not use such a church, lest his holy name is polluted among men. His lampstand is all of pure gold; his people are a “particular people,” “sanctified to himself,” “zealous of good works.” If any who seem to be religious delight themselves in sin, if they fail in purity, they have no power to give light; and because of their depravity they are as spots in our solemn feasts, and mists that dim the brightness of our shining. Ungodly churches are not the lamps of the Lord. If men find pleasure in unrighteousness, they exert a baneful influence as the shadow of death. How can light shine from them while they serve the prince of darkness? What a mercy it is that God has set up a church in the world, which shall bear testimony to his name, and shall scatter the light abroad, because his grace makes and keeps it “holiness to the Lord!” Let us love the church of God. We must never think that any one congregation, or any thousand congregations, can comprise the entire church. It is not for us to say, “We are the temple of the Lord.” God forbid! He has a people scattered up and down throughout the whole earth; he has a remnant even among churches which err from the faith, who still have kept their garments unspotted from the world, “ ‘And they shall be mine,’ says the Lord, ‘in the day when I make up my jewels.’ ” Let us pray for the church militant, the entire body of his elect, the redeemed of the Lord, the quickened of the Spirit, the called out ones, the true congregations, the assemblies of the Lord; for these are those who are his lampstands, standing in the open as a “city set upon a hill that cannot be hidden,” holding forth the word of life, so that all who see the church in its life, and the church in its testimony, may behold the light of God.
8. This wonderful lampstand, all of gold, you will observe, is lit with golden oil. Such is the expression used in our text. At the twelfth verse, we read, “Which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves.” The quality of the oil is, doubtless, here commended, for I suppose it means the very best possible oil, of a rich golden colour, and in value, in splendour, in purity, and in clarity excellent beyond all praise. This represents that precious doctrine, that golden truth, that fulness of gospel grace which keeps alive the light of the church of God. Or may it not remind us of the Divine Spirit, who, coming into his church, and imparting to her the golden oil of his graces and gifts, enables her to maintain her brilliance of testimony, and to scatter her light among the sons of men. The Holy Spirit is also the flame by which the oil is kindled and made to burn and give its light: and thus we have truth ablaze with sacred fervour, sound doctrine united with intense zeal, and all because the Spirit of truth is present and reveals himself at the same time as the Spirit of power. We will say of this golden oil that it is the truth, the living and incorruptible word of God. This is the oil which the church must burn, and with this she must trim her lamps. No strange doctrines, no vain traditions, no scientific conjectures, no poetic reveries, no thoughts of men, no excogitations of human brains, but the revealed Word of God, the truth as Jesus Christ has given it to us, the truth as the Holy Spirit has revealed it in the sacred Book, the truth as he brings it home with divine power to our understanding and conscience. It is this that we must use, and we must take care that if we have it we empty it out of ourselves into the golden pipes, so that they may never be without sacred oil to keep the flame alive. Precious beyond all conception is the truth! God will not be served with falsehood, but his delight is in truth. Take care that you bring nothing here but the best of the best, nothing but the unadulterated olive oil of revelation. What blunders and mistakes we make in the management of our own business! Should this not make us very careful in doing the work of the Lord that we do not do it in a slovenly manner, and so provoke him to anger. Dear brothers and sisters, I hope we desire to be clean before God concerning his truth. I urge you not to trifle with it. Never tack with the wind of public opinion, but watch if need be while the world lasts, and wait for the fulfilment of God’s word, and be sure that it shall surely come to pass. Though you may well be tolerant of error in others, since you are so liable to it yourselves, yet be jealous of your own hearts, and keep out of them every false doctrine. “Contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.” If there is any adulteration of the oil the lamps will burn very dimly, perhaps they will go out.
9. This golden lamp shone with a sevenfold brightness. There were seven lamps to this golden lampstand, and there were seven pipes to the seven lamps; and as some read it, there were seven pipes to each one of these lamps, so that it gave seven times the light that the old lamp of the temple ever gave. The suggestion has been advanced that there were seven times seven pipes, and the Hebrew might allow such a translation. At any rate there was seven times more light given by this mystical lamp seen by Zechariah than had ever been given by the lampstand of the old covenant. God has given us enough light to flood the world with day in the generous gospel that is preached among all nations.
10. The light of the law all but blinded the dim eyes of the Jew, but oh, the light of the gospel! How it has sometimes overpowered all our senses! Saul of Tarsus tells us that when about noon, suddenly there shone a great light all around him, he fell to the earth. So, too, many of us can testify, that when the glory of God in the salvation of a lost sinner first flashed upon our souls we were so amazed that no strength remained in us. “Dissolved by his goodness we fell to the ground, and wept to the praise of the mercy we found.” The effect was overpowering when the brilliance of gospel light beamed upon our weak eyes at first, and even now, though the Lord has strengthened our spiritual sight, so that we rejoice in the light, it is still at times more than we can bear. What a glory it has! Vain men ask us to delight ourselves with the sparks they have kindled! Let it suffice that our light renders all the flashes of natural joy things too dim to notice. They tell us of something new they have thought out. To their apprehension, no doubt, it seems very wonderful. They may strike their matches and light their lamps, if they wish: we are more than satisfied with the eternal sun. You may bring your ancient lamps from Rome; you may fetch your tapers from Oxford and the Anglican imitators of Rome, but the lamp which the Holy Spirit has kindled by the Divine Word is better than all the glare of antichrist. This despised book has seven times more light than all the Solons of antiquity or all the savants of modern times. There is nothing like it. Only have eyes to see it, and you shall rejoice in this light. It is the light of God himself. Spread it then if you have it, and let it shine in your families; let it shine on the town or city where you live; let it shine all over the earth; for there is no such light as the light of the eternal gospel, “the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Oh that all saw it, and loved it, and lived in it.
11. II. Thus I have spoken about the wonderful lamp. Now, I ask those of you who love the study of God’s word to follow me a little in considering the description that is given of THE COMPLETE MACHINERY, THE PERFECT APPARATUS, PROVIDED FOR THIS LAMP.
12. If you notice, it was a “Lampstand all of gold, with a bowl upon its top, and its seven lamps on it, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon its top: and two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon its left side.” We do not read anything about pipes and bowls in the old temple lamp. I suppose that each one of its seven lights had to be fed distinctly and separately by the officiating priest with a separate portion of oil; but in this case there seems to have been a bowl at the top of the seven branches into which the golden oil first entered, and from which it flowed out again, and each of the branch lights was fed by this. At any rate, you see that a complete apparatus was provided and is described. The details are given. The pipes, bowls, and so on were all arranged with exquisite precision. Correspondingly in the church of God we ought to pay much attention to detail. I do not think we look to it half as much as we should. If the lamps are to be kept trimmed, you must attend to the pipes, and you must see to the golden oil. Each man ought to think, “Now, I have something to do to keep this lampstand in proper order; I have something to do with keeping this lamp burning.” One man may be compared, as it were, to the bowl because he yields much of the light of intelligence and instruction, communicating knowledge and counsel to the church of God; another is a pipe to the Sunday School; and yet another golden pipe runs to the young men’s class; one is a pipe to the poor and ignorant in the streets, another to the sick, another is a golden pipe to those who are at home with their families. There is some point to which each one in Christ’s church may help to conduct the golden oil to keep the blessed flame of truth always burning in this dark world. I want you, brothers and sisters, to look one and all of you after the details of church work. Especially in a church of such magnitude as this, with such a multiplicity of agencies, attention to detail is most necessary. What can one overseer do? What could twenty pastors do? It is impossible if you leave this work entirely to us that it will ever be properly discharged. Oh no. Let each member have its own office in the body, even as each pipe had its own oil to carry to the one light of the lampstand which it had to supply. Do not get out of your place, do not interfere with other people’s service; do your own work, and see that it is well done, and then look over all the church and pray the Lord to supervise the whole, so that the golden bowl and the golden pipes may all be in full operation.
13. Of this machinery which is thus mentioned in detail there seems to have been an abundance. If there were seven pipes to each one of the lights of the lamp (and I think it was so), there could have been no lack of service. So, beloved friends, we must take care that the church in her machinery is always kept abundantly supplied. We ought not to be slack in our labours nor scanty in our equipments. The everlasting gospel should be promulgated with great energy and varied service. Little oil will mean little light; little grace will mean little work for God and little glory for his blessed name. But let us endeavour to make every arrangement more effective. The light might not be extinguished even in one pipe: to the completeness of the divine design every light must be in good order. May it be our goal to keep the seven pipes constantly flowing and feeding in order to convey a sevenfold measure of oil, so that the light may burn steadily on from hour to hour until the Lord comes.
14. This apparatus still further suggests to us the idea of unity. As I have already said, there were seven distinct lights to the old lamp of the Jewish sanctuary, and these could be individually filled; but here they are all one. One bowl is filled with oil, and from it the oil runs down the pipes to each of the lights. So there is unity in the church. We all suffer if one suffers; we are all the better if one is in a prosperous condition. No man lives to himself, and no man dies to himself. Though I speak of myself now as a fool, yet, it is true, if I decline in grace I injure all of you more or less, and you also in some measure exert a similar influence upon me, though not to the same extent, because you do not occupy the same public position. Every member of the church who grows poor in grace impoverishes all the rest in some degree. We act and react upon each other. I am sure the preacher can do injury to the hearer, and the hearer can in measure injure the preacher. Let your grace decline, and your prayerfulness be restrained, and the pastor must feel the loss, and his ministry will bear melancholy evidence that the Spirit of God is not witnessing mightily among us. So instead of one enriching the other we may by sinful neglect mutually endanger our prosperity; indeed, we may impoverish each other, and become partners in destitution and distress. May it never be so with us, but may we always prove ourselves to be a warm-hearted, loving, prayerful people, who are so glowing ourselves that we warm up those who are cold, and kindle fresh life in those who are expiring. Then if the whole congregation is consecrated to God, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ gladdens them all, and they are filled with the fruits of righteousness, the minister can never be dull and drowsy; his heart will be aglow with sacred fervour, and his preaching will be resplendent with divine light and fire. The pews will respond to the pulpit. Fire will kindle to a flame, and the flame will kindle fresh fire. Vitality will promote revival; our tone will be spirited and inspiriting. A breath from the four winds will make a stir among the dry bones, and an army shall presently arise. The force of sympathy shall be felt; and by freely using all our holy gifts our commonwealth will flourish. Oh may it be so. I know it is desirable, and I feel that it will be attained. Nor is it merely for one church we are thus anxious: all the churches need the same consecration. If one church is dull it injures other churches. All the churches of Jesus Christ are really one, and, as even my little finger cannot be ailing without my head suffering as a result, so even the smallest church in the most remote village cannot decline without the entire body of the faithful, whether it is known to themselves or not, being losers by it. Look well then to every portion of the apparatus of this golden lamp: watch its details; keep it well trimmed and abundantly supplied; remember its unity, for with all its many pipes it is only one lampstand.
15. III. But the most remarkable disclosure in this vision was THE MYSTERIOUS SUPPLY BY WHICH THESE LAMPS ARE KEPT BURNING.
16. There were no priests to trim these lamps, nor is mention made of anyone being appointed to keep them in order. No golden snuffers nor golden snuff-dishes were used; nor was any oil brought by any living man to replenish them. That is remarkable. Moreover there is no mention of oil being given by the people. The lamp in the temple was fed by the offerings of the people; they brought the best oil to keep the lamp perpetually burning before the altar. There is nothing of the kind here: that is not the way by which this oil gets to the lamp in the vision before us. Neither by priest nor people is it supplied. But how, then? Why simply by a natural process, without any machinery; for there are two olive branches: “Two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon its left side”; and these trees in this vision empty the golden oil out of themselves through the two golden pipes, and so the marvellous lamp is kept supplied. It is a very exceptional picture which is now before you, oil flowing directly from the living tree and at once creating light. Ordinarily, when the olive tree yields its berries, they must be taken to the mill and ground before oil can be produced. I have gone into the olive mill myself and seen the great stones crushing the berries, and I have seen the other processes by which the olive oil is prepared for the lamp; but there is no mention here of any mill, or press, or strainer, or jar, or bottle of oil. The fuel for this light does not come in that way at all; but the tree grows, and, in a mysterious way imparts its oil to the bowl of the pipe, and in this way the flame is fed. Thus we are shown that the light of God is not dependent upon human will or human skill. It is an apt illustration of the text we were reading just now which lights up the whole chapter. “ ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.” Not by your grinding out your oil by laboriously turning the mill of study, nor by your contributions of wealth, nor by your eloquence and logic, but by divine agency living men shall be raised up, and through these living men shall come the wondrous golden oil of grace, by which the lamp of testimony shall be kept bright, and the darkness of the world shall be overcome.
17. At first sight the provision may appear to be inadequate for the purpose. For God to make two olive trees grow by the side of the lampstand seems at first to be a deficient arrangement, because the trees stand out so separate from the lamp that we cannot perceive any connection between them. Had I beheld that vision as the prophet saw it I feel I should have been as perplexed as he was. I should have said, “What are these?” I could not have figured it out. Two olive trees growing by the side of a candelabrum! What connection can there be between them and it? But that is the very pith of the vision. You are to be shown the unique manner in which the Lord keeps his church burning and shining without mechanism. He simply raises up chosen men, perhaps only two, sometimes more, who live and grow, and in their life and growth they produce, by God’s grace, as from their very souls, the sacred truth, the holy oil with which the lamp of God is kept burning. I suppose that the two olive trees represent in this case Joshua, the high priest, of whom we read that his filthy garments were taken away, and he was clothed with a change of clothing; and Zerubbabel, of whom we read in this chapter that his hands had laid the foundation, and his hands should finish the house. These were the two men whom God strengthened and enabled to set up a standard because of the truth. The Lord qualified them to build the temple so that he might be glorified in it. Those two men by divine grace carried out the Lord’s intention, moving the people to the sacred service. Joshua was made the ruler and teacher of the people, and Zerubbabel was promised that his hands should lay the top-stone, as his hands had laid the foundation of the temple; and this, too, when Judah’s lamp burned dim and her light was almost gone out. These two, though they were nothing in themselves but godly men, who like living trees produced fruit to God, should be the means, according to the appointment of God, of keeping up the sacred testimony as long as they lived. Such means certainly appear insignificant in comparison with the magnificent result to be achieved. But that is God’s way of working. He generally works by ones or twos, and when he uses two he couples them well. In the missions of the Lord’s ordaining we observe Moses and Aaron, Caleb and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Peter and John, Paul and Barnabas, Calvin and Luther, Whitfield and Wesley. Foolish people rail at a one-man ministry, but what can they say against a two-men ministry? To the end of time there will be two witnesses; representative men will rise in pairs and do the work of the Lord, in order to arouse the whole church. Little as the world may think of them at the time, men do arise whose influence wonderfully displays the power of God, for they are made to stand like olive trees, and by some mysterious means it is through them that the lamp of God is kept burning continuously.
18. I want you to notice two things about these two men. You wonder how it is that God should speak of them as keeping the lamp burning. He so speaks of them, for he says, “These are the two anointed ones, who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” First remember that they are able to do this because they stand before the Lord of the whole earth. Those whom God chooses to do his work stand as his servants in his sight: they could do nothing of themselves or by themselves, but their testimony comes from God, and their unction is from the Holy One, and they are clothed with divine energy, otherwise they would be as weak as the rest of their brethren. Then be sure of this, that they have been anointed: they are said to be “anointed ones.” We have no power to pour out oil until we have been ourselves anointed: it is not possible that we should feed the holy light until God has created in us the will of his own good Spirit. These men are said to have been filled with the Spirit of God, according to the sixth verse: “ ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord.” There is Joshua; you can see him; he is clad in filthy garments! Is this the Lord’s high priest? Is this he who is to instruct the people, the man who wears garments that are old, and soiled, and foul? Yes, that is the man. “ ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts,” and my Spirit shall rest upon this poor Joshua, this brand plucked out of the burning, and he shall teach my people. There is the other man over there — Zerubbabel. He is a poor, timid creature. It is the day of small things with him; he has very little confidence. God has to chide him and say, “Who has despised the day of small things?” But he is the man before whom the mountain shall become a plain; he is the man who shall build the temple of the Lord, because the Spirit of God shall be upon him, — “ ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.” You will always find that when God chooses men to do his work he makes it palpable to everyone that they are nothing but men. Sometimes they have imperfections over which we mourn very much, and over which they mourn far more than we do; but these obvious signs of their infirmity show more distinctly the infinite skill of him who uses such poor instruments. The frailty of the earthen vessels is made evident, that the excellency of the power which is of God and not of them may be all the more conspicuous. So it is with God’s work, for he will have it known that it is not by charm of eloquence, nor by force of reasoning, but by his Spirit, that he operates with resistless power; so he takes men, poor humble men, who seem no more able to trim the golden lamp than two olive trees would be, and he works by them to the praise of the glory of his grace. Yet these men must be full of faith. “Who are you, oh great mountain? before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain.” I do not doubt that Zerubbabel grasped that promise, relied upon it, and rejoiced in it, and proved himself to be a man of faith. God will use us, whatever our faults are, if we have faith. I do not know what use he could make of any man who has no faith. Read the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, and notice on what strange men God set the seal of his approbation, because they had faith. Samson may be quoted as an extreme case: speaking after the manner of men, we might have thought that God would have set him aside altogether, because there were such serious flaws in his character. Yet he was a great child-man, who, with all his faults, believed in God, and perhaps believed more in God than many who were far better than he in other respects. With a thousand foes before him, only think of that one man daring, through his confidence in God, to fling himself upon them all, with no weapon except a poor donkey’s jawbone. See, he leaps upon the crowd. “Heaps upon heaps. With the jawbone of a donkey I have slain a thousand men.” He never counted the odds. He just went at it, believing that God would help him, however tremendous the struggle might be. So when they put him, blind as he was, into that huge temple of the Philistine gods, where everything was so strong and massive that it could bear up all the Philistine lords up there in the gallery, he begins feeling for the pillars: this poor blind man, whose hair had been shorn, and who had been made a prisoner by his bitter adversaries, feels for the huge columns, believing that God would enable him to snap them like reeds, or rock them to and fro as bulrushes. Oh what a desperate and glorious tug that was! What a transcendent act of faith when he bowed himself with all his might, and pulled the structure down upon the heads of his oppressors! A glorious faith animated him. He was a poor specimen of propriety in many respects: he was made of queer stuff; but there was grandeur in his faith, and that saved him. Oh my dear brother, if you can believe God, God can use you, but if you have no faith, or if you have only a weak, trembling faith, your unbelief will hinder the Lord, and it will be said of you, “God could not do many mighty works by him, because of his unbelief.” Oh, if we could believe more implicitly, and venture to act more unreservedly on the certainty of the covenanted promises, what exploits we might achieve. The limit of our usefulness is narrowly set by our lack of confidence in God. If we had more faith, the harvests we reap, which yield tenfold, might yield fifty fold, or a hundredfold. With more faith the weakest of us might be as David, and David would be as the angel of the Lord. May God grant us his grace that we may so believe, and rely upon his sure word that we may become men fit for his use and profitable for his service.
19. One thing more is prominent and unmistakable about these men — these olive tree men — who fed the lamp and kept it burning, — they ascribed all their success to grace, for it is said that when the top-stone of the temple should be brought out there should be shoutings of “Grace, grace, to it.” If souls are saved, it is always by a ministry of grace. Whatever else is left out in a soul-saving testimony there must be a clear ring with respect to grace. Election by the grace of the Father, regeneration by the grace of the Holy Spirit, remission of sins by the grace of God through the atoning blood of Jesus: grace beginning, continuing, and perfecting. I like the word “grace” even when it is coupled with an adjective and spoken of as “sovereign grace,” “free grace,” “effectual grace”; and all those whom God will bless must be men who love his grace, and feel his grace, and preach his grace; for this is the very essence of the golden oil by which the lamp is trimmed.
20. These men, or rather these trees, emptied out the golden oil “out of themselves.” They did not make the golden oil; it came into them by the miraculous power of God: the process was beyond nature. Men cannot create grace any more than trees could prepare oil by themselves. Olive trees cannot distil oil without a press, nor can men be the means of grace to others unless God shall cause them to be so and then they empty out themselves for a good and gracious purpose.
21. Well, dear brethren, if you want to know how to be useful, one of the things that is absolutely necessary is that you empty yourselves out. Do you expect to give anything to another without losing it yourself? You will be mistaken. Take it as a general rule that nothing can come out of you that is not in you, and as a next general rule that it takes something out of you to give something to other people. Paul said he did not merely wish to impart the gospel to the people, but himself also. Though he did not preach himself, yet he was willing to spend and be spent as long as he could bring souls to Christ. I believe the difference between the result of the labour of one man and another is often this, that one gives more out from himself than another. I am acquainted with some very learned brethren of mine who do not feed many people. They are huge barrels of learning, like the Heidelberg Tun, [b] and they are full to the brim with the best liquor in the world, but never much comes out. On the other hand, I have never myself been anything but a very small kilderkin, [c] but I let everything run out that is put into me. If you do not have ten talents to boast about, turn the one talent you have over and over and over and over again; and you will make far more of it than if you let many talents lie still and rust. Take care that you are actively earnest in the cause of the Master, and a blessing will surely come out of it.
22. Oh how it shows the wisdom of God, and the power of God, when he makes simple means produce surprising results; and by feeble instruments accomplishes his infinite forethoughts. God might have been glorified by doing the work himself, as when of old he stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, speaking and it was done. But he is far more glorified by using poor, unworthy creatures for the accomplishment of his divine purposes. When Quintin Matsys made the famous well cover at Antwerp, it would have been highly creditable to him even if he had used the best of implements to make it with. When we are told, however, that his fellow workmen robbed him of his tools, and that he did it with one common hammer or some such instrument, our estimation of the artist’s skill is greatly enhanced. It is no wonder that the Spirit of God himself can convert souls, the wonder is that he converts men by us. That we who are so imperfect, and so feeble, should become channels of blessing is a great marvel. Those two olive trees might, it was feared, grow in the way of the light, but God made them to be its maintainers. The branches of our infirmity might hide the light from the people’s eyes if grace did not intervene and make every one of them yield its olives, and pour out its measure of oil for the supply of the golden candelabrum.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, if you have light, shed it; if you
have grace, endeavour to impart it. The Lord has blessed you, ask him
to bless you more by his Holy Spirit. Let those olive trees, yielding
abundance of oil, be your model, so that your lively vigour may prove
of lasting value to the church. So may the Lord be with you
henceforth and for ever. Amen and amen.
[Portion Of Scripture Read Before Sermon — Zec 4]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “Public Worship, Revivals and Missions — The Holy Spirit Invoked” 972]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “Public Worship, Revivals and Missions — The Call Of The Heathen For Help” 969]
[See Spurgeon_Hymnal “Public Worship, Revivals and Missions — Influences Of The Spirit” 971]
[a] Pharos: The name of an island off Alexandria, on which stood a famous tower lighthouse, built by Ptolemy Philadelphus: hence the lighthouse itself. OED.
[b] Heidelberg Tun: This is an extremely large wine vat contained within the cellars of Heidelberg Castle. There have been four such barrels in the history of Heidelberg; the present one has a capacity of approximately 48,400 imperial gallons and was made in 1751. One hundred and thirty oak trees were reputedly used in its construction. It has only rarely been used as a wine barrel, and in fact presently enjoys more use as a tourist attraction, and also as a dance floor since one was constructed on top of the tun. See Explorer "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heidelberg_Tun"
[c] Kilderkin: A cask for liquids, fish, etc. of a definite capacity (half a barrel). 16 to 18 imperial gallons. OED.
Public Worship, Revivals and Missions
972 — The Holy Spirit Invoked
1 Oh Spirit of the living God,
In all thy plenitude of grace,
Where’er the foot of man hath trod,
Descend on our apostate race.
2 Give tongues of fire and hearts of love
To preach the reconciling word;
Give power and unction from above,
Whene’er the joyful sound is heard.
3 Be darkness, at thy coming, light,
Confusion, order in thy path;
Souls without strength inspire with might,
Bid mercy triumph over wrath.
4 Oh Spirit of the Lord, prepare
All the round earth her God to meet;
Breathe thou abroad like morning air,
Till hearts of stone begin to beat.
5 Baptize the nations far and nigh;
The triumphs of the cross record;
The name of Jesus glorify,
Till every kindred call him Lord.
James Montgomery, 1825.
Public Worship, Revivals and Missions
969 — The Call Of The Heathen For Help <7.6.>
1 From Greenland’s icy mountains,
From India’s coral strand,
Where Africa’s sunny fountains
Roll down their golden sand;
From many an ancient river,
From many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver
Their land from error’s chain.
2 What though the spicy breezes
Blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle;
Though every prospect pleases,
And only man is vile:
In vain with lavish kindness
The gifts of God are strewn;
The heathen in his blindness,
Bows down to wood and stone.
3 Can we, whose souls are lighted
With wisdom from on high,
Can we, to men benighted,
The lamp of life deny?
Salvation, oh salvation,
The joyful sound proclaim;
Till each remotest nation
Has learnt Messiah’s name.
4 Waft, waft, ye winds, his story!
And you, ye waters roll,
Till, like a sea of glory,
It spreads from pole to pole;
Till o’er our ransom’d nature,
The Lamb for sinners slain,
Redeemer, King, Creator,
In bliss returns to reign.
Reginald Heber, 1823.
Public Worship, Revivals and Missions
971 — Influences Of The Spirit <8.7.4.>
1 Who but thou, Almighty Spirit,
Can the heathen world reclaim?
Men may preach, but till thou favour,
Heathens will be still the same:
Witness to the saviour’s name.
2 Thou hast promised by the prophets,
Glorious light in latter days;
Come and bless bewilder’s nations,
Change our prayers and tears to praise:
Round the world diffuse thy rays.
3 All our hopes, and prayers, and labours,
Must be vain without thine aid:
But thou wilt not disappoint us;
All is true that thou hast said:
O’er the world thine influence spread.
Eriphus, “Evangelical Magazine,” 1821.