WILLIAM ARNOT " But tlie Lord said unto him, Go thy way : for He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before tbe Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel." — Acts ix. 15. The apostle Paul occupies a large place in the Bible, in the Church, in history, in heaven. No mere man, before or since, has filled so great a space in the scheme of Providence, or left his mark so wide and deep upon the world. The gospel is the greatest power that has ever operated on earth, and Paul was its greatest minister. Considering the tendency to hero-worship, which seems inherent in our fallen nature, there was great danger lest he who stood so far above his fellows should be mistaken for a god. This danger was foreseen and averted in the election and calling of Paul. He who conceived the plan and executed it, hath done all things well. The worshippers of that saint will be put to shame when the Scriptures reveal the hole of the pit whence sovereign mercy dug their idol. The history of Saul's conversion proclaims more clearly, more loudly than an angel's voice, " See thou do it not." This most learned doctor of the schools, the Pharisee who scrupulously tithed his mint, and devoutly buckled

IN THE WORK OF THE LORD. 87 on his broad ph34acteries, was the life and soul of the infuriated gang who shed the blood of Christ's earliest martyi'. The mob executioners got their signal in the glance of his cruel eye. He satiated his own sectarian

pride by the murder of the good, and crowned his wickedness by offering the bloody deed as a service done to God. To make an idol of this man, when by free grace he is highly exalted and greatly used, is either impossible or inexcusable. God needed a man to signal the glad tidings so that they might be seen afar ; with this view he lifted one up from the lowest place, and set him on the highest. Thus divine mercy found free scope, and human ])ride was effectually excluded. Job, though free from idolatry in fact, confessed that " the moon walking in brightness '' tempted him to kiss his hand in token of reverence, as if the creature Avere divine. But if he had known that moon at first, a mass of impurity lying on the earth and polluting it, and seen it then by God's hand lifted up, and lighted, and balanced in the sky, he would not have experienced any tendency to worship the once filthy and still feeble thing. All the homage of his heart would have risen spontaneous^ to the living and time God, who made that lesser light, and hung it in heaven for the use of men. It is thus that we are kept from unduly reverencing the apostle Paul, although, under the Sun of righteousness, he is the largest light of our spiritual firmament; for in our sight he was, by mere mercy, lifted from the mire of guilt, and fixed the loftiest and brightest of that cloud of witnesses who receive and reflect the " Light of the world."

88 VESSELS CHOSEN, CHARGED, AND USED Vfe shall best explain and apply the text by examining its terms in succession, one by one. I. A vessel. The term signifies the implement by which any work is done, or the dish in which anything is held. It is an instrument constructed and fitted for use in any species of operation. All the world is the field whereon God works, and it

is full of the instruments which he employs. Every flower, every leaf, every tendril is a cunningly contrived instrument, designed and fitted for carrying on some delicate process in the vegetable ecomony. In animals every member of the body is a tool with which the creature — with which the great Creator works. The eye, the ear, the tongue, the foot, and a thousand other exquisite instruments, hang at hand in the workshop, ready for the worker's use. Each separate part of creation, again, is an instrument in God's hands for carrying his plans into effect. The internal fires of the globe are his instruments for heaving up the mountain ridges, and causing the intervening valleys to subside. The clouds are vessels employed in carrying water from its great reservoir in the oce9.n to every portion of the thirsty land. The rivers are waste-pipes for carrying back the soiled water that it may be purified for subsequent use. The sun is an instrument for lighting and warming a troop of revolving worlds, and the earth's huge bulk a curtain for screening off* the sunlight at stated intervals, and so affording to weary workers a grateful night of rest. Chief of all the imple-

IN THE WORK OF THE LORD. 89 merits provided and employed on earth, is man — made last, made best for liis Author's service ; broken, disfigured, and defiled by sin, but capable of working wondrously yet, when redeemed, and restored, and employed again. God has not cast away the best of all his instruments because it was marred and polluted. He has conceived and executed a costly plan for redeeming and renewing it. He spared not his own Son, that he might have from this fallen family a multitude of vessels full of his love — a multitude of fitting instruments employed in his service. A soul won is the best instrument for winning souls.

II. A chosen vessel. This man, who was raised from the ground by his companions and led blind into Damascus, is the vessel whom the Lord has sovereignly chosen, and will graciously employ. "The eyes of the Lord are in every place.'' "Known unto God are all his works." Compassing him about in all his ways, God felt every throb of impotent anger that was beating in the persecutor's heart. Although the vessel was marred and occupied with evil, its Maker counted it still his own. He can employ the evil as his unconscious instruments, or make them willing in the day of his power. When he had chastised backsliding Israel by the King of Babylon, he broke the rod and threw it away. In other cases he turns the king's heart as a river of water, and then accepts the willing homage of a converted man. It was a polished and capacious vessel that the Great King wrenched from the grasp of the arch-enemy near the gate of Damascus. One of the clearest intellects that

90 VESSELS CHOSEN, CHARGED, AND USED ever glowed in a human frame changed hands that day. Saul was a man of rare courage. He was a good soldier of the wicked one before he owned allegiance to Christ. He did what he said. The purposes which his heart devised his hand executed. " I verily thought I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth, which thing I also did." The vessel was capacious, and the capacious vessel was full. All the learning of the time had been poured into it. The traditions of the Jews and the philosophy of the Greeks lay and seethed together in that roomy and restless brain. Not only was his head full of notions ; his heart was fired with a resolute purpose, and his arm was nerved by a dauntless will. He was Christ's chief enemy then in the world. He

breathed forth threatenings and slaughter against the members of the Church, blasphemies against its living Head. God looks down from heaven on this man, not as an adversary whose assaults are formidable, but as an instrument which may be turned to another use. As clay in the hands of the potter this man lies. The vessel may be broken in anger, or employed in labours of love as the Maker wills. Arrested at the crisis of its course by a hand unseen, it is turned upside down, emptied of its accumulated filth, purged from all its dross, filled from heaven's pure treasures, and used to water the world with the word of life. Under God's eye and in God's hand, this man is not a formidable antagonist, but simply a vessel to be broken in judgment, or purified for use on earth and in heaven. Saul of Tarsus, called to be an apostle, is a conspicuous

IX THE WORK OF THE LORD. 91 example of divine sovereignty. He did nob first choose Christ, but Christ chose him. He was in the way of evil when the Lord met him with subduing, forgiving, renewing mercy. When human pride is at last silenced by the sense of redeeming love, it is sweet to feel and own that Jesus is at once the author and tbe finisher of our faith — " the beoinninor of the creation of God " within renewed human hearts on earth, and the ending thereof when the spuits of the just are made perfect in his presence. Christ is first and last — all in all. I recognise God's command to me, that I should turn and live; I recognise my duty to close with his offer; I recognise the justice of my condemnation if I refuse to comply. God bids me believe and live: I ought to obey; but if I obey and be saved like Paul, like him I shall say and sing, as the history of my redemption. When I was wandering helpless further and further towards death, the Good Shepherd followed and found me, turned me round

and bore me back to his fold. III. A vessel unto me. Two things lie in the conversion of Paul and in every conversion ; the man gets an Almighty Saviour, and God gets a willing servant. The true instinct of the new creature burst forth from Paul's breast as soon as he knew his Saviour, and before he was lifted from the ground, — " Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" The answer, sent through Ananias in Damascus, after the tumult had subsided, indicated to the convert what he should be, rather than what he should do : " He is a chosen vessel unto me." We get

92 VESSELS CHOSEN, CHAKGED, AND USED a glimpse here of the two tendencies, the human and the divine. I shall do, says the disciple in the ardour of a first love ; Thou shalt be, answers that wise and kind Master, who knows that the spirit in the disciple is willing, but the flesh weak. To be like Christ is the most efiectual way of working for Christ. I shall bear the vessels of the Lord, volunteers the ransomed sinner, when he feels that he is not his own, but bought with a price ; the reply to this ofier requires a less positive, more passive, and yet greater thing ; Thou shalt be the vessel of the Lord. It is a great thing that I should take up instruments and do a work for Christ in the world ; but it is a greater that Christ should take me in his hand and work out his purposes with me. "A people near unto him/' is an ancient appellation of the saved. Surely they are near him who are held as a vessel in his hand. This is our security alike for safety and usefulness. The star that is in his right hand is held up so that it cannot fall, and held out so that it shines afar. When he chooses a vessel he uses it ; he neither keeps it idle nor casts it away. TV. A vessel to hear Tny name. The text tells not only what he is and whose he is, but also and specifically to

what uses he will be applied. He was a vessel firmly put together, and filled to overflowing, before Jesus met him in the way. At that meeting he was emptied of his miscellaneous vanities, and filled with the name of Christ. See an account of the whole process by his own pen : " If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more : circumcised the eighth day, of

IN THE WORK OF THE LORD. 93 the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews ; as touching the law, a Pharisee ; concerning zeal, persecuting the church ; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord : for whom I have suffered the loss of all thino^s, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ" (Phil. iii. 4-8). The whole stock in trade of the self-righteous Pharisee is inventoried here. Himself delights to display the filthy rags, and make a show of them openly. He appropriates the shame to himself that the glory may rise to his Lord. He recounts how these were cast out at the great change, and counted no longer gain, but loss. When these are cast out, however, he does not remain empty. No man ever yet did cast out his own self-righteousness from mere dislike of it. As the money-changers were driven from the temple only at and by the entrance of Jesus, so the false confidences maintain their ground in a human heart until they are displaced by the presence of the Lord our righteousness. All these carefully gathered, tenderly cherished stores, he now counts loss ; but it is for Christ. He counted them precious as long as he knew none other. He never proposed to sell off* all that he had, or anything that he had, until he fell in with the pearl of great price. The old adage is true in fact although defective in philosophy: Nature abhors a vacuum; and in nature, whether

its material or spiritual department, a vacuum is never found. Each man is full either of liis own things, or of Christ's.

94 VESSELS CHOSEN, CHARGED, AXD USED The name of Christ is the precious thing wherewith the vessel is charged. So full was Paul of this treasure that he determined in his ministry to know none other. Whether the apostle be considered for the moment a vessel for bearing seed, or one for bearino: water, the resuit is the same. It is of the things of Christ that the ministering Spirit takes and gives to the disciples, that they may drop the seed into broken hearts, or offer cold water to thirsty souls. There is none other name given under heaven among men whereby we must be saved. V. To bear my name hefore Gentiles, and kings, and the "people of Israel. The name of Christ is the treasure which the vessel bears ; to the Gentiles, and kings, and the people of Israel the vessel bears it. This bread of life, like the manna which fell in the wilderness, is given to be used, not to be hoarded. To be ever getting, ever giving, is the only way of keeping both the vessel and its treasure sweet. The more you give to others, the more j^ou enjoy for your own use. The twelve had a fuller meal in that desert place after they had distributed the bread among five thousand than they would have had if they had dined alone. Christ is with his people still, to bless and multiply the portion of every cheerful giver. Certain classes are enumerated before whom Paul should be a witness for Christ. Before, or more literally " in the face of " these, this vessel must bear that precious name. The form of the expression indicates that in this ministry self-denying courage is required. Perhaps the

IN THE WORK OF THE LORD. 95 series, in this respect, constitutes a climax. It is easier to speak of Christ and his salvation to the Gentiles, than to kings, and easier to speak of him to kings than to his own chosen people. Israel's enmity against the Lord's Anointed w^as keener than that of the surrounding nations. He came unto his own, and his own received him not; but to some, even of these, he gave power to become the sons of God. Paul himself was one of the first-fruits of the seed of Abraham, and a harvest has been gathered since. To this day, however, the nation in its main bulk remains more obstinate than the heathen in refusing to have this Man to reign over them. In our day, too, there are various classes and characters of men who need the testimony of Jesus. Those who possess it should be prepared to bear it about in every place, and hold it forth in any company. This witness in his day was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ ; w^ould that all our Christianity were as honest and as strong ! If we quail wliere the majority profess to be on our side, what would have become of us if our lot had been cast in the beginning of the gospel, when its disciples were obHged to confront an adverse v^rorld ? May the Lord increase our faith, and increase, too, that which hangs next beneath it in Peter's golden chain of graces, — the courage to confess our Saviour before friend and foe. But, perhaps, we should not speak of more courage being required to maintain a good confession in one place, and less in another : for with God it is as easy to keep the ocean within its bed, as to balance a dewdrop on a blade of gTass ; and the same principle rules in the


distribution of grace to disciples of Christ. "Without it the strongest is not sufficient for anything ; with it the feeblest is sufficient for all. Our martyr forefathers, who, by the peace of God ruling in their hearts, were enabled to make good confession at the stake, would, if left to themselves, have denied their Lord under the blandishments of a godless drawing-room. To the eye of sense the faithfulness of this generation is not tested by so severe a strain : but the difference lies mainly in the outward appearance. The human heart is still as deceitful, and the god of this world still as powerful, as in the days of old. In our own strength we cannot overcome the least temptation: through Christ that strengtheneth us we can conquer the greatest. Not before Gentiles, and kings, and the people of Israel, are we summoned to bear witness for Christ : but we stand daily in a place and presence where the temptation to deny him is equally strong. A Christian young man in a great workshop, a Christian young lady in a gay and fashionable family, is either carried away like chaff before the wind, or stands fast by a modern miracle of grace. We are so many vessels, labelled on the outside with the name of Christ ; what we are reall}^ charged with may not be seen at a distance, or discovered in a day. Those, however, who stand near these vessels often oi long, will by degrees find out what they contain. By its occasional overflowings, especially when it is unexpectedly and violently shaken, the secret will be revealed. Some are looking on who do not believe that the Spirit which fills us is tlie Spirit of Christ ; and they lie in

IN THE WORK OF THE LORD. 97 wait for evidence to prove their opinion true. For their own sakes, let them find it false. Before them bear the name of Christ, when needful, on your lips, the Spirit of

Christ in your heart, the example of Christ in your conduct. But the word which requires that we should be witnesses unto Christ is peculiarly apt to slip from our grasp, especially when the specimen exhibited is some eminent saint. An indolent, earthly selfishness, under pretence of humility, like Satan in an angel's dress, cunningly suggests the distinction between a common ungifted man and the great apostle of the Gentiles. He was a worthy witness ; but what could we do, although we did our best ? If you are a sinner forgiven through the blood of Christ, in the greatest things Paul and you are equal ; unequal only in the least. In the things that reach up to heaven and through eternity, there is no perceptible difference between you ; the distinction is confined to the earth and time. You, a lost sinner, get pardon and eternal life in God's dear Son, and what does he get more ? Getting as much from your Lord, you may love your Lord as much. In the economy of grace a shallower vessel serves nearly every purpose as well as a deeper, if both are full of Christ. In nature, the shallowest lake, provided it be full, sends up as many clouds to heaven as the deepest, for the same sunlight beams equally on both their bosoms. This law may often be seen at work in the spiritual kingdom. "Glory to God in the highest" rises in a stream ?s strong and pure from a sinner saved who lays out one 7

98 VESSELS CHOSEN, CHARGED, AND USED talent in a lowly sphere, r.s from a sinner saved who wields ten talents in the sight of an applauding world. Nay, more ; as a lake within the tropics, though shallow, gives more incense to the sky than a polar ocean of

unfathomable depth, so a Christian of few gifts, whose heart lies open fair and long to the Sun of righteousness, is a more effectual witness than a man of greater capacity who lies not so near, and looks not so constantly to Jesus. For a concluding lesson specially suited to the times, let us lay aside the particular idea of a vessel, and take up again the more general idea of an instrument; for both alike lie in the terms of the text. In the coarser work of breaking up his own way at first, God freely uses the powers of nature and the passions of wicked men ; but for the nicer touches near the finishing, he employs more sensitive instruments. A work of righteousness is about to be done upon tlie person of a Greek jailer at Philippi. Mark the method of the omniscient Worker. A strong, coarse tool he seizes first, and therewith strikes the hard material, with the view of parrying it through a certain preparatory stage ; then with an insti-ument of more ethereal temper and keener edge, which he had previously placed within reach, he completes the process. The earthquake which shook the foundations of the prison rent the outer searing of the jailer's conscience, and made an open path into his soul. In such work the powers of nature could no further go. What an earthquake could not do, God did by a renewed human heart, and gentle, loving human lips. From the same chosen vessel that Ananias had visited at Damascus,

IN THE WORK OF THE LORD. 99 the ointment was poured forth wliich healed the jailer's wound. " Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou slialt be saved/' said Paul ; the rude heathen believed and lived. Thus God works to-day both in secret individual conversions, and in wide-spread national revivals. Bank-

ruptcies, storms, diseases, wars, are charged to batter down the defences, and then living disciples go in by the breach to convert a kingdom or win a soul. Missionaries seldom begin the w^ork, and providences never complete it. Each kind of instrument is best in its owm place and time. Do not go forward without providential openings, lest you should spend your strength for nought ; and do not neglect providential openings, lest the lost opportunity should never return. The inanimate machinery of war, more powerful now than in any former generation, may suffice to break down the walls of the enemy's stronghold ; but these engines that pioneer so powerfully cannot capture the fortress ; loyal, living men, must enter and take possession in their sovereign's name. This order is adopted in the Christian warfere. Wherever the strife of men or the judgment of God has made an opening, good soldiers of Jesus Christ spring in and take possession for their Lord. Thus, when war and treaties opened China, the Christian Church leapt in. Within those mysterious barriers Christ is now by his chosen instruments closing in a decisive strufrorle with the stron^j man who for ao^es has kept his house there in peace. By the rents which the earthquake insurrection has left iu the framework of

100 VESSELS CHOSEN, CHARGED, AND USED Indian society, our missionaries may perhaps get deeper into the nation's life than heretofore. In Italy, too, while the thunder and the lightning are doing their terrible work, Christians lie on tlie watch, read}^ to enter with the still, small word as soon as the storm is spent. Already the Man of Sin has been compelled to slacken his grasp, and several provinces are free. The time seems near when chosen vessels full of Christ may bear their treasure through the broken barriers, and pour it out in Italy —

pour it out in Rome, the same unchanged treasure I hat Paul bore long ago to the same place. A long barren night has passed over Italy, but the word of God liveth and abideth for ever. By the very fact of making openings, God is beckoning for instruments to bring it in. But the same order prevails and the same laws rule in the minutest scale of individual Hfe. It is not only China, or India, or Italy that is long closed against Christ, and at last opened by commotions within or assaults from without. This neighbour who has lived long without God in the world, and fenced himself all round against the inroad of serious thoughts, has been shaken as if by an earthquake. It may be the insolvency of a bank, or the death of a brother ; it may be the encroacliment of disease in his own frame, or the spiritual awakening of sinners near him ; it may be any one of these, or of other similar shakings, that makes a breach in the defences, and leaves an opening right through into the soul. Now is the time for those finer instruments which Jesus loves to use. Vessels who bear Christ's name, bear it in at that opening now. Do not stand and say we are not great

IN THE WORK OF THE LORD. 101 vessels ; little vessels will go more easily in, and little vessels, full of Christ, will do the work there as well as great ones. This is what we need — a grea.t number of Christians with Christ in them, penetrating society in every direction like veins in the living body. If these are constantly charged, and so gently, imperceptibly pressing everywhere alike on the retaining walls, they will pour in the precious name that fills them, wherever and whenever an opening is made. The drops that trickle unseen in footprints obey the same law that rules the rivers and the sea. These drops yielding to that law, constitute the rivers and keep the ocean full. Every forgiven sinner is

a vessel ; and by many little vessels must the work be done. Has Christ visited you, brother, and freely taken all your sin away? It shows, you think, that you had need of the Lord ; yea, but it shows also another thing — that the Lord has need of you. 1. 68 FREE BOOKS 2. ALL WRITINGS

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful