Self-Emptiness

The fullness of God ever waits upon an empty vessel. This is a grand practical truth, very easily stated, but involving a great deal more than one might, at first sight, imagine. The entire Book of God illustrates this truth. The history of the people of God illustrates it; and the experience of each believer illustrates it. Whether we study the Book of God, or the ways of God-His ways with all-His ways with each, we have this most precious truth, that "the fullness of God ever waits on an empty vessel."
This holds good with respect to the sinner, in his first coming to Christ; and it holds good with respect to the believer, at every stage of his career, from the starting post to the goal.
I. In the first place, as regards the sinner in his first coming to Christ, what is this but the fullness of God, in redeeming love and pardoning mercy, waiting upon an empty vessel? The real matter is to get the sinner to take the place of an empty vessel. Once there, the whole question is settled. But, ah! what exercise, what struggling, what toil, what conflict, what fruitless efforts, what ups and downs, what vows and resolutions, in hundreds and thousands of cases, ere the sinner is really brought to take the place of an empty vessel, and he filled with God's salvation! How marvelously difficult it is to get the poor legal heart emptied of its legality, that it may be filled with Christ! It will have something of its own to lean upon and cling to. Here lies the root of the difficulty. We can never " draw water from the wells of salvation " until we come thither with empty vessels.
This is difficult work. Many spend years of legal effort ere they reach the grand moral point of self-emptiness, even in its reference to the simple question of righteousness before God. When once they have reached that point, the matter is found to be so simple that the wonder is how they could have spent so long in getting hold of it, and why they had never got hold of it before. There is never any difficulty found, when the sinner really takes the ground of self-emptiness. The question, " Who shall deliver me? " is sure to be followed immediately by the reply, " I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." Rom. 7
Now, it will always be found that the more completely the sinner gets emptied of himself, the more settled his peace will be. If self and its doings, its feelings and its reasonings, be not emptied out, there will assuredly be doubts and fears, ups and downs, wavering and fluctuation, seasons of darkness and cloudiness afterward. Hence the vital importance of seeking to make a clean riddance of self, so that Christ, " the fullness of the Godhead bodily," may be known and enjoyed. It is the one who can most truthfully and experimentally say,
" I'm a poor sinner and nothing at all,"
that can also adopt as his own that additional line,
" But Jesus Christ is my all in all."
It is ever thus. A full Christ is for an empty sinner, and an empty sinner for a full Christ. They are morally fitted to each other; and the more I experience the emptiness, the more I shall enjoy the fullness. So long as I am full of self-confidence, so long as I am full of trust in my morality, my benevolence, my amiability, my religiousness, my righteousness, I have no room for Christ. All these things must be thrown overboard, ere a full Christ can be apprehended. It cannot be partly self and partly Christ. It must be either the one or the other; and one reason why so many are tossed up and down " in dark uncertainty " is, because they are still cleaving to some little bit of self. It may be a very little bit. They may not, perhaps, be trusting in any works of righteousness that they have done; but still there is something of self retained and trusted in. It may be the very smallest possible atom of the creature-its state, its feelings, its mode of appropriating, its experiences, something or other of the creature kept in which keeps Christ out. In short, it must be so, for if a full Christ were received, a full peace would be enjoyed; and if a full peace be not enjoyed, it is only because a full Christ has not been received. This makes the matter as simple as possible.
Reader, do you fully understand this? Have you, as an empty sinner, come to Christ to be filled with His fullness, to be satisfied with His all-sufficiency, to find the solid rest of your heart and conscience in Him alone? Say, are you, now, fully satisfied with Christ? I earnestly pray you to get this point settled, now. Is Christ enough for your heart, enough for your conscience, enough for your whole moral being? See that you make earnest, real, hearty work of it now. Are you resting wholly in Christ? Which is it, Christ alone, or Christ and something else? Are you, in some secret chamber of your heart, hiding a little fragment of legality-some little atom of creature confidence—some element of self-righteousness? If so, you cannot enjoy true gospel peace. It cannot be. Gospel peace is the result of receiving a full Christ into a heart that has learned its own emptiness. Christ is our peace. True peace is not a mere feeling in the mind. It is found in a divine, living, real Person, even Christ Himself, who, having made peace by the blood of His cross, has become oar peace in the presence of God. This peace can never be disturbed, inasmuch as He who is our peace, is " the same, yesterday, to-day, and forever." (Heb. 13) Were it a mere feeling in the mind, it would prove as variable as the mercury in a barometer. If I am occupied with my feelings, I am not self-emptied, and, as a consequence, I cannot know the joy and peace which flow from being occupied only with Christ, for the fullness of God ever waits upon an empty vessel.
Thus much as to the application of our thesis to the case of a sinner in his first coming to Christ.
II. Let us, now, see how it applies to a believer at every stage of his career. This is a deeply practical branch of the subject. We have very little idea at times of bow full we are of self and the world. Hence it is that in one way or another, we have to be emptied from vessel to vessel. Like Jacob of old, we struggle hard, and hold fast our confidence in the flesh, until at length the source of our strength is dried up, and the ground of our confidence swept from under us, and then we are constrained to cry out,
" Other refuge have I none,
Clings my helpless soul to Thee."
There can be no greater barrier to our peace and habitual enjoyment of God than our being filled with self-confidence. "We must be emptied and humbled. God cannot divide the house with the creature. It is vain to expect it. Jacob had the hollow of his thigh touched, in order that he might learn to lean upon God. The halting Jacob found his sure resource in Jehovah, who only empties us of nature that we may be filled with Himself. He knows that just in so far as we are filled with self-confidence, or creature-confidence, we are robbed of the deep blessedness of being filled with His fullness. Hence, in His great grace and mercy, He empties us out, that we may learn to cling, in childlike confidence, to Him. This is our only place of strength, of victory, and repose.
Some one has said, " I never was truly happy until I ceased to wish to be great." This is a fine moral truth. "When we cease to wish to be anything, when we are content to be nothing, then it is we taste what true greatness-true elevation—true happiness—true peace, really is. The restless desire to be something or somebody, is destructive of the soul's tranquility. The proud heart and ambitious spirit may pronounce this a poor, low, mean, contemptible sentiment; but ah! when we have taken our place on the forms of the school of Christ-when we have begun to learn of Him who was meek and lowly in heart-when we have drunk, in any measure, into the spirit of Him who made Himself of no reputation, we then see things quite differently. " He that humbleth himself shall be exalted." The way to get up is to go down. This is the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine which fell from His lips and is inscribed on His life. " And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, verily, I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18:2-42And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:2‑4).) This is the doctrine of heaven-the doctrine of self-emptiness. How unlike to all that obtains down here in this scene of self-seeking and self-exaltation!
We have, in the person of John the Baptist, a fine example of one who entered, in some degree, into the real meaning of self-emptiness. The Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, " Who art thou? What sayest thou of thyself?" What was his reply? A self-emptied one. He said he was just " a voice." This was taking his true place. u A voice" had not much to glory in. He did not say, "1 am one crying in the wilderness." No; he was merely " the voice of one." He had no ambition to be anything more. This was self-emptiness. And, observe the result. He found his engrossing object in Christ. "Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; and looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!" What was all this, but the fullness of God waiting on an empty vessel! John was nothing, Christ was ail; and hence, when John's disciples left his side to follow Jesus, we may feel assured that no murmuring word, no accent of disappointed ambition or wounded pride escaped his lips. There is no envy or jealousy in a self-emptied heart. There is nothing touchy, nothing tenacious, about one who has learned to take his true place. Had John been seeking his own things, he might have complained when he saw himself abandoned; but, ah! my reader, when a man has found his satisfying object in " the Lamb of God," he does not care much about losing a few disciples.
We have a further exhibition of the Baptist's self-emptied spirit in the third chapter of John. "And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all come to him." Here was a communication quite calculated to draw out the envy and jealousy of the poor human heart. But mark the reply, the noble reply, of the Baptist: " A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven......He must increase, but I must decrease. He that cometh from above is above all; he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is ABOVE ALL." Precious testimony this! A testimony to his own utter nothingness, and Christ's fullness, glory, and peerless excellence! " A voice" was " nothing." Christ was " high over all."
Oh! for a self-emptied spirit-" A heart at leisure from itself"—a mind delivered from all anxiety about one's own things! May we be more thoroughly delivered from self in all its detestable windings and workings! Then could the Master use us, own us, and bless us. Hearken to His testimony to John-the one who said of himself that he was nothing but a voice. " Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist." (Matt. 11:1111Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11:11).) How much better to hear this from the Master than from the servant! John said, " I am a voice." Christ said he was the greatest of prophets. Simon Magus " gave out that himself was some great one." Such is the way of the world-the manner of man. John the Baptist, the greatest of prophets, gave out that himself was nothing-that Christ was " above all," What a contrast!
May we be kept lowly and self-emptied, that. be continually filled with Christ. This is true wt-true blessedness. May the language of our hearts, and the distinct utterance of our lives ever be, " Behold the Lamb of God."