Treasure in Earthen Vessels

2 Corinthians 4  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 5
Read 2 Cor. 4
It is a great thing to remember (what Christians too easily forget) that we are called to the enjoyment of heavenly things, and we live by the revelation of them. God has not introduced grace and His Son and Spirit to make us get along easily in the world, but to bring us to the enjoyment of heavenly things, and to live in them.
What characterizes a man is what his mind is on, and then all his ways flow from that. The Apostle says that we "in this tabernacle do groan being burdened;" that is principally all we have of this world. The Lord uses it as an occasion of His dealings with us, but He does not take that up until salvation is settled.
Redemption being settled, we find difficulties and exercises come in; and the Apostle gives us here and in chapter 12 what the principle and power of his walk were. What we are called to is the manifestation of the life of Christ. Your whole life should be nothing but that. God is revealed, we have life, and the Holy Spirit is our power. We are set here as the epistles of Christ, for men to read. While waiting for Christ to manifest Himself in glory, we are to manifest Him in grace. It is not pleasant to "do well, and suffer for it"; but is not that what Christ did? It is what we have to do in lowliness and meekness He first gives us a place in heaven, Christ our life, and then sets us down here to do that.
We have the revelation of God Himself in the Person of His Son. He dwells in us, and we in Him; and we know it, for He has given us of His Spirit. Our place before God is settled; Christ is our life. We have the knowledge of God, and power to walk in this world. And another thing, heavenly things are revealed to us through His Word, the things which belong to the place in which we are now citizens. "We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God."
There we are to live and get the motive that characterizes us as Christians. If that were always so, we should be always really epistles of Christ-in our houses, our dress, in our everyday life, in all the things that are the expression of our hearts. Is Christ the motive in everything we do? If not, we leave Him for some vanity or other. What every Christian has to do is to commend himself "to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (v. 2), that if they judge him, it should be for consistency. "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts." The glory of God is revealed in my heart, and I am thus to manifest it in the world, that they should see it in my words and ways; and in whatever gift I have; that all I say and do should give out the light of the knowledge of God in a world of pitch darkness. It has been revealed in our hearts to make it shine out in the darkness of this world. It is a blessed place, but a very distinct and definite one. If Christ is revealed, He has brought in the knowledge of God; all the glory of God, His holiness, His majesty, His love, has shined into our hearts, that we may give it out.
That is very simple, if it were all; but it is not all. It is God's way to put this in an earthen vessel (that is, our human bodies). The Apostle does not speak here of wickedness, but weakness. We have to get the flesh put down, usually the result of chastening. We know that, but the Apostle does not go on that ground here. It is not a question of sin or failure, but of the path of the Christian as such. The first element is, he has the whole glory of God revealed; but in this "earthen vessel, that the excellency of the power may be of God"-constant dependence. Great, excellent, and wonderful as the treasure is, He has put it in a place which to man's eye and mind and thought is unfit for it; as to power, I mean. Therefore, in your life, even when you are going on right, you get these two elements: all the glory of God revealed in your heart, but put purposely in an earthen vessel, because there is a great deal for us to learn as regards what poor, weak, wretched creatures we are.
Peter says, "I am ready to go with Thee, both into prison, and to death." Will you? said the Lord in effect; I will see. We all know what it was. You may say he had not the Holy Spirit. No, but the flesh is as treacherous now as it was before the Holy Spirit was given. Of course there is more power to keep it down. We may learn slowly what it is, but learn it we must. It comes out even when we are seeking to serve Christ honestly, as Peter was.
It is the thought of God to put the treasure in this vessel that it may learn itself what it is, and we must learn it. We may earnestly and honestly go and preach Christ, and heartily, but we sadly learn that confidence in self results in mistakes. It is lovely to see Moses going down and associating himself with the poor brick-makers; but he had not learned himself, and he killed an Egyptian, and then ran away.
I must keep watching the flesh for I know what it is; then I lean on a strength that is not mine, and wait for God's direction and guidance, for I know my confidence must be in Another, not in myself. By the discovery of my weakness, I know I have no power but in God.
Paul had a thorn in the flesh. He had been put down when he was converted, but he had to be kept down that he might know it was not the capacity of Paul, but that the power of Christ might rest upon him. God says, It is I working in you. Cannot I work through your weakness? Oh then, says Paul, I will keep it! "Most gladly... will I rather glory in my infirmities." Here he says, "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed," for we have God to look to. "Perplexed, but not in despair." I cannot see a way but for myself, but I have God, and He is a sure way. "Persecuted, but not forsaken," for God is with me. "Cast down, but not destroyed."
He lived in the consciousness that the Lord was always there, and that he needed Him. Even in truth and sincerity of heart we are apt to go on as if we did not need the Lord. If for one instant I have not Him with me, I am nothing. Where we are seeking to serve Christ, we have to learn our own lesson; but where there is not that dependence there will be failure. In small things or in great things we cannot do anything without Him, and we are unable to do good in the strength of our own thoughts. We are slow to learn it.
There are two remedies for this. "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus" (v. 10). The Apostle applies it to himself and that goes very far, though it is not all; but if you applied the cross to every thought that arises in your heart, you would find how many thoughts the cross would crucify. The flesh would never put up a thought at all. What could a dead man put up?
Of course we have to be gentle and courteous as Christians; but the old man has been put to death, and I have to reckon myself dead. Here he is carrying it out every day. I fear there are many who do not so apply it to every thought and feeling and purpose-who do not so distrust the flesh and everything in mere human nature. If I let my body live, there is flesh. But he says, I bear "about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest" in my body. In order to manifest Christ always, I hold the flesh dead. That was his part in faith.
Then comes the second thing, God's part. "We which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." However faithful he was, God had to help him. He puts you through circumstances where the flesh comes out, and then says, There now, see what the flesh is. Paul could say all this trial and exercise was for Christ's sake. With us very often it is for flesh's sake.
The fullness of the glory is ours. The glory has shone into our hearts; but He puts it in an earthen vessel, because our hearts have to learn what we are. No self-will can be allowed; no self-stirring, no flesh, no thought from the vanity of this world can be allowed, nothing that does not suit this treasure. Do you not allow thoughts to come into your mind and remain there, that do not suit the treasure of heaven? Things that do not take the form of gross evil, but a quantity of things that are not Christ? Take the day's conversation. Has there been no vanity, no idleness? Is your speech "always with grace, seasoned with salt"? If you take up a newspaper and spend a lot of time reading of the empty things of the world, do you then turn to read of Christ and His glory, and not find your heart dull? If you do not guard against this, you may be sure it will get duller and duller. It hinders the preciousness of Christ to you. You have lost power. You do not go and read your Bible and pray with the same freshness.
When I apply the cross of Christ, it stops the moving of my heart. The Lord puts me through circumstances that put me to the test. If death came and found me a dead man, what effect would it have? With the Apostle the flesh was kept down, and he was looking to God. He says, "We were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life"; but we trusted in God who raised the dead. Would their killing him prevent God's raising him? We can bless God for it. He puts down the flesh that needs putting down. "Death worketh in us, but life in you." Death was working in Paul, and nothing but life worked as regards others. Oh that it were so with us!
The practical effect of it is, "All things are for your sakes." When self is down, I begin to think the thoughts of God, and everything is for us. I see "All things are yours; whether life, or death or things present, or things to come; all are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's." Do you believe that "all things are for your sakes"? that all that happens in the world, no matter what the motives that govern men in it, everything is for your sakes? He makes everything work together for your good-every circumstance in your life. They may not always be pleasant, but we have not to be occupied with them in the same manner as the world is. God overrules all. He lets man go on, but makes "the wrath of man" to praise Him. Peter says in Acts 2, You by wicked hands crucified and slew Him, but it was by the "determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God."
We want only to have confidence that He has a purpose, and that purpose is to glorify His Son. Whatever is needed for that He will do. If my eyes are straight forward to glorify Him, everything goes right. If I go against His path, He will obstruct my way. If I am in His path, He helps me on, but I must be there with His strength. Paul says, "We faint not." I do not go on in my own strength. I may be weary or weak, but it is God. I may be faint in my mind, but "when I am weak, then am I strong." "The inward man is renewed day by day." Dependence is renewed. You never get in the grace of today the strength for tomorrow. Every trouble gives some apprehension of what is to come. Never mind, he says, it is a "light affliction." The inward man is not touched, it is "renewed day by day"; and we get blessing by these very things.
I would ask you, Are you ready to take this place, willing to be under God's hand, cleaving to Him with purpose of heart, saying, "I want to get Christ, to win Him, and here I have one thing to do, to manifest Christ"? Are you willing to have your flesh put down? It is singleness of eye.
What Satan is at, is to get us to have, if it were ever so little, confidence in the flesh. Do you say, "Let the vessel be dealt with as He will, in whatever He sees needed, so that Christ may be manifested, whether by life or by death"? Is that the desire of your heart?