The Overcomer Trust

  • Overcomer Literature Trust
  • Swindon
  • Wiltshire

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By Mrs. Jessie Penn-Lewis.

“God who commanded the light to arise from darkness, has Himself shined in our hearts, that we might be illuminated with the knowledge of the glory of God . . . but we have this treasure in an earthen vessel” 

(2 Cor. 4 v6-7, Syriac version).

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that the illumination of the gospel should not dawn upon them”, writes Paul (2 Cor. 4 v4). The “illumination” he describes comes from the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And those who are illuminated shine as stars in the universe (Phi. 2 v15), in the midst of all that is cracked, and perverse, and contrary to God.

The Lord wants His children to be illuminated vessels. Illuminated by beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord and transformed continually into the same likeness. The glory which shines upon us is reflected by us, even as it comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3 v18).

Paul continues, this treasure is lodged in a body of fragile clay, so that the surpassing power, which accomplishes the work, can only be God’s, and not ours.  An earthen vessel, although illuminated, a body of fragile clay, although indwelt by the Lord of glory.

In everyday life it is important that the heavenly treasure should be clearly distinguished from the fragile clay, lest the vessel should forget and imagine itself a heavenly one.

The Earthen Vessel.

“Jars of clay" (2 Cor. 1 v7).

“The earthly tent we live in” (2 Cor. 5 v1)

“The perishable . . . the mortal" (1 Cor. 15 v54).

“Our lowly bodies" (Phil. 3 v21).

These words describe the earthen vessel as it will always be until the Lord’s appearing.

It is fragile clay, and therefore liable to be broken if severely strained. It is the earthly house of our bodily frame and therefore subject to the laws of God made for all bodily frames until they are dissolved and the house from heaven is given.

“We are children of God”, “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ”, yet we groan, “as we wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8 v23). “We groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling“ (2 Cor. 5 v2) , for it is frustrating to be limited by a body of clay, subject to its laws, whilst in truth we are citizens of heaven.

The Earthen Vessel and its Sufferings.

“Under great pressure so that we despaired even of life " (2 Cor. 1 v8).

“Hard pressed”, “Perplexed”,  “Persecuted”, “Struck down” (2 Cor. 4 v8-9).

“Weakness”, “Fear”, “Much trembling” (1 Cor. 2 v3).

Here we see the illuminated vessel, mortal and weak. Paul does not attempt to hide the fact that he suffered from the problems which came on him. There is no trace in his letters of unnatural stoicism.

Many of God’s children have thought that it honoured the Lord most to hide their feelings and say, “Praise the Lord”. But how little we understand the real life of Jesus as He lived a human life.

Yet Paul was troubled, perplexed and cast down, as he writes about himself to the Corinthians. The life of Jesus in the earthen vessel is shown by Paul’s faith in the faithfulness of God. He is hard pressed, it is true, but not crushed, he is perplexed but is not in despair, he is ofien knocked down but is not destroyed. As dying, yet he lives, the outward man is perishing but the inward man is renewed day by day.

Conybeare remarks that the force of the tenses the Apostle uses implies that the state of things he describes was constantly going on. Not one great test and one great victory, followed by a life of deliverance from trial. No, Paul writes, “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4 v11). How clearly the pattern is given in these words. Daily the vessel of clay is made to know its weakness, so that daily the life of Jesus which conquers death might show forth its power.

Again in the service for Christ, weakness, fear and much trembling seem always to be the necessary condition of the vessel for the fullest demonstration of the Spirit and power. A trembling vessel energised by the Holy Spirit, is the picture before us in the life of Paul, yet many of us think that we know nothing of the abundant life when we tremble in giving the message entrusted to us by the Lord. We have thought that the day would come when we should have great consciousness of power and forget the object lesson of the Paul’s life.

The outward Appearance of the Vessel.

“I Paul, who am timid when face to face with you" (2 Cor. 10 v1).

“Some say, in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing” (2 Cor. 10 v10).

God’s illuminating vessels are not always outwardly beautiful ones. We tend to think so much of the outward appearance, of a noble presence, of fluency of speech and strength of body, but God chooses to do His mightiest work with instruments that are often weak, lowly and despised. Often He allows them to remain contemptible in the eyes of others, lest they glory in the instrument and fail to see the power of God.

Paul writes to the Corinthians warning them that no one should glory in people, and bids them learn “not to think of yourselves more highly than you ought”. Indeed as regards himself he has found it safest not to speak too freely of himself, because he is in Christ, lest anyone should have an exaggerated reverence for him, and think more highly of him than they ought to think. He found it best to glory in his weaknesses, and say little of the great revelations he was given (2 Cor. 12 v5-10). He was willing to remain in the eyes of others a contemptible vessel, and to accept the truth that in outward appearance he was thought of as weak (2 Cor. 12 v5-6).

It needs real humility to calmly accept the truth about ourselves, as we are seen by others, and not to shrink into self-consciousness. To be content to speak but broken words if souls are led to Him and to be lowly in outward appearance so that the beauty of the Lord may be seen.

The Individuality of the Vessel.

“I have been crucified with Christ . . . Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2 v20).

“I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses” (2 Cor. 12 v2-5).

These words, and many other passages, show how clearly Paul recognised the personal individuality of the person indwelt by the risen Lord.

The expressions used in Galatians 2 v20 seem a contradiction and yet they are true. “I have been crucified together with Christ" (literal Greek) describes a change in Paul’s life through fellowship with the death of Christ, bringing in the new force of the life of Christ to be shown through the personality of the earthen vessel. So the Apostle says, “Christ lives in me”. He only gloried in his weakness so that the strength of Jesus might be demonstrated. Paul made a clear distinction between himself as the earthen vessel and the Lord who was his life.

The Apostle takes no position of infallibility. He knows when God speaks through him, and then he does not hesitate to say it, but he also frankly explains when he is using his own personal judgment.

The manifestation of the life of Christ in earthen vessels is transparent and simple, natural, open and free. We need to recognise the humanity and individuality of the earthen vessel alongside the blessed indwelling of the risen Lord. Then we may faithfully declare all that is written in His word, not our view of what the words mean but the Word itself, just as it is written.

The Danger of the Earthen Vessel.

“ To keep me from becoming conceited . . . there was given me a thorn in my flesh” (2 Cor. 2 v7).

Again we emphasise the fact that Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, uses these words about himself. They show that even an abundance of grace may be a danger, needing the special guarding of the earthen vessel by the Lord Himself.

Paul tells us how the Lord provided for this. He gave him a “thorn in the flesh” (v7), which kept him broken and humbled. Paul calls it a “messenger of Satan” although given to him by God Himself. To Paul there were no second causes. It looked a thing that should be taken away, but when he understood from the Lord that the thorn was necessary to cast him continually upon the strength of Christ, he cries, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12 v9-10).

Spiritual exaltation may show itself in self-confidence under the guise of faith, a dogmatic assertion of the truth, or a spirit of judgment and criticism which assumes a spiritual knowledge beyond that of others. How subtle the snares. But God is faithful and will guard His children who trust in Him. He knows how to give each abundantly-used vessel a “thorn” that will keep it broken at His feet. He knows how to protect His chosen vessels from the dangers of their natural temperaments and make it safe for them to be used by Him. He, Who is the Creator, will measure the “thorn” to the need of the vessel and teach it the secret of how to abound, as well as how to be abased.

Let us “offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom. 12 v1), whilst we wait for the appearing of the Lord from heaven, Who “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body" (Phil. 3 v20-21).

From; ‘Power for Service’.