"She said unto her son, 'Bring me yet a vessel." And he said unto her, 'There is not a vessel more,' and the oil stayed."—2 Kings iv. 6.
The strange story from which the above words are taken is like most of Elisha's miracles, in having no grave or lofty purpose or lesson, and being wrought simply to extricate some one from a trivial, transient difficulty.
A poor widow came to the prophet as a sort ot deliverer-general, with her pitiful tale of how she was left penniless with two children, whom a harsh creditor was about to take as slaves, as he had the legal right to do. Elisha had to contrive, as well as to execute, a way for her paying off her debt, and he determined to work a miracle for her. Her home was bare of everything but one pot of oil, her only possession. He bade her borrow vessels from all her neighbours, as many as she could, and then she was to shut herself into the house with her boys, and pour out into the medley of jars and dishes of all sorts and sizes which she had got together. She believed the prophet and did as she was bidden, her two boys, delighted no doubt with their work, bringing vessels empty and gazing, open-eyed, as the golden stream came from the inexhaustible jar, and carrying them away full. When the last of them was filled "the oil stayed," but enough had flowed to be sold for as much as more than paid the debt. It is a singular story, very unlike most Biblical miracles. But we may venture to find in it a symbol, which was not intended, of the conditions under which the Oil of the Holy Spirit's influences is poured into the spirits of Christians. We must bring vessels if we would not check the flow.
We must bring the vessel of Desire. God can give many things without our wishing them, but not His best gift of Himself. He cannot make us wise if we do not wish instruction, nor holy if we have no desire for holiness. He cannot save a man from his sins, if the man holds on to them with both hands, as a shell-fish does with its claws when we try to drag it from its chink in the rock.
God, indeed, is always giving, and long before any desires of ours went up to Him, His love was pouring down on us, just as Funbeams rushed from the sun, before the planets had been completely shaped out of the nebulous haze surrounding them, which intercepted the light. But while He is ever giving, our capacity to receive determines the measure of our reception, and a principal element in determining our capacity is our desire. As the atmosphere rushes into every vacuum; or as the sea runs up into, and fills, every sinuosity of the coast; so wherever a heart opens, and the unbroken coastline is indented, as it were, by desire, in rushes the tide of the divine gifts. We have God in the measure in which we desire Him.
But the desire that receives must be more than a feeble, fleeting wish. Lazily wishing and strenuously desiring are different; the former obtains nothing, the latter everything. Desire must be steadfast, too. If the widow's boys had held their vessels under the jar with unsteady hands, or shifted them from side to side, much oil would have been spilled. The steadfast longing is the answered longing; but the unstable man is not to "think that he shall receive anything of the Lord."
There is but one region where, and one object of desire in regard to which, we can be certain that we shall have what we wish, and as much as we wish. Surely it is wise to turn from this world of vain longing, in which satisfied desires are rare, and are almost as disappointing as balked ones, to Him who will never fail to fulfil the desires of them that fear Him.
Another vessel which we must bring is Expectancy. Confident anticipation that it shall be unto us even as we will is warranted in the Christian life and nowhere else. We set the limit to our possession of God by our expectation. That is what Jesus meant by His often repeated word: "According to thy faith, be it unto thee," and by His promise: "Believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." Many of us have expectations less than our desires, and all of us have desires less than the possibilities of God's gift. Some of us would be very much astonished if the things that we pray for were given to us. If we expect little we shall get little. If we dig the trench wide and deep, the water will flow in and fill it. We cannot raise our confident expectations too high; for "He is able to do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we ask" as well as "think." The Apostle has set one limit for them, when just before that doxology, he prayed that "ye may be filled with all the fulness of God." There are two limits; one is the illimitableness of God's perfection, the possibilities of our possession of Him are not exhausted until we have reached that infinite completeness. But then there is a practical, working limit for each of us; and that is—what do we desire? and what do we expect? God can give more than we can ask or think, but He cannot at the moment give more than we expect or desire.
The widow's cups were of a definite capacity, and when they were filled, they were filled, and there an end. But the more that is put into our spirits, the more they can take in. Our hearts are elastic, and are widened by desire, expectance and fruition. The enlarging process is endless, and since the gift is infinite, and the capacity of the recipient is capable of indefinite increase, immortal life is sure.
We must bring the vessel of Obedience. "If any man wills to do His will he shall know of the teaching." Wishes and expectation must be sustained by conduct, or they will be vain. We may contradict and stifle desires by inconsistent living, and thereby may make it impossible that anticipations should be fulfilled. A vessel full of baser liquors has no room for the oil. Are our daily doings of such a nature as that the Spirit of God, which is symbolised by the oil, can come into our hearts; or are we quenching and grieving Him so that He
"Can but listen at the gate
And hear the household jar within "?
Desire, Anticipation, and Obedience—these three must never be separated, if we are to receive the gift of Himself, which God delights and waits to give. All spiritual possessions and powers grow by use, even as exercised muscles are strengthened, and unused ones tend to be atrophied. It is possible, by neglect of God and of the gift given to us, to incur the stern sentence passed on the slothful servant—" Take it from him." By disobedience and negligence we choke the channel through which God's gifts can flow to us. If we bring these three vessels, we shall not go away with them empty. "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it."