Our Real Resource
For all who wish to know the will of God and the true secret of success; also what our real resource is in a time of weakness, there will be found some very important instruction in the incident of the woman and the pot of oil, with which the fourth chapter of II. Kings opens.
We are living in days when very little of the power of God is known and consequently, questionable means are used to supply the lack of it. There is an appeal to the senses, and an effort to please, which leaves the soul barren. The shallowness and superficiality that abound are due to this cause as much as to any other.
The need of this woman we read of, was great, for she was bereft of her natural support, her husband being dead, and she knew not where to look to meet the demands of her creditors. Moreover her two sons were in danger of being taken from her. In this extremity she cries unto Elisha and he asks her a question. The question he asks is, “What hast thou in the house?” and this is the answer he receives, “Thine handmaid hath not anything in the house save a pot of oil.”
The answer is significant because the prophet virtually adds, “That is all that is required. If you have that, it is enough. The whole situation can be met.”
The Holy Spirit Is Our Great Resource
The majority of those who read these lines will not need to be told that the pot of oil has a spiritual significance, and consequently there is a deep lesson underlying it. In Scripture, oil is frequently used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. It was used in anointing both kings and priests as well as prophets. We read in Exodus xxx of the composition of a holy anointing oil. The Tabernacle and all its vessels were to be anointed with it. It sanctified all that it touched, and God gave special instructions with reference to it: “Upon man’s flesh shall it not be poured, neither shall ye make any other like it.” Nor was it to be put upon a stranger.
This pot of oil then is of deep significance. It was the use of it which proved sufficient to meet the dire necessities of the widow woman. The lesson is, that the Holy Spirit is our one great resource.
But it is equally important to notice the method to be employed. The prophet’s instructions are, “Go borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbours, even empty vessels; borrow not a few.” The vessels must be empty. Nothing must accompany the oil.
The oil must be kept separate from everything else. It, and it alone could suffice. Further, the instructions were, “When thou art come, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons.” This, we are told, she did. Although she was to borrow the vessels from her neighbours, she was not told to invite her neighbours in to witness the miraculous increase of the oil. Nothing spectacular was to be allowed. We are told distinctly that before she poured out the oil, she shut the door upon her and her sons, as if this was of the utmost importance and the oil lasted as long as there was a vessel to fill.
Are we not in danger of forgetting, even if we have not already forgotten, the lessons which the above incident suggests? The “Pot of oil,” even if possessed is not considered sufficient and all sorts of devices are employed and means relied upon to win people or to create an interest. From the way it is being brought into use to-day, we might suppose the camera to be a means of grace. Others again seem to think that any sort of phraseology will do as long as it attracts attention. How carnal it all is! For in reality, although the intention may be right, and all may be done with a laudable purpose, it is only an appeal to the senses, which often leaves heart and conscience untouched. We do not believe in being dull, but it is not necessary to become a clown in order not to be dull.
No Other Qualification Necessary
Many seem to think that beside the “pot of oil,” numerous adjuncts and helps are necessary, as if the Holy Spirit needed some assistance. The lesson of the empty vessels is forgotten. Never was there such a day for expedients and contrivances of every kind, and never was natural energy and activity of every description more in evidence. So much so, that if these possessed the importance some ascribe to them, we ought to be witnessing one of the mightiest revivals the world has ever seen. Instead of which, the very opposite is the case. The one thing needful seems often overlooked.
The fact is, the revivals of the past were characterised by something quite different from present day tactics. At the Reformation — not to go further back — in the time of the great Methodist Revival — using that work Methodist in its original sense, and in the Revival more or less world wide of 1859-60 (the last really great revival), much that is characteristic of to-day was almost entirely absent but “the pot of oil” was not absent.
It may be asked, does not the Holy Spirit use means? Yes, but what means? In Scripture there is a complete absence of any reference to things which are deemed essential to-day. It may be said they did not exist, but certain things of a similar nature did exist. They are not found associated with our Lord’s ministry or that of His apostles. All that the Lord mentions in connection with His ministry is, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” He had “the pot of oil,” and is it not significant that in sending forth the earliest preachers of the Gospel, the one and only thing He mentions is that they were to “wait for the promise of the Father” (Acts. 1:4). No other qualification seemed to be necessary. It will be said, times have changed. The answer to this is two-fold. First, we question whether essentially there is as much difference in people, between now and then, as is sometimes supposed. The most fundamental and clamant needs of man remain pretty much the same. Second, these needs can only be met in the same way. There is no change in this respect any more than in the other. Apart from the Holy Spirit’s work, nothing vital can be effected, and thank God, He has not changed, nor has His power waned. The “pot of oil” is still sufficient to meet all demands if we know how to use it. If there are empty vessels waiting to be filled He can still fill them.
That the Holy Spirit does use means we do not question. He uses hymns, which are human compositions. He condescends to employ other means, but to-day the human element has become exaggerated, the human devices to attract and please are far too much in evidence, and too much relied upon. Such methods in the end defeat themselves. The more people become accustomed to this kind of thing, the more the craving for it grows. Young people especially are becoming more or less doped. This is why we call attention to the lesson conveyed in “the pot of oil.”
Does not the incident recorded in Acts xvi., throw much light on this very point ? A certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination followed Paul and Silas, and we are told that she cried, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, which show unto us the way of salvation.” What objection could there be to this? What publicity it gave! What a splendid advertisement! Was this how the apostle regarded it? Far otherwise. We read that Paul was grieved, and in due course he promptly put an end to it: and why? Because the Holy Spirit was grieved.
He would not receive aid from such a source, even though it all sounded plausible enough. It is the lesson of the shut door. “And when thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons.” The world may seek to help in Gospel work and kill it in doing so, because the Holy Spirit will not receive such help. If it be said that in the instance just quoted, the source was Satanic, this may be equally true of other methods which, on the surface, seem to bear no trace of their origin. Satan cares not by what means he can compromise the truth, or neutralise the power and effect of the preaching.
If it be said, that in those early days they could work miracles to attract attention, the reply is, those miracles were wrought in the power of the Holy Ghost. The adventitious aids today are not in the power of the Holy Ghost; and further, if He has seen fit for miracles to cease, are we to try to put something else in the place of miracles?
Increased In Secret And By Use
There is another matter of serious importance closely connected with our subject. So far, we have referred to Gospel preaching and its allied activities in relation to the world; but the truth relating to the “pot of oil” has a bearing upon other matters.
We refer to ministry amongst the Lord’s people. Danger arises in this respect in two opposite directions in the present day. One is with regard to those who take advantage of liberty afforded by what is called the “Open” meeting, to occupy time with unprofitable ministry and to the utter weariness of those present. Such offenders are without the “pot of oil.” The other danger which threatens, proceeds from the opposite quarter. It is the danger of refusing ministry, because of a “closed” platform, and thus doing what Scripture forbids, namely, Quenching the Spirit and despising prophesyings.
There is much to-day to humble us, and cause us to seek the face of the Lord in prayer and confession. It is easy to talk about being gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, but do we know what it means and what is involved? Declension and departure are only too evident in certain directions, and, though this may take different forms, the reality of it can scarcely be questioned. Principles once valued are being let go. Things have gone pretty far when young people are appealed to, and asked to say what they want. Surely those in responsibility ought to know what it is they need, and be able to give it to them. What they want, may be, merely to be pleased. Such desires may not spring from the renewed nature at all.
In every way, we need to-day the lesson of the “pot of oil.” The question for each one of us, as for that woman, is “What hast thou in the house?” If “the pot of oil” is there, it will prove enough. If it is not, nothing else can take its place, and if we know what it means to “shut the door” and for the oil to be available and to be increased by prayer and waiting upon God, we shall find there is sufficient both for ourselves and for others. The oil is increased in secret and by use. The more she poured, the more the oil responded. Thus all claims were met, and she and her family lived upon the rest. May God give us to have “the pot of oil” and to know how to use it, and may we not miss the significance of the shut door.
Acknowledgement: CHRISTIAN BOOK ROOM
P.O. Box 162, Tsuen Wan, N.T. Hong Kong
Photo by: Sunbeams