GRACE AND TRUTH by Octavius Winslow

"Jesus, Full of Grace"

    The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, "Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves."
    Elisha replied to her, "How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?"
    "Your servant has nothing there at all," she said, "except a little oil."
    Elisha said, "Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don't ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side."
    She left him and afterward shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, "Bring me another one."
    But he replied, "There is not a jar left." Then the oil stopped flowing.
    She went and told the man of God, and he said, "Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left." 2 Kings 4:1-7

It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit, the Divine Author of the Bible, to embody and exhibit some of the most important, spiritual, and magnificent truths of His word in the form of type, symbol, and similitude. Neither His wisdom nor His love, in thus throwing a drapery of apparent obscurity around revelations so momentous, can be questioned. It cannot be reasonably denied that God, who saw proper to unveil His own mind, and in a way of extraordinary revelation, communicate his will to man, could as easily, if so it pleased Him, not only have accompanied that revelation with the self-evident assurance that He, and no other, was the Speaker; but that also He could have cleared away whatever was mysterious and obscure from each truth, causing it to stand forth, palpable and demonstrative, bathed in the splendor of its own Divine effulgence. But with a view, doubtless, of simplifying the meaning, of heightening the grandeur, and of deepening the solemnity of truth in the estimation of the human mind, this peculiar mode of conveying it is, in part, adopted.

Nor for these reasons alone. The spirit of earnest and persevering research, is the spirit which a proper and successful study of the Bible demands. It is not everywhere upon the surface of God's word that the most important instruction is found. Though even there, truths the most spiritual and precious are sometimes scattered like brilliant constellations pendent from the firmament and visible to the naked eye; or, as gems detached from the ocean's cave, are sometimes thrown upon the shore, and gathered up by the pensive traveler. But in most cases the truth of God lies deep and invisible. A superficial and careless research will not conduct the investigator to its richest revelations. The mine must be excavated, the firmament must be explored, the ocean must be fathomed- in other words, the Scriptures must be searched with much prayer for the Spirit's teaching and with patient continuance; or their greatest beauties and their costliest treasures will remain concealed.

"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God;" and there is no type, nor symbol, nor parable, nor story, nor song, which enfolds not some profound truth, and which conveys not some deep practical lesson of wisdom, or some rich word of comfort, or some precious unfolding of JESUS, the "price of which is above rubies."

To this class of revealed truth may be assigned the instructive narrative which has suggested the topic of the present chapter of our work. The entire story is inimitably beautiful and exquisitely touching. And, were we to descant upon the doctrine of God's providential care of His people, the timely and considerate aid which He has ever been wont to extend on their behalf in seasons of trial and of emergency- limiting ourselves to these points, we should find rich and ample material in the narrative before us, for extended and profitable reflection.

The most prominent figure in this simple picture of real life, around whom gather the light and interest of the entire scene, is the prophet's widow. Her husband dying insolvent, she was found battling single-handed and alone with the embarrassed circumstances of a desolate and an impoverished widowhood. To this gloomy feature of her history must be added a trial, which, to a mother's heart, would be the filling up of the cup of sorrow to the brim- her husband's creditors had come to claim her two sons as bondmen, thus severing the last link of earth-born happiness, and suddenly bringing down her gray hairs with sorrow to the same grave which had just closed upon the husband of her youth.

At this crisis of her affairs the prophet Elisha comes to her door; his steps guided there, he knew not why, by the unseen yet ever-working hand of the widow's God. A solitary cruse of oil constituted all the temporal wealth of the widow. But God can bless, and in blessing can multiply the little that the righteous has. Therefore it is that "the little that a righteous man has, is better than the riches of many wicked." To see the power of God, nor less His love, in increasing to a sufficiency 'the little' of the righteous, stamps it with an infinitely greater value than the wealthiest revenues of the ungodly. And now God will augment her stinted resources to an abundance, although he would work a miracle to accomplish it.

At the command of the prophet, a number of vessels were obtained, 'empty vessels, not a few.' Then closing the door, this interesting group shut in with God, she proceeds, at the bidding of Elisha, to pour out the oil from the one full vessel into each empty vessel- They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, "Bring me another one." But he replied, "There is not a jar left." Then the oil stopped flowing. She went and told the man of God, and he said, "Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left."

And now did the widow's heart sing for joy. Her bond cancelled, her sons redeemed, her need supplied, and the lives of all thus rescued from famine and from death; what a radiance would light up that dreary dwelling, and what music would break from those grateful hearts! Oh, how good is God! He is a 'Sun and a Shield.' He is a 'very present help in trouble.' Reader, are you a widow, adding to the bitter anguish of recent bereavement, the sadness and the gloom of exhausted resources, of embarrassed circumstances, and the pressure of claims which you cannot meet? Take comfort from this sacred narrative, and from the 'exceeding great and precious promise' of your God- "Leave your fatherless children, I will preserve them alive; and let your widows trust in me."

What an amazing promise is this! What a word spoken in season! Who but God could speak it? He has spoken it, and He speaks it, bereaved widow, to you. It is your promise, as exclusively yours as though you were the only individual to whom it were addressed. God stands prepared to make it good. "I have sworn by my holiness that I will not lie," thus pledging His truth and holiness to fulfil this and every other appropriate promise in your individual and happy experience. In view of this precious promise can you not, then, rise superior to your present circumstances, exclaiming with the prophet, "Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no food; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!"

But interesting and profitable as it might be to pursue this train of thought, our present and main design is to consider the narrative as illustrating, in some of its principal features, the higher operations of God in grace, rather than the subordinate arrangements of God in providence. The sacred episode presents this interesting subject in three essential points of view: the character of those whom the Lord Jesus replenishes with His grace; the sufficiency of the grace that is in Jesus to meet each case; and the continuance of the supply of grace until the great purposes of grace shall have been accomplished, and the mystery of God shall be finished. "They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, 'Bring me another one.' But he replied, 'There is not a jar left.' Then the oil stopped flowing."  And oh, that while bending our attention to this all important subject, 'great grace' may descend both upon the writer and the reader!

The vessels which the prophet commanded to be brought, let it be observed, were EMPTY VESSELS. Spiritual emptiness- an utter destitution of all original holiness and grace- is the great and essential characteristic of all who become partakers of the grace of Christ. They receive not this grace as saints, but as sinners; not as the righteous, but as the guilty; not as the meritorious, but as the unworthy. They become its recipients exclusively upon the ground of their utter destitution of all native righteousness whatever. With what clearness and power has the Holy Spirit delineated their spiritual condition! They are represented as 'poor,' as 'blind,' as 'sick,' as 'naked,' as 'in need,' as 'lost,' as 'enemies to God,' as 'despising and rejecting Christ,' as 'covered with filthy rags,' as self-destroyed,' as 'in their blood,' as 'without strength,' as 'ready to perish,' as 'sinners,' as the 'ungodly,' as 'joined to idols,' as 'lovers of pleasure,' as 'condemned,' as 'without God'- atheists; as 'without hope'- hopeless.

Melancholy, yet true, description of fallen man! That you will not admit this natural destitution of all holiness to be your real state, my unconverted reader, does not in the least degree invalidate the fact. So far from this, the very denial is but a stronger confirmation and a more fearful aggravation of the awful truth. For a maniac to deny that he is insane; for a dying man to deny that he is sick; for a bankrupt to deny that he is insolvent; for a galley-slave to deny that he is in chains- what folly and what madness were this! And yet this moral folly and insanity are yours, so long as you say, "I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing, and know not that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked."

But deny it though you may, this is your actual condition. As to any holiness and strength, heavenly wisdom, spiritual purposes and desires, your soul is an 'empty vessel.' Not a solitary ray of Divine light illumines your understanding, not one pulse of spiritual life throbs in your soul, nor one spark of heavenly love glows in your heart. No, more; there is not only the absence of all spiritual good, but there is the actual existence of all spiritual evil. The mere negation of holiness, if we can suppose such a state, would be less gloomy and appalling than the positive indwelling and supreme dominion of sin. Sin dwelling in you, Satan lording over you, and hell gleaming in your face, presents a picture of woe which baffles all description. You are a spiritual suicide, for you have destroyed yourself. You are a spiritual homicide, for your influence has destroyed others. You are a spiritual deicide, for the tendency of your sin is to annihilate the existence of God. Thus are you at war with universal being. Such is the power, and such the tyranny, of that monster evil- SIN!

Startle not, my reader, at my application of this appalling description of fallen nature to you. Read it not for another, but read it for yourself. Turn not away from it in unbelief and scorn. It is needful that you should recognize in yourself the moral image of the first Adam, that you might be led to seek a transformation into the moral image of the Second Adam. Your soul-I reiterate the truth- your soul is this 'empty vessel.' God has gone out of it; and as to the existence of any holiness, it is a vast and gloomy void. What can fill His place? Philosophy has tried, and Science has tried, and Poetry has tried, and the World has tried, and Wealth has tried, and Power has tried, and Pleasure has tried, and Friendship has tried- and all have failed to fill your soul's deep emptiness! Each exclaims, as in despair it retires, "It is not in me!" Presumptuous thought, that any created good, whatever, could fill a place designed for, and once occupied by, God Himself!

But there is a process by which the soul is brought to the knowledge of its spiritual destitution and emptiness. This transpires in that first stage of conversion which we denominate the conviction of sin. It is at the period when the 'plague of the heart' is felt, when the inward leprosy of sin is discovered, and the soul lies prostrate before God in the spirit and breathing the prayer of the publican, "God be merciful to me a sinner." What a change now passes over the soul! No longer disguised and denied, the startling discovery is made and acknowledged, "I am the chief of sinners." How has the 'gold become dross, and the wine water!' How impotent now the vaunted strength! how poor the boasted riches! how loathsome the prided greatness! how insignificant the paraded grandeur! how groveling the lofty pursuits! A world seems suddenly to have vanished, a universe to have disappeared; and a vast void rushes upon the view, with its dark, shoreless ocean, and its lowering and unending sky. Roused from his long and profound slumber, lo! he finds himself, as it were, the solitary occupant of this void, and the desolate voyager upon this ocean- traveling he knows not where! The spell that bound it is broken; the enchantment that held it is dissolved; the dream that entranced it is vanished; the slumber that stupified it is aroused; and the soul awakes to consciousness, to reason, and to life.

In what an imaginary, unrealistic world has he been existing, and he knew it not! What a craving emptiness has he been cherishing, and he suspected it not! And all the while he wondered why happiness was a stranger to his heart, and that joy fled at his approach. It was "as when a hungry man dreams, and, behold, he eats; but he awakens, and his soul is empty; or, as when a thirsty man dreams, and, behold, he drinks; but he awakens, and, behold, he is parched."

But another step is necessary to complete the soul's consciousness of its emptiness- the step that brings it to the cross. The great change which conversion effects, has a particular and an essential relation to sin. Before conversion, the love of God not having been brought into close contact with the mind- the conscience and the heart, thus receiving their impressions of Divine holiness through the intellect, continue in a dark and torpid state as to the nature, the guilt, and the consequences of sin. To this cause- an ignorance of the law of God, may be traced most of, if not all, the errors that have ever distracted the Christian Church, the sins that have polluted the world, and the ills that have affected our race. Blindness to the Divine holiness, which the law of God was designed to mirror forth, is the root of all sin, and sin is the source of all evil. ''Sin is the transgression of the law." Until the mind is brought to see the extent of the law's requirements, the purity of its precepts, and the inflexibility of its demands; it must have inadequate conceptions of the holiness of God, and, consequently, of the 'exceeding sinfulness of sin.'

The believer, viewing the precepts of the Divine law embodied in the life of Jesus, adopts it as his rule; and seeing the holiness of the Divine law exhibited in the death of Jesus, stands in awe of its spotlessness. In both, he sees how infinitely holy God is; and thus by conforming to the example of Christ, and by contemplation of the death of Christ, the one deep, ardent desire of his soul is, that he might be a "partaker of God's holiness,"- the highest, as it is the happiest, attainment to which, on earth or in heaven, he can arrive.

But oh, who can describe the holy, tender contrition which now takes possession of the soul brought near to the cross of Jesus? Who, but God, can fully interpret the meaning of those flowing tears, of that uplifted glance; of that panting of the heart, of that breathing of the lip- the heavings and the language of a soul moved to its center because of sin? If words of man can express these deep and holy emotions, David's penitential confession and prayer have done it. "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of your tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight."

I have, dear reader, at this stage of our subject, to propose a solemn and heart-searching question. Has this humiliation for your state reached your heart? Has this, contrition for sin touched your spirit? Are you acquainted with that "godly sorrow which is unto life," that "repentance which needs not to be repented of?" Do not be indifferently to this conviction. It is the first link in the chain of your salvation. It is the first step in your journey to the cross. No man will arise and go to Jesus, until convinced that he stands in need of Jesus. A Savior weeping, as it were, tears of blood, will only be looked upon by a sinner weeping tears of godly sorrow. A broken-hearted Savior, and a broken-hearted sinner, dwell together in the sweetest harmony. Thousands pass by the cross of Jesus and never raise a glance towards it. And why? The problem is easy of solution. They have never experienced a heart pierced and sorrowing for sin. The veil that is upon their mind hides the cross of Christ from their view. The look of forgiveness beaming from the eye of that Divine Sufferer, never meets their imploring look of sorrow and of faith. They have felt no burden of sin to lay upon Jesus, no sense of guilt to lay upon Jesus- and so they pass Him blindly, coldly by.

Oh awful condition! To be borne down with a load which Jesus only can unbind; to be enchained by sins which Jesus only can break; to be suffering from a distemper which Jesus only can heal; to be dying a death from which Jesus only can deliver; to be going down to a hell whose door Jesus only can shut- and yet to remain insensible and indifferent, is appalling indeed. Reader, if this is your state, of what are you thinking, of what are you dreaming? Of what opiate have you drunk, that you are so unconscious? By what spell are you bound, that you are so infatuated? With what delusions are you ensnared, that you are so insane? Do you imagine that your condition will always continue as it now is? Will not the fumes of that opiate evaporate, and the world's spell be dissolved, and the mental hallucination vanish, and this corpse-like coldness and this grave-like darkness to all the great and momentous realities of eternity, give place to other and appalling emotions? Doubtless they will!

There is fast approaching a period that will change the entire scenery of your future existence, and the relations of your present being. A sick and dying bed will impart another aspect to everything around you; and will place your character as a responsible, an accountable, and an immortal being in a new and an awful light. Do you now anxiously inquire, ''What, then, must I do?" The word of God supplies the answer,"repent and be converted." throw down your weapons! Relinquish your hostility to God! Humble yourself under His mighty hand. Lay down the weapons of your rebellion before the cross. You must repent, or you cannot be converted. You must be converted, or you cannot be saved. The whole case resolves itself into this- REPENT, or PERISH!

Thus does the Spirit of God empty the soul, preparing it for the reception of the grace o Christ. He sweeps and evacuates the house. He dislodges the unlawful inhabitant, dethrones the rival sovereign, and thus secures room for the Savior. He disarms the will of its rebellion against God, the mind of its ignorance of God, and the heart of its hatred to God. He throws down the barriers, removes the veil, and unlocks the door, at which the Redeemer triumphantly enters. In effecting this mighty work He acts as the Divine Forerunner of Christ. What the Baptist was to our Lord, 'crying in the wilderness, Prepare you the way of the Lord,' the Holy Spirit is in heralding the entrance of Jesus to the soul. He goes before and prepares His way. The Divinity of the Spirit furnishes Him with all the requisites for the work. He meets with difficulty, and He removes it- with obstruction, and He overcomes it- with opposition, and He vanquishes it. His power is omnipotent, His influence is irresistible, His grace is efficacious. There is no soul, however filled with darkness, and enmity, and rebellion, which He cannot prepare for Christ. There is no heart of stone which He cannot break, no brazen wall which He cannot prostrate, no mountain which He cannot level. Oh for more faith in the power of the Holy Spirit in the soul of man! How much do we limit, and in limiting how do we dishonor, Him in His work of converting grace!

The providential dealings of God are frequently instrumental in the hand of the Holy Spirit of accomplishing this emptying process, thus preparing the soul for the reception of Christ. The prophet thus strikingly alludes to it: "Moab has been at ease from his youth, and he has settled on his lees, and has not been emptied from vessel to vessel." It was in this way God dealt with Naomi. Listen to her touching words: "I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty." Thus it is that the bed of sickness, or the; chamber of death, the loss of creature good, perhaps the loveliest and the fondest, has prepared the heart for Christ. The time of bereavement and of solitude, of suffering and of loss, has been the Lord's time of love.

Providence is the handmaid of grace- and God's providential dealings with man are frequently the harbinger of the kingdom of grace in the soul. Ah! how many whose glance falls upon this page, may testify- "Even thus has the Lord dealt with me. I was full, and He has emptied me. I was rich, and He has impoverished me. I was exalted, and He has laid me low. Not one cup only did He drain; not one 'vessel' only did He dash to the earth, but many. He has emptied me 'from vessel to vessel.'" Happy shall you be if the result of all this emptying and humbling shall be the filling and enriching of your soul with larger communications of grace and truth from Jesus.

A 'cloud of witnesses' around you testify to this invariable principle of the Lord's procedure with His people- that He enriches by impoverishing them; strengthens by weakening them; replenishes by emptying; and exalts by laying them low.
"Lord! why is this? I trembling cried
Will You pursue Your worm to death?
It is in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith."
"These inward trials I employ,
From self and pride to set you free,
And break your schemes of earthly joy,
That you may seek your all in me."

From thus tracing the process by which God prepares the soul of man for the indwelling of His grace- in other words, from a consideration of the 'empty vessels,' let us direct our attention to another suggestive part of the narrative- THE ONE VESSEL OF OIL. It will be recollected that the resources of the widow consisted of a single pot of oil, from which all the empty vessels brought to its fulness were supplied. How expressive the emblem! The Lord Jesus Christ is the One Divinely appointed Head of all grace to the Church. Written as with a sunbeam is this precious truth. "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." "And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace." "It pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell." "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly things in Christ."

The headship of Christ sets forth the same truth. It is declared that God has given Him to be "Head over all things to his church, which is his body, the fulness of him that fills all in all." "Not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and ligaments, having nourishment ministered, and knit together, inereases with the increase of God." Thus clearly does the Holy Spirit set forth the Lord Jesus as the one vessel of grace provided for poor empty sinners.

The fitness of this truth will instantly appear. It was a necessary part of man's redemption, that there should be a single Depositary, one Head, for the custody and administration of this infinite fulness of grace. The question might be supposed to arise- In whom of all the creatures of God shall this grace be deposited? To whom shall be intrusted the keeping and the dispensing of this precious treasure? Adam? It is true that he once stood as the head of all holiness and happiness to a Church yet unfallen. In himself poor, as all dependent creatures of necessity must be, God yet made him the head of all life to countless myriads of beings. But what was the result? Weak in himself, and proving insufficient even for a state of sinlessness, he fell; and in falling, wiped out the holiness, the happiness, and the immortality of a world. It was such an experiment upon the power of created strength as would forever prove the utter weakness and vanity of man even in his best state. "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin." Not to man, then, would this precious treasure be intrusted. We must look elsewhere for the being in whose hands it should be placed.

Shall some angel of superior rank and intelligence, of peerless beauty and strength, be the depositary of God's grace to sinners? Still the same objection presents itself. Angels are but finite creatures, weak and dependent; and as such, a portion of their order once abandoned the abode of infinite purity and love, preferring, in the madness of their pride, "to reign in hell, rather than serve in heaven." The angels that kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he has reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day." Thus, then, is it clear that God could not confide the keeping of that grace which was to save lost sinners, and bring them to glory, to any mere creature, human or angelic. Beyond angels and men, then, we must travel.

Turning from all creatures, among whom He could not find the object for whom He searched, God 'looked within Himself,' and found it there in the person of His own, uncreated, and beloved Son, dwelling in His bosom from all eternity. Here was one in all respects fitted to be the great depositary of this Divine grace, and worthy of the high office of dispensing it in all its fulness and freeness to the necessities of lost man. Leaving the bosom of His Father, He descended to our world, took up into a union with His essential Deity the nature which He came to redeem, and thus in His complex person became the Head and the Dispenser of all grace to His "body the Church," ''the fulness of Him that fills all in all."

Here, then, is the vessel which Jehovah was pleased, in the covenant of grace, to constitute the Head of all salvation to His Church. The fitness and the beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ as the one Vessel of grace to the Church, are obvious. The person of our Lord was of the Father's construction. It was the sole conception of infinite wisdom, and the grandest. It would, therefore, in every respect be a work worthy of God. If upon the lowest production of His creative power God has left the imprint of His wisdom and skill, baffling the profoundest effort of man to imitate, how much more illustrious would His greatness appear in the construction of that Vessel to which He would confide alike the salvation of His Church and the vindication of His own glory! His grace was too Divine, too precious, and too holy, to be intrusted to the keeping of a mere creature.

The melancholy history of created excellence was still before him, "written in letters of mourning, lamentation, and woe." "The vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hands of the potter; so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it." And in these glowing words is the construction of this new and peerless Vessel of grace announced. "The word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father, full of grace and truth." Before this Vessel of grace, let us for a moment pause in adoring admiration of its greatness and its beauty.

It is the 'great mystery of godliness.' Angels are summoned to adore it. ''When he brings in the first-born into the world he says, And let all the angels of God worship him." It was the profoundest conception of God's wisdom, the master-piece of His power, and worthy of their deepest homage. Such an unveiling of the glory of God they had never gazed upon before. In the countless glories with which He had enriched and garnished the universe, there was not its symbol nor its type. All other wonders ceased to astonish, and all other beauty fades in comparison with this, the grandest, the peerless of all. As if fathoming the utmost depth of infinity, and collecting all its hidden treasures of wisdom and power, of grace and truth, God would seem to have concentrated and embodied, to have illustrated and displayed them in the person of His incarnate Son, "God manifest in the flesh."

In this was found to consist the fitness of Immanuel, as the covenant Head of grace to the Church. The Divine and costly treasure, no longer confided to the guardianship and ministration of a weak, dependent creature, was deposited in the hands of incarnate Deity, one whom the Father knew, His 'equal,' His 'fellow,' made strong for Himself; and thus it was secured to His Church, an inexhaustible and eternal supply.

But not in His Divine nature only did the fitness and beauty of our Lord, as the one Vessel of grace, appear. His human nature, so perfect, so sinless, so replenished, enriched, and sanctified with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, conspired to render Him fairer than the children of men. But in what did the chief excellence and beauty of our Lord's humanity consist? Was it the glory of human wisdom, of worldly grandeur, of secular power? No, not in these! It was that which the world the least esteems, and the most hates, which formed the rich endowment of our Lord's inferior nature- the grace which dwelt within Him.

The world conferred no dignity upon Christ, except that of its deepest ridicule, and its bitterest scorn. In His temporal estate He preferred poverty to wealth, obscurity to distinction, insult to applause, suffering to ease, a cross to a throne. So indigent and neglected was He, though every spot of earth was His, and all creatures were feeding from His hand, He had no nightly shelter, and often no 'daily bread.' How affecting to those who love the Savior, and who owe all their temporal comforts to His deprivation, and all their glory to his abasement, are expressions like these: 'Jesus was hungry;' 'Jesus said, I thirst;' 'Jesus sighed deeply in his spirit;' 'Jesus groaned within himself;' 'Jesus wept;' 'The Son of man has no where to lay his head.' The incarnate God stooped this low! But in the midst of all this poverty and humiliation, God did seem to say, "I will make Him, my Son, more glorious than angels, and fairer than the children of men. I will endow Him immeasurably with my Spirit, and I will replenish Him to the full with my grace. I will anoint Him with the oil of gladness above His fellows." And when He appeared in the world, and the eye of the evangelist caught the vision, he exclaimed with wondering delight, "The glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth!"

And oh, how did all that He said and did, each word and action, betray the fulness of grace that dwelt within Him! The expressions that distilled from His lips were 'gracious words;' the truths that He taught, were the doctrines of grace; the works that He performed, were the miracles of grace; the invitations that He breathed, were the promises of grace; the blessings that He pronounced, were the gifts of grace- in a word, the blood that He shed, the righteousness that He wrought, the redemption that He accomplished, the salvation that He proclaimed, the souls that He rescued, and the kingdom that He promised, were the outgushings, the overflowings, the achievements, the triumphs, and the rewards of grace.

From this contemplation of the Vessel of grace, we now turn our attention to THE GRACE ITSELF. The narrative is still our guide. The first idea suggested is, the costliness and preciousness of the grace of Jesus. That one vessel of oil, as we have before remarked, was all of temporal wealth which this poor widow possessed. It was her only and her last resource. This exhausted, she must resign her two sons to a slave's life, and then lie down and die. How precious and priceless, then, to her would be each drop of this vessel of oil! But of infinite worth and of priceless value is the grace of the Lord Jesus. Its Divine origin and character stamp its value.

"The grace of God" is its designation and its nature. The redemption of man by Jesus Christ is an exhibition of God's grace which God cannot surpass. And the reason is, God cannot surpass Himself. It were a vain and profitless inquiry, whether God could have saved man by any other way more glorious to Himself. As the method which He adopted could never have suggested itself to any finite mind, to speculate, therefore, upon the possibility of another and a more august expedient, were the extreme of folly. It should be enough for me that the history of God's grace is but the history of Himself- that there is more of the Divine glory unfolded in this redemption-plan than I shall ever be able to master- though a mind developed to its utmost capacity is the faculty employed, and eternity itself the period assigned for its study.

And oh how entrancing is its history! Eternally welled in the heart of infinite love, this grace struggled for its freedom, this mercy panted for an outlet. Its love of holiness and its reverence for justice forbade that it should obtain that freedom and seek that outlet at the expense of either. Grace must appear in alliance with truth, and mercy in harmony with holiness. God must walk upon the battlements of His love, clothed with every perfection, and each exhibited in its unshaded luster. But how shall we describe the expedient that would combine, and where shall we find the person who should exhibit them thus, in their sweetest harmony and in their richest glory? The answer is at hand. "No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him." This is the key to the infinite grace of God. "I am in the Father;" said Christ, "and the Father is in me." Glorious announcement!

Collecting together all the riches of His grace, the Father places them at the disposal of His Son, and bids Him spread them out before the eyes of a fallen world. True to His covenant engagement, the eternal Son appears "made like his brethren," and announces that He has come to lift the veil, and show to us the heart of a gracious, sin-pardoning God. In declaring, that the "Father himself loves us," and that "he that had seen him," so full of grace, "had seen the Father," He affirms, but in other words, that He is a copy, a representation of the Father- that the love, the grace, the truth, the holiness, the power, the compassion, the tenderness that were exhibited in Him in such a fulness of supply, and were distributed by Him in such an affluence of expenditure, had their origin and their counterpart in God.

Oh! how jealous was He of the Divine honor! He might, had He willed it, have sought and secured His own distinction and advancement, His own interest and glory, apart from His Father's. He could, had He chosen it, have erected His kingdom as a rival sovereignty, presenting Himself as the sole object of allegiance and affection, thus attracting to His government and His person the obedience and the homage of the world. But no! He had no separate interest from His Father. The heart of God throbbed in the bosom of Jesus- the perfections of God were embodied in the person of Jesus- the purpose of God was accomplished in the mission of Jesus- and the will of God was done, and the honor of God was secured, in the life and death of Jesus. "I seek not my own will, but the will of him who sent me," was a declaration emblazoned upon His every act. Anxious that the worship which they offered to His Deity, the attachment which they felt for His person, the admiration which they cherished for the beauty of His character and the splendor of His works, should not center solely in Himself, He perpetually pointed His disciples upward to the Eternal Father. It would seem that, such was His knowledge of His Father's grace to sinners, such His acquaintance with His heart of love, that He could find no satisfaction in the affection, the admiration, and the homage yielded to Himself, but as that affection, admiration, and homage were shared equally by His Father. With Him it was an ever-present thought- and how could He forget it?- that the Father's grace filled to overflowing this glorious Vessel.

He had just left the bosom of the Father, and this was well near the first announcement which broke in music from His lips, "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." And as He pursued His way through the awe-struck and admiring throng, He might often be heard to exclaim, in a voice that rose in solemn majesty above their loudest plaudits, "I seek not my own glory. I honor my Father."

The spiritual mind will at once perceive that our object in the preceding reflections has been to place the character of God as the "Lord God, merciful and gracious," in its own proper light. It is possible that this truth may appear to the reader as a newly-discovered planet in the firmament of revelation. It may be to him a new truth, presenting to his eye a fresh and a more kindly view of the paternal and gracious character of God. God, the original source of grace to sinners, has, perhaps, hitherto been but a timidly-received doctrine, if received at all. In the first thirstings of your newly-quickened soul, you sought and found the gentle rivulet of grace issuing from some isolated and shaded spot in your lonely path- and you "tasted that the Lord was gracious." Grateful for its refreshing, but panting for larger draughts, you followed the rivulet to the stream- and drank yet deeper of its fulness. Not satisfied with this, but longing to explore the glorious mystery of the supply, you traced the streamlet to the 'broad river,' transported with joy to find that all fulness dwelt in Jesus- and into it you plunged.

But here you have rested. Enamored of the beauty, and lost in wondering delight at the "breadth, and length, and depth, and height" of this river, you have reclined upon its green and sunny bank, forgetting that this river was but the introduction to an ocean, and that that ocean was nothing less than the heart of the Father, infinitely and eternally full of grace. And little did you think, as you sipped from the rivulet, and drank from the stream, and bathed in the river of grace, that there was a depth still deeper, which, like Ezekiel's vision of the holy waters, was so deep that it "could not be passed over." "What!" exclaims some tried believer, "Is the heart of Jesus a transcript of the heart of God? Is the Father as full of forgiveness, of love, of mercy, of compassion, of tenderness, as the Son? How different from all that I had conceived Him to be! I thought of God, and was troubled. His terrors made me afraid. His dealings with me have been severe. His way has been in the whirlwind and in the storm, and His path in the waters. His 'judgments' have been 'a great deep.' He has set a hedge about me that I cannot pass. He has spoken to me out of the thick cloud. He answered me by fire. He has spoiled my pleasant pictures, and filled my cup with bitter things! What! is this God all that you represent Him to be? Is He so full of grace and truth? Is He my God, my loving, reconciled Father?" Yes, even so! "It pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell."

And who can contemplate the work of Jesus and not be convinced of the costliness and preciousness of this grace? How precious is the grace that pardons, that justifies, that adopts, that sanctifies, that comforts, the vilest who believe in Jesus! And yet all this Jesus does. He died for sinners, he receives sinners, he saves sinners to the uttermost. O precious grace, that has opened a fountain which cleanses every stain; that has provided a robe which covers every spot; that "reigns through righteousness unto eternal life" in the soul it has renewed! Reader, have you felt the power, and tasted the sweetness of this grace? If so, you will feel that no imagination can conceive its beauty, and that no words can express its preciousness. You will regard it as worthy of your warmest love and your highest praise. You will aim to live upon it constantly, to draw from it largely, and to magnify it holily.

Nothing this side of glory will be so lovely in your eyes, or so dear to your heart, as the grace of Jesus. Ah yes! inestimably precious is it! There is more of God, and more of heaven, and more of holiness, and more of happiness, unfolded and experienced in one drop of this grace, than in ten thousand worlds like this. "Let others toil for wealth, and pant for glory, and plume themselves with gifts; Lord, give me Your grace; this is all my salvation, and all my desire!"

Another attribute of the grace of Jesus is its sufficiency. The widow's pot of oil was strikingly illustrative of this. By the miraculous power of God it became inexhaustible. It filled every vessel. Had other empty vessels, gathered from other dwellings, and of still larger capacity, been brought, there would still have been a sufficiency for all- not one would have been removed unfilled. Onward continued to flow the oil, ceasing not to flow until there was not a vessel more. Nor were any questioned as to whom the vessels belonged, and what their size, or form, or color. It was enough that they were empty vessels, brought to be replenished from the one vessel of oil.

Such, dear reader, is the grace of Jesus; Divine in its nature, infinite in its resources, it must be inexhaustible in its supply. "Of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace;" that is, a counterpart, in measure, of the grace that is in Christ: as the paper receives the form of the type, and the wax the impression of the seal, so the softened and believing heart receives an exact counterpart of the grace that is in Jesus; "grace for grace."

The word 'fulness' in this passage is sometimes employed to express the idea of abundance. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof;" that is, the abundance of the earth is the Lord's. But in this connection it has a meaning still more impressive. It signifies not only the fulness of abundance, but the fulness of redundance. A redundant fulness, an overflowing fulness. The vessel is not only full to the brim, but it runs over, and rushes on in ten thousand streams to the utmost limit of man's necessities. Such a redundance of grace was required to bring God and the sinner together. The gulf which separated these two extremes of being was just that which separates the bottomless pit in hell from the highest throne in glory. No finite being could annihilate it. All the resources of wisdom, and power, and benevolence, of all the angels in heaven, could not bridge it. But the redundant grace that is in Christ Jesus has crossed this gulf, and God and man meet, and are reconciled in one Mediator.

And now from the glorious heights of pardoning grace on which he stands, the sinner can look down upon a hell deserved, but a hell escaped. Such a redundant fulness of grace was never seen until Jesus appeared. The patriarchs and prophets saw this grace, but not as we are privileged to see it. They realized its sufficiency, but not its redundancy. The truth was revealed to them, but by degrees. The light beamed in upon their minds, but in solitary rays. The grace distilled, rather than flowed. They had the dew rather than the showers of grace.

And yet it was sufficient to meet their case. When Jehovah opened this fountain of grace to two of the greatest sinners the world ever saw, and declared that "the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head," dim and partial as was the discovery, it was sufficient to lift them from the dark borders of despair and of hell, into the sunny region of hope and of heaven. Thus the saints of the former dispensation saw this grace, but not so clearly as we see it. They dwelt amid the shadows, we in the full blaze of glory. They lived in the twilight of grace, but we in its meridian day. They had the law, but we have the Gospel. They had grace in the hands of Moses, but we have grace in the hands of Jesus. They were the 'children of the bondwoman,' but we are the 'children of the freewoman.' They had the 'spirit of bondage unto fear,' but we have the 'Spirit of adoption' unto love.

And one passage will explain the reason of this great difference: ''God, who at sundry times and in diverse ways spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us by his Son." 'Spoken unto us by his Son!' Behold the fulness, the redundance, the sufficiency of this grace! "The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." Such, reader, is he fulness of Jesus- this Divine Vessel of grace. And now, if this grace were sufficient for God- sufficient to enable Him to extend mercy to the utmost, to sinners the vilest, and yet remain strictly just, then, I ask, is it not sufficient, my reader, for you?

If God, on the basis of this grace, can come forward and extend His hand of reconciliation to you, may you not with the plea of this same grace advance and extend your hand of faith to God? If there is no difficulty, or reluctance, on the part of God, why should there be on the part of man? And has God ever hesitated? Has He ever refused, on the footing of Christ's merits, to save the penitent sinner, who, having heard that the King of heaven is a merciful King, has cast himself upon that mercy, like the servants of Benhadad, with sackcloth upon their loins, and ashes upon their head- humbly suing for life? Never! It is the delight of God, as it is His glory, to prove the power and the sufficiency of His grace in Christ Jesus to save man to the uttermost extent of his guiltiness and woe.

How overflowing with saving grace does the heart of God appear in these words: ''Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." Oh! place your empty vessel beneath this overflowing Fountain of grace! and remove it not until, in its measure, it becomes the 'fulness of Him who fills all in all.'

I have already remarked that when the vessels were brought at the prophet's command, no inquiries were proposed. There doubtless was a marked variety of form and capacity in these vessels- yet all alike received their supply from one and the same source. Believers in Jesus! Saints of the Most High! of different names and sections you may be, yet, composing, as you do, but one body, and one church, "out of his fulness have all we received." We came to Jesus, some with larger and some with smaller capacity; we came- some more vile and worthless than others- we came with different degrees of knowledge, and conviction, and faith, yet Jesus received all, welcomed all, and filled all. He asked us no such questions- in what religion we had been trained? in what church we had been educated? to what family we belonged? or what was the measure of our capacity to receive?

It was enough that He discerned in us His own Spirit's work- it was enough that He saw we needed Him, desired Him, looked to Him; that we felt that none but Himself could meet our case, and satisfy the thirstings of our longing hearts. He questioned not, demurred not, refused not- but, drawing us to Himself; all vile, and wretched, and poor, and empty as we were; he poured the stream of His saving grace into our souls, filling us with "joy unspeakable and full of glory."

Blissful moment! Believers in Jesus! "of his fulness have all we received." All the members of the one body, all the children of the one family- Jew and Gentile, male and female, bond and free- their climate, and color, and language differing- all the chosen of God, all the given of the Father, all the purchase of the Son, all the called of the Spirit, all, in virtue of their union to Christ, equally partake of this fulness. Where, then, is the boasting of one against another? it is excluded. Where are divisions, and envyings, jealousies, heart-burnings, and separations in the family of God? let them not be once named among you, but to be disowned and deprecated, as becomes the recipients and the debtors alike of the grace of Jesus.

Before passing on to our last topic, allow a word of exhortation, suggested by the importance and the preciousness of our theme. As this grace has done much for your soul, aim to do great things for the honor of this grace. Beware of shading its luster. As there are those who abuse the doctrine of grace, be it your constant endeavor to exalt the principle of grace. Deeply and everlastingly are you its debtor. Free grace has laid you under the most solemn and eternal obligation to be holy. The only thing that makes you to differ from the vilest being that pollutes the earth, or from the darkest fiend that gnaws his chains in hell, is the free grace of God. Then strive to glorify it by a life of deepening holiness. By cultivating a meek and Christlike temper, by pursuing a lowly, circumspect walk, and by laying yourself out for the happiness of man, and for the glory of God, prove, to the eternal confusion of all its enemies and slanderers, that the "grace of God that brings salvation, and has appeared unto all men, teaches us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world."

Be the bold and holy champion of this grace, glorying in its principle, and practically illustrating its sanctifying power. Where others pervert it, you must vindicate it. Where others deny it, you must confess it. Where others tread it in scorn beneath their feet, you must lift it meekly up on high, as God's costliest bequest, man's richest inheritance. ''And they glorified God in me."

I would also caution you to beware of placing any limit whatever to the grace of Jesus. Be your circumstances what they may, remember that "God is able to make all grace abound towards you; that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work." Make no allowance for sin, frame no excuses for inactivity- shrink from no cross, be disheartened by no difficulty, give place to no temptation, yield to no excessive grief, for Jesus has spoken it, and He now speaks it to you, "My grace is sufficient for you." Since, then, the grace of Jesus is illimitable, take a vessel of large capacity with you in your journeyings, to the one source of supply, that you may receive abundantly. Remember that, as a believer in the Lord Jesus, "All things are for your sake, that the abundant grace might, through the thanksgiving of many, redound to the glory of God"

Let your life be a perpetual traveling to this grace. Do not be satisfied with what you have already received. Go, again and yet again, to this Divine Vessel, taking every corruption as it is developed, every sin as it is felt, every sorrow as it arises, to Jesus; remembering for your encouragement, that though you have received much, yet "he gives more grace," and is prepared to give you much more than you have yet received.

Rejoice that the emptiness of the vessel is no plea against the filling of the vessel. If the Spirit of God has made you 'poor in spirit,' has wrought in you a 'hungering and a thirsting for righteousness,' betake yourself to the grace of Jesus. He does not want the full vessel, nor does the full vessel want Him. "He fills the hungry with good things, and the rich he sends empty away." He invites, He draws, He receives none but the empty. He will have all the glory of our salvation. He will magnify His grace in the creature's nothingness. Your emptiness shall eternally glorify His fulness. With the example and the words before me of him who styled himself the I chief of sinners, I hesitate not to encourage the greatest sinner to come to Christ. "Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy. . . . And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." Truly might he exclaim, "By the grace of God I am what I am."

Beware, then, I beseech you, of going to Christ for salvation in any other character than an empty sinner. Had the vessels been brought to Elisha other than empty, he would instantly have refused them, filled though they had been with ambrosia itself. Nothing should mingle with the oil. Nothing should shade the luster of the miracle. And so is it with the grace of Jesus. Brilliant genius, profound erudition, costly benevolence, and the purest ethics of natural religion, avail nothing in the matter of the soul's salvation. It is the ambrosia of which the vessel must be emptied before it comes to Christ. It must all be laid aside as constituting a plea of acceptance. The only plea admissible with Christ is, that without His grace you perish forever. "Lord, save, or I perish!"

We are now conducted to our final topic. There is a day approaching when 'every vessel of mercy' being filled, THE GRACE ITSELF WILL CEASE TO FLOW; there will be no more conferring of grace, because there will be no more recipients. "And he said unto her, There is not a vessel more. And the oil stopped." Until then, this grace will go on multiplying its subjects, increasing its conquests, and augmenting the Savior's glory. Then let us task our noblest energies, and employ our best exertions, in spreading abroad through all lands the knowledge of this Redeemer, so full of grace and truth. Let the tidings spread- let the widow and the fatberless hear it- let those who are ready to perish hear it- let the most distant and the most degraded tribe of man hear it- let the slave in his chains, the African in his lair, the Hottentot in his bush, the Indian in his prairie, the Hindoo in his jungle, the Greenlander amid his snows, and the Chinese bowing in his temple- yes, let a ruined and a famishing world, with trumpet tongue, hear it- that there is for every penitent a fulness of saving grace in Christ Jesus, and that "whoever will, may come and partake of the water of life freely."

Oh! why are not Christians broader awake to this God-like enterprise? Why are we not consecrating more talent and more time, more property and more personal influence, to the work of spreading abroad the knowledge of Christ?
"Glories will be his diadem,
And songs of ecstasies unknown,
Who forms for God one beauteous gem,
To sparkle on the eternal throne."

But let us for a moment transport our thoughts to the future. The future! Oh how bright it is, and full of blessing, to the "vessels of mercy prepared beforehand unto glory!" The grace ceasing on earth, is now followed by an exceeding and eternal weight of glory. He who has tasted that the Lord is gracious, shall assuredly see that the Lord is glorious! ''How may we know," is often a trembling inquiry, "that our departed friends are with Jesus?" Were they partakers, in the most limited degree, of the grace of Jesus? then, their safety is beyond all doubt. The grace which they possessed was the seedling, the germ, the first-fruits of glory. The light which illumined their souls, was the twilight dawn of heaven. It was utterly impossible that that germ could die, or that that light could be extinguished. It was as imperishable and as immortal as God Himself. The weak grace battled with sin, and the feeble light struggled with darkness, but both conquered at last. There they are- standing on the sea of glass, chanting the high praises of the grace that brought them there. Yonder they are- in the Father's house, in the Savior's mansions; they conflict no more, they weep no more, they hunger and thirst no more; for He who once gave them grace, now gives them glory.

"Grace is glory militant, and glory is grace triumphant; grace is glory begun, glory is grace made perfect; grace is the first degree of glory, glory is the highest degree of grace." Lift up your heads, you gracious souls! Heaven is before you, and your full redemption draws near. The Lord is at hand. His coming is near. That 'blessed hope' of the church, His 'glorious appearing,' will soon be realized, bursting upon your soul in all its blissful splendor, and then you shall be perfectly like, and forever with, the Lord.

But should you go to Him, before He returns to you- for if Jesus does not come for you, He will send for you- fear not th descend the dark valley, already trodden by your Lord and Savior. Dying grace is bound up in the covenant of grace; and Jesus, full of grace, to the last moment, will be there to dispense it to your need, His left hand under your head, and His right hand embracing you. "Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, get to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense."