Recently, after having been asked to prepare a sermon in French, I recently found an encouraging sermon* by Charles Spurgeon while looking for some helpful commentaries. The sermon is titled “The Filling of Empty Vessels” (January 13th 1889… preached 125 years ago) and the text that he preached upon was 2nd Kings 4:3 (story of the prophet Elisha, the poor widow and the pot of oil): “Even empty vessels; borrow not a few.” I will quote here portions of that sermon which deal with the important subject of prayer because we all need encouragement to pray more (quantity) and to pray better (quality), don’t we?
My conviction is, Brethren, that we do not pray enough. I do not, by this remark, measure our prayers by time but I mean that we do not ask enough of God. We are not straitened in Him but we are often straitened in ourselves. The Prophet’s advice to the woman was, “Borrow empty vessels”—notice the next word—“borrow not a few.” It was needful, thus to urge her to large things. Covetous men need restraining but in asking of the Lord, our hearts need enlarging.
This godly widow had the blessing now at her disposal to increase or diminish. If she borrowed few vessels, she would have but little oil. If she borrowed many vessels they should all be filled and she should have much oil. She was herself to measure out what she should have. And I believe that you and I, in the matter of spiritual blessings from God, have more to do with the measurement of our mercies than we think. We make our blessings little, because our prayers are little.
I will take two points—prayers about ourselves and prayers about others. Concerning ourselves. Brethren, some have never brought their sins and prevalent temptations before God. One man has a hasty temper which he says he cannot overcome. He must overcome it if he is to be saved from sin. And what he should do is to treat his wretched temper like an empty vessel and bring it before the Lord. He needs that his temper should be cured. Let him bring it to the Healer, whose cooling touch can remove this fever. I say again, his quick temper is an empty vessel for him to set before the Giver of all Divine Grace, that He may fill it with sweetness and meekness.
I know one whom I trust is a child of God. But, alas, he has been carried away by folly and has dishonored the Christian name! He is now in deep despair and thinks he never can be saved. I fear his despair is only another form of rebellion against Divine love. If he could have faith to bring his peculiar temptation before God as well as every other, it would be overcome for him. There is no sin which the Grace of God cannot subdue in us. We must not say that such-and-such a sin is constitutional and therefore we cannot overcome it. It must be overcome and the Grace of God can do it. Bring this empty vessel and set it down where Jesus can come into contact with it.
Perhaps, with some of you, your special trial is not so much a sin as a lack of spiritual attainment. You are still only babes in Christ. You hear of some that have gained high degrees of Divine Grace, that have become matrons in the Church, or champions in Israel. My dear Friends, do not suppose that these attainments are beyond your reach. Do you want them? Would they not be honorable to God and a blessing to you? Well, then, ask for them! Set these empty vessels beneath the dropping of the Divine oil and you shall have these gifts granted to you. In the matter of Divine Grace, he is poor that will be poor—but he that desires to be rich and has faith in God, may be rich.
“To him that has shall be given and he shall have more abundance.” Oh, if we do not get from God’s fullness great supplies, it is because we are not greatly receptive nor greatly expectant. But if, like this woman, we get many empty vessels, we shall have them all filled! Suppose she had brought a number of empty vessels into the house but she had not used them and the oil had stopped. She would have been a very foolish woman. But are not many of us quite as foolish? We have a great many cares, cares about our boys and girls, cares about our business, cares about household concerns. But we do not bring these cares to God — we feel as if they were too little to mention to Him.
This is so absurd that I will have no more to do with such a sinful silence. Let us tell it all to Jesus. Or else the case stands thus—you have your empty vessels and you will not bring them to be filled. Why will you be so wickedly foolish? When the Lord bids you cast your care upon Him, for He cares for you, why not cast it there? Why will you carry your sin, your need, your care? These cares are different sets of empty vessels for the Grace of God to fill. Oh, why, my Brethren, why have we not larger desires and broader expectations, that according to our faith it may be done unto us?
The angel of mercy sometimes flies around the tents of God’s people and he bears with him a cornucopia full of the precious blessings. Oftentimes he stays at a tent, hovering on soft wings, while the sleeper rests—he looks around the tent but does not see a single empty vessel into which to pour the benediction and he goes on his way. Soon he lights on another tent, where, before the dwellers went to sleep, they set out in their evening prayer a number of empty vessels. He takes his horn of plenteous mercy and he fills one vessel and then another.
And when they wake, they are surprised with the rich Grace which has abounded towards them! Some have feeble wishes, small desires, slender prayers—hardly any prayers at all—and “they have not, because they ask not.” Others have large desires, earnest prayers, great faith, large expectations and God gives them according to their faith and they are enriched. Oh, for many empty vessels to be set forth in this Church, both night and day, that God’s mercy may abound in the congregation!
The same is true with regard to prayers for others. We ought to treat others as if they were empty vessels for us to use, so as to glorify God in their salvation. I wish you would take me and treat me as an empty vessel and pray that I may be filled with Heaven’s own oil. It is of no use hoping to get good out of a ministry if you do not pray for it. As a rule I believe congregations get out of a minister what they put into him. That is to say, if they pray much for him, God will give him much blessing for them. Those persons who come up to the house of God and take their seats—and expect their souls to be filled when they have never prayed that God will help the minister and bless the sermon—may not expect to be visited with Divine Grace.
Pray for all ministers and all workers for Christ—make them like empty vessels and ask the Lord to fill them. Christian people should do the same with their children and relatives. If our children are not converted, is it not, in some cases, the fact that we have not prayed for them as we should? We have not brought them before God in supplication and if they remain unconverted and worldly, how can we wonder? Let us not leave the empty vessels unfilled. Come, Friends, think of the unconverted at home. You have still some unsaved ones—mention them again and again in prayer by name and cease not to pray.
Christ’s Grace ceases not to flow and the efficacy of prayer is not stayed. Do not cease to pray till all the family is converted, till there is not another vessel left. Let us do the same with our neighbors. Are we sufficiently earnest before God with regard to them? Might we not expect to see a great change in London if the districts wherein we dwell were more often on our hearts in prayer? You have heard of the great revival which followed Jonathan Edwards’ marvelous sermon upon “Sinners in the hand of an angry God.” That sermon was marvelous in its effects.
The power of that sermon may be traced to this fact—that a number of Christian people had met together some days before and prayed that God would send a blessing with the minister who was to preach on that occasion. Their prayer put power into Jonathan Edwards’ sermon and so sinners were converted. If we were to take up villages and hamlets and towns and pray for them with earnest, believing faith, God might prosper instrumentalities that are now unblessed. And ministers who are now sowing seed that never springs up, God might bless with a joyful harvest.
They might not know the reason. But those who prevailed with God would be able to solve the riddle. Prayer to the Most High would be a quiet setting of the empty vessel under the running oil and without noise it would be filled! Let us see what we can do in this matter. Do you hesitate? When you have the keys of Heaven at your belt will you not use them? When God puts the whole treasury of His Grace into the keeping of our faith, shall we let that Grace be unused for want of earnestness? When He says to us —“Here is carte-blanche for you—ask what you will and it shall be done unto you”—shall we not open our mouths widely?
If the Lord promises that when two agree as touching anything concerning His kingdom, He will grant it to us— why, let us agree at once! What? Will you not fill up these checks which God has signed and left blank for you? Will you fill them up for pennies, or for trifling sums, when the infinite checkbook of God is laid open to you? O saints of God, be not straitened in yourselves since God does not straiten you! Bring in the empty vessels and bring in not a few.
* on SermonAudio there is currently a recording of a reading of the sermon which can be heard or downloaded here