The second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 6, at verse 11: "Our mouth is open unto you, oh Corinthians, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own affections. Now for a recompense in like kind (I speak as unto my children) be ye also enlarged."
I might just turn on to chapter 9, verse 8: "God is able to make all grace abound unto you, that ye, having always all sufficiency in everything, may abound unto every good work."
This heart appeal of the apostle to the Corinthians about enlargement, follows in his own letter without any interruption or break by chapter divisions, followed right on from what we have in chapter 5: "The love of Christ constraineth us because we thus judge that one died for all, therefore all died. And He died for all that they which live should no longer live unto themselves but unto Him who for their sakes died and rose again." The point is that through resurrection there is enlargement. Resurrection always means enlargement. That is a test of our understanding and apprehension of it, as well as a statement of fact.
Where resurrection is at work there is always expansion, enlargement, growth, progress. We have been seeing that those at Corinth had not understood and apprehended the meaning of the gospel of the resurrection which the apostle said he'd preached to them. And because they had not apprehended the meaning of that gospel, of that great word resurrection, they were a small, mean, petty, contemptible people, bound in on themselves and against one another in divisions and rivalries, and tribes and factions and what-not, all of which things were an evidence of the smallness and poverty of their spiritual life and of their understanding of the gospel, which is the gospel of resurrection. So here the apostle cries, he tells them something of what that power had meant in his own life, opens his heart to them, showing how resurrection had triumphed in so many ways in his own personal experience. And unable to contain himself, he cries, "Our mouth is opened unto you, oh Corinthians, our heart is enlarged; you are not straitened in us, you're straitened in your own affections. Now in a like recompense be ye also enlarged." It's only another way of saying: get a new hold on the meaning of the gospel. Get a new hold on the meaning of resurrection.
You see that you follow the course of resurrection wherever you find it, whether it be in Old Testament type, figures, symbols, or in New Testament reality, you find yourself caught into a river the depth of which is ever growing, the breadth of which is ever expanding. It is something always on the increase. It is to be in the way of spiritual enlargement, to be in the course of resurrection Life. For this river will overflow all its banks; this river will prove to be one that is deeper than you can cope with, as we see in the case of the river in Ezekiel.
Now we are going, this afternoon as the Lord enables, to look at this in some quite familiar Old Testament connections, taking (and I always say this with my tongue in my cheek, because I don't ever know how far we're going to get or where we'll have to stop) but if possible taking three Old Testament, as I say, very familiar illustrations of the way of spiritual enlargement. I mean what we have in those early chapters of the second book of the Kings and especially for our purposes this afternoon, in chapters four and five and six in the second book of the Kings. Now, before we come to these particular occasions and instances, let us remind ourselves of what the setting is and the background.
We are all familiar with the fact that in the days of Elijah and Elisha things were in pretty poor spiritual condition in Israel. They were indeed at low ebb spiritually. And the question that was always uppermost in those days, as it has been so often, the question uppermost is: how shall that which is of the Lord be maintained in this world? How shall the Lord's testimony be maintained, especially seeing He Himself has gone to heaven and is away? That is the question and that is the connection.
You know the story (if I may just very hurriedly run over it to refresh your memories, if that is necessary) Elisha is ploughing with 12 yoke of oxen and he with the 12, when Elijah passes by and casts his mantle upon him. Elisha said suddenly, "Suffer me to go and kiss my father," Elijah said, "What have I done to you?" The answer, of course, was in Elisha's own heart: "You've done something and I can't get away from it." And he there and then slew his oxen, made a fire of the agricultural implements, offered the oxen as a sacrifice and went after Elijah to be his fellow and his successor. There upon Elijah commenced that series of tests as to whether Elisha really did mean it, whether he did mean business, whether he was a really committed man because, you see, this is the question of how the Lord's testimony is going to be maintained when the Lord goes to heaven and the instrument or vessel for the maintenance must be an attested and approved vessel. We will come to that again.
Elijah thoroughly tested Elisha; from Gilgal to Bethel, from Bethel to Jericho, from Jericho to Jordan. And as they went on the last day, Elijah said to Elisha, "Ask what I shall give thee before I be taken from thee." And Elisha, I think without any hesitation, said: "A double portion of your spirit please!" Elijah said, "You ask a hard thing, but nevertheless, if you're with me when I'm taken from you, it shall be as you desire." And they two went on and came to Jordan, and Elijah smote the Jordan with his mantle and it opened and they passed over, and there appeared the chariots of fire that caught up Elijah into heaven. And Elisha cried, "My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof." He saw him no more, but there fell from Elijah his mantle - always the symbol of the Spirit, the anointing - and Elisha took it up and went back to the Jordan and put the thing to the test, right away into effect.
And the sons of the prophets (that we are going to hear more about in a minute) said, "The spirit of Elijah doth rest upon Elisha; now then, we are ready to carry on the Lord's testimony while he is in heaven..." to prepare. By what means? By the gift of the Holy Spirit, by the anointing, by no other way, but which anointing is only known on the ground of resurrection; through the Jordan, up on the other side. And the resurrection never stops with the end, it never stops until it gets to the Lord enthroned in heaven. "He raised Him," said Paul, "He raised Him from the dead and set Him at His own right hand far above all rule and authority." That's the ring to the resurrection. On that ground the Holy Spirit comes, and is given, and the mantle falls upon the church, the Lord's vessel, upon which He has laid His hand, apprehended, called into fellowship, and which knows that it is truly under that mantle, knows that something's happened and it's got to be a committed vessel. And that mantle comes, that vessel is charged with the great responsibility and honour of maintaining that which was commenced by the Head when He was here.
Well, that's briefly and very hurriedly the story, as you know so well. And I hope it hasn't wearied you. Do you see what the question is? Now it's the matter of succession to the Lord, when He has gone to heaven. It's a matter, shall we say, of the next phase or the next generation, spreading that word now over more than just a human generation, but over a dispensation, the next phase which is to extend to the time when that ascended Lord returns, the days in which His testimony has got to be maintained. And in that time there has to be a vessel for that purpose.
It is the principle of succession to the ascended Lord; succession by the anointing with the same Spirit as rested upon Him. You will all, therefore, be ready to agree that if this is what we are in, what we are called to (and dear friends, if I may make a parenthetical emphasis: don't make any mistake about it, this is what we are called to. This is what we are in; nothing less, nothing less than this. And I trust that before we are through this afternoon, we shall see the range of this thing; nothing less than this: we are charged with the great responsibility of maintaining this testimony of the ascended Lord while He is away.) If that is true, and it is true, as I was beginning to say, you are ready to agree that unto that we need enlargement; my word, we need enlargement!
The Corinthians were letting the testimony down badly, and the apostle attributes that failure to their spiritual smallness. And in this appeal in the second letter, which is the letter of enlargement of ministry and of testimony, he makes his appeal: "Be enlarged, oh, be enlarged!" It's the only way to save the testimony, the only way to maintain it: "Be ye also enlarged". If necessary I would go back, you see, to what he's been saying, and what he is saying about how in him that testimony everywhere, through suffering, persecution, through hunger, through shipwreck, through treachery, through everything, even to the point of many deaths, the testimony had been marvelously maintained. He opened his mouth about it all, dared to open his mouth, a daring thing to do lest he should seem to be making himself as a model, the pattern, nevertheless he dared and said, "My mouth is open to you Corinthians, be ye enlarged".
Now we can come back to our second book of Kings, to our three illustrations in these three chapters. Chapter 3 now holds the account, chapter 4 holds the account of the woman and her solitary little pot of oil. We cannot read the stories, I hope that they come back to your remembrance. Here she is, now it says, "There cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha...". These sons of the prophets occupy a large place in these Scriptures, they're here in these chapters repeatedly, as we shall see. But what do they represent? The sons of the prophets? Well, if they don't represent the carrying on of the testimony, what do they represent? They are the sons of the prophets and their very function is to maintain the testimony of the prophets. That's what they're for, that's what they exist for - to carry it on - the sons of the prophets.
Now here is a woman who is the widow of one of the sons of the prophets. Her husband, a son of the prophets, has died and left her without any resource. That's a pretty poor lookout for any ministry when it leaves its prospectors without anything to live on. She cries to Elisha and tells him of her situation, "Thy servant, my husband, is dead and thou knowest that he feared the Lord, and the creditors are come to take my son!" And we can read a lot into that, read a lot into that: are you anxious about your children? Are you concerned about those younger ones who are to come on and step into this responsibility? Is there a cry in your heart about those who are to follow on and carry this burden? She cried because not only her husband was dead, not only was she in poverty and need, but there was hanging over her children a heavy cloud - that it looked as though they would not be following in their father's footsteps. They would not be able to step in and take up this great responsibility or honour of maintaining the Lord's testimony. It's a sad look out, dear friends.
I haven't any doubt but that we have a very similar situation today everywhere. What are our young people doing? Are they following on? Are they coming on in the way to take up the responsibility? Oh, many and many a parent's heart is like the heart of this woman: "My children are not going on with the Lord. My children are not following on." And if the woman might represent the church, might not the church be crying today: our young people are not coming on to take up this great work of the Lord and to shoulder the responsibility for His testimony. They are threatened with a spiritually untimely end; an arrest of growth and progress. It's very true, isn't it?
Well, there's your situation, she cried unto Elisha, and it's very impressive how often a situation turned upon a woman's cry. Hagar cried. Hannah cried. This widow cried. Mary Magdalene cried. A woman's cry. You need not take that literally, you can if you like, but the church needs to cry about this man, needs to cry about this matter of its young people or of the follow on for the maintenance of the Lord's interests.
She cried unto Elisha. Elisha said, "What can I do for you? What have you got in the house? What have you got?" And she said, "Thy servant hath nothing except a small pot of oil." A small pot of oil. Resources may be very meagre, may be very little, but if there is only a little of the Spirit, there's hope! There's a tremendous potentiality if you've got the Spirit at all. And he said, "Go borrow vessels of your neighbour, borrow empty vessels; not a few." Not a few empty vessels.
Well, you can use your imagination to draw a picture of this woman and perhaps her two sons hurrying off in all directions to every house near and far and to inquire for any empty vessels available that they could lend to the woman, without all the neighbours wondering what this meant, what does she want our empty vessels for, and all that sort of thing. But here they are bringing them home, bringing them home until there's not another one to be found or borrowed. And Elisha says, "Shut the door" and begins to pour. As he began to pour, on went the oil from vessel to vessel, every empty vessel filled, and on to the last vessel and it was filled. Elisha, I suppose, I don't know, this may be a bit of imagination, said: "Go on!" but she said, "No, there's not another vessel, not another vessel!" and the oil was stayed. Elisha didn't put the limit on, the Holy Spirit never does limit Himself. If there is straitness, it is in the vessel, not in the Holy Spirit. "God is able to make all grace to abound unto you so that you, having all sufficiency at all times, everywhere, may abound..." that's the Divine side. It is we who put the limit on the Lord.
Now you can see quite well that when this was all finished, the woman went out with all these vessels back to the neighbours with filled vessels, there was undoubtedly astonishment and wonder. And they were all asking, "Where did it come from? How did you get it?" and she had her opportunity of testifying, saying, "It's just what the Lord has done! What the Lord has done! The Lord did this!" And the testimony is carried on in that way.
Now, this is not just a pretty Old Testament story. Dear friends, I don't know what you're thinking as I'm talking, you may be criticising me, my manner, or what I'm saying, or you may be thinking you've heard it all before, but let's be quite serious about this. This is not fiction. This ought to be, can be, and with some of us is, a right up-to-date experience. How many times, again and again, and yet again, there's been an emptiness or need brought to the Lord; needs of many types: physical need, or spiritual need, need for ministry, need for life, need to go on another day - starting the morning so empty, so empty. Oh, need of many kinds, "empty vessels not a few," brought to the Lord. Brought to the Lord and He has been faithful, He has been faithful. Oh, how He has filled the vessels repeatedly and completely. And if there has been limitation, it's been because of the limitation of our faith, we have not trusted Him.
Now here it is: you see, this is not some great ideal or idea of "prophetic ministry" (use that phrase if you like with a sneer) but no! What is prophetic ministry? It is the life of the people of God; the life of the people of God individually and the church, bearing daily witness to the fact that the Lord is sufficient for all things. That's prophecy in its true meaning. That is the maintaining of the Lord's testimony and that's what we're here for and nothing less than that.
Now, I know there are very many other details about this story, but we just lift that one out and say this thing: here you have the question of enlargement from a very little. Enlargement from a very little in order to meet our spiritual obligations, to save the situation for the Lord's honour. And the Holy Spirit is all-sufficient for it all and He will not put the limitation on. It will be we who limit Him; straitened in our own selves. Empty vessels. Empty vessels, our Lord demands in the first place that the vessels are empty. If we've got a fullness of our own, a sufficiency of our own, if there's any of this that was occurring, any self-sufficiency, any conceit, any pride, any idea at all that we have it, then we are not vessels suitable for this testimony. The whole Bible throughout bears mighty witness to this, but when God is going to do something for His glory, He takes an empty vessel and He demands emptiness; and He empties before He fills.
Well, that's that by the way, we must hurry to the next chapter and it's, as you know, the story of Naaman the Syrian. Naaman the Syrian, the commander-in-chief of the army of the King of Syria - he's a great man but he was a leper. There's a little exiled serving maid in his house who said in her compassion for her master, "Oh, that my master would go to the prophet in Israel, I'm quite sure that he would heal him of his leprosy." And this was told to Naaman; the rest of the story you know very well I think, how he came with his retinue to Elisha. And Elisha did not even go outside of his tent door to see the great man, he didn't take any account of him at all but sent his servant to him, asking what it was all about. And then Elisha gave him his message: "Go wash in the Jordan seven times". Naaman turned back. The whole thing was arrested or reckoned with disaster by reason of his pride: "Are not Pharpar and Abana, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the rivers in Israel? Can I not wash in them and be clean?" All right, try if you like, but the word the Lord is to go to Jordan and wash seven times. Well, however they persuaded him to go and be dipped in Jordan seven times, and his flesh became whole, he was cleansed of his leprosy.
Now then, there are many lessons again, but we are focusing upon one point: the matter of enlargement. The matter of enlargement where the testimony of the Lord is concerned. And to bear this out, I turn you to the fourth chapter of the gospel by Luke. "Jesus came to Nazareth where He was brought up and He went as His manner was into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. And there was delivered unto Him the scroll of the prophet and He stood up to read. And He read in the place where it is written...". Note: "the Spirit of the Lord is upon Me," we are present with the Holy Spirit. The point: "the Spirit of the Lord is upon Me for He hath anointed Me to preach..." and so on and on. And when He had reached a certain point, He stopped. He broke off and sat down. The eyes of all them that were assembled were fastened upon Him and He began to say, "Today is this scripture fulfilled in your ears." Now note: "You will say 'physician heal thyself'... a prophet is not without honour in his own country... There were many lepers in Israel in the days of Elisha the prophet, but unto none of them was Elisha sent but to Naaman a Syrian. And they were filled with wrath and rose up and thrust Him out, led Him to the brow of the hill upon which their city was built to cast Him over." Mark, in giving account of this, tells us other factors: "And He was amazed at their unbelief and could not do many mighty works there". Limited.
Limited, yes, here; but where's the enlargement? Where's the enlargement? Oh, beyond Israel! This is a mighty blow at anything in the nature of a religious exclusiveness. It's devastating! Not to Israel, but outside; we are not, the Holy Spirit is not confined, His range of operations is wherever there's a leper; here or there, wherever there is sin, wherever there is need, wherever there is darkness, wherever there is imprisonment. "He's anointed Me to preach there - outside of any kind of bounds that men have set up by their traditions." Oh, they were wrath, they are not going to have that, not going to have that! We could dwell much upon that, this, this thing that we have spoken of before in this time together, this pernicious thing of turning in, and turning in, and drawing fences around, and narrowing down and then when you touch that thing, you get into trouble, terrible trouble, as He was.
The devil does not like this kind of enlargement that embraces all need. He doesn't like it. He is fiercely set against it. And here the Lord takes up this matter of Naaman and uses the story for one purpose only: "there were many lepers in Israel but not, but not to one of them the prophets sent, but to Naaman, the Syrian". Someone right outside of Israel! The enlarged ministry of the Holy Spirit, the anointing to embrace all need, everywhere, of every kind and to forbid any kind of closing in and closing down, narrowing and restricting. An abomination to the Holy Ghost is exclusiveness of every kind. And if you want the proof of this, look what followed when the mantle fell upon the church. On the day of Pentecost when the ascended Lord let His mantle of His Spirit fall upon His church, well, there began this very contest; from that very moment the contest between enlargement and exclusiveness.
You just have to take Acts 10 as the great example: 10 and 11, the movement of the Spirit toward Cornelius in Caesarea. You know the story, we've heard it already, but Peter raises his fence again, his fence of exclusiveness, of Judaism, and puts up a barrier to the Holy Spirit, saying, "Not so, Lord...". But the Spirit made him go. The Spirit is in charge and He's going outside of the bounds of Israel, outside of the frontiers of Judaism, He's expanding, He's on the march! He's breaking down these barriers, and not to move with Him is, as Peter said to the elders in Jerusalem, "to withstand the Holy Ghost".
Enlargement! The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of ever-expanding vision, ever-expanding resource, ever-expanding energy, and we must move with the Spirit here - move with the Spirit and not sit down and accept, accept those impositions of any kind of exclusive narrowness, smallness, bigotry, prejudice, or anything like that. It's against the Holy Ghost.
Well, that's story number two, but you see that it, with all the other lessons that are in it, focuses upon this matter of enlargement. Enlargement all the time through resurrection. We come back to that in a moment.
We take the third story in chapter 6, the story of the sons of the prophets again, saying to Elisha, "The place wherein we dwell is too narrow for us... it's too narrow, too small for us; let us go to the Jordan and cut down trees that we may build, that we may have enlargement." Now here it is: not only the enlargement of resource by the Holy Spirit, not only the enlargement of vision and range, here it is the enlargement of actual ministry on the part of those who are to take up the testimony - which applies to us all. It is a matter of enlargement to carry our responsibility. Well, they went to the Jordan and they started to cut down the trees, and as they did so, the axe head of one of the sons of the prophets came off and fell into the water and went to the bottom; quite naturally.
Evidently it was fairly deep at that point, because the prophet couldn't see where it was, he said, "Where, where is it? Where fell it?" It had gone to the bottom, out of sight, completely sunk. That's a very suggestive phrase, isn't it? And the son of the prophet cried "Alas, alas my master, for it was borrowed." Elisha said, "Where fell it?" He cut down a branch and cast it in, and "the iron did swim... and the iron did swim". Oh, how this fits right into the Corinthian situation, it really does.
What is this iron? What is this iron with which men tried to do the work of the Lord? With which men seek to enlarge their opportunity for service? This iron... and you can put the name to it, it's in Corinth: "Now the natural man cannot... now the natural man cannot". And if you don't appreciate those words altogether, if they sound so theoretical, maybe put it in another way. My dear friends, is it not the natural tendency of our own souls to sink when we are up against difficulties? Aren't you day by day up against this thing: a sinking down, a dropping down, a going to the bottom? Sometimes we even use the phrase, when we feel we've "touched bottom" - sinking. That's the natural way of iron, isn't it? You and I have nature's like that, natures like that: their whole gravitation is downward. There's a downward pull, and a downward pressure all the time. And naturally, naturally it's so easy to go down, especially in the work of the Lord.
When you're seeking to work for the Lord and things go wrong, and what you call accidents happen and mishaps take place, and things get all confused, disappointing, disheartening, heartbreaking, in the work of the Lord; you're labouring to build, to enlarge, and everything is against, in the way of frustration. We are fighting this battle with our own souls all the time, aren't we? The battle against losing heart, giving up, sinking down, going to the bottom. Well, that's natural, as natural for us as it is for iron to sink beneath the water, but what are we going to do about it? The power of His resurrection reverses the whole order of nature. Why are we going on today, have we not touched bottom many times? Have we not, again and again, felt that we cannot any longer contend with the down drive and the down drag, the disappointment and the discouragement in the work of the Lord? Have you felt like that? You know, it's very true.
You know, just in the last two months we've been traveling over many thousands of miles, about 14,000 miles we've covered, and seen and touched Christian's work in many, many parts. And my word, dear friends, I tell you, your heart could sink. Your heart could sink, you could very easily, if you didn't know the Lord yourself, wash your hands of Christianity as it is today. That's not saying too strong a thing. Let's get out of this! Yes, that. There's a reaction you might truly make, speaking generally, thank God for what there is of Himself within, but there it is. [You can] go down, and say it's hopeless! It's just hopeless. You seek to work for the Lord, bring about spiritual enlargement, while all the time dragged down by this thing and that thing, and the general state of spiritual life. [Pressure builds.] But the answer? The answer: resurrection, His resurrection, the power of His resurrection, resurrection Life reacting against nature and all nature's tendencies, making even this iron of our souls to swim! Quite contrary to nature isn't it?
And I venture to say that you know something of this. You know what it is to live contrary to nature because of that grace which He makes to abound. You know that if you were living just on your own natures, you wouldn't be in the fight today, you would be out and down. But something is there; the power of His resurrection. And thank God it's not only just maintaining the service, to keep up, the building goes on, the great spiritual project proceeds, the church is being built. The object of the sons of the prophets to enlarge the place, is being realised; maybe too slowly, against many difficulties, but it's going on, dear friends. Thank God it is going on and we can see, in not a few places, that the work is going on, in spite of much, it's going on being built. But oh, wherever it is so, you have this, not because, not because of the optimistic disposition of the workers, but because of the grace of God and the power of His resurrection.
Well, we lift out this matter of enlargement. I close with pointing out this: what a large place the Jordan has in these stories! It began at Jordan with Elijah and Elisha, it all began there. That was the inception of this new phase of maintaining the Lord's testimony, at Jordan. It was in Jordan that Naaman had to be baptised. It was at Jordan that they were cutting down the wood for the enlargement of their habitation. Jordan is very much in evidence isn't it?
The way of the Spirit is through Jordan always. The way of resurrection is always through death - it's always like that. We are so familiar with the law, but there it is, every time. Every time that the Lord is going to enlarge or baptise you anew into some deeper death, He brings you to Jordan again in some new way. Oh, that's hopeful, really, isn't it? I hope it's not discouraging, disheartening, but here we are: knowing greater depths of His death, deeper experiences of fellowship with Him in His death. But what is it for? What does He intend it for? A new fullness of resurrection Life in the power of the Holy Spirit. It can be that, it should be that. May we have faith to believe and to lay hold on this, even in the day when it seems so dark, and so difficult, and so limited, to lay hold and do what this woman did.
It was a real challenge to faith, wasn't it? "Get all these vessels; go and get them!" "But! But, but... there's only one little pot of oil!" To go out everywhere and bring in the vessels, empty vessels, not a few, was a real act of faith; so with Naaman, so with the sons of the prophets. An act of faith; not sitting down waiting for something to happen, but laying hold of His resurrection Life, believing, and proceeding accordingly.