We have seen in parable, in the seed's growing and ripening, the work of the Spirit within us, forming the life of Jesus, and bringing down the flesh into the grave. In its scattering we see shadowed forth the Spirit upon us in His power of reaching other souls. There is no needs be with us that this double work should be consecutive as in the plants -- it may go on simultaneously. There is never a moment, from the first receiving of Christ as Saviour, when the full outpouring of the Holy Ghost may not take place -- never a moment when, in figure, the seed may not be set free. There are some few who leap down, as soon as they are saved, to the simple, bare, lowly faith which liberates God's power, and He can use them mightily all along, but they are very few. Practically in most cases there is time involved, because we take so long to unlearn our own sufficiency and our own resources, and even after we have received the promise of the Spirit through faith, we are puzzled, it may be, by a want of continuity in His outflow.
It is because, before God can get us to the place where He can send Him through us in a steady tide, we have to go lower than we dreamed of at first: and He may have to stop using us for a time, that He may deepen this work within, and bring us to utter brokenness.
Look at the last stage in the plant, before the inwrought life is free for use. There is a breaking-up and a breaking-down such as it never had before. Such brittleness comes as the seed ripens that it is almost impossible to pick some of the stems without cracking them in two or three places. The ripened seed-vessels share the same brittleness: you can hardly touch them without the whole crown falling to pieces in your hand.
Conscious weakness, as a preparation for service, is one thing: brokenness is another. We may know that we are but earthen pitchers, like Gideon's, with nothing of our own but the light within, and yet we may not have passed through the shattering that sheds the light forth.
This does not mean something vague or imaginary, but intensely practical. Read the description that Paul gives of the life of ministry -- the apostolic life -- and see what it is to be a shattered seed-vessel; it is no dreamy experience in the clouds!
"Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God... . We are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised. Even unto this present hour we both hunger and thirst and are naked and have no certain dwelling-place. And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it, being defamed, we intreat; we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day."
"Seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not... . But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh."
"In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings. ... By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers and yet true; as unknown and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened and not killed; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things."
"Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches... . I take pleasure in infirmities, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong."
Do you notice that in each passage these are given as the marks of "ministry"? Such were what Paul found to be the conditions of spiritual power. Their absence among us may account for its absence too! Oh! how little we know of them in the midst of the spirit of luxury that is around us in the world and of the easy-going Christianity of the Church! We cannot all be honoured by our service finding the same outward expression as his, in its bodily stress and suffering, but is there among us even a seeking after its spirit?
"This is sacrifice, 'death in us, life in you.' -- In us, emptiness, weakness, suffering, pressure, perplexity. In you life -- life -- life! As if Paul would say, 'the more I am pressed above measure, the more the life of Jesus is abundant in its outflow, and in its quickening of other lives.' This is the apostolic life. Through the Eternal Spirit, Christ offered Himself to God. Through the same Spirit shall we be enabled to walk in His steps, and to rejoice in ... sufferings ... and fill up ... that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body's sake, which is the Church.'" [footnote*:"The Message of the Cross" -- Mrs. Penn-Lewis.]
Yes, it is a broken spirit that we need -- a spirit keeping no rights before God or man, longing to go down, down, anywhere, if other souls may be blessed. It is an indefinable thing, this brokenness, and yet it is as unmistakable when it has been wrought, as that of the seed-vessel in the field.
God has His promise for those "who sow in tears": those to whom to be a channel of Divine communication to the world means soul burden and travail. It is they who are bound to "reap in joy."
And as we look at these broken-up seed-vessels, we can read a warning as to our dealings with others, as well as the lesson to ourselves. If such brokenness as this is the condition of God's power upon us, what of the danger of making much of the instruments that He uses? If we do so even in thought, it will unconsciously show itself in manner and tone, and the subtle influence may reach them and be used of the devil to build again in a moment that which God had been long breaking down, and so stay the tide He had at last with infinite pains set free. "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase."