The Heavenly Treasure in Earthen Vessels by John Wesley
Text from the 1872 edition - Thomas Jackson, editor
Sermon Number Sermon 124
Sermon Title The Heavenly Treasure in Earthen Vessels
Sermon Footnote (text of the 1872 edition) Potto, June 17, 1790
Sermon Scripture "We have this treasure in earthen vessels." 2 Cor. 4:7.
2. But what all the wisdom of man was unable to do, was in due time done by the wisdom of God. When it pleased God to give an account of the origin of things, and of man in particular, all the darkness vanished away, and the clear light shone. "God said, Let us make man in our own image." It was done. In the image of God man was made. Hence we are enabled to give a clear, satisfactory account of the greatness, the excellency, the dignity of man. But "man, being in honour" did not continue therein, but rebelled 20 against his sovereign Lord. Hereby he totally lost, not only the favour, but likewise the image of God. And "in Adam all died." For fallen "Adam begat a son in his own likeness." And hence we are taught to give a clear, intelligible account of the littleness and baseness of man. He is sunk even below the beasts that perish. Human nature now is not only sensual but devilish. There is in every man born into the world, (what is not in any part of the brute creation; no beast is fallen so low,) a "carnal mind, which is enmity," direct enmity, "against God."
3. By considering, therefore, these things in one view, -- the creation and the fall of man, -- all the inconsistencies of his nature are easily and fully understood. The greatness and littleness, the dignity and baseness, the happiness and misery, of his present state, are no longer a mystery, but clear consequences of his original state and his rebellion against God. This is the key that opens the whole mystery, that removes all the difficulty, by showing what God made man at first, and what man has made himself. It is true, he may regain a considerable measure of "the image of God wherein he was created:" But still, whatever we regain, we shall "have this treasure in earthen vessels." In order to have a clear conception of this, we may inquire, First, what is "the treasure" which we now have; and, in the Second place, consider how "we have this treasure in earthen vessels."
2. May we not believe, that all Christians, though but nominally such, have sometimes at least, some desire to please God, as well as some light concerning what does really please him, and some convictions when the are sensible of displeasing him? Such treasure have all the children of men, more or less, even when they do not yet know God.
3. But it is not these of whom the Apostle is here speaking; neither is this the treasure which is the subject of his discourse. The persons concerning whom he is here speaking are those that are born of God; those that, "being justified by faith," have now redemption in the blood of Jesus, even the forgiveness of sins; those who enjoy that peace of God which passeth all understanding; whose soul doth magnify the Lord, and rejoice in him with joy unspeakable; and who feel the "love of God shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto them." This, then, is the treasure which they have received; -- a faith of the operation of God; a peace which sets them above the fear of death, and enables them in everything to be content; an hope full of immortality, whereby they already "taste of the powers of the world to come;" the love of God shed abroad in their hearts with love to every child of man, and a renewal in the whole image of God, in all righteousness and true holiness. This is properly and directly the treasure concerning which the Apostle is here speaking.
2. Such are the unavoidable consequences of "having these treasures in earthen vessels." Not only death, and its forerunners, -- sickness, weakness, and pain, and a thousand infirmities, -- but likewise error, in ten thousand shapes, will be always ready to attack us. Such is the present condition of humanity! Such is the state of the wisest men! Lord, "what is man, that thou art still mindful of him; or the son of man, that thou regardest him?"
3. Something of this great truth, that the "corruptible body presses down the soul," -- is strongly expressed in those celebrated lines of the ancient poet. Speaking of the souls of men he says: Igneus est ollis vigor, et coelestis origo Semnibus; quantum non noxia corpora tardant, Terrenique hebetant artus, moribundaque membra. These seeds of heavenly fire, With strength innate, would to their source aspire, But that their earthly limbs obstruct their flight, And check their soaring to the plains of light.
4. But suppose it pleased the all-wise Creator, for the sin of man, to suffer the souls of men in general to be weighed down in this miserable manner by their corruptible body; why does he permit the excellent treasure which he has entrusted to his own children, to be still lodged in these poor earthen vessels?" Would not this question naturally occur to any reflecting mind? Perhaps it would; and therefore the Apostle immediately furnishes us with a full answer: God has done this, that "the excellency of the power might be of God, and not of us;" that it might be undeniably plain to whom that excellent power belonged; that no flesh might glory in his sight; but that all who have received this treasure might continually cry, "Not unto us, but unto thee, O Lord, be the praise, for thy name and for thy truth''s sake."
5. Undoubtedly this was the main design of God in this wonderful dispensation; to humble man, to make and keep him little and poor, and base, and vile, in his own eyes. And whatever we suffer hereby, we are well repaid, if it be a means of "hiding pride from man;" of laying us low in the dust, even then, when we are most in danger of being lifted up by the excellent gifts of God!
6. Nay, if we suffer hereby, from the mean habitation of the immortal spirit; if pain, sickness, and numberless other afflictions beside, to which we should not otherwise have been liable, assault us on every side, and at length bear us down into the dust of death; what are we losers by this? Losers! No, "In all these things we are more than conquerors, through him that loved us." Come on then, disease, weakness, pain, -- afflictions, in the language of men. Shall we not be infinite gainers by them? Gainers for ever and ever! seeing "these light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!"
7. And are we not, by the consciousness of our present weakness, effectually taught wherein our strength lies? How loud does it proclaim, "Trust in the Lord Jehovah; for in him is everlasting strength!" Trust in Him who suffered a thousand times more than ever you can suffer! Hath he not all power in heaven and in earth? Then, what though The heavenly treasure now we have In a vile house of clay! Yet He shall to the utmost save, And keep it to that day.
Proper Cite: John Wesley. Sermon 124 "The Heavenly Treasure in Earthen Vessels" in The Works of John Wesley, ed. Thomas Jackson via WordsOfWesley.com (Accessed Oct 26,2020)
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