Today we want to look at the truth of God’s mercy as it is the cause and the reason for our salvation. We want to look into the truth of God’s mercy not merely in an intellectual way, but in a way of faith, from our hearts, in order that the understanding of God’s mercy may work in us a godly humility and overwhelming thanks to God for His mercy.
The text of Scripture that we are going to look at is found in the book of Romans, chapter 9 (the most neglected chapter in the whole Bible), the verses 23 and 24. There we read: “And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.”
These words are the last part of Paul’s answer to the objection which was raised against his teaching of sovereign predestination, election and reprobation, namely, the truth that God from eternity has determined who will be saved and who will not be saved. The objection brought against that truth arose from the sinful mind and judgment of man. It was the attempt to cast off all responsibility for sin from man and to throw the blame on the shoulders of God.
The objection is stated in Romans 9:19, “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?” Paul in the verses before that had been quoting from the Old Testament Scripture: Exodus 33:19 where God says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” And, also from Exodus 9:16, speaking of Pharaoh, “… for this cause,” says God, “have I raised thee up, for to show in thee my power.”
The apostle Paul has declared in Romans 9 that salvation is determined by the eternal will of God. Now to this there arises an objection. That objection is this: How then can God find fault in man’s sin and unbelief since God’s unchangeable will determined both? Always that is the objection brought to the truth of sovereign predestination, election and reprobation, the truth that God from eternity determines who will be saved and who will not.
The apostle Paul responds to that objection in verse 20. He says, “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” That is, “Man, close your mouth before God!” Paul reminds us of man’s position before the infinite and most high God. He is God, and before Him all nations are but as a drop of the bucket. He doeth according to His will among the nations and none can stay His hand or say unto Him, What doest Thou? ( Dan. 4).
And man is fallen, dependent, dust. What is man? How arrogant for man to assume an attitude of criticism over against the work of the Most High God. Then the apostle Paul reaffirms the absolute sovereignty of God with election and reprobation, that is, the absolute power of God over salvation and damnation. And He does so by using the figure of a potter and clay. He says, “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” God is sovereign! He rules. No one can possibly dispute His right to determine and to accomplish His good pleasure.
Now, in verses 22 and 23 the emphasis falls upon God’s purpose in salvation and in damnation. His purpose in damnation is to show His wrath upon the vessels fitted for destruction. And His purpose for the vessels of mercy is to make known the riches of His grace.
The point is this. We have nothing to say about the eternal purposes of God. We are not God’s critics. We do not have the authority to challenge His sovereign prerogatives and purposes. No one can say to God, “What doest Thou?” Psalm 115:3, “But our God is in the heavens; he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.”
No, the response must be this. When we hear the message that God has had mercy upon some, we respond by bowing down in amazement in our hearts when we hear of the purpose of God to show the riches of His grace on the vessels of mercy.
In our text for today we are called to visit the divine potter’s house. We see there that the clay is upon the spinning wheel and God’s hands are forming vessels. He speaks to us, first of all, of the fact that out of the clay He forms vessels of dishonor or, as we read in verse 22, vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, fitted only to be broken and dashed to pieces. As the wheel turns, these vessels become worse in character. These men and women become more depraved in mind, more adept in sin, masters of iniquity. In the way of their sin and rebellion, these vessels are brought finally for destruction. It was God’s purpose with them to do this – to show, we read, His wrath upon the vessels fitted for destruction – to show His holy and consuming anger against sin.
I tremble over this truth. Sin is in us all. Does it burden you before God? It burdens none of those vessels of destruction, for they are fitted, they are suited for destruction. Sin remains their love. Perhaps you see them as vessels of mirth now. They may well have a good time, as it is said. They may be vessels of pride now and lift themselves up against God and say, Who is God? We can do what we want. But soon the rod of iron, Jesus Christ, shall dash these vessels to pieces. I tremble, for this is just. And this is terrible. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
But we also read that the master, the living God, has also upon His wheel vessels prepared unto glory, vessels touched by His hands, vessels one day which will grace the palace of the king, vessels of honor. Who are these vessels of mercy? They are the elect of the Father, in whom it is God’s purpose to make known the riches of His grace and glory. The riches of His glory refer to the shining out of God’s own perfections. It is the dazzling light created by His own self, by His grace and mercy. God is rich in glory. And God forms vessels of mercy. That is, God chooses to save men and women in order that He might make known throughout all eternity how rich He is in glory and in grace.
What are we told about these vessels of mercy? The first thing we are told is that they are made of the same lump as the vessels of wrath. “Hath not the potter power over the clay,” we read, “of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” What lump is that? That is the clay of fallen mankind. All men and women are equally deserving to be cast out as miry clay. Believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, there was nothing in you by nature better than what is found in any other person. Has God given you to know that? The Scriptures say, “Look to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged” (Is. 51:1). Psalm 40:2, “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock.” God has made us vessels of mercy out of the miracle of His distinguishing grace. Had He left us to ourselves, we would have been as vile in life as any other, and eternally damned.
You were in Adam’s loins. You were born of Eve as really as Cain, the murderer. We are no different than Judas who forsook the Lord for thirty pieces of silver. Our nature is as evil, our disposition as vile, and our temper as devilish as any. Vessels of mercy? Vessels of mercy are made out of the same lump of sinful clay. They do not merit. They do not have a distinction. They are not a notch up or a little better than someone else. Have you learned that truth in your own soul? Do you understand, by the grace of God through Scripture, that you are depraved, that you are fallen? Or in pride does your heart whisper to you that there is something in yourself better than another – you are better than she is? Is that the whisper of your heart?
You cannot be a child of God if you have not learned this truth: of yourself, you are of that same sinful clay deserving of destruction.
A vessel of mercy is, secondly, entirely in the potter’s hand. Grace alone prepares us for glory. There is no reason in the world why any man should be saved apart from the distinguishing favor of a gracious God. Had God permitted the whole world to perish, He would have been perfectly just.Romans 3:19, “… that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” Revelation 15:3, “Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty.” If the Lord had left you to become all that your evil nature and Satan would have made you, He would have done no injustice to you that you would be sentenced to darkness.
Have you learned this truth, that you are saved entirely of the grace of God? It was His will that saved you. Have you been brought to that low and empty position, being brought to say, “I have no claim upon God. The reason for my salvation is not to be found whatsoever in myself”? Personally and experientially, do you know that? Do you acknowledge that truth? Such a person is not far from the kingdom of God.
And, finally, these vessels of mercy are receivers. A vessel is not a fountain, but a container to hold what is poured into it. A vessel does not have something springing out of itself. But something is poured into it. At one time, these vessels of mercy were filled with themselves, with their own sin. But they have been emptied and filled with grace. God has filled them with His loving kindness, so that all that is in us of faith and love and assurance is of God. All of our salvation is of God. A vessel receives. A vessel is not the originator of its contents. The contents have been placed into the vessel. Your salvation is all of God. It is not of yourself. You are a vessel of mercy. Give God the glory!
We may overflow with gratitude. God has filled us with His grace. Do you know this? We have not learned how to spell the word “salvation,” unless we have learned that we are nothing and that we can do nothing unless God makes us something and enables us to do something. Vessels of mercy come to know the fountain which has filled them. And that fountain is the grace of God.
We read that the potter, God, is preparing these vessels of mercy unto glory. When a potter takes up clay and puts it upon the wheel, he knows what kind of vessel he is about to make. So the apostle, as I said, is emphasizing the purpose that God has in reprobation – in determining who will be damned – and election – determining who shall be saved. His purpose is to show, as we say, His wrath, and His purpose (on the vessels of mercy) is to make known the riches of His glory and grace. That is His purpose – to make these vessels of mercy monuments, testimonies, to the riches of His grace. He sees the place which each vessel of mercy will have in His house, and how each vessel will make known something of the splendor, something of the eternal and wonderful mercy of God. So we may say, with John, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be; but when he appears, we shall be like him.” Our Father knows. He will present us without spot or wrinkle or any such thing among the assembly of the elect, in life eternal. God is working on the vessels of mercy. He will not leave a vessel of mercy upon the dunghill of sin. He will not leave it to be buried under the waters of doubt. But He will work on it. He will tear up iniquity in us by its roots. He will wash us in our conscience. He will deliver us from besetting sin. He puts His hands upon these vessels, and He shapes and molds them so that He works in these vessels of mercy childlike trust, love as strong as death, hope that maketh not ashamed, joy of the heart.
Oh, right now, it is not what it will be. We sit upon the wheel. We are not finished. But we will be. And through our repentance and sorrow and faith and love and yearning and fleeing to God in tears, the Almighty God is preparing vessels unto glory.
Lift up your head, child of God. The hand of God is molding us through all things. He prepares each one of His vessels until at last it is complete, inlaid with gold and delicate work.
Sometimes you can almost see a child of God nearing completion. Not that sin is gone from his life. But in aged saints, when you begin to talk to them, you see even in their face how the Lord has been engraving and working upon them and more and more the world means nothing to them. You can see that they are being made ready for glory. Sometimes you do not see this. You and I might think, “It’s only a child. It’s only a teenager – sixteen years old – snatched away from us in a car accident. It’s a young mother with children. Why did the Lord take her?” The answer is: The vessel of mercy was ready for just the place the Master had in mind in His own house. He is the potter. We are the clay. He is busy to bring the vessels of mercy to completion and to bring them quickly into His house where they might make known the riches of His grace.
Are you aware of this? Are God’s goals yours? Do you want to stand as a vessel in His house? Do you say, “Lord, do everything that needs to be done to prepare me, do it”? Are your goals different from the vessels of wrath? Do you say, “Lord, fill me”? Or do you say, “Lord, fill me with this life. Give me more of this life.” Or do you say, “Lord, give me more of Thee”? Is that your dominating desire, young man, young girl? More of His faithfulness, more of His grace, more longing for Him? He is worthy!
Oh, how blessed the thought that we are being prepared unto glory, prepared for the moment when His workmanship shall be completed and we shall be brought home and placed in His house.
But that leaves us with just this question: “Am I that vessel of mercy? Can I know?” The answer is: Yes. Because the Master Potter puts a mark upon all of His vessels. A potter identifies the vase that he has made. In order to give an oath of its genuineness, he leaves his own mark upon each vessel. What is that mark? The mark is His calling. We read, “Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.” There the Scriptures speak to us of effectual calling, that is, the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God and the preaching of that Word, whereby I powerfully hear and personally hear God calling me by name. It is the inward conviction that the Word of God is true and is true for me. It is the conviction that Jesus has died not only for the church, but for me. It is to read Luke 18, the parable of the Pharisee and the publican, and when the publican cries out, “God be merciful to me the sinner,” that becomes your plea. Or when you read Psalm 51 it is your prayer: “God be merciful to me. I rest upon thy grace.”
God alone can bring that down to your heart. No man can bring that down to your heart. No man can put that mark upon you, but God can. God must give you that ear to hear Him speak your own name.
He puts a mark upon each of His vessels, even us, says the apostle, whom He has called. He has called us to Jesus Christ. And that mark of calling always leaves us amazed. Amazed that He would call us! That He would say, Come unto Me and I will give you rest. Then there is no one else to whom we can turn. Then, we say, we must have Christ or we perish. Then we know that we are chosen of God from the foundation of the world. And then we bow in humble thanks that out of the mass of miry clay He has formed us to be vessels of mercy, preparing us until that day comes when we shall stand in His house to display the riches of His grace and glory.
And then we shall overflow as vessels of mercy, with eternal praise and joy all our days.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy mercy. For we are saved by the mercy of God alone. All praise be to Thee. Amen.