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Romans 9:19-33 - Homilies By R.m. Edgar

Vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy.

We have already seen that God's hatred of Esau was after a millennium of patience. This fact of God's long-suffering with Esau's seed carries the light we need into the difficult section now before us. It is a specious objection that the Divine will is resistless, and so, as each one finds he cannot resist God successfully, what reason has the Most High to find fault with his helpless creatures? But a little fair thinking on the whole subject of God's sovereignty will show that he has every right to complain. Assume that we are all clay in the hands of the potter: what then? Is the potter responsible for the composition of the clay? If one lump is most common clay, out of which no glorious vessel could be fashioned, surely the potter can be held responsible only for the use to which he puts the base lump supplied him, and not for the common character of the clay? It is the unfair use of the figure which has led to exegetical difficulty. Let us, then, take up the two kinds of vessels here referred to, and see what truths are actually communicated by them.

I. THE VESSELS OF WRATH FITTED UNTO DESTRUCTION . And here I cannot do better than translate from a writer already quoted. In his little-known work, 'La Predestination,' Monsell says, "The all-important point for the interpretation of these verses is to decide when the act of forming the vessels took place; does this operation represent the predestination, or the moral government of God in actual time? A word of Romans 9:23 decides this question, without giving ground for the least hesitation; this word is the key of the whole passage, and, strange to say, it is omitted by Luther and by the French translations anterior to that of Lausanne. It is the word 'afore'—'which he has prepared afore for his glory.' The predestination of the vessel, then, is not its fabrication; it precedes it. Thus, then, when God is compared to a potter who fashions the clay, the question is about his actual treatment of sinners. They are before him one identical mass, vile and shapeless; to make the one portion vessels unto dishonour, to make them promote his glory without bettering their condition, is to treat them according to their nature; to make the other portion vessels unto honour is to treat them according to his grace which has been given them in Christ before the foundation of the world. As to the vessels of wrath, God is not the Author of their nature, but only of their form; he has fashioned them, but he has not ' prepared' them; their form is already a merited punishment; he shows therein his wrath. Could one believe that God was irritated against those who would be such as he had wished them to be? Would he need 'a grand long-suffering' to endure his own work in the state which he had himself determined? Has he raised with one hand what he has overturned with the other? Such a doctrine ends by doing violence to that reason in the name of which it has outraged our moral sentiments." It is clear, then, that the potter's relation to the vessels of wrath is that of the fashioner of material made ready to his hand. He is not to be blamed if the coarse Clay will only make a dishonoured vessel. The preparation of the clay, the contraction of its coarse character, has been anterior to the potter's disposal of it. All he can do is to determine the destination which suits the nature of the provided clay. In the very same way, God is not to be held responsible for the coarse characters sinners contract in the process of their development. They have exercised their freedom in reaching the condition when, like clay, they lie before the great Potter's wheel. All that God can be held responsible for is the form as vessels of dishonour they are to take; and if he shows his deserved wrath in disposing of them as dishonoured vessels, he is acting well within his rights. It is in the disposal of incorrigible sinners, in suffering long with them, and in at last dooming them to destruction, that he displays the severe side of his character—that side without which he could not ensure our respect. As for this wrath of God, it has been very happily denominated by some of the Germans "the love-pain ( Liebesschmerz ) of God." £ And there can be no doubt that with his long-suffering there enters a large element of pain. These wrecked lives are not disposed of by God without due sensi- bility. He grieves over them as in human form he grieved over doomed Jerusalem.

II. THE VESSELS OF MERCY PREPARED AFORE UNTO GLORY . It is much pleasanter, however, to turn to the vessels of mercy—the vessels which God fashions into "vessels unto honour, fitted and prepared for the Master's use." He can and does take men like Isaac and Jacob, whose natural qualities are not of the highest and noblest, and out of their unlikely characters he can by his grace make what is pure and holy. Of Jews and Gentiles he has called a proportion, and they have become Christ-like, and so glorious. And here we have to notice:

1. That in this way God has made known the riches of his glory. For if these elect ones had not become the subjects of God's grace, much of God's rich glory would have remained unknown. The fall of man and his deterioration have furnished God with splendid opportunities for the revelation of his glorious love and transforming power. The whole universe has profited by the manifestation of the riches of God's glory in the vessels of mercy.

2. In the formation of the vessels of mercy God was not working without a plan. Just as a skilful potter, in the formation of some specially fine piece of porcelain, spends anxious thought upon its form and ornamentation, so God afore prepared the vessels of mercy unto glory. The predestination of grace is simply the due foresight and prearrangement of God. There is nothing fortuitous; nothing of chance-work about God's acts of grace. "There is," says Monsell, "in our chapter only one predestination, that of grace; and not only that, but the words of the apostle are weighed and chosen to prevent all misapprehension: the one are ready or fit for perdition, the other are prepared for glory; the first, it is not God who has made them ready—on the contrary, he endures them 'with a grand long-suffering;' the latter, it is God who has prepared them—still more, he has prepared them afore. Were it not for the care with which the idea of reprobation is here put aside, I should never have supposed that such a dogma had presented itself to the spirit of a sacred writer. Paul makes on purpose an antithetic parallelism, as he had done ( Romans 6:23 ) between wages and gift, and this parallelism finds itself in all the members of the sentence. God shows his anger towards the wicked, and the riches of his glory towards the saved; but the latter, the mercy, is altogether gratuitous. If he wishes to make his power known ( Romans 9:22 ), it is not his power to create evil, but to punish it; and how to punish evil if not by evil, how to show his anger towards the clay unless by making the vessels unto dishonour? £

3. It is faith which makes the vessels glorious. After quoting several prophecies about the elect remnant, the apostle proceeds to point out that faith in the one case, and the lack of it in the other, made all the difference. The Jews for the most part stumbled at the idea of a crucified Messiah. They would not trust him, but busied themselves about building up their own righteousness. Self-righteousness became their ruin. But the Gentiles, on the other hand, not seeking self-righteousness, went forward and believed in Jesus, and the faith transfigured them. They found that "whosoever believeth on Jesus shall not be ashamed." And faith in the risen Lord, ever present with them according to his promise, made them noble men and women, ready to witness for Christ even unto the death. It is thus that God in his sovereign mercy makes men and women "vessels unto honour," fitting them by the gift of faith for service here on earth, and preparing them for still more glorious service in the life to come. As Ray Palmer sweetly sang, so may we—

"My faith looks up to thee,

Thou Lamb of Calvary,

Saviour Divine:

Now hear me while I pray;

Take all my guilt away;

Oh, let me from this day

Be wholly thine!

"When ends life's transient dream,

When death's cold, sullen stream

Shall o'er me roll;

Blest Saviour, then, in love,

Fear and distrust remove;

Oh, bear me safe above,

A ransomed soul!"

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