Friday, February 4, 2011



" He shall be a resnel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work."—2 Tim. ii. 21.

There is somewhat very expressive in the title:— ' Vessels of Mercy.' For what is a vessel? Nay, it can be no other than a mere receiver. For the very designation of it is to this office, and to this office only. It is pre-supposed to be formed for this purpose, and no other, having nothing in itself; and, after all, can have nothing more than what it receives. And what can more aptly be chosen to represent the church of Christ ? she is a vessel indeed unto honour, when sanctified and made meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work; but in herself still only a vessel to receive. " For," as the Holy Ghost by Paul unanswerably reasons, " who maketh thee to differ from another ? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive ?" 1 Cor. iv. 7.

Let us pause for a moment over this view, and ask the question, who in the congregation this day, can be fitted to receive, but such as are vessels for that purpose? Nay, who among the vessels is likely to fare best, but he that is most empty in himself, and is come here under a sense of need, " to receive out of Christ's fulness, and grace for grace ?" John i. 16. To this end speaketh the Lord, " When the poor and the needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst; I the Lord will hear them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them: I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the vallies ; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water," Isa. xli. 17, 18. And it is very blessed to see how exactly suited our most glorious Christ is in himself, to fill the empty vessels of his people. The more dry they are, the more they are made sensible when receiving out of his fulness. It is not unsimilar to the thirsty earth, when parched by long drought. You must have seen the effect which immediately takes place at such a time, after a shower of rain, which is soaked in by the ground, making the whole refreshed and saturated. Hence it is said of our most glorious Christ, " He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth," Ps. Ixxii. 6. Hence his gracious love-call to his people in the days of the prophet: " Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price," Isa. Iv. 1. And in person, the Lord of life and glory followed up the same gracious invitation to the thirsty soul, when in the days of his flesh Jesus stood and cried, " If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink," John vii. 37. And as this was delivered by the Lord in his last public sermon, the last great day of the feast; so when he sent his angel to testify these things, and to close in the final words of scripture, until his second coming, the same is repeated : " And the Spirit and the bride say, come; and let him that heareth say, come; and let him that is athirst, come; and whosoever will, (whomsoever the Lord hath made willing in the day of his power) let him take of the water of life freely," Rev. xxii. 17. And very sure I am, that the more a soul feels his need of Christ, as an empty vessel, the greater will be his supply from this almighty fountain of living water. And though all that are longing for Christ shall be supplied by Christ; (for as Mary in her love-song said, " He filleth the hungry with good things, and it is the rich only he sends empty away," Luke i. 53.) yet that precious soul shall be first fed that is most famishing; first have his vessel filled that is most empty; the poorer the sinner, made sensible of his sin and poverty, the welcomer here. Well, therefore, are the Lord's people called vessels, since they have nothing but what they receive. But we must not stop here. The church is not only said in all her members to be vessels, but " vessels of mercy." And there is a vast sweetness, as well as great blessedness in the expression, when by regeneration the Lord hath brought us into a real scriptural and spiritual apprehension of the meaning. For mercy, strictly and properly speaking, can be shewn only to the miserable. God might, and God did indeed, love the church in Christ, before he called them into actual being in themselves, Jer. xxxi. 3. And God is said to have given grace to the church in Christ Jesus " before the world began," 2 Tim. i. 9. But I speak with reverence when I say, the church could not have been called " vessels of mercy," had she not before, by the Adam-fall transgression, been the object and subject of misery. And this divine attribute of Jehovah, hath no other occasion for exercise but upon the miserable. Mercy is a perfection solely for manifestation in this way.

All the other divine properties find opportunity for numberless displays of them; " God is love." 'God loves himself in his trinity of persons. God's riches of grace tin making the church to be accepted in the Beloved: this is said to be to the " praise of the glory of his grace." Eph. i. 6. But God cannot be said to be gracious to himself, or merciful to himself. Mercy is solely for the miserable. Hence it is said by the prophet, that " he delighteth in mercy." Micah vii. 18. Yes, he saith himself, when calling upon the church to the contemplation of it, that he delighteth in it; and calls upon his people to delight in it also : " Thus saith the Lord, let not the wise man glory in his wisdom; neither let the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth, glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord, which exerciseth loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the Lord," Jer. ix. 23, 24. You see, therefore, that the church is not only a vessel, considered as a mere receiver; but a vessel of mercy, needing daily mercy, as we need our daily bread; and I hope that the Lord hath brought both you and me, at this time, before his divine majesty, under a sense of both; and that as he knoweth every care and every want of his people, and hath a suited mercy for you, for me, and for all that feel their need of him ; his gracious voice may be heard by the ear of faith, and his power felt in the believer's heart, when he saith, " Let Israel hope in the Lord, for in the Lord there is mercy, (even Jesus, the mercy of mercies) and with him is plenteous redemption ; and he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities," Psalm cxxx. 7, 8.

We shall be the better prepared, under divine teaching, to enter upon the subject proposed for our meditation in this tract of " vessels of mercy," by previously observing how the apostle hath introduced it; in a verse or two preceding the statement concerning " vessels of mercy," the apostle had been speaking somewhat largely of God's sovereignty, according ^to his own declaration of it to Moses ; and Paul made a quotation from that scripture, Exod. xxxiii. 19. where the Lord asserted his just prerogative to the exercise of the same. For he saith to Moses, " I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion;" and Paul foreseeing that this would excite the indignation of all natural men, the apostle took occasion to assert therefrom, the unquestionable right of God in the exercise of this power; and for the better confirmation of the doctrine, he adopts a very familiar mode of illustrating it, in the well-known character of the potter, who, in moulding or shapening his vessels in whatever way or manner pleased him, had no resource to the opinion of others, his own judgment being the best standard; " Hath not the potter (saith Paul) power over the clay of the same lump, to make one vessel to honour, and another to dishonour ?" To be sure he hath. And who ever doubted it, or called in question this man of the earth, whose clay and himself are alike of the same materials, dust ? And shall the God of heaven then be arraigned at the bar of his creature's tribunal, for exercising an authority which all the world, without reluctancy, give to the maker of potsherds, when such an infinite dissimilarity of being marks the Creator from the created ? And from this unanswerable statement, the apostle advancxth to another equally unanswerable, and which carries conviction with it against all objections, " What if God (saith Paul) willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction? 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 (said Paul) whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles," Rom. ix. 21—24.

Let us not dismiss this scripture, until that we have marked one or two of the leading particulars of it. God hath authority surely to shew both his wrath and his power on the vessels of wrath. But the apostle is here stating his long-suffering in enduring with forbearance the execution of his justice on " vessels fitted for destruction." For when men that are ripe for ruin, full of evil to the brim, and like a vessel laden with inflammable materials, ready to ignite with a spark, need but to be touched to be blown up with an explosion; is it not long-suffering, the suspension of the merited punishment day by day ? Are they filling up continually their measure of iniquity, and treasuring up to themselves " wrath against the day of wrath;" and is it not great long-suffering in God that they are not cut off? Nay, are not thousands and tens of thousands receiving at the Lord's hand innumerable blessings, who, in return, only " cause him to serve with their sins, and weary him with their iniquities ?" Is not this great long-suffering in the righteous Lord " who loveth righteousness ?" I have often thought, if persons of this complexion had the power to pause over their awful situation ; if after the midnight revel, or the visiting haunts of licentiousness, the wretched character, when awakening to the morning light, could but put the question to himself, and say, wherefore is it that the Lord hath spared me to this hour, and the dawn of a new day opens upon me ? Can this forbearance be ascribed to any other cause than the Lord's long-suffering ? They of the Lord's redeemed ones, who can and do trace the recovery by grace to this divine forbearance, will need no intimation from me, how much they are debtors to the Lord on this score. They can and will appreciate somewhat at least of his mercy, " who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good; and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust," Matt. v. 45.

But passing away for the present the consideration of what this scripture hath stated, in relation to " the vessels of wrath;'' the purport of this little tract is intended to treat, and on scripture ground, concerning the " vessels of mercy." The apostle, in his divine way of reasoning, taught by the Holy Ghost, draws an argument from the former, the more strikingly to prove the latter. " What (saith he) if God willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction ;" shall he not do it ? " shall not the Judge of all the earth do right ?" Gen. xviii. 25. In like manner shall he not demonstrate no less his grace ; " 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 (saith Paul) whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles." The words themselves are very blessedly formed into those three distinct branches in relation to those " vessels of mercy." The first and chief (and which must indeed be everlastingly so in all the dispensations of the Lord to his creatures) is the divine glory. It is to make known the riches of God's glory for which they are vessels of mercy, and for which " they were afore prepared unto glory." This, therefore, as it is the pre-disposing cause of all, it will be our wisdom, under the Lord's leadings, first to consider. The second branch of our subject, will then come within its proper province to notice; namely, "vessels of mercy;" and particularly that they are such, because they were fore-ordained to glory. And when we have gone over this, part of the subject, it will form a matter of no small interest to examine the third, namely, of the us Paul speaks of, who are the objects of such divine favour, whether Jew or Gentile, being the " called of God." And it will be a very blessed application of our time, if the Lord's presence shall be in our midst, to give us a true spiritual knowledge of these rich mercies in Christ. To discover that we are vessels of mercy, being afore prepared unto glory, exceeds the highest calculation we can in the present time-state conceive of happiness. For this is what the Lord called upon his disciples to rejoice in, that " their names are written in heaven," Luke x. 20.

And in order for your better apprehension, under divine unction, of this soul-comforting truth, I would have you enter upon it with the humble hope, that as Paul in his sermon before the people at Antioch declared, that " whosoever among them feared God," were interested in what he had delivered; so the same may be said among all God-fearers now; " to you is the word of this salvation sent," Acts xiii. 26. Methinks I would have the blessed truth proclaimed in every place of concourse where the ordinances of God are observed, that Jesus is always present to fill the vessels of mercy in all who are made sensible of their emptiness. And I would have it yet further proclaimed, that a sense of need is the only qualification for receiving. The bountiful Lord, as he wants nothing from the objects of his bounty, so there is nothing that they have to give, or that the Lord can receive. His grace finds vent, when from his fulness he pours into their emptiness; and while they are made happy, his riches hath the end in the bestowing of them. It is not what the objects of misery can do for him ; but what he can and will do for them. And yet more. I would have it yet further considered, that as we are vessels of mercy, and not sacrifice, all that are receivers are by their very state and circumstances beheld as passive in receiving. There are no preparations, no worth, no merit, no deservings. The generous Lord gives with a full, free, and open hand. And above all, as if to remove every doubt and every fear from the mind of the miserable who feel their poverty and long for mercy, the Lord declares, that his glory is more concerned in the salvation of his people, than any of them can be for themselves. The word saith, that it is " to make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy which he had afore prepared unto glory !" What then is wanting to recommend the gracious doctrine concerning what this little tract is directed to treat of? Thy sovereign grace only, O Lord ! for in this we have the whole power of persuasion ! And if the Lord God of the prophets will mercifully do in the present day, as he influenced the mind of his servant Elisha the prophet to do in his, to the poor widow, when commanding her to bring empty vessels, and not a few, which supplied her need in filling from the cruse of oil, which failed not while she had any to fill; what may we not hope our God himself will do to supply every needy one whom he hath made sensible of his misery by sin, and is come to ask supply from him who is the head of his body the church, " the fulness that filleth all in all." Sure I am that while there is one such empty vessel to fill, the oil of his grace will not fail; yea, every vessel shall be filled, and the infinite ocean that is in himself shall remain undiminished; for however we fail, his compassions fail not. He is "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever."

I begin according to my proposal, in speaking of the vessels of mercy, with that first branch of the subject, which is and must be in this (and indeed in every other) the bottom and topstone of all things; namely, the object of all the divine glory. The words of this scripture so speak, " that he might make known the riches of his glory." And this is so plain and clear, that though the highest in importance to every other, yet requires the least in point of reasoning to insist upon. This was the burden of the song John heard in vision, among those who rested not day and night, to proclaim the sovereignty of Jehovah ; " Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power, for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are, and were created," Rev. iv. 8—11.) And very eminently is this glory manifested in the infinite grace shewn to the church in our most glorious Christ. For in him, in the blessed manifestations made personally to the church, all the divine attributes find display. And in the fore-ordination of those which become vessels of mercy in time, because they were chosen in Christ to glory before all time; here is the richest and fullest demonstration of it. Jehovah in his trinity of persons is here, and here only known. " No man hath seen God at any time ; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him," John i. 18. So that in this most glorious Christ we know the Father, we have seen the Father, John xiv. 7, 9. And Christ, as the visible Jehovah, manifesteth the whole according to this his own statement, John xiv. 10, 11. All the purposes of the Holy Three in One, are concentrated in him, Eph. iii. 11. In his Person there is a full constellation, like that beautiful cluster of the heavenly bodies in the south, Job xxxviii. 31. which we call the seven stars, which give lustre in one full blaze of glory. Hence his praise is blessedly described in the Psalms. " His glory is great in thy salvation; honour and majesty hast thou laid upon him : for thou hast made him most blessed for ever," Ps. xxi. 5, 6. I stay not to observe at this time how each glorious person hath taken part in the vast purposes concerning the church ; it will be enough to remark, that as the vessels of mercy were fore-ordained to glory, evidently this arose from those ancient settlements of eternity, in which the personal love of the Father was declared in naming them in Christ, Eph. iii. 14, 15 ; the personal love of God the Son in betrothing them to himself, Isa. liv. 5 ; Hosea ii. 19, 20; and the personal love of God the Holy Ghost, in anointing them in Christ before all time, and giving them the earnest of the promised inheritance, 2 Cor. v. 5.

But this eternal fore-ordination to glory, being founded in the joint favour and love of the Holy Three in One, most decidedly shews the safety and security of it. For there could be no peradventures, no obstructions, no impediments which the same divine wisdom which foreappointed to glory, had not foreseen to guard against, that nothing might arise to counteract the ordination of eternity. The divine glory stood engaged for the accomplishment; and in the person of our most glorious Christ, every efficiency was found to render the whole secure. And the church being now in time made vessels of mercy, not only were made so because they were fore-appointed to glory; but in this marvellous way hereby the riches of glory became more conspicuously displayed, both for the salvation of the church, and the greatening and exalting the person of Christ.

And to add no more. The grand point to crown the whole, is chiefly manifested in that the everlasting blessedness of the church, and the holiness and happiness of the church being founded in Christ, is preserved in Christ; and as she was fore-prepared for glory when chosen in him before all worlds ; there is no possibility of being otherwise than holy and without blame before God in Christ, when there are no worlds ; because it is not what the church is in herself, but what she is in Christ. How the Lord hath wrought for the bringing about this incalculably great and sovereign purpose, when gathering his church from the ruins of the fall, will be considered under the second branch of our subject, which I now proceed to enter upon, namely, God hath made known " the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy which he had afore prepared to glory."

I need not in order to heighten the representation of this immense grace of God, in making vessels of mercy from the children of the Adam-fall transgression, take you by the hand to lead you into those chambers of imagery, which are in your and my heart by nature, in order to shew the total corruption of our lost and degraded state, as we are in ourselves. If the Lord hath not taught the reader this self-knowledge, and made him acquainted with the plague of his own heart, very sure I am, that I cannot teach it to you. But there is one always present that can. And if the Lord should so teach and so convince of sin, you will need no further testimony in proof, how all such when recovered by sovereign grace, are indeed in every sense of the word vessels of mercy. But what I would at this time particularly desire to dwell upon, is the grace of God in adopting this wonderful process in order to endear his eternal purpose—in first, making his church vessels of glory from eternity, to make them vessels of mercy in time; that so mercy shall be added to grace—and the love of God in redemption, give a lustre even to the glory of eternity. This is a wonderful display both of infinite wisdom, and infinite love, and infinite power.

And the plan in the accomplishment of both, even in the glorious person of our most glorious Christ; this no less forms a vast subject of delight and wonder in the charter of grace. For as in glory, the original and final state of the church, is in Christ; so in time, as vessels of mercy, the whole is also in Christ. Still receives only in both. For the same scriptures which declare the church as originally chosen in Christ, in which the church was altogether passive and bore no part, do as decidedly state that the being vessels of mercy is wholly out of ourselves, and wholly in Christ. " His own arm brought salvation, and of the people there was none with him," Isa. Ixiii. 3, 5. Hence the apostle bears testimony to the Lord's own incommunicable work of salvation, when saying, " In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace," Eph. i. 7. All therefore being in Christ, and by Christ, and for Christ, the vessels of mercy which afore the Lord had prepared unto glory, are alike saved in him ; and his glory as the first cause, and the final end, is the pre-disposing ordination of all. Hence the apostle elsewhere offers his thanksgiving for the unspeakable mercy, when he tells the church, " We are bound, (said he,) to give thanks always to God for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord ; because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth, whereunto he called you by our gospel to the obtaining of glory by our Lord Jesus Christ," 2 Thess. ii. 13, 14.

I have one more point to accomplish, under the third branch I proposed on this subject, and that is the little word us which Paul speaks of, who are the characters that are the vessels of mercy. And though the word itself apparently is so little, yet as it concerns the persons who are the objects and the subjects of it, to you and to me, the word itself is bigger than the world. " The vessels of mercy are, even us (said Paul,) whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles." And who are the called ? The same apostle answers the question elsewhere. " We (saith Paul) whom he hath quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; and who were by nature the children of wrath, even as others; but God who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ," Eph. ii. 1—5. Do observe—the called are here said to be " by nature the children of wrath, even as others." And observe yet further, that the cause of their quickening is precisely the same, as the text saith, their being vessels of mercy, namely, " God's being rich in mercy," as is said here, that " he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy." So that the whole cause and the final end, is referred into the divine glory. They that are called, are proved thereby that they are " vessels of mercy," and were " afore prepared unto glory." And which is confirmed in another scripture, " They who are the called according to his purpose ; for whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified," Rom. viii. 28—30. And to throw down all the distinctions in the election of grace, Paul saith, " not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles." As the apostle elsewhere more fully explains, " There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus," Gal. iii. 28.

And now what is the result of the whole ? Who are vessels of mercy among you, and who are not ? They who are, have been "fore prepared unto glory," and are therefore chosen vessels in consequence thereof, and their marks and characters I have shewn from scripture. And the next question is, how many empty vessels are now come to Christ to be filled ? Let none go away as he came. It would be a reproach to our most glorious Christ so to do. He saith himself, " I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly," John x. 10. And is there any, yea, is there one, conscious of his want that will go away unsupplied ?

Do not say your fears or your conscious unworthiness keeps you back. Oh ! say not so. Why herein consists Christ's miracle of grace—that his fulness is exactly suited to our emptiness—and our undeservings to his free salvation. The church would not be suited for our most glorious Christ to get glory by, unless on objects wretched and undeserving he caused his grace to shine. How could the church in all her members be called vessels of mercy, if they were not miserable and wanting mercy ? If they were good and full in themselves, what room would there be for Christ ?

I shall blush if any who is made sensible of his want go away, while so full, so mighty, so glorious a Saviour is here to supply. " How doth the Lord wait that he may be gracious to you!" Oh ! could you look within the veil where thousands now are, that were once vessels of misery here, and found mercy, how would you feel confidence in him; he hath been supplying the church in all ages, and yet is not the less full. The ocean, his creation, hath been near six thousand years, and hath lost nothing of its salt, neither any thing of its fulness, though supplying all the rivers of the earth ; and the sun shines equally bright, equally warm now, as when first made at the creation. And what must our Lord Jesus Christ be, who is the maker of them all?

The Lord accompany* these feeble efforts with his sovereign power, and give to every sensible needy vessel of mercy, " to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and heighth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled with all the fulness of God."