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THE VESSELS OF MERCY AND THE VESSELS OF WRATH DE
ROM. IX. 22, 23.-The vessels of wrath fitted to destruction : and
-the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory,
THE true notion of the present world is, that it is a state of preparation for another; and, therefore, such as we habitually are here, such shall we be forever. Mankind are now forming, like clay in the potter's hands, some for honour and some for dishonour ; some for wrath and some for glory. And as the potter does not put his vessels to their respective uses until they are finished and prepared for them, so neither are men removed from the present state, and fixed in their respective residences in the eternal world, until they are prepared, finished, and completely fitted for them. The vessels of mercy are prepared before-hand for that glory with which they shall be filled. And, on the other hand, the vessels of wrath are fitted to destruction, and fit for nothing else, before they are dashed to pieces by the iron rod of divine justice.
It is a criticism worthy to be mentioned, even in this solemn place, where I never choose to make a parade of useless learning, that the apostle uses a different form of expression, when speaking of these different sorts of persons. The preparation of the vessels of mercy for glory, he ascribes to God, as his work. Hence he uses an active verb, apoxlouacey. referring expressly to God as the agent-the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory. But the fitting or preparing the vessels of wrath for destruction, he does not ascribe to God, but intimates, that it is their own work. Hence he uses a passive particle-salmplopers the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction-fitted by their own wilful sin and impenitence, during the long-suffering of God towards them, which had a tendency to lead them to repentance.
Vessels of wrath-How terribly emphatical is this phrase! Vessels dreadfully capacious of divine wrath ! to be filled to the brim with that burning liquid ! But how beautifully significant is the metaphor vessels of mercy ! vessels formed, prepared, finished, adorned by the gentle and skilful hand of divine mercy ! vessels capacious of mercy, and to be filled, to overflow, with glory!
The gracious and sovereign God, who might justly have dashed these vessels of wrath to pieces as soon as ever they became marred clay in his plastic hands, endures or bears with them with much long-suffering, as well as with the vessels of mercy : Bears with them, as he has with you, for days, for months, and years, notwithstanding their daring provocations, and ungrateful abuse of his patience ; which nothing but divine patience could bear with so long. But all this time, they contracted more and more filth and pollution ; they became every day less fit for their master's use, and rendered themselves more and more fit for destruction, and fit for nothing else.
And shall these vessels of wrath answer no valuable use in the great house of the universe ? Will they serve to furnish out no apartment of this vast building ? Will they be of no use in this numerous family of reasonable creatures? Yes, they will furnish out the regions of hell, a place as necessary and useful in the universe, as it is now constituted, as prisons and bedlams upon the earth. They will serve as public and terribly illustrious monuments of the divine power and justice, and the righteous resentments of Heaven against sin. They will serve as loud warnings to all worlds, to deter them from that destructive evil. And thus they will answer a valuable, and even a benevolent end in the creation, and contribute to the public good ; as the execution of criminals tends to guard the laws from violation, and so promote the good of society. They will serve, as my text informs you,
to shew the wrath and make known the power" of God: Their destruction will illustriously display the glory of these perfections. The flames of hell will burn dreadfully bright, to reflect a terrible and yet amiable splendour upon them : And it is for this terrible but righteous end, among others, that God now endures them with so much long-suffering : that his perfections and the honour of his government may be the more illustriously displayed in the execution of deserved punishment upon them.
But the vessels of mercy are intended and prepared for nobler uses. On them God intends to display the glory, the riches of the glory of his more gentle attributes, his love and grace. With them he intends to furnish out the many mansions of his heavenly house. By them he intends to let all worlds see what glorious vessels he can form, not only of the dust, but of the shattered and
polluted fragments of human nature, broken and polluted by the fall of Adam, and by their own.
The view in which I now consider my text leads me to confine myself to this practical inquiry :
Wherein does preparation for glory, and wherein does fitness for destruction, consist ?
Some of you, perhaps, when you heard the text, were struck with horror, and ready to bless yourselves at the sound : For * now, you thought within yourselves, we shall have a sermon upon the horrible doctrine of predestination.” But you see I propose to consider the text entirely in a practical view ; and therefore your fears are imaginary. Nor do I choose to consider it in this view, to let you see with what dexterity I can evade the genuine sense of it, and make a mental reservation of a doctrine so unpopular ; but because whatever else the text in its connection may mean, it does naturally lead me to this grand inquiry ; and because my present design is to speak to your hearts, about an affair which you are all concerned and capable to know, and not to perplex your minds with a controversy, of which not maný of you are competent judges. I must own, indeed, I am not altogether a sceptic in that doctrine. It is not an entire blank in my creed ; nor am I at all ashamed to declare my sentiments in a proper time and place. At present I shall only tell you, that I cannot be persuaded God has made such a world as this, without first drawing the plan of it in his own omniscient mind. I cannot think he would produce such a numerous race of reasonable and immortal creatures, without first determining what to do with them. I cannot think the events of time, or the judicial process of the last day, will furnish him with any new intelligence to enable him to determine the final states of men more justly than he could from eternity. But away with all controversial thoughts at present ; and let an object of more importance engross all your attention : For you will find, I am not now going to plunge and drown you in this unfathomable depth. This you may be sure of, that, if you have not made yourselves fit for destruction, and fit for nothing else, by your own wilful sin, you shall never be doomed to it by virtue of any decree of God. And, on the other hand, you may be equally sure, 'that he never de. creed to admit you into heaven, unless you are prepared for it ; nor to exclude you if you are so. I now proceed to the grand inquiry.
Wherein does preparation for glory, and wherein dues fitness for destruction consist? This will naturally lead me to inquire into your habitual dispositions and behaviour : For it is by comparing these to the nature and quality of the regions of heaven and hell, that you can discover which you are fit for. temper and dispositions be heavenly and divine, you may be sure that you shall be admitted into those blessed mansions. But if, on the other hand, your temper and dispositions be infernal and diabolical ; if they be such as are prevalent and universal in hell, you may be equally sure, that unless they are changed, you will be doomed forever to that dismal region. This must, methinks, appear quite evident to common sense. The righteous Judge of all the earth will always invariably do that which is fit. If you are fit for the enjoyments and services of heaven, you need not fear but he will admit you ; never yet has such a soul been excluded.
And what can you reasonably desire more ? Would you have heaven encumbered with such as could not be happy, even in the very regions of happiness, for want of a proper relish for the enjoyments there? But, if you are fit only for the infernal prison, is there not a propriety, as well as justice, in your being confined there? The same propriety, as that madmen should be shut up in bedlam, or notorious criminals in a dungeon. Therefore,
1. Are you fit for heaven ? do you love and delight in God-in a God of infinite purity? If not, the enjoyment of his presence, and the beatific vision of his face, which is the principal ingredient of heavenly happiness, could afford no happiness to you. Do you delight in the service of God, in contemplating his glories, in celebrating his praises, and in the humble forms of worship in his church on earth ? Do these afford you the most exalted pleasure? If not, heaven is no place for you ; for these are the eternal exercises there : And to such of you as have no pleasure in them, the heavenly state would be an eternal drudgery. Do you delight in holiness? If not, what would you do in the region of holiness ? Alas! to you it would be an unnatural element. Are the saints, those whom the world perhaps calls so with a sneer, because they make it their great business to be holy in all manner of conversation, are these your favourite companions ? Is their society peculiarly delightful to you? And are they the more agreeable to you, by how much the more holy they are ? If not, what would you do among the holy inhabitants of heaven? With wbat pleasure could you mingle in society with them, while your temper and theirs are so directly.contrary ? Are your hearts full of ardent love and benevolence to mankind ? If not, how would you breathe in the pure element of perfect love ?- Without such dispositions as these, you are no more fit for heaven than a sick man for a feast, a swine for a palace, or a blind man to view the splendours of the sun, and, therefore, you may be certain, that God, who will never do any thing that is unfit, will not admit you there, while you continue such as you now are.'
You must also consider, that if you are fit for those pure and blessed regions, it is God that has made you so, by his own al. mighty power; He that hath wrought you for this self-same thing is God, 2 Cor. v. 5. and you have been deeply sensible that the work was indeed his, was divine and godlike, and beyond the utmost efforts of your degenerate nature. You are able indeed to fit yourselves for destruction ; that you can easily do ; and that, I am afraid, some of you have effectually done already. But it is God alone that can make you fit for the inheritance of the saints in light. And have you ever been the subjects of this divine operation ? Have you ever felt the power of almighty grace open. ing your blinded minds--breaking your stony hearts, and melting them into floods of ingenuous sorrow, under the warm beams of a Saviour's love, like snow before the sun ? Have you ever felt it subduing your favourite sins, and making them more bitter to you than death, and implanting and cherishing every grace and virtue in your souls? Has the Holy Spirit turned the prevailing bent of your souls towards holiness, so that you esteem it the principal ornament of your nature, and make it the object of your eager desires, and most vigorous pursuit ? Does holiness appear to you amiable in itself, and not only a pre-requisite to your happiness, but the principal ingredient of it? And is heaven itself the more endeared to you by this consideration, that it is the region of pure, unmingled holiness, that no unclean thing can enter there, and that even the way that leads to it is holy? If these things are not matters of experience to you, you may be sure you are not afore prepared for glory.
Let us now take a view of the opposite dispositions, and we shall make the same discovery :-Suppose your hearts are set upon the enjoyments of this life, as your principal happiness ; sup