The Vessels of Wrath
Romans 9:21-23
Has not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel to honor, and another to dishonor?…

The doctrine of reprobation is a malicious libel on mercy. It is an attempt of Satan to graft his own character upon the Lord; and to make Him whose name is "Love" like him whose nature is hatred. Consider —


1. Wrath means far more than anger — and it becomes a stronger word as the capacity for wrath increases. "The king's wrath is as the roaring of a lion."(1) Now measuring upwards in this way, what must God's wrath be, whose every attribute is illimitable? and the very infinitude of His mercy proves what must be the extent of His wrath.

(2) And are there any creatures exposed to this? Yes, it must be so where sin is. It is far more anomalous to suppose moral guilt existing and God not angry, than it is to imagine rebels and a king unmoved, or children fiends in human shape and the father indifferent. The wrath of God must come, in the very nature of things, upon the children of disobedience. He that committeth sin must be a vessel of wrath by nature, and if that nature be not changed, a double portion of wrath abideth on him.

2. Mark the term which expresses the reception of this anger — "vessels"; not leaves, which hold the storm-drop for an instant and then allow it to trickle off, but vessels retaining it. You may say, "Such a load as God's wrath must crush me"; and in one sense it will; but in another it will not; you will have powers of endurance as great as the saint's power of enjoyment. Hard and impenitent hearts are "treasuring up wrath against the day of the wrath." Wrath shall come upon them, as Paul says, "to the uttermost."

3. And moreover the sinner is a vessel "fitted for destruction." What by? Sin. He who wills not the death of the sinner is not likely to fit him for dying. We prepare ourselves for destruction; "Oh, Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself."

II. GOD'S CONDUCT TOWARDS THEM. He endures them with much long-suffering. How much let your unnumbered sins declare. Why! any forbearance in your case were much long-suffering. All the day long has God been stretching forth His hand to "a disobedient and gainsaying people." He gives you mercies, and you take them as your right: He gives you privileges, and you abuse them; He gives you a Saviour, and you "crucify Him afresh"; He offers you His Spirit, and you "do despite to that Spirit of grace." Now is not a moment's forbearance, in such a case, long-suffering?


1. "To show His wrath." Yet how could He show His wrath by long-suffering towards sinners? It appears that such a course would hide and not show it. Now the word translated "show," means to point out as with the finger; and in this way God throws into the strongest relief His wrath.

(1) He develops His own character of love; He opens out His plans of mercy for years. Well! some may say, "This tolerance of guilt speaks an indifference to it." You are wrong; the Lord's long-suffering is but a blue sky on which you see in fearful and distinct outline the massive storm-cloud as it rolls over the sinner's head and then bursts; it is but the sweet and natural beamings of the Lord's countenance which gives His frown a doubly appalling blackness; it does not lessen His anger; it does not qualify His abhorrence of sin; it does not subtract from, but it adds to, the final display of His just indignation.

(2) And in another sense it shows it, for it clearly explains its real character. It is not the wrath of man, or he had struck at once. But the Lord is "slow to anger"; He wills not the death of the sinner; and when at last His wrath is seen, it is that of a Judge who punishes, not "con amore" but "ex officio." The Lord delights in mercy, not in punishment. Wrath must come at last, but it comes with a slow foot. Mercy flies; anger creeps. Patience lingers and lingers at the threshold, keeping punishment knocking at the door. God's endurance is indeed the interpreter of His wrath; it shows that His final destruction of "the vessels of wrath" is not that of an enemy gloating over the fall and death of his foe, but it is that of a father slowly, solemnly, and necessarily banishing a base and incorrigible son for ever from His presence.

2. "To make known His power." But how can power be made known by a refusal to exert that power? Forbearance is often a more splendid achievement than all the labours of Hercules put together. "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city." The Lord's endurance is one of the most signal displays of His omnipotence. When I gaze upon the scene around Calvary, I look upon a more stupendous proof of power than when I behold the hundred and eighty-five thousand corpses of Assyrian warriors, all smitten by the angel of the Lord in one night. And when I look around upon this congregation, and necessarily think of many among you as vessels of wrath endured, enemies of God treated with much long-suffering, I see in each one of you a monument of the Lord's power as notable as in the case of that weeping, wailing, and lost soul. But, lastly, God's long-suffering makes known His power, by giving greater prominence at last to His power of punishing. It is like the stillness before a storm: you may hear a whisper; the rustle of a leaf is noticed; and when the first roll of thunder comes pealing throughout the hushed air, making the ground shake and the rocks resound, its fearful voice is the better articulated owing to the previous stillness; the thunder, like God's power, is made known by the calm which preceded. And what is the conclusion of the whole matter? First of all, by the light of God's Word, and by the aid of prayer, inquire whether you are vessels of wrath or vessels of mercy? Are you united to Christ by a living faith, or alienated from God by wicked works? And if the result of this inquiry be a conviction that you are still a vessel of wrath, oh! tremble over the fact. That vessel becomes more capacious every day; every mercy and long-suffering despised is an enlargement. What will it hold at last if you go on and on increasing its size, and making it fitter and fitter to hold more of that wrath which shall fill but never burst it. Step and pray for grace to arrest this self-fitting for destruction. Pray that the Lord's Spirit may transform you from a vessel of wrath into a vessel of mercy. Pray that His much long-suffering may melt your hard heart, and make you long to have His love instead of His wrath shed abroad in your soul. Pray that the blood of Christ may, as it were, rinse out the polluted vessel, wash away all the wrath, and fill to the brim with mercy — fill it now; and for ever and ever fill it, as throughout eternity that vessel grows larger.

(D. F. Jarman, B.A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

WEB: Or hasn't the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel for honor, and another for dishonor?

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