The Vessels of Wrath Fitted to Destruction
by Robert Murray McCheyne
The following sermon preached on the afternoon of March 12, 1843, was the author's last in St. Peter's. "It was observed, both then and on other occasions," says Andrew Bonar, "that he spoke with peculiar strength upon the sovereignty of God." The following evening McCheyne's illness commenced and on Saturday, March 25, he went to the Saviour whose glory he lived to proclaim.
"What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory?" - Romans 9:22,23
In a former discourse, brethren, I attempted to show you that the reason why God will punish the wicked eternally is, because he loveth righteousness. It is said in the eleventh Psalm, "Upon the wicked He shall rain snares, fire, and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup, for the righteous Lord loveth righteousness." I then tried to show you, that God has created hell, and will maintain it for ever, not because He loves human pain - I believe it is not so, nor is it because He is subject to passion, as men speak of passion - but because the righteous Lord loveth righteousness. And I showed you, as you will remember, what a certainty hell is to the wicked. If it had its origin in the love of human pain, then you might have hoped that it would have an end; or, if it proceeded from passionateness, then it might cool; but ah! when it proceeds from Jehovah's love of righteousness, I see, brethren, in that a reason why "the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." There is a second question which no doubt has occurred to you: why are there any left unpardoned at all? Why was Adam left to fall? Could God not have held him up? Or, if it was necessary that Adam should fall, in order that Christ might die, why are not all saved? Surely there is efficacy in the blood of Christ to pardon all - why, then, are not all saved? There are many answers to that question which we will know in a higher state of being; but here is one; "What if God, willing to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory?" You will notice, brethren, that in these words the apostle Paul tries to give an answer to that question. He does not answer it directly, he employs a "what if".
Let us enter into this subject a little more deeply. There are three reasons set down here why men are allowed to perish.
I. The first is, that God was willing to show His wrath. These words are terrible. We are told frequently in the Bible of the wrath of God. It is not like human wrath: it is calm, settled - it consists principally in a regard to what is right. This is the wrath of God. We are told a great deal about it in the Bible. It is revealed against all sin. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness." - Romans 1:18 Observe the word "all" - it is against all sin. Then Colossians 3:6, "For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience." We are told also, brethren, that this anger is constant. "God is angry with the wicked every day." - Psalms 7:11. The bow of God's justice is, as it were, already bent against the wicked, the arrow of God's is already on the string against the wicked. And then we are told that His wrath is intolerable. In the Psalm which we were singing (Psalms 90:11), it is said, "Who knows the power of thy wrath?" And we are told in Revelation, "The great day of His wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?"
But we learn more by example than even by these declarations. We have many examples of God's wrath and its consequences. The first example we have is, his casting the angels out of heaven. We are told by Jude, "That the angels which kept not their first estate, He hath reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgement of the great day." And we are told by Peter, "That God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgement." Now, brethren, in several respects this was one of the greatest examples of divine wrath we have, for it seems to have happened in one day. One day these angels were in heaven - the next in hell. One day they were angels of light - the next fiends of darkness. And then this made it fearful, when the Lord left them no room for repentance. One thing the universe might have learned from this was, that God will certainly punish sin.
Another example of God's punishing sin was not in heaven, but one earth, when He sent the deluge upon it. "God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man, whom I have created, from the face of the earth." And so it came to pass: "The flood came, and carried them all away;" and it has left traces on our world still, to show that God will not fail to punish sin.
Another example of divine vengeance was, when God destroyed Sodom. "Now, the men of Sodom were wicked, and sinners before the Lord exceedingly." The cry of its wickedness went up to heaven, and God sent down two angels, to see if it was according to the cry that came up; and they found it even so; and, when they had taken out just Lot, God rained fire and brimstone upon the devoted city; and he has left traces of it there to this hour.
There was yet another exhibition of divine wrath on earth - it was the death of God's dear Son. If ever there was a time when God could have said that he would forego his wrath it was surely this. It was this for two reasons. First, because the object of that wrth was dear to God. There never was on in the universe so dear to God as his Son. And another reason was, Christ had no sin of his own. Just as his robe was seamless, so was his soul sinless. Nay, brethren, that one act of his - laying down his life, was so glorious, as an exhibition of God's justice, that the universe never saw its "marrow". "Yet it pleased God to bruise him." These words do not give the least shadow of his suffering from God on account of our sin. Brethren, if any thing in the world can show that God will punish sin, it was the death of his dear and sinless Son.
There is one exhibition of his wrath yet to come. Verse 22 - "What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction?" God is yet to destroy the souls that he has made--not the angels that fell, for he has done that already, when he cast them into hell, but the souls on which he has waited. There is to be a new exhibition of wrath that the world never saw the like of before. He is going to show what he will do to the despisers of his Son - to those who despise his gospel. it will be a new thing when "God will be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know him not, and that have not obeyed the gospel." God waits to show his wrath. Ah, brethren! it will be fearful to feel it - it is fearful even to think of it. so I believe it will be with the wicked: they will be beacons, to show how God will punish sin.
II. I come now to the second reason why any are left to perish--it is, that God may show his power. "What if God, willing to make his power known?" We are frequently told in the Bible of the power of God. He said to Abraham, "I am the Almighty God." We are told in the ninety-third Psalm, that "the Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters; yea, than the mighty waves of the sea." We are frequently told of his almighty power; and not only so, but we have brilliant examples of it. The first upon record is creation. "God said, Let there be light: and there was light." "He spake and it was done - he commanded and all things stood fast" Another example of the same thing is, the constant providence of God. "In him we live, and move, and have our being." He rides on the swift wings of the wind. Another example of the power of God is, his restraining and bridling of the wicked. "Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding, whose mouth must be held in with the bit and bridle." - Psalms 32:9. This is the way in which God holds the wicked. Another way in which God makes his power known is, in the conversion of souls. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord." This is said to be "the wisdom of God and the power of God." I believe the converting of a soul is something greater than the making of the world. Brethren, there is one exhibition of divine power that yet remains - it is, the destruction of the wicked. "What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction?" I believe, dear friends, that the reason why God has raised up Pharaohs is to show his power in them. He said to Pharaoh, "For this cause have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee." No, I say, in regard of those of you in this congregation who will die unsaved, that God has raised you up, to show his power in you. Thus, it is said in Isaiah 62, "I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my rainment." And then in Revelation 18, "She shall be utterly burned with fire; for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her." And we are told by our Lord in Matthew 10:28, to fear God, "who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." You will notice in this passage that he says, "God is able to destroy"; and therefore, brethren, it is plain that there must be some great power exercised in his destroying the wicked; and I think it is to consist in this - God will destroy their well-being, but not their being. Here, then, is another exhibition of the power of God.
When lately in the north of Scotland, I stood on the sea-shore, and saw the rocks standing out of the sea. It was very remarkable to stand and see the mighty waves dashing upon the rocks. There were two things remarkable in it: first, the greatness of the rocks on which the waves dashed: second, the rocks remaining unmoved - no force of the waves could move them. Brethren, this scene is an emblem of what will be witnessed another day, when God shall pour out his wrath on the wicked. Ah, brethren! will it not be fearful to see God put out his power upon the wicked - to see him upholding them with one hand, and pouring out his wrath upon them with the other? Surely, brethren, the power of God's wrath is very great. If any of you have seen a great furnace, you will have seen the power that the fire has; but fire is God's creature. What must his power be who is the Creator?
III. I come now to the third point--the reason given why believers are saved. Verse 23 - "And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory." One reason why there are vessels of wrath fitted to destruction is, that God may show by contrast the riches of his grace on the vessels of mercy. You know, brethren, we learn many things best by contrast: for example, the rainbow is never seen so bright as in the bosom of a dark cloud. So, brethren, we shall never see the love and com passion of God in them that are saved so gloriously displayed as when we see his wrath poured out on the vessels of wrath. This, then, is one reason why there are vessels of wrath.
I believe that the "riches of glory" here spoken of are the whole rainbow of the divine attributes displayed in the salvation of souls. It was for this reason that God provided that there should be vessels of wrath fitted for destruction. This may appear to you very awful: it is so to myself. I could not and dare not speak of it if it were not here in God's own Word.
I would just show you one or two of his attributes that will be brilliantly illustrated in the salvation of souls. One is, the sovereignty of God. I have often told you of this. Many of you do not believe it; but there is a day coming when God will put it beyond a doubt. There are whole churches - whole bodies of professing Christians - that deny it; but there is a day coming when there will be none in heaven, or earth, or hell, that will deny it. Suppose that day were come, and this congregation divided, some on the left hand, some on the right, will you not see then God's sovereignty in the contrast? You were once all the same. You were under the same condemnation. Some of you came out of the same womb - were nursed at the same mother's breast; yet it will be seen that some will be taken and some left. What made the difference? Every creature will see that God made the difference, that he had "mercy on whom he would have mercy."
Another is, the pardoning attribute of God. At present this is denied; but, brethren, in that day it will be made known. God will make known the riches of his glorious mercy on the vessels of mercy. O brethern, when one vessel is cleansed and taken up to glory, and another is left to perish, and when you see that they were equally sinful, then you will see that it was blood that made the difference. God will make known the riches of his mercy in the vessels of mercy, as well as his wrath in the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.
Let us learn a few lessons from this subject. And -
1st. All will not be saved. It is a fearful delusion among you - I do not say you avow it, but you practically say, you believe - that there will be no hell. It was God's plan that there should be vessels of wrath as well as vessels of mercy. Brethren, it is better it should be so. O do not dream! All will not be saved. There are vessels of wrath as well as vessels of mercy. Some of you, I think, are going to hell, and some, I trust, are going to heaven; and doubtless it is best it should be so, though I cannot explain the reason of it. The net has good and bad fishes: some will be taken into the vessel, and some will be cast away.
2nd. Every one of you will be to the glory of God. You will be made to glorify him in one way or another. You will either do it willingly or unwillingly. You must form a step to his throne. Ah, brethren! I believe each of you will yet be a beacon or a monument - either a beacon of wrath or a monument of mercy, "He hath made all things form himself; even the wicked for the day of evil." Yes, wicked man, you would rob God of his glory if you could, but you cannot. If you come to Christ, you will show forth his glory in saving you; but if you do not, God will show forth his power in destroying a vessel of his wrath.
3rd. There is a third lesson we may learn. It is, the chief end of God in the world to manifest his glory. Many think, especially infidel men, that God's chief end is the happiness of his creatures; but, from deep study of the Word of God for years, I see that it is not so. If that were his chief end, all would be happy. His chief end is diverse - it is self-manifestation. Had it not been for this, God would have remained alone in awful solitude. I would desire to speak with deep reverence on such a subject. This seems to be the reason why there are vessels of wrath as well as of mercy - that they might be mirrors to reflect his attributes. And I believe, brethren, when creation is done, and when redemption is done, that there will then be a complete manifestation of the glory of God.
4th. Another lesson we may learn is, God is longsuffering to the vessels of wrath. I remember a person who once argued with me that she must needs be a child of God on account of his goodness to her. She enumerated many blessings she had received - how God had protected her in a foreign country, how many trials she had been delivered out of, and how many domestic comforts she had enjoyed. My only answer to her was, "The goodness of god leadeth thee to repentance." It is no proof that you are a child of God that God has borne long with you. There would be many children of God here, if this were the case. Ah, brethren! Strange though it may seem, he does not want any to perish - he does bear long with you.
Last of all, the destruction of the vessels of wrath will be no grief to the vessels of mercy. I once spoke to you of this before; but I would again remind you of it. The redeemed will have no tears to shed; and here is the reason - the very destruction of the wicked makes known the riches of divine grace. O my believing brethren, it will be an awful day when we shall not weep to see them perish. The day is hastening on - the day when no more rivers of waters will run down our eyes because they keep not God's law. But, O brethren, till that day come let us weep on; for, although God will be glorified in the destruction of the vessels of his wrath, he will be more glorified in making them vessels of mercy. The Lord bless his own Word. Amen.