The sermon preached with the manuscript following, below.
From the Pulpit of Trinity Reformed Church, Bloomington
January 17, 2021 AM
Romans Series No. 64
One Vessel for Honorable Use
Sermon Text: Romans 9:19-21
Let us hear the Word of God recorded in the book of Romans, chapter 9 and verses 19-21. This is the Word of God and it is eternally true:
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?
The Apostle Paul has been working his way through answering objections men would make to God’s predestination of some men to eternal life and other men to eternal judgment.
Here in our passage this morning, he turns to a third objection.
The first objection the Apostle Paul answered was that God has not kept His Word:
Verse 6: But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel;
“No,” the Apostle Paul responds; “God has not broken His Word. His Word has not failed, because we see the consistent theme in Scripture that not everyone born to the people of God is, in fact, a man of God.” As he says, “not all Israel is Israel.”
The second objection the Apostle Paul answered was that God is unfair or unjust:
14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.”
It is God’s perogative to bestow on whom He choses both mercy and compassion. He owes mercy and compassion to no one.
Now then, the Apostle Paul turns to the third objection men make to God’s choosing of some and passing over others. This third objection is that God benefits, that it is He Himself He pleases when He chooses to withhold mercy and compassion from this or that man:
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”
We cannot resist God, can we?
The question, “Who resists His will?” requires the response, “No one!” We are mere creatures and He is the Creator.
Therefore, it is pure abuse for Him to withhold mercy and compassion from us and then judge and condemn us to Hell for the necessary results of His withholding of mercy and compassion from us. His refusal to give us straw is the reason we are unable to make the bricks He demands of us.
If God wills something, He has the power to do it.
If He wills sin and rebellion, and only His gift of grace can raise a man from this sin and rebellion, how can He fault that man to whom He withholds grace?
In other words, God Himself is the Author of this tragedy, so how can He blame and punish the man whose eternal destiny is fixed by what He Himself has willed, not choosing that man, not giving that man grace to repent and believe in God’s Son, Jesus Christ?
How can we say or believe man is a moral agent responsible for his choices when those choices are determined beforehand by God?
Yet again and again we find in Scripture that God does, in fact, hold man responsible for his choices—every last one of them.
God calls man to obedience.
God calls man to repentance for disobedience.
God commands man to keep His law.
God exhorts man to obedience to that law.
God faults man for failure to obey His law.
God punishes man here in this life for disobedience, using that punishment to call man back to greater obedience and fear of Him as His Maker.
God commands man to choose between life and death, pleading with him to choose life so he and his children may live.
God instructs man in the path he should go.
God provides gifts and sacraments and shepherds to keep man in the way he should go.
God finds righteousness in man and God finds fault in man, and He rewards the first and punishes the second. Why?
Because man is a moral agent with real choice and responsibility for that choice which is obvious and taught from beginning to end of Scripture; from Genesis to Revelation.
It is our own pride and hard-heartedness that causes us to declare God is inconsistent with Himself in choosing some and not others, then turning around and judging and condemning those others for their unbelief—the very unbelief that He decreed for them Himself.
“God is inconsistent. God is unfair!” we say.
“This doesn’t fit with that! That doesn’t mesh with this! You can’t say both that and this, yet that’s precisely what God says!”
“Huh! So much for God!” we utter with our mouths and hearts, and turn away from Him.
Or we sin by placing Scripture on a Procrustean bed, bending this and that, pulling and tugging over here and shoving and leveraging over there until we have masticated the text of Scripture into some glob we feel we and our children can swallow.
And so, what our children are left with is not the word of God, but the perception that their father is very smart to see how inconsistent the Word of God is—and what a fine solution their father has come up with to save God from getting a bad name and reputation.
Also how thick headed these human authors of Scripture who lived in the Ancient World were to come up with such a scheme thinking it would not be scandalous to their readers.
In time, that is—in time.
In modern time when men have risen to a level of conceit not seen since Athens and the Tower of Babel.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”
That is the question.
Now then, what is the answer given by the Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit?
20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?
“On the contrary!” or “No, no; a thousand times no!”
Or, “Just the opposite!”
“Who are you, O man?”
“Who in the world do you think you are?”
But why do we think we are someone or something to be reckoned with?
Let me count the ways.
Our pride. Our conceit. Our reason. Our logic. Our deepseated sense of what is just and what is unjust.
We all are rebels at heart and will inevitably find a way to pull those in authority over us down to the level of our own stupidity. Our own ignorance. Our own irrationality.
Even God Himself, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.
Or better, I should say “especially God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.”
You see, really, the reason to accept the crystal-clear doctrine of God’s choice and election, of God’s decrees, is not that they are a comfort to us, but that they are true.
We are scandalized by them and find a squirrely way to make it out like the Bible doesn’t really say it or the Bible really isn’t always God’s words. Sometimes it is stupid man’s words. Then we find ourselves at this very juncture hearing these very words, and at that moment we find ourselves left with the choice whether or not to leave offended, or rather worshipping:
20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?
Then this second part to the Apostle Paul’s rebuke—or rather, the Holy Spirit’s rebuke:
The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for (common) dishonorable use?
First, a word about this word “common” that inserted by the translators into our NASB Bibles here where we read “one vesssel for honorable use and another for common use.”
This is one more place where Bible scholars and their publishers are being effeminate, hesitating to give us what God Himself inspired from fear that it will scandalize us.
This Greek word they have mistranslated “common” appears other places in Scripture and is properly translated there. The best case is back in Romans chapter 1 where they give it to us straight as the Apostle Paul wrote it:
Romans 1:26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural…
This word here translated “degrading” or “degraded” is the same word translated “common” here later in this letter to the Romans.
So the meaning of this Greek word atimia here in Romans 9 is not “common” but “degraded,” “dishonorable,” “vile,” or “shameful.”
In other words, we’re not talking about a perfume bottle as opposed to a dinner plate, but a perfume bottle as opposed to a chamber pot or toilet.
So let us read it as the Holy Spirit inspired it to be written:
The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?
One for honorable use—that’s God’s sons and daughters and their children, according to His promise that He will be a God to us and to our children after us.
One for dishonorable use—that’s those God turns away from and leaves devoid of grace, unbelieving, corrupt, fallen, without hope in this world and the next.
And why are they under this terror and condemnation?
Because this is the decision of the Potter.
He is the Potter and we are the clay.
And no, the clay most certainly does not answer back to the Potter. He is silent in awe of His choice and decrees.
As I wrote, I was reminded of the parable told by our Lord concerning the workers and their wages. It goes like this:
1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; 4 and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And so they went. 5 Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He *said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’ 9 When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. 10 When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ 13 But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last shall be first, and the first last.”
Our propensity to judge all authority today with talk of “consent of the governed” and “natural rights” bodes evil for our obedience and submission and honor for our Maker and Creator.
Habits are hard to break—not less if they are habits of mind and thought.
Have we a habit of judging our rulers? Our fathers? Our elders? Our elders? Our teachers and policemen?
Then we will find it difficult to avoid judging God Who Himself delegated each of these authorities their authority; who raised them to their position of authority.
We repudiate the authority and justice of our rulers in the home, the city, and the church, and yes, indeed, we say to the Potter “How dare you make me for a dishonorable or profane or filthy use?”
And it naturally follows that we continue moving backwards in submission to our own pride, saying “Yes, I answer back to God!”
But maybe among us, the people of God, it is equally common for us to ask “How dare you make my neighbor or co-worker or grandmother or father or husband or son or daughter for a profane or filthy use?”
Which is to say, “How dare you not give saving faith to those I love? Why give me grace to believe and not those I love and pray for?”
From The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Banner of Truth edition, volume 1, pp. xii and xiii:
From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, in choosing whom he would to eternal life; and rejecting whom he pleased; leaving them eternally to perish, and be everlastingly tormented in hell. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me. But I remember the time very well when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God, and his justice in thus eternally disposing of men, according to his sovereign pleasure. But never could give an account how, or by what means, I was thus convinced, not in the least imagining at the time, nor a long time after, that there was any extraordinary influence of God’s Spirit in it; but only that now I saw further, and my reason apprehended the justice and reasonableness of it. However, my mind rested in it; and it put an end to all those cavils and objections. And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, with respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found so much as the rising of an objection against it, in the most absolute sense, in God showing mercy to whom he will show mercy, and hardening whom he will. God’s absolute sovereignty and justice, with respect to salvation and damnation, is what my mind seems to rest assured of, as much as of any thing that I see with my eyes; at least it is so at times. But I have often, since the first conviction, had quite another kind of sense of God’s sovereignty than I had then. I have often since had not only a conviction, but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has very often appeared exceedingly pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so. The first instance, that I remember, of that sort of inward, sweet delight in God and divine things, that I have lived much in since, was on reading those words, 1 Timothy 1:17: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” As I read the words, there came into my soul, and was as it were diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before. Never any words of Scripture seemed to me as these words did. I thought with myself, how excellent a Being that was, and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and be rapt up to him in heaven; and be as it were swallowed up in him for ever! I kept saying, and as it were singing, over these words of Scripture to myself; and went to pray to God that I might enjoy him; and prayed in a manner quite different from what I used to do, with a new sort of affection. . .
From about that time I began to have a new kind of apprehension and ideas of Christ, and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. An inward, sweet sense of these things, at times, came into my heart; and my soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of them. And my mind was greatly engaged to spend my time in reading and meditating on Christ, on the beauty and excellency of his person, and the lovely way of salvation by free grace in him. I found no books so delightful to me, as those that treated of these subjects. Those words Cant. ii. 1. used to be abundantly with me, “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.” The words seemed to me sweetly to represent the loveliness and beauty of Jesus Christ. . .
Not long after I first began to experience these things, I gave an account to my father of some things that had passed in my mind. I was pretty much affected by the discourse we had together; and when the discourse was ended, I walked abroad alone, in a solitary place in my father’s pasture, for contemplation. And as I was walking there, and looking upon the sky and clouds, there came into my mind so sweet a sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God, as I know not how to express-I seemed to see them both in a sweet conjunction; majesty and meekness joined together: it was a sweet, and gentle, and holy majesty; and also a majestic meekness; an awful sweetness; a high, and great, and holy gentleness. After this my sense of divine things gradually increased, and became more and more lively, and had more of that inward sweetness. The appearance of everything was altered; there seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet cast or appearance of divine glory, in almost everything. God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity, and love, seemed to appear in every thing; in the sun, moon, and stars; in the clouds and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water and all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind. I often used to sit and view the moon for a long time; and in the day, spent much time in viewing the clouds and sky, to behold the sweet glory of God in these things: in the mean time singing forth, with a low voice, my contemplations of the Creator and Redeemer. And scarce any thing, among all the works of nature, was so sweet to me as thunder and lightning: formerly nothing had been so terrible to me. Before, I used to be uncommonly terrified with thunder, and to be struck with terror when I saw a thunder-storm rising; but now, on the contrary, it rejoiced me. I felt God, if I may so speak, at the first appearance of a thunderstorm; and used to take the opportunity, at such times, to fix myself in order to view the clouds, and see the lightnings play, and hear the majestic and awful voice of God’s thunders, which oftentimes was exceedingly entertaining, leading me to sweet contemplations of my great and glorious God. While thus engaged, it always seemed natural for me to sing or chant forth my meditations; or, to speak my thoughts in soliloquies with a singing voice. . .
I spent most of my time in thinking of divine things, year after year; often walking alone in the woods, and solitary places, for meditation, soliloquy, and prayer, and converse with God; and it was always my manner, at such times, to sing forth my contemplations. I was almost constantly in ejaculatory prayer, wherever I was. Prayer seemed to be natural to me, as the breath by which the inward burnings of my heart had vent.
-From The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Banner of Truth edition, volume 1, pp. xii and xiii: