"Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?" Romans 9:21
The above text is preached and written from extensively by those who love the free grace of God, and yet so often one of the most vitally important words in this verse is overlooked in their anxiousness to set forth the glory contained therein. That word is "clay." When we think of the work the potter wrought, as described in this text, we normally think of it as vessels of honour, or vessels of dishonour, but it must be kept in perspective that the words "honour," and "dishonour" are only the end for which a particular kind of vessel is intended, and it is not the composition of the vessel itself. The honour is conferred upon a specific manner of vessel, just as dishonour is directed to certain vessels the same way. And what, by way of designation, are these vessels? They are vessels of clay. They are not, in the context, vessels of silver, or of gold, or some other precious commodity; they are formed of the most common commodity this earth knows, and that is clay. Simple, slimy dirt, formed and molded for its intended use.
The meaning of the word "vessel" is clear and obvious to most. A vessel is a receptacle, or a container; that which has an intended use to carry, or to be a depository. In this case, the vessel unto honour, made of clay, is to carry within it that which God had from all eternity intended for it to treasure up. The language of the Apostle Paul in 11 Corinthians, Chapter 4, is very clear in this regard, and we cite Verse 6 and 7, "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." Plainly, the Apostle Paul here exclaims that the vessel that holds this valuable treasure is only earthen, or made of clay. The vessel itself has no value. The only value involved here is when a deposit is made within, and that is, as described in the text, "the treasure" in the earthen vessel. It is very clear from the text that the treasure is the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Such knowledge the children of this world (vessels of wrath) remain ignorant of, and will eternally, and but for electing love, none could possess it.
For a clearer perspective of this sublime and grand subject, it is necessary to show what it is to "have" this treasure in the earthen vessel, (or the vessel of clay) and that occurs when God commands His Holy light to shine. The spiritual eye will notice that the light does not shine into the darkness, but the light shines out of darkness. We have precisely the same thing in the very beginning, the language of creation. The text says in Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light." It was the speaking, or the voice of God, that brought light into being where there was no light. The light did not shine into the darkness, but God summoned the light out of darkness. "Let there be light." And so it is that God commanded the light to shine out of the dark void of the empty earthen (clay) vessel. Thus we have this treasure in earthen vessels. The treasure is one thing, and the vessel is another. They must not be confused, for on this point we see the sublime subject of the two men in one being, and the frightful warfare that ensues from this great change.(See 1 Pet. 3:4,11 Cor. 4:16, and Eph. 4:22, 24 for a fuller view of the hidden/ revealed, old/new, outward/inward men of our spiritual warfare. The expression "two natures" is incorrect as it is "men," and not natures involved.)
Here let us comment on a theory we heard recently from a noted scientist who stated that this universe, as we know it, came into existence out of nothing. At least on that part of his subject, he was correct. But how ignorant he was on the rest as he went on to say that there was so much nothing in ages past that the vast nothing increased, and continued to multiply until it grew more and more dense until there became so much of this dense nothing, that with horrorifying velocity it exploded into something and thus, he said, we have what is creation, and it is still evolving today. It would take a mind with greater capacity than ours to comprehend nothing becoming something, apart from God, especially more and more nothing becoming more and more something. If we understood anything at all about equations, and we said, "nothing plus nothing equals something," then it would be the same as saying a negative and a negative becomes a positive. If we "add" nothing to nothing, it is beyond our comprehension how we can have so much more nothing that after countless ages it becomes something. And all of this, notice, without a Creator. But, glory be to God, He brought the world into existence by His Son Jesus Christ, when He spoke something out of nothing by the word of His power. "All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made." So much for the views of man!
And so it is when we look at the subject of our text. We have here something being made, but the One who does the making does so with an eternal purpose, and the power to bring it to pass. He makes out of a lump of clay, or the "same lump", a vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour. But it must ever be kept in mind that this vessel was a vessel of clay, a vessel of common, slimy, earthly muck, and not something of eternal and lasting dignity, honour, wealth, or grandeur. For the vessel of clay, though made unto honor, to be of lasting, or eternal value, it must, by God's merciful purpose, become what it is not at its inception; and this brings us to the doctrines of election and adoption.
The doctrines of election and adoption stand or fall together. They are vitally linked, in that the election relates to the eternal seed, or the new man which is in Christ Jesus. Thus, we find in Eph. 1:4, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will." It is clearly seen here that in Verse 4, we were chosen in Him, and in Verse 5, we were adopted to him, or to Himself. There is a significant distinction there, for being chosen in Him speaks of our eternal nature and union, and oneness with Him, whereas, our adoption to Him speaks of our predestinated vessel of mercy being conformed to His image and being adopted unto Himself. How conspicuous it is when we begin to fathom the truth that whatever is born of Christ cannot sin, or that which is born, His seed, is sinless; that it is eternally holy and needs no redemption; but that which is born of Adam stands in need of the sublime redemption which is discovered in the blood of Christ, because it comes in this world a fallen nature. Our being in Christ is forever, and eternally inviolable and hallowed, for the "election hath obtained it;" and before we had ever done any good or evil we were chosen in Him; and thus we have always and ever been in Him, as we abide spiritually, and so we are in no need of anything other than that which we have in Him. But as our physical standing, or our partaking of flesh and blood, is in Adam's family, we must to be brought into the family of God by adoption, that we might eternally dwell with Him, that our resurrected bodies might occupy that place in Heaven prepared for it. But this cannot be until such time as our old Adamic being, or that vessel unto honour, which is made of clay, has been brought into the family. And how is it brought in the family? In the eighth Chapter of Romans, the Apostle Paul, writing on that subject, said that "We groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body." So it is the body which is adopted; the body must come into the family by a means, or a method other than birth, and adoption is that method. Thus we see that there is the need for mercy upon the old Adamic man. The "new man" in Christ Jesus stands in no need of mercy, but this vessel of clay, which has ever been clay, and will always be clay, until the creation has put on immortality, as the Apostle wrote in I Corinthians; "Immortality being swallowed up in life; till this corruptible has put on incorruption and this mortal has put on immortality." Until then, we shall continue as clay; "of the same lump."
Some have sought to equivocate against this position because they say it would make void the eternal order of the decrees. We say "not so," for the order of decrees has ever been that first God elected His children in Christ, and then He purposed to create them. And so we have this order in Romans 9. In the earlier verses Paul speaks of our being chosen in Christ, that the election hath obtained it, that we stand on the same basis of eternal love as God had loved Jacob, and hated Esau; then, as he moves on through these passages, he speaks of our being formed by the Potter who had the power over the clay. The clay cannot be eternal. The clay cannot exist prior to time, or before creation of this earth, and we will find a great deal of similarity in the language if we would look back in Verse 20 where he says, "Nay, but old man, who art thou that repliest against God. Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why has thou made me thus?" Is this not identical to the language that the inspired writer used in the book of Genesis when it spoke of the creation of Adam? The language there was used in precisely the same way. "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul." (Gen. 2:7) You see, the Hebrew word here is the same as the Greek word in the New Testament. God formed Adam. How did He form him? Out of the dust of the ground. And then what occurred? He breathed the Spiritual breath into him and he became a living soul. God did not give Adam a soul; he became one when that vessel of clay was given Divine breath. And so here in Roman. 9, it was a lump, (the same lump) that both vessels came from. That lump was clay. It is not necessary to try to determine whether that lump of clay was considered either good or evil, for we believe that it was neither. It was neither righteous nor unrighteous, but innocent. God created Adam, and he later sinned. But it was out of this predetermined lump that God purposed to create vessels. Some vessels, the vast minority, He would create as vessels of mercy; howbeit, they were still clay. Some vessels, the vast majority, He would create as vessels of wrath; yet they were still clay.
In summary, we would say there are many mysteries yet to be unfolded in this immense theme; yea, far too deep for our weak and feeble minds. Of one thing we may be certain however: God elected children in Christ before the world began, and with purpose known only to Himself reprobated the rest of the human race. Jacob had done no good! Esau had done no evil! Yet both had a predetermined end. As the family of Adam multiplied in time every individual was a vessel of clay, both by purpose and birth. Some vessels (at the appointed hour) manifested a work of mercy on them. Christ was born in them the hope of glory. The rest manifested the characteristics of their father the Devil, thus sealing their damnation. All of these vessels were of the same lump. What made them to differ? Mercy, grace, and everlasting love in the one instance, and wrath in the other.
Volume 2, No. 4
May - June 1988