(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 2/28/10 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Please turn in your Bibles to Romans chapter 9. I'll be reading verses 10 through 24:
Romans 9: (10) And not only so, but also Rebekah conceiving of one, our father Isaac, (11) for [the children] not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of the [One] calling, (12) it was said to her, The greater shall serve the lesser; (13) even as it has been written, I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau. (14) What then shall we say? [Is there] not unrighteousness with God? Let it not be! (15) For He said to Moses, I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will pity whomever I will pity. (16) So, then, [it is] not of the [one] willing, nor of the [one] running, but of the [One] showing mercy, of God. (17) For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, For this very thing I raised you up, so that I might display My power in you, and so that My name might be publicized in all the earth. (18) So, then, to whom He desires, He shows mercy. And to whom He desires, He hardens. (19) You will then say to me, Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will? (20) Yes, rather, O man, who are you answering against God? Shall the thing formed say to the [One] forming [it], Why did You make me like this? (21) Or does not the potter have authority over the clay, out of the one lump to make one vessel to honor, and one to dishonor? (22) But if God, desiring to demonstrate His wrath, and to make His power known, endured in much long-suffering vessels of wrath having been fitted out for destruction, (23) and that He make known the riches of His glory on vessels of mercy which He before prepared for glory, (24) whom He also called, not only us, of Jews, but also out of nations.
In the last sermon, we saw that God, desiring to demonstrate His wrath, and to make His power known, endured in much long-suffering vessels of wrath having been fitted out for destruction, IN ORDER THAT He make known the riches of His glory on vessels of mercy which He before prepared for glory. I concentrated on the first part of verse 23, which has to do with God's dealings with the reprobate as they relate to the elect. We saw that all of God's dealings with the reprobate are for the good of the elect, to show the elect the riches of His glory. What I'd like to do today is concentrate on the SECOND half of verse 23, which has to do with "the vessels of mercy which He before prepared for glory."
We see in verse 21 that God talks about making one vessel to honor and one to dishonor out of the same lump of clay. And we see in verse 22 that the vessels to dishonor are called "vessels of wrath having been fitted out for destruction." So here in verse 23, we have what the vessels to HONOR are called. They are called "vessels of mercy which He before prepared for glory." In the context, a VESSEL is a pot made out of clay. God is pictured as the potter, and the elect are pictured as the vessels to honor, the vessels of mercy, that He makes out of the clay. As we saw when we were looking at the vessels of dishonor and wrath, there is NO PRECONDITION in the clay that would make the potter form it for either honorable use or dishonorable use. It's all the same clay. Clay would not become an honorable vessel or a dishonorable vessel on its own. It would just stay unformed clay. Making a vessel of dishonor out of a lump of clay that would not become a dishonorable vessel on its own shows that this is talking about unconditional reprobation, and making a vessel of honor out of a lump of clay that would not become an honorable vessel on its own shows that this is talking about unconditional election. God made Jacob and Moses vessels of His blessing not based on anything they did, and He made Esau and Pharaoh vessels of His wrath not based on anything they did. Both election and reprobation are unconditional. If either were conditional, God would not be sovereign. God would not be God.
Now again we come to the controversy about the lump of clay. And those who say that the lump of clay is sinful humanity will point to the fact that the elect are called "vessels of mercy" and say, "See, in order for there to be mercy, there must first be sin. Thus, these vessels of mercy must have been formed out of a sinful mass. Thus, your view that God elected people without sin in view is indefensible." Well, first of all, I would answer that they must be talking about somebody else, because I've never said that God elected people without sin in view. But they might come back and say, "But you're a supralapsarian, aren't you?" And my answer is, you're not going to be able to stuff me into the typical supralapsarian pigeon-hole. OF COURSE there was sin in view. Jesus Christ is the "Lamb having been slain from the foundation of the world," as we see in Revelation 13:8. Jesus Christ is the eternal SAVIOR, and there is no such thing as a SAVIOR without SIN in view. God chose to SAVE certain people from before the foundation of the world. That would make no sense if God did not have SIN in view. So, too, we have here in our Romans passage the truth that the elect are called vessels of MERCY. Mercy is defined as NOT giving someone something that he DOES deserve. If these were vessels of mercy with no SIN in view, then what would these people deserve? It wouldn't make sense. But because sin IS in view, mercy is NOT giving the elect what they DO deserve, which is everlasting wrath in hell, based on their own character and conduct. So don't lump me in with the supralapsarians who say that God elected certain people without sin in view. God elected certain men to SALVATION in CHRIST JESUS, which means that sin is ALWAYS in view, or else SALVATION would not always be in view, and the work of JESUS CHRIST would not always be in view. What would the purpose of election be, then? Is not God's glorification in the person and work of Jesus Christ the purpose of election? So then, we MUST believe that God ALWAYS had salvation in mind and ALWAYS had the work of Jesus Christ in mind, and thus must have ALWAYS had sin in mind. Frankly, I don't even like to talk about so-called "order of decrees," because how can we really put an order to what is in the eternal mind of God? I think we'd be trying to put God's infinite mind into our finite mind if we tried breaking it down. Every order of decrees that I've seen is flawed, no matter if they claim to be infralapsarian or supralapsarian or some modification of either of these. Some are out-and-out heretical, like the ones that talk of God's passive permitting the non-elect to be left in their sins, but the other more orthodox-sounding ones still don't make complete sense.
But let's go back to the objection that since sin is always in view, then the lump of clay must mean the sinful mass of humanity. This is a non sequitur - it doesn't follow. The lump of clay is a picture of something BEFORE God made man, since there is a lump of clay BEFORE the potter makes the vessels. There is not some bad clay that either makes itself into a bad pot or compels the potter to make it into a bad pot. The clay is a picture of something unformed, not yet made, not yet good or bad. Now we know the reason why some want to make the clay a picture of the sinful mass of humanity, right? We've already seen that. They want to have a theology in which their god "leaves" this sinful mass of humanity to itself and "permits" it to make itself into a vessel of dishonor and wrath, although the lump of clay is already a lump of dishonor and wrath before it is permitted to make itself into a vessel of dishonor and wrath. And that's not only mixed up, it's damnable heresy. The truth is that God decreed from before the foundation of the world to save a particular people from the guilt and defilement of sin, to call them, to justify them, to sanctify them, and to glorify them, by the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. These particular people are called the elect, and in this passage in Romans, they are called "vessels of mercy which He before prepared for glory." As you can see, sin was always in view, and thus mercy was always in view. So what were the particulars of God's plan for the elect in which He would show mercy to them and glorify Himself in Jesus Christ? Well, in order for there to be guilt and defilement of sin, there had to be a fall. So God caused the fall in which both the elect and the reprobate were equally ruined and undone, equally guilty and defiled, and equally in need of a righteousness that neither could produce on their own. The eternal justification heretics want to say that the elect were never under God's wrath, and thus this mercy is some sort of hypothetical mercy in which the elect are not given what they hypothetically deserved. But what does God's Word say? Let's turn over to Ephesians chapter 2, and I'll read verses 1 through 3:
Ephesians 2: (1) and you being dead in deviations and sins, (2) in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit now working in the sons of disobedience, (3) among whom we also all conducted ourselves in times past in the lusts of our flesh, doing the things willed of the flesh and of the understanding, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as the rest.
What does this say about the elect before they were saved? It says that they were objectively dead in sin, subjectively walking in sin, and were thus by nature CHILDREN OF WRATH even as the rest, even as all of the rest of fallen humanity, including the reprobate. Then what? Let's read verses 4 through 7:
Ephesians 2: (4) But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love [with] which He loved us, (5) even we being dead in deviations, [He] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you are being saved), (6) and raised [us] up together and seated us together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus, (7) that He might demonstrate in the ages coming on, the exceeding great riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
So this is what happens next. God shows mercy to the vessels of mercy by making us spiritually alive, raising us up to spiritual life and, in the end, to final glory. And the first word in verse 7 is that Greek word that we've come to know, hina (HIN-ah), which means "in order that," denoting PURPOSE or RESULT. God made us alive together with Christ, raised us up together and seated us together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus IN ORDER THAT He might demonstrate the exceeding great riches of His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus! It HAD TO BE that we were all by nature children of wrath, all equally ruined and undone, equally guilty and defiled, and equally in need of a righteousness that we could not produce on our own, SO THAT God would show the riches of His mercy in saving us by His pure, free sovereign GRACE. And when He saved us, He adopted us from the family of Satan into His own family. Ephesians 1:5 says we were predestinated to ADOPTION. Once again, if there were no sin in view, what sense would predestination to ADOPTION make? ADOPTION is being made part of a family that you were not part of before. By nature, we were sons of Satan, and God, in His mercy and grace whereby He loved us, took us OUT of the family of Satan and made us His own sons. This was no adoption from some hypothetical family of Satan that we were never really in as the eternal justification heretics would have it. We were REALLY the children of Satan and thus under God's just wrath. And then, because we, the elect, were vessels of mercy from before the foundation of the world, God, in time, showed His mercy to us.
And the end of Romans 9:23 says that the vessels of mercy were prepared for glory. That is the ultimate destination of all of the vessels of mercy, all of those whom God elected from before the foundation of the world, all for whom Jesus Christ died, all whom God regenerates. In contrast to the reprobate whom God prepared for eternal destruction in hell, the elect are those whom God prepared for eternal life in heaven. The Greek word for "to prepare" is het-oy-MAD-zo, which means "to make ready." Not only has God prepared US for GLORY from before the foundation of the world, God has prepared GLORY for US from the foundation of the world! Glorification is the final link in the chain of grace in Romans 8:29-30:
Romans 8: (29) because whom He foreknew, He also predestinated [to be] conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be [the] First-born among many brothers. (30) But whom He predestinated, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
Let's close by reading some verses showing God's preparing heaven for His people. First, Matthew 25:34:
Matthew 25: (34) Then the King will say to those on His right, Come, the blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from [the] foundation of [the] world.
Next, Hebrews 11:16:
Hebrews 11: (16) But now they stretch forth to a better, that is, a heavenly [land]. Therefore, God is not ashamed [of] them, [for Him] to be called their God; for He prepared a city for them.
And I wanted to save this one for last, because it ties in preparation with Jesus Christ's coming and our being with Jesus in heaven for eternity: John 14:2-3:
John 14: (2) In My Father's house are many dwelling places. But if it were not [so], I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you! (3) And if I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.
Do you see how Jesus Christ connects preparation with everything else? He first says that He goes to prepare a place for His people, and then he says, "IF I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you to Myself." The preparation of a place for us in heaven means that Jesus Christ is coming back to bring us to that place. And finally, we see the word hina (HIN-ah) again - A place is prepared for us, and Jesus is coming again, IN ORDER THAT, SO THAT where Jesus is, there WE, the vessels of mercy prepared for glory, will be with Jesus, singing "Worthy is the Lamb having been slain to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing" forever. Amen.