The Vessels of Mercy and the Vessels of Wrath Delineated
Based on a Sermon by Samuel Davies
Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (22) What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, (23) in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— (24) even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? Rom 9:21-24
The true notion, the true understanding of the present world is—that it is a state of preparation for another, eternal world; and, therefore, what we are here, is what we will be forever.
Mankind are now being formed, like clay in the potter's hands—some for honor and some for dishonour; some for wrath and some for glory. And as the potter does not put his vessels to their respective uses until they are finished and prepared for them—so neither are men removed from the present state, and fixed in their respective residences in the eternal world, until they are prepared, finished, and completely fitted for them. The vessels of mercy are prepared beforehand for that glory with which they shall be filled. And, on the other hand, the vessels of wrath are fitted to destruction, and fit for nothing else, before they are dashed to pieces by the iron rod of divine justice.
Scripture is worthy of our attention in its smallest details and here we should notice how the apostle uses a different form of expression, when speaking of these different sorts of people. The preparation of the vessels of mercy for glory, he ascribes to God, as his work. And so here he uses an active verb, referring expressly to God as the agent—the “vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.” But the fitting or preparing the vessels of wrath for destruction, he does not ascribe to God—but implies that it is their own work. And so here he uses a passive voice—the “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”—fitted by their own wilful sin and impenitence, during the long enduring “kindness and forbearance and patience” (Rom 2:4) of God towards them, which were meant to lead them to repentance.
Vessels of wrath! How terribly emphatic is this phrase! Vessels, containers suited to receive divine wrath! to be filled to the brim—with that burning liquid!
But how wonderful is the metaphor—vessels of mercy! vessels formed, prepared, finished, adorned by the gentle and skilful hand of God’s mercy! Vessels suited to receive mercy, and to be filled, to overflowing—with glory!
The gracious and sovereign God, who might justly have dashed these vessels of wrath to pieces as soon as they became marred clay in his omnipotent hands, endures or bears with them with much patience; as well as with vessels of mercy! He bears with them, and he has with you—for days, and months, and years, notwithstanding their daring provocations, and ungrateful abuse of his patience; and truly, nothing but divine patience could bear with it so long!
But all this time, they accumulated more and more filth and pollution; they became every day less fit for their Master's use, and made themselves more and more fit for destruction, and fit for nothing else!
And will these vessels of wrath serve no useful purpose in the great house of the universe? Will they serve to furnish out no apartment of this vast building? Will they be of no use in this large family of reasonable creatures? Yes, they will furnish out the regions of hell—a place as necessary and useful in the universe, as it is now made up, as prisons and penitentiaries are on this earth. They will serve as terribly graphic monuments of the divine power and justice, and the righteous resentments of the righteous and holy God against sin. They will serve as loud warnings to all worlds, to deter them from that destructive evil.
And in this way they will serve a valuable, and even a good, purpose in the creation, and contribute to the public good; as the execution of criminals tends to guard the laws from disobedience, and so promote the good of society. They will serve, as my text informs you, to "show his wrath and to make known his power!" Their destruction will brightly display the glory of these perfections. The flames of hell will burn dreadfully bright—to reflect a dreadful—and yet agreeable splendour upon them! And it is for this dreadful but righteous end, among others, that God now endures them with so much patience: that his perfections, and the honor of his government, may be the more brightly displayed—in the execution of deserved punishment upon them.
But the vessels of mercy are intended and prepared for nobler uses. On them God intends to display the glory, the riches of the glory of his more gentle attributes—his love and grace. With them he intends to furnish out the many mansions of his heavenly house. By them he intends to let all worlds see what glorious vessels he can form, not only of the dust—but of the shattered and polluted fragments of human nature, broken and polluted by the fall of Adam, and by their own sin as well.
In view of this, we will consider the text before this morning with respect to these practical questions:
1. In what does the preparation for glory consist?
2. And in what does fitness for destruction consist?
This will naturally lead me to ask you to examine your own natural tendencies and behaviour: for it is by comparing these to the nature and quality of the regions of heaven and hell—that you can discover which eternal destiny you are fit for. If your character and tendencies are heavenly and divine—then you may be sure that you will be admitted into those blessed mansions above! But if, on the other hand, your characters and tendencies are infernal and diabolical; if they are like those that are prevalent and universal in hell—then you may be equally sure, that, unless they are changed—you will be certainly doomed forever to that dismal region below!
This must be, it seems to me, just common sense. The righteous Judge of all the earth will always invariably do that which is righteous, just and fit. If you are fit and prepared for the enjoyments and services of heaven—then you need not fear that he will admit you; never has such a soul been excluded. And what can you reasonably desire more? Would you have heaven burdened with such as could not be happy, even in the very regions of happiness, for lack of a proper fitness for and delight in the enjoyments there? But, if you are fit only for hell, is there not an appropriateness, as well as justice—in your being confined there? It is just as appropriate as for notorious criminals to be shut up in a penitentiary. Therefore,
1. The questions is: Are you prepared and fit for heaven?
Do you love and delight in God-—in a God of infinite purity? If not—then the enjoyment of his presence, and the glorious vision of his face, which is the main ingredient of heavenly happiness, could bring no happiness to you! Do you delight in the service of God, in contemplating his glories, in celebrating his praises, and in the humble forms of worship in his church on earth? Do these give you the most exalted pleasure? If not—then heaven is no place for you; for these are the eternal exercises there: and to such of you as have no pleasure in them, the heavenly state would be an eternal drudgery. Do you delight in holiness? If not—then what would you do in the region of holiness? Alas! to you it would be an foreign thing!
Are the saints, those whom the world perhaps calls so with a sneer, because they make it their great business to be holy in all of life—are these your favourite companions? Is their company peculiarly delightful to you? And are they the more agreeable to you—by how much the more holy they are? If not—then what would you do among the holy inhabitants of heaven? With what pleasure could you mingle in company with them—while your tendencies and theirs are so directly contrary?
Are your hearts full of ardent love to God—and goodwill to mankind? If not—then how would you breathe in the pure element of perfect love? Without such dispositions as these, you are no more fit for heaven—than a sick man for a feast; or a swine for a palace; or a blind man to view the splendours of the universe; and, therefore, you may be certain, that God, who will never do anything that is unjust or unfitting—will not admit you there, while you continue as you now are!
You must also consider, that if you are fit for these pure and blessed regions—that it is God who has made you so, by his own almighty power! "He who has prepared us for this very thing is God," (2 Cor 5:5) and you have been deeply aware that the work was indeed his, was divine and god-like, and beyond the utmost efforts of your degenerate nature. You are able indeed to make yourselves fit for destruction—that you can easily do; and that, I am afraid, some of you have effectually done already. But it is God alone who can make you fit for the inheritance of the saints in light.
And have you ever been the subjects of this divine work? Have you ever felt the power of almighty grace opening your blinded minds—breaking your stony hearts, and melting them into floods of sincere sorrow, under the warm encouragement of a Saviour's love—like snow under the sun?
Have you ever felt it subduing your favourite sins, and making them more bitter to you than death, and implanting and nourishing every grace and virtue in your souls? Has the Holy Spirit inclined your souls towards holiness—so that you think of it as the main virtue of your nature, and make it the object of your eager desires, and strive for it ardently?
Does holiness appear to you as a wonderful thing in itself, and not only a pre-requisite to your happiness—but the principal ingredient of it? And does heaven itself seem all the more attractive to you by this thought, that it is the region of pure, unmingled holiness, that no unclean thing can enter there, and that even the way that leads to it, is holy? If you do not experience these things—then you can be sure you have not been “prepared beforehand for glory.” (Rom 9:23)
Let us now consider the opposite dispositions, and we shall see the same things: Suppose your hearts are set upon the enjoyments of this present life, as your principal happiness; suppose you are mainly eager and working hard to heap up worldly riches and success, or to indulge your sensual lusts and appetites; supposing this to be the ruling passion of your souls—then are you fit and prepared for heaven?
In heaven there are absolutely none of these low and sordid enjoyments! And what pleasure would you have there, who have a taste only for these earthly things? You are indeed fit to dig in the earth, like moles; you are indeed fit to scrape up riches; you are indeed fit to wallow in the mire of guilty, sinful pleasures; you are indeed fit to live in this world, should you be able to make it your home forever. This gross, impure, earthly element, suits your depraved desires, tastes and constitutions.
But can you once imagine that you are fit for heaven; fit to breathe in that pure, healthful air; fit to share in those refined and spiritual enjoyments; fit to join in the exalted work of angels—while this is your prevailing character? Surely not!
And what then will become of you? The impure and gross region of this world, so agreeable to you, will not always last—and you will not probably live in it as long as it does last; but unstoppable death, before long—will tear you away from all that is dear to you under the sun. And, then! where will you go? Then. Where will you be forever? Please pause a moment and think about it!
Suppose the service of God is a weariness to you, and the thoughts of him unwelcome to your minds; suppose your hearts are full of strong, harmful passions; in short, suppose you love sin more than holiness—can you then flatter yourselves that you are prepared and fit for heaven? It really would be as unnatural an element to you—as for a fish to live out of water—or you to live in it.
But a deeper illustration of this will fall under the next heading; therefore, in the second place,
2. Ask yourselves whether your characters and tendencies are not infernal and diabolical, and such as make you fit for destruction, and for nothing else.
Are your hearts destitute of the love of God? "No," you answer; "we thank God we have never been so bad as that!" But if you love God, then why is it—that you have so few affectionate thoughts of him? Why is it—that you do not study to please him in all things, and delight in his service?
If you love God, why is it that you do not strive to keep his commandments, which is the main decisive test of love? In reality instead of loving him, are your hearts not averse to him? As proof of this—may I not remind you of your dislike of serious thoughts of him—your aversion to his service—your disregard to his will as the rule of your conduct—and your headlong tendency to follow your own pleasure? Do not the murmurings and objections of your hearts against him and his painful discipline; your uneasy, rebellious spirit under his providence; your aversion to his service—do not these show that you really do not love him?
Now this is the very character of hell! This is the constitution of a devil—the very worst ingredient in that infernal disposition; and, therefore, unless this character is changed, you must dwell with devils forever! It is only just and fit—that all the enemies of God should be shut up together in one vast prison! It is unfit that rebels and traitors should always run at large, or mingle with loyal subjects. In truth a soul without the love of God—is devilized already, ripe for destruction, and fit for nothing else!
Again, are there not some of you who have no pleasure in private devotion, no delight in conversing with God in his ordinances? The posture of humble worshipers at the throne of grace—is not easy and agreeable to you; and so you have prayerless families and no joy in secret prayer; and if you join in public worship once a week, it is a mere customary formality, and the subject of a sermon vanishes from your mind the moment it is over.
You cannot bear to wean your thoughts and tongues from the things of this world—in the few hours devoted to the service of God, though they make up but one day in seven. You do not delight in pious conversation—but it strikes you speechless, like the man without the wedding garment. Well, in the infernal regions, you will have as little of this pious exercise, as you could wish!
The patient will then be hopeless and incurable—and therefore no further means will be used with him. Then you will no more be troubled with prayers, bibles, sermons, pious conversation, or the tedious hours of Sunday worship. And, since you have no taste for such exercises, is it not fit you should be sent into those ungodly regions, where you shall never again spend time in them?
Do not some of you live in the practice of the works of the devil; that is, of those works to which he tempts you, and in which he has persisted, who was a rebellious sinner from the beginning? Are you not then fit for that everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels? Even the gentle lips of Jesus himself would tell you, as he did the Jews—that "you are of your father the devil," (John 8:44) since you regularly do his works! And is it not fit that you should be doomed to the be in the company of your infernal father?
Do you not find that your hearts are in the habit of being hard and insensible? Or if you have some kind of repentance, it is only a self centered horror, extorted remorse, and involuntary pangs of desperate agony. This is the very kind of repentance in hell, where they still love sin—and yet cannot but chastise and torment themselves, because they have ruined themselves by indulging it! Conscience tortures them with the keenest memories; but they feel no loving sincere relentings; no godly sorrows, coming from a sense of the intrinsic vileness and baseness of sin—and from a sincere, unselfish love to God and holiness. And so, their repentance is only a punishment—but has no tendency to reform them. And is not this the very nature of your repentance at present?
It is enough to tell you, in short, that if you are still in your natural state; if you still have that character which is natural to you as the degenerate sons of Adam, without any supernatural change; that estrangement from God; that hostility to him; that carnality and earthly-mindedness; that blindness and insensibility about divine things; that carnal presumption, security, and love of lawless pleasure: I say, if this is still your prevailing character—then you are not prepared or fit to go to heaven; for in order to be heirs of that, you must be born again of God. But you are prepared for destruction; for by nature—you are “children of wrath,” (Eph 2:3) as Paul says to the Ephesians, and while you remain in this state, you must be vessels of wrath.
Therefore look at the matter squarely, by this decisive question: "Have I ever been born again? Have I ever experienced such a mighty change in the character of my mind, as may, appropriately, be called a new birth or a new creation? For “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come!' (2 Cor 5:17) Have I been renewed in the spirit of my mind in this way? Or am I still the same old man—with my old affections and lusts?"
This is the grand, decisive question; for if you have been born again, Peter tells you that God has reserved “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pe 1:4) a priceless inheritance for his children. But Jesus, the friend of sinners; Jesus, who never pronounced a harsh sentence, and who never will exclude from heaven one soul that is fit for it—nor doom to destruction one soul that is fit for anything else; even Jesus himself has strongly assured you with his own gracious lips, that "unless one is born again," “born of water and the Spirit,” "he cannot see the kingdom of God;” ”for that which is born of the flesh is flesh," John 3:3, 5, 6—carnal, corrupt, unholy, and utterly unfit for that spiritual, pure, and holy kingdom!
And here please observe something which was hinted at before, namely: That these corrupt dispositions are not only criminal—and therefore will bring on you the penalty of the divine law, according to justice—but that they are, in their own nature, destructive—and therefore, according to the course of nature, will be your ruin.
Suppose God took no direct steps to exclude you from heaven; yet while you have no relish or desire for the activities and enjoyments of that state, it is impossible, in the nature of things, that you should be happy there. As you must have physical senses—to enable you to have physical pleasures; so you must have spiritual senses—to enable you to enjoy the pure spiritual pleasures of paradise; and without these you can be no more happy there than a stone can enjoy the pleasures of an animal; or a beast enjoy the pleasures of reason. You would be miserable wretches in paradise itself! Do but consider in what things the bliss of heaven consists of—and I think that you will rather fear, than hope and desire to be admitted there!
Is holiness so pleasing a thing to you, that you might expect that you would be completely happy—if you were made perfectly holy? But rather! are there not a thousand things more pleasant to some of you? But in heaven, there are none of these earthly trifles—so how do you expect to be happy there? There must be another heaven created for you, an Islamic paradise of sensual pleasures—or else, your character must be changed before you are fit to enter the true heaven. The paradise of holy saints and angels—does not suit your debased taste!
More than that, suppose that God should not inflict any positive punishment against you with his own immediate hand—but only allow the course of nature to run on, and let your corrupt dispositions have full scope and range without restraint; would not these dispositions alone, create a hell within you? Anger, malice, envy, guilt, and every wicked and turbulent passion and preoccupation against God and his creatures, will break out into outrageous hurricanes, when the kind restraints under which they now lie are taken off; and they will completely take over, agitate, and distract your souls forever, and make you incapable of all peace, serenity, and joy.
Then, also, all temporal enjoyments—the objects of your love and desire, and the only things you have now to relieve your raging thirst for happiness—will be forever torn from you, and leave you to famish in a dismal void; and then you will pine away with eager, impatient, insatiable desires, which will gnaw your hearts, and prey upon your spirits like hungry vultures!
Suppose you were now completely stripped of every enjoyment, and nothing left you—but your bare being, with your usual capacity of enjoyments; suppose you were deprived of the light of the sun, the products of the earth, the comforts of society, and every imaginable blessing—and doomed to wander, forlorn and hungry, in some dismal desert; how completely miserable would this deprivation alone, make you! But this will be the doom of the ungodly, as soon as death breaks their connections with this world. They must leave all their enjoyments behind them—and yet carry their eager desires, their insatiable desire for happiness, along with them! And these will make them large vessels of pain! For a capacity of enjoyment, not satisfied—becomes a dreadful capacity of misery!
And so, you see your destruction comes upon you according to the course of nature; and you will die eternally, though the hand of the executioner should never touch you—as the unavoidable result of your present character, the deadly disease under which you labor!
And so you may see, by the way, that it is no act of cruelty or injustice in the Supreme Judge, to shut you up in the prison of hell! For what else should he do with you—when you are fit for no other place! Is it cruel to exclude the sick from entertainments, or people infected with a deadly contagious disease from the company of the sound and healthy? Certainly not! Is it cruel to confine criminals in prison? Certainly not! Therefore God and his throne will be guiltless forever.
And so, we come to a conclusion:
And now, please consider, have any of you been convinced that this is really your case? That your character and behaviour are such as at once make and prove you to be utterly unfit for heaven, and, as it were, adapt and season you for the infernal regions of hell. Surely, this is a shocking and alarming discovery indeed! But, blessed be God, you have discovered this in time; you have made it while in the land of hope, and in a state of trial; and therefore there is reason to hope, that, if you now react to the alarm, and earnestly use the means of grace—that your condition, as bad as it is, may be happily changed; and that you, who are now fit for nothing but destruction, may yet be made fit for the inheritance of the saints in light. It is because there is some reason for this hope, that I have honestly exposed these alarming and unpopular things to you.
You must know and experience them sooner or later! And if you do not know them until you fall into the pit of destruction, tragically, truly tragically, it will then be too late! Believe me these things are not coming from a from a pessimistic, malicious heart, nor are they intended to drive you into despair. I speak to you with hopeful expectation for you good; and instead of driving you into despair—my goal is to save you from it forever, and bring you to have a good hope through grace!
And as the evidence of what I have offered is so plain to common sense—then do not pretend that you cannot understand me, and that you do not know what I am aiming at. And if you have missed any parts, and now would like to recall them, this sermon will be posted on our website, for you to examine these plain arguments slowly and carefully. I am only trying to fix your mind unto this self-evident truth, that unless you are prepared for heaven—then you will not be admitted! And that, if you are fit for nothing but destruction—then you must be destroyed. Can any mathematical demonstration be more plain than this? And are any of you so void of sense, reason, and faith—as not to understand and believe it? Surely not!
I now presume, that any of you that have made this discovery with regard to yourselves, are also convinced, that you cannot possibly escape destruction, unless your present character is changed, and quite a new frame of spirit given to you.
And who, do you think, can work this happy change in your hearts? If you are so vain and ignorant as to flatter yourselves that you can bring it about in your own strength—then try, and you will soon be undeceived. It is God alone who can work in you both to will and to do. Our text tells you, it is he who prepares the vessels of mercy for glory; it is his Holy Spirit alone who is able to accomplish this difficult work.
But in what way is this influence to be expected? Is it while a person is insensible in the habit of sinning? of presumption and security? of laziness and negligence? No! Not at all! To expect it in that way—is to tempt the Lord your God. But those of you as would escape the damnation of hell; those of you who have any desire to be forever happy, hear me, seriously hear me, and I will tell you in a few plain words what you must do, if you would expect the aids of divine grace to prepare you for glory.
You must immediately think seriously of your condition. You must endeavour to clearly know the truth of your case. You must pry into the dreadful secrets of the wickedness in your hearts. You must review your sinful lives. You must reflect upon the purity and justice of God and his law, and what you have deserved for a whole life of wicked rebellion against him. You must read and hear the Word of life with solemnity and attention, and use all proper means to fill your minds with religious knowledge. It may pain you at first to restrict your minds to such things; but it must be done—and there is no disputing against what is a sure necessity. Besides, the pain is medicinal, for your good; it will contribute to the recovery of your dying souls.
Again, you must accustom yourselves to pray often and earnestly. If ever you are saved, or prepared for salvation, it will be in answer to prayer: therefore, engage in it, persevere in it, and never give up until you obtain your request.
Also, you must guard against everything that tends to divert your minds from this grand concern; as excessive hurries and cares about earthly things, vain and wicked company, and every avoidable temptation.
Finally, You must persevere in this course, if you hope to succeed; and never rest until you feel these heavenly dispositions brought about in your souls. A pang of remorse, a fit of seriousness, and a passing prayer, will not be enough—but you must hold on your way to the end. You may expect difficulties in this new course, and you will probably meet with more than you can now foresee or expect. But you must break through all; for your immortal interest, your all is at stake!
This is the method I would advise you to—if ever you hope to be prepared for glory. I cannot give you the least encouragement in any other way. If any other can show you a more easy way—and yet safe way, and support it with sufficient authority—then you may take it. But, for my part, if I teach you what I learn in my Bible, I can give you no other direction; nor do I expect to be saved in any easier way myself. And, therefore, if you will choose another way—then you must be answerable for it. Remember, I warn you against it, and would not be involved in leading others to it—for ten thousand worlds!
Now, if this method must be taken, I ask—when do you think it must be begun? Will you appoint tomorrow, or next year, or old age, or a sick-bed, for that purpose? Consider! you may never live to see that time! Before then you may drop into destruction, as rotten fruit falls to the ground by its own weight. Therefore now, this present fleeting now—is the only time you are sure of; and, consequently, now is the only proper time to begin on this course. Now then, now, while my voice is sounding in your ears—form the resolution, and carry it into immediate execution! Bear it home upon your hearts to your houses, and there let it dwell—until the great work is done. And if you but for an instant realized its importance and necessity—then you could not delay it one moment longer!
And now, if you have any regard for the God who made you, for the Lord who bought you, or for your own everlasting happiness; then follow this method immediately. If you have any need of further encouragements take the following.
1. Consider your present dangerous situation!
You hang over the pit of destruction by the slender thread of life, held up only by the hand of an angry God—just as we hold a spider, or some poisonous insect, over a fire, ready to throw it in! You are ripe for destruction, and therefore in danger every day, every hour, every moment—of falling into it! You are as fit for destruction—as a murderer is fit for the gallows, or a gangrened limb is fit to be cut off. Such polluted vessels of wrath must be thrown out of the way into some dark corner in hell—that they may no more encumber or disgrace the more honourable apartments of the universe. And is this a situation in which it befits you to be merry, and joyful, and thoughtless, and eager after the trifles of time? Does it not befit you rather, to be on your knees at the throne of grace, and vigorously pressing into the kingdom of God?
2. Reflect with how much long-suffering God has endured you, notwithstanding all your audacious and repeated provocations!
One would think that one day's sinning against so holy and gracious a God, by a creature so deeply indebted to him—would make your case desperate, and that the evening of such a day would be the hour of your execution! But he has patiently borne with you for days, for months, for years, perhaps for tens of years! And all this time he has followed you with his blessings every moment, and granted you the means of preparation for glory. And yet you have been thoughtless, disobedient, ungrateful, rebellious still. How justly, then, may he inflict punishment upon you! And how completely will his goodness and severity, his mercy and justice, be displayed in his treatment of you! What could you have desired more, in terms of time, opportunity, encouragements—than you have enjoyed? Will it not then appear evident, that your destruction is entirely of yourself, and that, as I have told you before, God and his throne will be guiltless forever!
3. Consider how dreadful will be your punishment, if you should perish at last by your current wilful negligence!
My text tells you what will be the purpose of your punishment; it will be to show the wrath of God, and make his power known! Such will be your punishment, as will be fit to show that it is almighty power which inflicts it, and that it is an almighty God who is angry with you! It will be his professed goal to display the dreadful glory of his justice, as the supreme Magistrate of the universe! His justice deserves to be displayed; for divine justice is not that ugly, grim, horrible thing, which criminals imagine. In a ruler, especially in the supreme and universal ruler, justice is not only a majestic and solemn attribute—but it is a lovely, likeable, attractive attribute, essential to his character, and to the public good. And so it appears to all competent judges; that is, to all who are not self-flattering criminals, and therefore the objects of divine justice. The display of this attribute, therefore, upon proper objects, is necessary, to give a full view of God's nature to the world; to represent him as he is.
Now, whatever attribute of his that he intends to display in any of his works, he always does it in a manner worthy of himself. When his goal was to display and glorify his creative power, wisdom, and goodness—see what a stately, well-furnished universe he spoke into being! What a magnificent, God-like building!
When his goal was to show the riches of his grace towards our guilty race—see what wonders he performed! What incomparable exploits of condescension and love! His only begotten Son must become a man, must struggle with all the calamities of life for thirty-three long and painful years, must die in torture on an shameful cross, and redeem the guilty sinner—with his own blood! This was Godlike love and grace indeed, beyond all example. He is as much distinguished from all other beings by the wonders of his love and grace, as by the eternity of his existence, or by that wisdom which planned the universe, or that power which produced it out of nothing!
When in carrying out the same goal, he intends to give a further display of the riches of his glorious grace upon the vessels of mercy—what Godlike provisions has he made for them. "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him!" (1 Co 2:9) He has prepared for them a city, such a glorious residence, that he is not ashamed to be called their God. He is not ashamed to own the relation, because he has acted up to the character so worthy of himself. Hebrews 11:16.
And when his goal is to show his avenging wrath, and make his punitive power known; when it is to show what Godlike punishments he can inflict, such as may, by their terror, declare him to be their author, and serve as loud warnings to all present, and, perhaps, future creations, to deter them from the breach of his sacred laws; and when the subjects of the punishment are strong, large vessels of wrath, fit for nothing but destruction; Surely, when this is the case, what Godlike vengeance will he execute, what amazing, incomparable punishment will he inflict!
The goal of divine punishment is not the reformation of the criminal—but the benefit of others, and the display of his perfections; requires that he let loose to all the terrors of his power. And what miracles of misery, what dreadful illustrious monuments of vengeance will that accomplish! As far surpassing all the punishments inflicted by mortals, as the creation of the world out of nothing exceeds all the works of human ingenuity.
And are you hardened against the force of such considerations as these? If so, then you are dreadfully fitted for destruction indeed—for the strongest encouragements to deter you from it, which God himself can reveal, or the human mind conceive, have no effect and mean absolutely nothing to you!
But can I hope that I will succeed at least with some of you today to flee from this tremendous destruction, into which you are this moment ready to fall? Can I not reach so much as one soul and in a point so reasonable, and so strongly enforced by your own good! But I must leave this warning with you, and if you do not remember it now—you will without a doubt remember it millions of years from now, when the memory of it will torment you with intolerable anguish!
There are some in this gathering, I have hope, who, by comparing their dispositions with the nature of heavenly happiness, may come to the happy conclusion, that they are, in some measure, prepared for it. To such happy souls I have time only to say—that if this is your character, then you may be sure that immense happiness will be yours: your present heavenly character is a certain pledge and guarantee of it. You may be sure that God would never make you fit for eternal happiness—and then exclude you from it.
And, on the other hand, if you find that the dispositions of hell are subdued in you—then assure yourselves God will not doom you to it. Can you think he would gain your hearts and allure your love—and then command you to depart from him, to languish and pine away with the eager, anxious sights of disappointed, bereaved love? Will he doom you to reside forever among those whose works you detest, and whose company you abhor? No! He will thoroughly prepare you, and make you holy—and then he will advance you to dwell forever in his presence which you love, in the element of holiness; to breathe in that clear, refined air; to live in that wholesome climate, so agreeable to your soul's constitution; to be busy in those services in which you delight; to enjoy that sublime and delicate happiness which you relish, and to mingle in that society in which you delight, and which is of the same character and spirit with you.
And for that blessed region—may we all be prepared, and there may we all meet at last, to enjoy that endless happiness which awaits those who firmly put their confidence in God, through Jesus Christ.