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(Rector of Winchelsea, Sussex.)
“The vessels of mercy which He had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom He hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles ?” - Romans ix, 23, 24 . FIRST of all observe the characters that are spoken of, “ vessels of mercy!" These vessels are distinctively said to have been the ones whom God had "afore prepared unto glory.” In the first place, then, I proceed to preach the doctrine enunciated in the text, and afterwards will endeavour to set before you the experimental part of it as it has been opened up to me. Before all worlds God appointed a church. Before the fall in Adam everything was decreed, and fore-ordained of JEHOVAH! The election of grace were the men and women afore prepared unto glory! CHRIST the Saviour of His church was everlastingly appointed by the ETERNAL TRINITY to be the one only salvation of that people so saved in purpose and decree. Everything was predestinated concerning Him and His people! The very moment when he was to die upon the cross was appointed of God-and while we know from Scripture that Pilate and the Jews were the persons who delivered Him up to be nailed on the cross, yet, my hearers, we must bear in mind that they were but the instruments employed to carry out the wonderful designs of God. For as we read in one of the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles:" Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." Or as it is in Greek, "* delivered by the determinate fore-appointment of God'' -a more telling word than " foreknowledge.” The Arminian tries to quibble on the word “foreknow," but I tell the Arminian whether he is a Greek scholar or not, that he is in utter ignorance if he does not confess that the word in the Greek, where our English version has “ foreknowledge' is “fore-appointment!" Therefore I take that text in Acts ii. 23—(and as if I was now reading it out of the Greek Testament, render it thus)" Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and FORE-APPOINTMENT of GoD ye have taken"-(and ye must take Him, God has appointed that ye should take HIM—"and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." The Eternal God appointed and decreed that! Decreed that His Son should die! Decreed the vast transactions of Calvary's cross! Decreed that Pilate even against his own conscientious convictions, (coward as he was on the judgment-seat) should yield to the rabble cry, and acquiesce in their demand ! But God's everlasting purpose was over all this, DEITY was carrying on His own designs. The FATHER, THE Son, and he Holy Ghost, the Trinity in Unity, the Unity in Trinity delivered up the helpless, the meek, the lowly Christ then and there to die for such a hell-deserving sinner as I am-to die to make an all-sufficient atonement for the sins of the people for whom He died on the cross.
And, my hearers, there is something distinguishing in the history of the cross. Two thieves crucified with the one Saviour ! one on the right hand and the other on the left. Both had been joining together in blasphemy and insult. But as Augustus Toplady so beautifully expresses it-(in one of his published sermons-Christ the Almighty God, Jesus the sinner's Friend and the sinner's Saviour)--"having amidst all His personal agonies detained Himself on earth, until He had looked a dying blasphemer into repentance" and as I may add, forced the prayer into the penitent's inmost heart-" Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.” He could not die until He had done that. I believe that in these three crosses we have the largest history possible of the TRUTH! We have there the Christ of the everlasting covenant-we have two men on either side, both equally bad, both equally convicted, both felons, as we should say in England, against the laws of their country, and suffering the penalties of their offences; yet the Lord takes one and leaves the other. Will you blink the doctrine of election? “ Know ye not that Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates." He was in the one; He was not in the other. And because He was in the one, the one must know it. Do you not think Christ loved the penitent thief before all words, as He did Mary Magdalene? None could be worse than either the thief or she. There may be some very bad ones here to-night ; but none can be worse than the dying thief or Mary Magdalene! Why seven devils had been cast out of her.
But I am getting away from the text. My point is, “afore prepared unto glory.” The penitent thief was ! Mary Magdalene was! Manasseh was! How many of you are? But we know well that mere doctrine will not feed the sheep. We have plenty of doctrine. Men are getting too cunning in their pulpits now not to preach doctrine. We churchmen should. be guilty of perjury if we did not preach sound truth. I am too old a soldier in the ranks of the faithfur Church of England not to know that the people of God who really value us in our pulpits do not want to hear only about doctrines. We have got doctrine insisted on in our Prayer Books. The Articles of the Church of England have doctrine quite sufficient. We have ample doctrine in the desk; therefore, we will have a little experience and practice in the pulpit. We have liberty in the pulpit. No one can call me to order for what I preach, if I preach according to the Book. That is the sword of the Spirit, bound and girt upon my thigh as a soldier in the pulpit. Now, I leave doctrine, and come to the “ vessels of mercy." Here is something to encourage and comfort the “poor of the flock." What is the meaning of a vessel? A vessel is that which holds something. A vessel of mercy! What a sweet description of a chosen sinner-elect in CHRIST before all worlds! What is the thing he has to hold ? A vessel is to hold whatever is put into it-water or anything else! Do you hold MERCY? Now, do I get into your heart?“ Vessels of MERCY afore prepared unto glory." We are empty vessels in ourselves! and we can only receive the thing that is poured into us. The publican cried, “ God be merciful to me a sinner:" I believe that that man received the inpouring of mercy and of love! “A vessel of mercy."
Let me go into the subject of mercy. I never can choose a subject! There is a wide difference between a minister taking a text and a text taking a minister. My brother, John Wallinger, the faithful preacher of the Gospel in Bath, congratulated me one day because I had been taught the difference between my taking a text and a text taking me. When I came from Cambridge, with my sermon, written nicely out, in my pocket, it generally took me through the week to find a text for the Sunday. But since the Lord has, as I trust, sent me to preach the Gospel, I sometimes never get a text till the hymn is just concluding when I am in the pulpit. A “ vessel of mercy!" How is it with regard to you-you that are sitting in those pews : You all deserve to be damned. I know not to whom I am speaking I may be preaching to many moral pharisees, scribes, priests; I am preaching to many persons of whom I know nothing; I know not who may be here. But mark me-you are all deserving of eternal damnation; and you will have it except you are a “vessel of mercy!" If you are a vessel of mercy, you must be made to desire to know that you are such a vessel, and that you must have something poured into you. Can anything be more simple and plain than the words I have before me. And depend upon it, this is the only way profitably to preach the Gospel. It is one thing to be charmed with eloquence. It may be a delight to go into the House of Commons and hear the eloquence of a Gladstone, or into the Courts of Law and hear a Thesiger speak, but in the pulpit you must be content to hear plain, simple, old truths spoken, to have things told you that benefit you, for the test is coming upon every one of us--a dying bed and a dying hour !! And now I ask the plain and simple question, are uce“ vessels of mercy " I know a godly farmer in Kent who wrote to me the other day, and told me
" that the thing he longed to know was, whether he was a son of God, for,” says he, •sons go to heaven, servants to hell.” Do you want to know whether you are each a vessel of mercy and I desire to preach not to please you, but to be made a blessing to you. It makes no difference to me whether you despise me, or whether you love me, (as I had rather you do,) and receive me as a messenger of God to your soul's eternal good; but I insist upon it, you must have the experimental reality of knowing whether you are a “ vessel of mercy.” And if you are a “tessel of mercy” you will know what it is to have mercy, or the desire for mercy poured in. You will know this in your solitary moments, and cry before God-not to be seen of men, not to adopt the fashion of the day, making broad the phylactery and standing at the corners of the street, but “ When thou prayest enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” There is no gew-gaw show in this ! I believe, now, that many men for show of profession can pray by the hour together, but to my mind the sweetest prayer is, “ Our Father which art in heaven," and the sweetest collect, after all, is in the Bible, “God be merciful to me a sinner."
If, my hearers, you understand the truth that I am enunciating, you must feel your guilt; you must know your depravity; you must have come up to the standard of Isaiah's measure, that, “ From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores.” They tell us the Duke of Cambridge, the commander-in-chief, has altered the standard for recruits for the army; but my Commander-in-chief never intends to alter His. It stands written in this Book, that “ From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores.” Now, when guilt has taken possession of the heart, when sin has been brought home with the convincing power of the Holy Ghost, when we are taught our depravity and made to feel our sin, then it is we feel our needand hope that we are made “ vessels of mercy." I may quote a verse from Kent, that has been most blessed to my own soul in many a trying hour :
“What, though he feels himself depraved,
To groan beneath the power of sin." Am I going down to too low a standard ! I am not asking whether you are Calvinists or anything else. I am not asking whether you hold the doctrines of grace, but I ask you, are you laid low at the foot of mercy? are you laid low, stripped of all your own creature-merit and righteousness, with the one cry in your heart
Mercy, good.Lord, mercy I ask,
This is the total sum;
Lord, let Thy mercy come !" That verse is in the version of the Psalms; I delight to think that the church has got such an experimental verse as that in her own Hymn Book at the end of the Prayer Book. Oh! if the bishops, and the priests, and the deacons of the Church of England carry that out in their parishes, throughout the length and breadth of the land, we should “indeed be sterrible as an army with banners" against the devil and the whole host of the enemy. A "vessel of mercy !" Now, what is a minister of the Gospel? “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." Here, then, is the description of a vessel in the pulpit for vessels in the pews. I am sure my brother in the desk will agree with me, that when he and I are enabled to come up into this pulpit, full of that which proclaims mercy to perishing sinners, we shall be made acceptable, despite the uevil and all his schemes against us, if vessels of mercy “ a fore prepared unto glory" sit in the pews. We shall have something good for you; we shall have " A feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.”. We shall have a feast, but the Lord must teach us our own want of mercy before we can proclaim it to the people! We do not stand up here like the bigot priest, full of himself, but we stand here like the great apostle who wrote the text-"earthen veseels" – "vessels of mercy.” Listen to me-How sweet is the thought, that when Paul speaks of sinners he speaks of himself as “ the chief of sinners," when he speaks of saints, he takes the lowest place in that scale, " less than the least of all saints" -and, yet, though "less than the least of all-is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” How I would still dwell upon the thought-“ vessels of mercy!!" because it is such a sweet and full Scripture! It only contains three words, but to me it seems to be the very synopsis of the whole gospel, the epitome of the whole magnificent charter of salvation—“Vessels OF MERCY AFORE PREPARED UNTO GLORY."
Suppose there had been no mercy. We read the other day in the various newspapers of the fall of Delhi-of the victory that had been obtained by the British bayonet. The flag of victory now floats upon those battlements, where before, butchery, and cruelty, and cowardice, and Sepoy and Ma. hommedan devilishness had deluged the place with blood. We have heard that the British soldier, blessed by the God of battles, had been able to subdue that celebrated fortress, and to carry it at the point of the bayonet. We have heard of those in our own country who have been making speeches upon the occasion, discussing whether or not mercy should be shown to the rebels. It is no subject for me in this place. It is a subject for a senator on the floor of the House of Commons to discuss, whether mercy should be shown or not, to Nena Sahib, if he be taken prisoner. But the thing I have to proclaim to Sepoys in London, (for in one sense you are mutineers,) is, that MERCY will be shown you, if you are a “VESSEL OF MERCY." It all hinges upon That. I am not going to turn Methodist in the pulpit; I am not going to coax and woo you, and try to persuade you to come; bat I tell you, you shall come, if you are a "vessel of mercy." I tell the greatest sinner in the church, that! There may be some Mary Magdalene straggled in here tonight to hear the babbler from Sussex; there may be some Manasseh sitting among these pews; there may be some Saul of Tarsus too!-I tell you, that even for such an one, (if it is to-night a time of favour to hear and receive the know. ledge of the truth, if it is to-night a time of favour to any one "vessel of mercy,") that that mercy shall be poured into your soul, whether you will or not. Toplady says, " a child of God is like a tumbler without a foot; it can only stand as it is held up.” If it were not held up it would hold nothing, and would fall over. So, you can only contain mercy in you, as you are a
vessel of mercy" held up. "Hold Thou me up,” (said an experimental sinner,) and I shall be safe.” No man more experimentally knew than David did, that he needed the upholding power of God. “The man after God's own heart”-such is his description in the Bible--guilty of the double sin of adultery and murder had the experimental cry afterwards forced from his very soul-" Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe, and I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually."
My hearers, it is a great mercy to know that God will teach His own people, not by halves, but entirely and fully the TRUTH. It is the blessed statement of a man of God, that “if ihings were otherwise than they are they would be all wrong" —everything is just as it should be-all things are working together for good to those that love God-everything is just working together to effect His own purposes. You may be tried by man or by woman; you may be persecuted; you may be belied ; you may be assailed on all sides-listen to this—" The wrath of man shall praise Thee."-" The remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain.” I may be speaking here to some who are suffering for the truth's sake-reviled. It is so amid the masses of London-it is so in the
If we are made faithful, we are attacked by all sorts and conditions of men. And yet we stand. “ Our God, whom we serve, is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us Out of thine hand, o king." I may repeat here a text that I was preaching on with some comfort the other Sunday to my own home flock. Talking of the persecutions of the people of God, the astonished king says to his counsellors—“ Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire ! They answered and said unto the king, True O king. He answered and said, Lo; I see four men loose."--(my hearers, do not pass from that word, “ loose,' in a hurry; I shall go back again to it)—" walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God."
scarcely dare to annotate such a magnificent Scripture as that, Its climax seems to be in its own inspired statement, and needs no exposition from such a tongue as mine.-Yet it may be for the comfort of the * vessels of mercy” now hanging upon my lips that I should say a word on it. I may be speaking to some brother or sister now in the furnace, in the experience of the narrow pathway. Do you know what it is to walk loose in the midst of the fire ? in the sweet liberty of the Gospel, loose in the fire? What was it that loosed the bonds which the wretched king had commanded to bind their bodies with What was it that enabled them to bask in the glorious liberty of Zion's chil. dren? WHO WAS THEIR COMPANION IN THAT FIRE ? Nebuchadnezzar had not cast the fourth into the fire ? but THE FOURTH CAME into the fire to save HIS CHILDREN THERE. It was the persecutions against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego-God's love-that brought the “ FOURTH" there, that brought Himshall I say, like a feeling mother to the bedside of her crying and pained child ? Such a simile would not do; no mother could fully enter into that feeling. It was LOVE DIVINE !! The Watcher had allowed Nebuchadnezzar to go as far as God intended ; and when His children were in that fire-then—" the form of the fourth was like the Son of God." As to the companionship of men and women, Hart is quite right in what he says
" Companions if we find,
Alas ! how soon they're gone!”
But the companionship to the “ vessels of mercy" of the Son of God is most fully prizedand known when they are in the fire, or when they are in the den of “lions.” I can imagine Daniel in the lion's den. You may have heard the other day of a tiger that escaped out of a van in London and injured two boys. The papers have been full of it. Have you not heard something from a better paper of Daniel in the den of lions, and how he escaped? The Lord allowed Darius to have his lions in the den, and He allowed him to throw Daniel into the den. They could not stop Daniel praying; he would pray. He was no hypocrite about it, for his windows were all open, and they could all see him pray. They, therefore, put him into the den. Oh! what a beautiful picture! The picture of a “vessel of mercy.” Look at Daniel in the den of lions—the savage beasts, the monster quadrupeds, before whom everything would tremble-look at Daniel patting as it were their backs as you would a domestic dog. “ Through faith, the saints are said to have “o stopped the mouths of lions,” and “out of weakness were made strong." What a wonderful. thing is a saved man! a man just as bad naturally as his neighbour, but “ a vessel of mercy afore prepared unto glory!!"
My hearers, I have not nearly got into the depth of the subject that this great verse sets before me, but I ask you once, again, as I did before, what do you know of guilt: what do you know of sin: what do you know of temptation ? what do you know of heart depravity? These are the things that teach men the value of the blood. For my own part-(and it is as needful for me to preach it to a London church, as I am compelled continually to insist on it to my own home flock)-I am sick of professors. Toplady felt this. He said, “ profession is not possession." Now we are living in a peculiar day. It is the fashion now to be evangelical. I know what the word, “evangelical" means in its classicality, but what it means now, as applied indiscriminately to carnal professors, I believe is, arrant hypocrites. The Gospel remains the same as of old ; and the only way for a man to value Christ, and to long for the blood that cleanseth from all sin, is to be made to feel himself a wicked, vile, carnal, sensual, sinner-nothing else. But, then, look at the love that has “afore prepared unto glory the vessels of mercy!” Look how in a previous chapter the Apostle speaks, Romans viii, 35 : “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Why, NOTHING CAN !! I surely have preached to you before, that a question in the Bible is a peculiar idiom, by which it is intended to give a sentence a stronger force ; so that when the word comes in the shape of a question, “ Who can separate us from the love of Christ !" the Apostle means that nothing can separate us from His love! It is not as we say in common conversation, • How do you do?' But