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PASTOR RUSSELL'S SERMONS
A choice collection of his most important discourses
on all phases of Christian doctrine and practice, given between 1906-1916


"THE VESSELS OF A POTTER"


"Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor?"--Rom. 9:21

In our text you will note what the Apostle here calls attention to, that from the same lump of clay the skilled potter can make a graceful ornament--a vase, for instance, for the mantel and for the holding of flowers, or a loving cup, or a ewer for the carrying of water, or a slop urn, a receptacle for filth. All of these vessels are useful, hence in one sense of the word they are all honorable, all valuable. Nevertheless there is a dignity, an honor that belongs to the vase, the cup, the ewer, that does not attach to the slop urn. The clay is the same for all of these, but the choice or election as to which shall be which is with the potter. This is the lesson of our text. It points us to God as the One who has begun the good work in us, and who, if we submit ourselves to Him properly, will complete that good work unto the Day of Jesus Christ, when it shall be finished in the First Resurrection in the Millennial Morning.

The Apostle declares that as the potter has the power or right to make such vessels as he may please, so God has the right or power to do what He will with His creatures. As to what the great Divine Potter will make of the human clay must be left to Himself; and only as we learn the real character of God can we judge of what would be His good pleasure in respect to the varieties of His handiwork. Knowing Him as we do--as He reveals Himself in His Word to us--as a good God who delights not in iniquity, but delights in the truth, and all of whose works glorify Him, we have this assurance that His work is perfect, and when brought to completion the variety of more honorable and less honorable vessels of His creation [SM709] will all be found to His praise. The remainder He will destroy--all that will not be praiseworthy, all who refuse to have His good work accomplished in them.

So, then, we may expect that eventually God's great work in humanity will show a variety of vessels, some to more honor and some to less honor; but that amongst His works will be none evil, none devilish, none bad. The Scriptures nowhere intimate that Satan and his associates, the demons, are adversaries of God because they were created thus. On the contrary they tell us that, while God's work was perfect, these fell from their first estate of harmony with God by disobedience to Divine regulations--in other words, that they defiled themselves. Similarly our race, the Scriptures inform us, was created perfect, upright, in the image of God, in the person of Father Adam. The sin, the imperfection, the blemish we see, we are distinctly told is not the work of God, but the work of the Adversary and the penalty for disobedience.

"OUT OF THE SAME LUMP"
The Apostle is not discussing the good angels nor the fallen ones, but merely mankind. Adam and his race are the clay in the hands of the Potter in the Apostle's illustration. The unfitness of this human clay for any purpose through Adam's disobedience is the teaching of the Scriptures, but they also teach us that God Himself provided the great remedy for the healing of this unfitness, so that now as the great Potter He can deal with the clay and fashion it as it has pleased Him. It is from this standpoint that the Apostle discusses the subject, the standpoint of redeemed humanity.

Of the same lump, of the Adamic family, the Lord made choice first of all of the nation of Israel, Abraham and his seed. That lump of clay was specially mixed, ground, reground and made more and more plastic during the centuries in which they were specially under the Divine handling, to make them ready for the moulding [SM710] and shaping influences of the Holy Spirit, which came at Pentecost. Indeed, vessels of a certain kind, quite honorable, too, were formed during the Jewish Age, as the Apostle points out to us in Hebrews 11, when recounting those whose lives were shaped by their faith in God and in His promises. Honorable vessels were they-- Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the Prophets. But really the great work, and in some senses of the word the first work of the great Potter, began with our Lord and His Apostles and has proceeded throughout this Gospel Age. During this time the Divine Potter has been making His artistic vessels, the vessels to the highest honor--vessels of glory, honor and immortality. These vessels of glory and honor are represented in the Scriptures under various names--members of the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the Lamb's Wife, the Little Flock, the Heirs of God, the heirs of the Abrahamic Covenant promise, the more than conquerors. Of these the Apostle writes, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him." These, then, are pertinently mentioned in our text as--

"VESSELS UNTO HONOR"
The great Potter will not exhaust His skill in His preparation of these vessels of honor; but having use also for other vessels to lesser honor--vessels, however, of great usefulness in His plan and purpose--He will proceed during the coming Age to the preparation of these other vessels, and their preparation indeed will proceed much more rapidly than has the work of this present Gospel Age. Why? Because, first, the work that is now in progress is a much more delicate one, requiring special skill and care, as each vessel of honor receives peculiar shaping and forming for its own position of honor in the Heavenly Kingdom. On the contrary, the work of the coming Age in dealing with humanity in general as clay will be along more mechanical lines; as, for instance, [SM711] articles of utility for menial service not only receive less care at the hands of the potter, but are turned out very largely by machinery which the potter merely superintends. So it will be with the great Potter in the handling of the human clay during the Millennial Age; the machinery, the patterns, the grinding of the clay, etc., will all be very largely accomplished in advance of the introduction of the Millennial Day, and the shaping of humanity under the laws of the Kingdom will be a uniform and a comparatively rapid work. General laws will govern, and each will make his progress as he conforms to those laws.

Now, however, the Lord deals with His Church as with sons. He considers our frame, He deals with us not according to the flesh, but according to our individual minds, spirits, intentions of heart. Each son, each vessel of the class now being developed, has his own special fitting and preparation, his own special place in the glorious Kingdom to which he has been invited. It is God that worketh in us, not only to produce the new mind, the consecrated heart, through the promises of His Word, but also works in us to do, to accomplish so far as in us lies, His good pleasure. The same influence, the exceeding great and precious promises of God's Word, operate by faith upon these special vessels of honor now being produced under the Potter's hands.

"THE FLAMES SHALL NOT HURT THEE"
Not only does the choicer product of the ceramic art receive a special moulding and shaping of the potter; but after all of its lines and curves have been studied carefully and fashioned it is specially fired, burned. Indeed, it is not exposed to the flames at all, but is carefully covered with an earthenware case or sagger. How this speaks to us of the special moulding and fashioning care with which the Heavenly Father deals with every son whom He receiveth during this Gospel Age, forming, shaping, transforming, conforming the lines of his character [SM712] likeness in harmony with those of the great Pattern which He has set for us. And this transforming work is not done by might or by power, by force or compulsion, but "by My Spirit, saith the Lord."--Zech. 4:6.

The fiery trials which must try these for their perfecting, for the fixing of their character, for their completion, are all subject to the Divine supervision, and the assurance is given us that all things shall work together for good to these because they love God and because they have been called according to His purpose to be vessels of highest honor and kingly glory with their Redeemer during His Millennial Reign. These, styled the Lord's jewels or precious ones, whose number will be completed and who will be gathered at the beginning of His Second Advent, have required a long time for their development--more than eighteen centuries--notwithstanding the fact that they are in all but a Little Flock, 144,000, who will stand on Mount Zion, having their Father's name written in their foreheads. The Apostle inquires, Shall the clay say unto the potter--

"WHY HAST THOU MADE ME THUS?"
The intimation of the Apostle is that the clay, whether formed by the potter into a vessel of honor or one of less honor, has no right whatever to complain. Whatever the potter shall do to the clay will be an honor to the clay. Without the exercise of his power and skill it would never be anything more than clay; and to be made into a vessel of more or less honor would be a blessing indeed. Hence the bulk of humanity with whom the Lord will deal during the Millennial Age and by the machinery and laws of the Millennial Kingdom, will be shaped and fashioned along the lines of restitution to human perfection, will have no cause whatever to complain or murmur against the great Divine Potter that they were not elected vessels of highest honor and distinction--that they were not of the Elect Church, called during this Age to be the Bride of Christ and Joint-heir with Him in His Kingdom. [SM713]

On the contrary, mankind will have everything to be thankful for, and so the Scriptures indicate that eventually every knee will bow and every tongue confess, to the glory of God, His work of grace, truth and restitution. They declare that ultimately, when the plans of the great Potter shall be fully accomplished, every creature in Heaven and in earth shall be heard ascribing praise and thanksgiving, honor, dominion, majesty and might to Him that sitteth on the Throne and to the Lamb.-- Rev. 7:12; 5:12,13.

That great Millennial Day and its great work of fashioning humanity according to the designs of the great Creator will be very different in many respects from the present Age; but instead of a fiery trial for each individual, Satan, the great Adversary, will be bound for the thousand years and be permitted to deceive the nations no more until the thousand years are finished. The grinding, humbling and preparing of the human clay for that glorious epoch are being accomplished now, when the forces of evil through the reign of Sin and Death are causing the entire human family to suffer, to groan, so that the Apostle speaks of the world as a "groaning creation"-- groaning and travailing together in pain, waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God.--Rom. 8:19,22.

The manifestation of the sons of God signifies the manifestation in glory of the vessels of honor which the Lord is now preparing, His Little Flock, the Church. When these shall shine forth with Jesus in the glorious Kingdom of the Father, the world's groaning and travailing in pain shall be ended; for the Adversary will be bound and the curse will be lifted. Henceforth none shall suffer except for his own wilful wrongdoing, and the restitution processes of moulding and fashioning mankind shall gloriously progress throughout that epoch.

But will there come any burning day and fiery trials upon those of the Millennial Age? Yes, we answer; the Scriptures clearly point out that at the close of that Day [SM714] the whole earth will become a furnace of trial to humanity in general. The Scriptures inform us that Satan will be loosed from his prison-house and go forth to tempt, to try, to test, all those that dwell upon the whole earth, whose number will be at that time as the sand of the sea--thousands of millions. The test will be applied to all; for it is the Divine purpose that such should be tested. Those in perfect accord with the Potter will stand the test, and prove their characters to be strong, crystallized by this test, while others not in fullest harmony with the great Potter shall be melted under the fiery trial of that time. The proportion of those who will stand to those who will then fall is not indicated in the Word of God; and we must not be wise above what is written. It is sufficient for us to know that every true and loyal member of the race, redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, will have the fullest opportunities for becoming a vessel of the Lord to some honorable purpose and service if he wills, and that those whose wills are not fully submissive to the Lord will be ultimately destroyed from amongst the people and not be preserved for torture. --Rev. 20:7-10.

"VESSELS OF WRATH FITTED FOR DESTRUCTION"
Following our text, which speaks of the vessels unto honor and unto less honor, the Apostle speaks of vessels of wrath, saying, "What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much long suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction; and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore ordained to glory, even us?"

The Apostle's showing that the fact that God has refrained from manifesting outwardly either His love for the Church or His wrath against evil doers is no argument against the lesson He is teaching. It is true the riches of God's grace for the Church called to glory and being prepared for glory has not yet been made manifest, [SM715] but this is no proof that this will not be made manifest in His own due time. Similarly, the fact that the Lord has denounced those who love and work iniquity, but has not yet manifested His opposition to them and is not now fighting against them, but really allowing them in many respects to prosper--this is no argument against the ultimate fulfilment of His designs. He awaits the revelation of His glory in the Church, and of His wrath, His displeasure, against those who are His opponents. But the tarrying time both of glory and of wrath is sure to end, and the purposes of the Lord are sure to be accomplished. We have seen who constitute the vessels of glory, that they are the very Elect, the saints, the Royal Priesthood of this Age. Who then constitute the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction? The answer will be apparent to all familiar with the potter's art--they are the vessels which, after experiencing the potter's care and skill, prove defective, blemished, unfit for his use. These represent such as receive the grace of God in vain, or such as the Apostle describes as dogs who return to their vomit, as sows that return to their wallowing in the mire after being washed.--2 Peter 2:20-22.

This same class St. Paul describes in Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:28-31, as falling away from the grace of God after they had received mercy and forgiveness, and the begetting of the Holy Spirit and instruction from the Lord, being made partakers of the Holy Spirit. For such, the Apostle says, "There remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins--nothing but a certain fearful looking forward to judgment and fiery indignation which would devour them as adversaries" --utterly destroy them as vessels fitted for destruction. We are to remember, however, that these vessels fitted for destruction include none of those whose hearts are right toward God, and whose difficulties are merely of weakness of the flesh through heredity, besetments and temptations. No; the Lord has made full provision for these, and all their blemishes according to the [SM716] flesh are covered from His sight. He is dealing with them not according to their flesh, but according to their spirits, their minds, their wills, their intentions. So long as they are at heart the Lord's and seeking to fight the good fight of faith and to have His will accomplished in them, so long they are His; and nothing shall by any means pluck them out of His hand.

The vessels fitted for destruction are not condemned because of any unintentional weakness, but because of disloyalty of heart through pride or ambition or intentional preferences for sin. The decision of the Lord in respect to both of these classes will be manifest at the close of this Age, when the vessels fitted for destruction will be recognized as having gone to the Second Death, and when the vessels of mercy fit for glory shall shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father as joint-heirs with their dear Redeemer.

"VESSELS OF A POTTER DASHED TO PIECES"
Our Lord (Rev. 2:27), pointing to the time of His Second Advent and the establishment of His Kingdom, declares that the nations of that time will come under the rule of His iron rod, under the Reign of Justice and Divine Law, and that they all shall be dashed to pieces as potters' vessels. In many respects this is a different figure from the one we have just been discussing. Nevertheless there is a relationship, as we will show. While the Lord as the great Divine Potter has been moulding and fashioning the vessels of mercy and of glory to be the Kings and Priests of the world during the coming age, the Adversary has undertaken to be a potter, and, cooperating with human tendencies and ambitions, has created some wonderful vessels. These are found in high positions in Babylon, in the Church and in the seats of popes, cardinals, bishops, kings, princes, financial magnates, etc., etc. The work of the Adversary seems to be much greater, much more glorious, much more honorable, than the work of God, who, describing His vessels of [SM717] mercy, declares that amongst them are not many wise, not many learned, not many great, not many noble, not many rich, according to the course or judgment of this world.--1 Cor. 1:26-29.

On the contrary, Satan has found and exalted many of the rich and worldly great as his vessels. The kingdoms of this world make a great show in many respects, a show of power, a show of strength, a show of virtue. But from the Lord's standpoint they are all unfit for His purposes, are in His way. He purposes the establishment of the Heavenly Kingdom as instead of these, and in the context under consideration shows that when His time shall come for establishing His Little Flock, for establishing the Reign of Messiah and his faithful saints, the Royal Priesthood, the power shall be exercised in the hands of the great Redeemer, which will utterly dash in pieces all the existing institutions, that seem so great and so wonderful, those vessels of the Adversary potter. They shall be broken to shivers. The Holy Spirit foretold this long before our Redeemer's birth, using through the Prophet David the very same words. (Psa. 2:9.) The Prophet Daniel refers to the same great events, and calls that period of dashing to pieces earthly institutions a Time of Trouble such as never was since there was a nation; and our Lord, after quoting that prophecy, supplements it with the statement, "No, nor ever shall be." (Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:21.) He thus gives us His assurance that the Time of Trouble upon the whole world, which is nearing, which will wreck present institutions and establish the Kingdom of God, will be the end of all such troublous times--the poor groaning creation shall never again pass through such an experience.

The Apostle Paul, pointing down to this same Time of Trouble and to the overthrow of present institutions in conjunction with the establishment of God's Kingdom, tells us that that will be the time for the inauguration of the New Covenant, under which God will have mercy [SM718] upon the whole world of mankind and forgive the transgressions of the past that are properly attributable to Adamic weaknesses, and begin through Christ the glorious work of restitution, in harmony with all things spoken by the mouth of all the holy Prophets since the world began. (Heb. 12:18-29; Acts 3:19-21.) He says that the introduction of this New Covenant will correspond to and be the antitype of the introduction of the Law Covenant; that as in the introduction of the Law Covenant there were fearful sights and sounds, the voice of trumpets and of words, and the entire mountain shaking until all the people were in fear, so the antitype of this will be still greater, when not only the social structure (the earth) would be shaken, but also the ecclesiastical structure (the heavens). He declares that all things that can be shaken will be shaken, and then adds that we, the Gospel Church, the vessels of mercy prepared for glory, will receive the Kingdom which cannot be shaken, intimating that all other things will be shaken and overthrown. Our Kingdom alone will stand the tests of that time; in it alone God will be well pleased, and its influence will then begin to be felt throughout the whole earth, to the glory of God and to the blessing of mankind.

Seeing that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought we to be? Seeing that present earthly institutions will come to naught very shortly because not pleasing to the Lord, what should be our course? Ah! as the vessels of mercy being prepared for glory, we should see to it that we are fully submissive to the moulding and fashioning influences of the great Potter, that our words and thoughts and doings be all conformed to harmony with His perfect will, that we be so thoroughly plastic in His hands that He can form us into vessels of the highest honor and glory and usefulness in His Kingdom for which we pray, "Thy Kingdom come!"

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