Ministries Proclaiming the Herald of Christ,
as Bridegroom, Reaper and King
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.
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
"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!"