One Lump? or Two?
(Sermon Preached January 19, 1997 at Trinity Covenant Church)
Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? What if God,
willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known., endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:
and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: even us, whom he hath called, not
of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? –Romans 9:21-24
My text is Romans 9:21-24, but our discussion will also include material from the larger context of Chapter 9 of Romans, plus
material from other parts of the Bible. I want to explore several things today: First of all, I want to see what this lump is; then I
want to see who the potter is; then what the vessel unto dishonor is; and then what the vessel unto honor is.
I. The lump: Fallen Mankind
The lump is not mankind as it came from the hand of God, but mankind as it is fallen in Adam. The whole discussion of God's
sovereignty here in Romans 9 has to do with sinful man. Paul is discussing his passion that Israel be saved. His passion rises so
high as to say, “I could wish myself accursed from Christ for my brethren.” “I could wish.” He recognizes that such a wish would
be ungodly, for it would be wishing against the will of God. He knows every individual in Israel will not be saved and presents
the historical precedents and doctrinal reasons for knowing that. But he is comforted in the sovereignty of God: and submits to
the truth that not all Israel will be saved.
Notwithstanding God's promise to Abraham, not all Israel is Israel. Not even all of Abraham's seed (natural) were counted for
children. Abraham was called from Ur of the Chaldees and separated from the rest of the world, and God promised to make a great
nation of him and bless the world in him. But not all of Abraham's children were elect. The Jews of Paul's day knew this, and gloried
in being Abraham's seed, and gloried in their distinction from the rest of the world, and from the other children of Abraham. They
knew that Isaac was the promised son, and gloried in their descent from Isaac.
But Paul refined the argument, and takes it further than would be comfortable to the Jews. God's blessing upon Israel had nothing to
do with foreseen goodness or merit in Israel, but was because of His own sovereign will. God's will not only resulted in the distinction
that Israel enjoyed, but it also would result in the distinction and election of individuals within Israel itself, so that not all Israelites
would be saved. Not only that, but God, through His own sovereign will, would elect individuals throughout the world unto salvation,
and harden others in their sins. All for His own purpose.
Paul's reason for his statement, “Not all Israel is Israel” is this:
1. Not all of Isaac's children were blessed.
Before the children were born, before they had done any good or evil (taking away foreseen faith), it was said, “the elder would serve
the younger.” This was done for the purpose of letting us know that God's choice is according to the secrets of His own will, not because
of any foreseen faith or good. (verse 11). It is possible to argue that this is not true, but it is not possible to argue that Paul did not say
this. He said what he said.
Lest we imagine that this is not Paul's argument, he answers the most common argument raised even today against free election and
sovereignty, “It isn't fair for God to do this.” “Is there unrighteousness with God?” Instead of Paul apologizing and saying he was
misunderstood, that he really didn't mean to teach unconditional election, he brings forth the doctrine that God taught Moses: “I will
have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” And Paul interprets this doctrine
to mean, “It is not man's will, but God who shows mercy.” (vs. 16) Once again, it is possible to disagree with Paul, but it is impossible
for a thinking person to say that Paul is not saying what he said.
As a further illustration, Paul brings forth Pharaoh. God raised him up for the purpose of showing His power. God hardened Pharaoh
and made a champio n of him, so that he would be a “worthy opponent” upon which God would show His power in the land of Egypt.
God stiffened Pharaoh (for who can stand against God?) to resist the words of Moses and bring occasion for the signs and wonders that
God did by Moses' hand in Egypt, so that God's name might be declared throughout the earth. (vs. 17) This also illustrates that God
gives mercy as He pleases, and hardens whom He will.
This illustrates that the differentiation that God made in Israel according to His own will, applies to the whole world, not just between
Jacob and Esau. For this calling to eternal life by the free mercy of God is applied not only to Israel, but also to the Gentiles (vs. 24,25).
This does not negate God's promise to Abraham or make the word of God of none effect, because not all Israel is Israel; neither are all
of Abraham's or Isaac's children blessed. (vs. 6,7)
That this is Paul's argument appears from the second objection, which is raised against this truth even today. If God raises up the wicked
and uses them for His glory, why does He judge the wicked? It is impossible to resist the will of God, man is just a robot, and why does
God judge the world. (vs. 19) Once again, Paul does not plead that he is misunderstood, but drives the stake in even further. “Who are you
to argue against God? Can't He do as He pleases?” (vs. 20,21).
3. The Potter and the Clay
This figure first appears in Genesis 2:7. God formed man in His own image as a potter forms a pot, as the Hebrew indicates. But God made
only one vessel in Gen. 2:7, for it could not be that God would create anything just for wrath and damnation. No, God made Adam (mankind)
for fellowship and glory. Eve was formed of that same lump, of Adam's own substance. There was but one lump, as man came from the hand
of God; a lump good, holy, and perfect. God formed that lump into the image of God and loved him, showering him with blessings and
The Origin of Sin
But the lump became corrupt and wicked, because when Adam sinned his first sin, his nature became corrupt, and all those who came from
Adam and Eve partake of his nature, a common human nature that is contaminated and corrupted with sin. Sin passed upon all men. (Rom. 5)
This is the mass, the lump spoken of by Paul in Romans 9. It is a corrupt mass that God now, as the moral governor of the world, forms into
two types of vessels: one to mercy (implying that it was formed from a corrupt mass), and one to wrath (implying that it is a mass corrupt
and deserving of judgment).
The ungodly are called vessels of wrath, because their nature is corrupt (Eph. 2:1ff) and worthy of the wrath and judgment of God. The
godly are called vessels of mercy, because they also are formed from a corrupt nature, worthy of the wrath and judgment of God.
II. Who is the potter? vs. 21
This is God, the governor of the world. Solemn words are these: hath not the potter power over the clay? Will your sinfulness pull God from
the throne, and permit you to seat yourself there? Of course not. When the potter takes the lump of clay into his hands, it is his will alone that
decides the form. “Power” means authority or right. This word is used in Matt. 21:23. After Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem, the
chief priests and elders asked, “By what authority do you do these things?” “What right do you have?” What right does the potter have over
the clay? This figure is used in Isaiah 64:6-8 where the godly in Israel are filled with sorrow and freely acknowledge God's right over their
souls. They mourn and confess their sins, and acknowledge that their troubles have come from the hand of God.
On the other hand, Isaiah 29:13-16 sets forth the obstinacy and stubbornness of the unrepentant. God would exercise His sovereign power
over the presumptuous clay which says, “He made me not.” God would show that their works were but clay, and would make the wisdom
of their wise men to perish, and the understanding of their prudent men to be hidden. God is God, and nothing that man does of either good
or evil can change that. “He works all things after the counsel of His own will.” (Ephesians 1)
III. The vessels of wrath
The vessels of wrath are those that come forth from the corrupt and polluted mass of mankind. They are the wicked that go astray as soon
as they be born, speaking lies.
The mass of mankind born of Adam is corrupt, and God is under no moral requirement to do anything but damn them. Our condition is
described in Romans 1 and Romans 3. Everything we do is an affront to God. He is angry with us every day. But that does not mean that
He does not work in the lives of the ungodly. He does work, with fearful results.
God's purpose for the Ungodly
God has a purpose to glorify Himself in the damnation of the wicked. He is not the cause of their wickedness, for the lump is corrupt
because of Adam's sin. But God has a purpose even in the wicked, a good purpose: He will show forth His power and might.
So he endures them. (verse 22) He is longsuffering. He does not bring judgment upon them immediately. He lets their corruption
flourish and bring forth fruit, so that all moral and rational creatures might see that the tree is corrupt and worthy of judgment.
The wicked are shaped to God's own end just as Pharaoh was. God did no t make the lump corrupt, that comes from Adam; but God
did not just abandon the lump; No, He is God. He forms that lump into a vessel of dishonor, for God has a use even for the ungodly.
Just as the fire hardens the clay, so God hardened Pharaoh in his wickedness, the wickedness of the lump, and Pharaoh in his wickedness
did what God wanted him to do. But Pharaoh did not consciously give God glory, and that is the reason for God's judgment upon him.
God did the same with Pilate and Herod in the days of Chr ist. God shaped them to the end He had for them. He did not make them
wicked; but He shaped their corrupt and foul nature to do what He intended to be done: Acts 4:27-29.
Spoiled Clay: Jeremiah 18:3-6.
The clay was spoiled in the hand of the Potter. But God can still do what He wants with it. Beware of hardening your heart against the
Lord: He may make something of you that will bring joy to the universe when you are thrown down into the flames of hell. He did not
make you wicked; but He will shape your wickedness to His own ends, and to His own praise. You cannot blame God for the wickedness
of mankind, for God made Adam good and perfect. Adam's sin was his own, and your sin is your own because you are made from the
same lump. When you talk of justice and fairness, you must know that all are worthy to be damned, because we do not give God glory.
IV. The vessels of honor and mercy.
Here we see the wonders of grace and mercy. From that same lump from which the vessels of wrath are taken, God does something that
only God can do.
He takes of that same lump--that corrupt and polluted mass--and makes a new creation. (2Cor. 5:17) This is more wonderful than what
He did in the beginning when He first formed man. There He used the dust of the earth, a neutral substance, and made man, and breathed
into his nostrils the breath of life.
But here, He takes a wicked mass; a corrupt mass; a polluted mass. “God commended his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners,
Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.” God chose Abraham when he worshipped
other gods in Ur. Isaac was the son of the promise, but Abraham received him as it were from the dead. Jacob was chosen while yet in
his mother's womb, before he had done either good or evil. But God has said it better than I could ever say it: Ephesians 2:8-10: “For by
grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast. For we are his
workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Philippians 1:3-5: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,
For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work
in you will perform it until the day of Christ....”
Philippians 2:12,13. “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence,
work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
2Thess. 2:13-14: “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the
beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you by our gospel,
to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ....”
Charles Hodge makes four applications of this wonderful teaching of the Bible.
1. Profound humility. When we understand that we have no righteousness of our own, no goodness of our own, no power of our
own even to make a good choice, then our salvation brings a profound sense of humility. This is the meaning of Isaiah 64:6-8
quoted above. “Thou art the potter, we are the clay.” We are what you have formed us to be. We are thine, and thou art our father.
Self-will; boasting of strength, glorying in wisdom and knowledge: these are the works of the flesh and belong to the corrupt lump
derived from Adam. It is the poor in spirit who inherit the kingdom of God. It is Jesus Christ who is made unto us wisdom, and
righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. (I Cor. 1:30, 31) We are to glory only in the Lord.
2. Liveliest gratitude: A grumpy Christian is a oxymoron. The joy of salvation is a joy unspeakable. The corrupt lump can never
know this joy, but only finds disillusionment, bitterness, and despair, because these are the end of the works of man.
3. Confidence and peace: Paul tells us that God's grace triumphs over all. (Rom. 5) If Christ died for us when we were without
strength, when we were ungodly, when we were the enemies of God--if He did all that when we were of that corrupt lump--how
much more will He do for us now that we have been made His friends, and have received the atonement? If God be for us, who
can be against us? Shall infirmities? Wicked people? the devil? What are they before the Potter, for they too are shaped according
to His will. “Thus saith thy Lord the LORD, and thy God that pleadeth the cause of his people, Behold, I have taken out of thine
hand the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again: but I will put it into the hand of
them that afflict thee....” (Is. 51:22,23.) “Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth
an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy. No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every
tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their
righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.” (Is. 54:16,17)
4. Diligence in all duties: to make our calling and election sure. Works of faith are the only evidence that we can give that we are elect
to eternal life. Men cannot see our faith, and we can be easily deceived, just as the scribes and pharisees were. We have been called
to good works and to faithful labor in the kingdom of God, not to ease and laziness. God working in us does not lead to ease and
laziness. It is God who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. By His Spirit, our spirits are quickened to life (Eph.
2). This is what gives horsepower to true Christianity: the knowledge that all our sins are washed away by the blood of Christ, and
that our labor is not in vain in the Lord. The labor is a labor of love and gratitude, not of slavishness and fear. It is a blessed labor,
not a labor to gain a blessing.
May God bless you. Will you acknowledge the Potter to be your God? Will you yield to Him? Jesus died to take away sins, and if you believe,
you will know the power of God for your blessing and comfort.
Pastor C. W. Powell
Trinity Covenant Church (RCUS)
6050 Del Paz Drive
Colorado Springs, CO 80918