Vessels of Mercy, Vessels of Wrath,

The Sea of the Son or the Spiritual Sargasso – Romans 9:22-23


HE is not merely Near but HERE


Christmas is here, very nearly. The Son of God is here, and has come altogether. His return is like black storm clouds in preparation, since judgment calls; but for many, this will be a shining light, since mercy is the path prepared for ANYONE WHO THIRSTS, and drinks of those waters which He supplies (John 15:26, 7:37) freely (Isaiah 55, Romans 3:23ff.).


They waited for His coming, and that MERCY we celebrate. We wait for His return, but the earth will not celebrate that any more than it did His arrival (Revelation 1:7), which occasioned Joseph and Mary even moving COUNTRY to go to Egypt, so that Christ might live till His work was done on the Cross. This ghastly  and necessary preliminary was gloriously fulfilled before the resurrection showed the kindest mercy of all: LIFE from the dead for everyone who receives Him, not as plaything or formal functionary, but actual LORD, and Saviour, rather than suggestion box to be given its place.


That He is tender is shown by His method of coming, that He is just by His method of dying, and that He is merciful, by His procedure in resurrection of that very body, and the assurance that THIS Jesus and not another would be the One who would and will come back, and as to that , in a manner similar to that of His going.


Today we look at an unexpected place, Romans 9:22-23 for our text. This announces that there are two types of vessel, containers, VESSELS of MERCY and VESSELS of WRATH. Each is foreknown and prepared. If you EVER come to Him in saving faith, then you fit into the former. In that case you sail on the OCEAN of MERCY, on the deep seas of God’s provision.


All the waves and billows are proportionate to your call, and all the water-spouts are at His call. Vessels of wrath, on the other hand, sail to and through a spiritual Sargasso Sea, clogged with sea-weeds, where meaning and direction disappear amid wrecks of vessels ruined by recklessness, wracked by rack, which their own merely increases. Others sink in indolence or indifference to what God has done, and the greatest depth of this is disregard  of the Son of God made flesh, exposed to life to be seen and heard, and to bring salvation . Theirs is the Sea of Shame, and its end is everlasting shame or contempt (Daniel 12:2), indeed both for those who so sink in its depths, unsaved. Better disregard your own flesh, than His who made it, and gave it its need.






When on the other hand, Christ came to earth, the Ocean of Mercy overflowed the whole earth. Not the floods of judgment but of mercy appeared (Titus 2-3). Many vessels that have and show mercy have sailed on it the two being inseparable; but more in more nations now seek to channel its waters to their own superficial seas, or to make vast drains for it, with many huge outlets, especially at Colleges and Universities, lest students set sail on that Ocean of Mercy. In the process, they create massive mud banks on which many slide always lower, as if to mock the ‘conquest of space’ by the calling to the abyss.




As a result, the spiritual skies have been hard, and there has been a spiritual drought, just as Amos in 8:11-12 foretold for Israel; and this is not for them alone. Their role has in much been repeated by the Gentiles who inherit some of the rebukes. The key-note of this sanction against sin is not only the physical loss of the word of God, as in the day of Manasseh, so that in God’s mercy, Josiah found it again; it is the spiritual loss. Though hundreds of millions of Bibles may have been printed, since printing began in the West, a diminishing percentage read it, and still less study it with the same attention they give to the TV magazines. Thus on Thursday, December 20, The Australian ran an article in which the writer indicated she was not all that crash hot on the Bible, and SO had a Christmas message of her own.


For many their Christmas message is concern at society, global warming amid hope for new solutions, and concern at misspent money thrown at aborigines without the conditions to require productivity or the word of God to deliver from dissipation.  Many seem to be so engaged, for where there is little work, there often comes a gap which immorality fills; and with this, increasing readiness to surrender personal liberty in favour of prosperity, and duty for pleasure.


Nor are such things limited to any one race. Thus in a recent class for renewal of Teacher Registration, one was told that one should have NO emotions while finding out more from children of any abuse (emotional, physical, verbal) they may have claimed they were suffering, and simply to BELIEVE them in order to get more story. Thus truth is sacrificed to social manipulation, and man is to become the zombi servant of those normatively exposed in their professional studies, to conditioning by materialism.

What experts this folly is therefore likely to produce, and what results! Yet truth has a certain sanctity and inviolability, not subject to professional programmatics. Moreover ‘love rejoices in the truth.’ Meanwhile, ever rising statistics attest the result of the spiritual drought of the word of God, not as a poem, but a matter rigorously to be performed.






What if, says our text, God endured with much patience the vessels of wrath. In context, in other words, the basic meaning is this. Although His mercy finds His own, yet as to those who are not in the Vessel of Mercy category, how often He has invited, solicited, urged, exhorted them, sending prophets and at last coming HIMSELF to do the work needed . (Ezekiel 34 predicts this divine action by the Trinity, as does Micah 5:1-3, Isaiah 48:16, while Colossians 1:19ff. shows its entire scope.)

Thus, He whose is eternity would personally come to our novel of time, and write new pages of mercy in it, freely available  (Micah 7:19ff. speaks further of these things, as does Isaiah 55.)


The dry dock is ever ready for any vessel that sends the SOS to the Lord Admiral of the Fleet.  If not, then God still made His wrath and power known, if by any means even this might affect the piratical vessels, many stealing the Gospel, to hide it if they might (cf.  Jeremiah 3:8). In any case, it WILL affect the vessels of mercy, who love the very sea on which they sail.


As Jeremiah tells us, the sight of the anguish of Ephraim did not instruct Judah, who advanced further to the pit than she, so that the judgment was unremitting on that heedless land.


If you want indeed, a sailing narrative on the adventures of vessels of wrath, try reading Ezekiel 16 and 20! There you see the entangling sea-weed of the Spiritual Sargasso, and the dereliction it provokes and provides; for it is not only what is naturally involved in such a sea, but the will of Him who watches Psalm 11:4) which acts.





If you have sailed on the Ocean of Mercy, as a vessel of mercy (some vessels of wrath show occasional mercy, but still sail on the Sargasso, the captains being snarled in sea-weed and short of insight, so that they do not understand what they do, but do it anyway), then you may know how tenderly and with what gracious patience the Lord acts for those whom He seeks. This results from the fact that love is sui generis and shows what it is by what it does; yet with what rampant estrangement or simple indifference He is treated by many. Others however WILL know that combination of mercy, tender concern and gracious kindness which is His to His people as they sail. You read of it, you come to Him whose it is, and you find it on the way.


How thankful are those who sail as vessels of mercy not only for that mercy, but for the Spirit of Him whose it is. Thus Paul was let down in a basket from the walls of Damascus, after being radically and abruptly converted to Jesus Christ, and testifying freely that He is the Son of God, while David in being rebuked sharply by the prophet Nathan after his appalling affair with Bath Sheba, was treated with a mercy so profound that it reminds one of the Rock at Milford Sound, which has arises as a sudden eruption from the deep, and under the water descends fast to the depths. Psalm 51 is the letter of thanks to the sovereign Saviour, who being love (I John 4:7ff.), let nothing go without the love that seeks on His part, and nothing come which rejects that love.


Love is meek, delights in holiness, is wedded to truth, bears all things, does not reject what God has said, being humble in disposition, fearless in foundation and duty, well attested by God Himself. How ? It was in giving His only begotten Son, the eternal Word who exhibits Him and who created the worlds, to die for such as we are! HOW anyone who knows ALL, could do that for any of us is a thing to beggar imagination; except, that is,  that love is in you.


Christmas is about that love, HIS launching into our seas in one of our boats, before leaving as an inheritance,  the entire Ocean of Mercy, paid up and beautiful for depth and peace, as a spectacular sea at His departure. First He served, even to the death of the Cross; and on the way, He expressly urged us so to serve, not in dying for sin (we have our own already, for which if we are His, He has paid - Isaiah 53:3-6), but in showing His love and mercy (Matthew 20:28).


First then, be saved from sin, then serve the Saviour, who as living Lord and God, well knows HOW you can best do this. Information on application is always there, even if you have not as yet, like Saul before he became Paul, been shown how best to do so. Keeping His words is ONE part of any service, and all vessels of mercy use it, To be sure, the term ‘vessel’ merely means container, but in English we can make it a maritime case, and hence have sailing vessels, pilgrims on the way to that harbour which harbours no malice, where truth shines like the sun, where peace has no curse or condemnation to meet, for all there are His (Revelation 21:4,27).


Thank God, not for Christmas, but for Christ whose coming enables this to be a useful symbol to bring impact on this earth. HE came. WE must go where He sends us. As to the spiritual Sargasso, the Sea of Wrath, don’t even receive fraud brochures from it, for it is under the Prince of this world - as Christ declared, with all that evil prince's love of glamour, lie and superficial self-importance (John 14:30). If he has nothing in Christ, then we should have nothing in him! Christ in all things must have the pre-eminence (Colossians 1:18-20), just as passion for reconciliation of all was given pre-eminence in Him! What it cost, the plight of the impenitent lost displays …


Episodic Christians, that is a contradiction in terms. You need to be LAUNCHED into the Ocean of Mercy, BY HIM! Then that is where you sail. Consider therefore I Peter 3:13-22, II Corinthians 7:1 with Hebrews 12:12-14. When these slices of spiritual exhortation to sanctification (drawing close in heart and spirit, in feet and hands to the God of your salvation) have been digested and His will found and followed, your sailing days may still not lack pain (forsaking all sin and all selfishness for Him is not a picnic), yet they will be packed with peace, filled with mercy immeasurable and lead you on to being a MAN or WOMAN of mercy, yourself.


Finally, let us see in front of our eyes, those words of God just noted above. First Peter follows.


“And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?
But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed.
'And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.'
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready
to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you,
with meekness and fear; having a good conscience,
that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ
may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God,
to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.


“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust,
that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,
by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison,
who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited
in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us - baptism
(not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven
and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers
having been made subject to Him.”


Next comes II Corinthians.


“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves
from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”


Finally consider Hebrews:


“Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees,
and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated,
but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all people, and holiness,
without which no one will see the Lord …”


Finally, we revert to our text, which may be translated as follows:


“What if God, willing to show His wrath and to make His power known,
endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath wrought for destruction,
and did so that He might make known the riches of His glory
on the vessels of mercy,
which He had prepared beforehand for glory,”


(Notice that the Greek words here rendered 'wrought' and that translated 'prepared' are different. Not all translations recognise this fact. It is of great interest that the word concerning the vessels for glory is a relatively simple one, made, prepared, whereas the one given as 'wrought' means - with its prefix kata - completely artificed, finished in building, wrought. It is even in the perfect form which stresses the accomplishment as done, that being a fact common for both vessels.


As noted elsewhere on this site, it is against the desires of the mercy of God - Colossians 1:19ff. dramatically teaches this, that men go to hell, and to accomplish this, if alas it needs to be done, then there is work to be done! The love of God is not forced, but God who is love so rules, and being love, is never frustrated, though He lament the loss which truth attests.


That is, even though Christ came NOT to judge but to save the world, as John 3 states, He did not come to dictate either. It is those who in the face of His desire - fully expressed in predestination - Ephesians 1:4, and demonstrated in His weeping for Jerusalem as in Matthew 23:37, that of the Changeless Word of the living God who changes not at all, whether in His part in predestination or on the Cross in history - yet go to their grievous destiny, that this occurs. He who is unlimited by time and situation, does not keep those for Himself whose foreknown and foreseen rejection of this mercy is registered in heaven (Romans 9:11, Isaiah 46:10) before and apart from time. It is however as the Greek here attests, something of a labour to get this negative result.


This is heartening to both the elect and to those who seek the Lord, for it is not His will to condemn but to save, and the headwind of sin is not so great as the divine wind of mercy. So far from minimising the horrors of sin which sails downward bound in the Sea of Wrath, the spiritual Sargasso, this increases the appreciation of those whom He saves, for what He has done, who let no circumstance defeat Him, but knowing all, saved those where His love through His own grace was received. Before all time, it is known and even accomplished, and no work in time is its criterion but the foreknowledge of God, who knows who are His own - I Timothy 2:19.)


DEFINE your vessel, FIND your sea, the Ocean of Mercy from the Saviour, the God of all comfort, and do not guide yourself by your ‘lucky stars’, which have no navigational value, but by the power of the risen Christ, in the pardon of the crucified Lord of glory. It is He who is worth living for, and it is He who found all who will ever come to Him, worth dying for, and ALL THE WORLD worth inviting (John 3:16-19, Colossians 1:19ff.). He is like that; but He knows His own mind, the mind of mercy, justice and truth, and will for none deviate from the conditions, the maritime conditions, or change the Ocean.