Romans 9:22-24 “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath, prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory, even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?”
Perhaps once you had arrived at some personal crossroads of decision-making and understanding. You were sitting with a group of family and friends because you were all involved. What should you do? What was the meaning of this impasse? Which way should you go? Most of you talked and talked and you exhausted yourselves. You seemed to be getting nowhere. It was an impasse. What was the way ahead? Finally, quietly, someone who had not said anything spoke up; “What if . . .?” he said. “What if . . .?” and he suggested a different view of the dilemma and suggested another approach. The light dawned. It was a moment of truth
This is what Paul is doing here. There are questions Christians ask about God and his dealings with us. Why did God make man in such a way that allowed Adam to fall into sin? Why did he redeem him in such a costly way? Why isn’t everyone saved? If there is power in the blood of the Lamb of God to cleanse the whole of mankind then why are not all saved? We will get answers to those question one day in the presence of God, but here is one. It’s in our text; “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath, prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory.” You will notice, men and women, that in these words the apostle Paul is giving one answer to that question and he answers it by encouraging us to think, “What if . . .” he says, as though there were other answers to your questions, but you were not to ignore or despise this one. This might help.
Let us enter into this subject a little more deeply. There are three reasons set down here why all men and women are not saved but allowed to perish.
GOD WAS WILLING TO SHOW HIS WRATH.
Let me illustrate this so that the words are not so stark and awesome, but you understand I am not apologizing for them because what Paul says is true. Consider a man who lived in a rough neighbourhood, but did nothing to protect his home and family. His doors were unlocked and his windows were open. Men could come in and take the family’s heirlooms and precious possessions, and they did frequently, but he never called the police. They could come in and defile his daughters and they did, and the man did nothing to protect them. You would say that that man was stupid. You should say that that man was evil in not protecting his family’s possessions and so plunging it into poverty, and not saving his wife and daughters from terrible abuse. Or consider again the citizens of a wealthy country whose rulers did nothing to protect them from raiders who crossed the borders to rape and pillage and enslave those people. Their rulers failed to guard its borders and watch over its citizens. You would say that such rulers were the very worse leaders any country could have, utterly incompetent, lazy and wicked men. Their calling was to protect their tax-paying citizens and to bring the whole force of their powers to condemn and punish such criminals.
So when man rebelled against God then the Lord didn’t sit back and do nothing. God was not prepared to let this world turn into a hell. God didn’t give to tyrants and torturers and to the powers of hell freedom to do whatever they wished to the inhabitants of this world. God was willing to show his wrath and to make his power known. There are those great words that close Genesis chapter three that describe God’s reaction to Adam’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden; “So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen. 3:23&24). A three fold expression of his wrath with how he had behaved – God banished him . . . God drove him out of the Garden . . . God placed armed servants to prevent him returning. God was willing to show his wrath and to make his power known to Adam
The wrath of God is not like human wrath: it is calm, settled—it is an outworking of his love for what is righteous and good and pure and true. That is the wrath of God. We are told a great deal about it in the Bible. It is focused against any and every sin. Paul tells us at the beginning of this letter that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Roms. 1:18. Observe the word all—it is against all sin. Jesus uses the word ‘wrath’ four times. He says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (Jn. 3:36). God is willing to show his wrath against those who reject his Son. If you say “No” to Christ’s teaching and “No” to the atonement of Calvary, and “No” to his Lordship over you and over the world then the wrath of heaven is homing in on you. This is what our gentle Jesus meek and mild yet has said about defiant people – not my words, not men’s theories or religion; we did not invent it but the incarnate God himself. The wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience. We are told also, men and women, that this anger is constant. It does not change with the passing of time, with the rise of new fads, philosophies, cultures and fashions and climate change; “God is angry with the wicked every day.” (Psa. 7:11). The bow of God’s justice is, as it were, already pulled back and bent against the wicked, the arrow of God’s justice is already on the string against the wicked. Then, men and women, we are also told that his wrath is intolerable. The psalmist speaks out in amazement as he considers the wrath of the living God and he asks, “Who knows the power of your wrath?” (Psa. 90:11). And we are told in the book of Revelation, “The great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?”
What are all these words about the wrath of God? They are declarations made by prophets and apostles and by the Son of God himself. They are statements, and so they are not so powerful as examples, like Adam being cast out of the Garden and prohibited from returning. There are other examples as powerful as that. The first, that even predates Adam’s judgment, is God casting the angels out of heaven. We are told in the New Testament by the apostle Peter – and who amongst us does not adore Peter, “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4). Now, men and women, in several respects this was one of the greatest examples of divine wrath that there has ever been, because it seems to have happened in one day. One day these angels were in heaven—the next they were in hell. One day they were angels of light—the next fiends of darkness; and this is what made it fearful, that the Lord left them no room for repentance. One lesson the universe might have learned from this was that God will certainly punish sin.
Another example of God’s punishing sin was not in heaven, but on earth at the time of Noah. Evil pervaded all of mankind. “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5), and God did not shrug his shoulders at the way men treated one another and women and children and animals. There is no cosmic indifference in the heavens. He was willing to show his wrath. He sent the deluge upon it to wash away all the filth of the cesspit that earth had become. “The Lord said, I will destroy man, whom I have created, from the face of the earth.” And so it came to pass: “The flood came, and carried them all away” and it has left traces on our world still, to show that the holy God who is light, in whom is no darkness at all will not fail to judge sin.
Another example of divine vengeance was, when God destroyed Sodom. “Now, the men of Sodom were wicked, and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.” The cry of its wickedness went up to heaven, and God sent two messengers, to see if it were according to the cry that came up; and they found it even so; and, when they had taken out just Lot, then God rained fire and brimstone upon the city; and there are traces of it near the Dead Sea to this hour. God was willing to show his wrath.
There was yet another exhibition of divine wrath on earth, the most extraordinary of all and it was on Golgotha in the death of God’s dear Son. If God could deliver the holy family from Herod, and Peter from prison, and Paul from the governor of Damascus then if he desired it he could have delivered his Son from evil men. There is no helpless God wringing his hands, utterly frustrated at men crucifying his beloved one. If ever there had been a time and place on this planet when God could have said that he would forego his wrath, it was surely this. The one on whom his wrath descended was dear to God. There never was one in the universe so precious to God as his Son. He loved every hair on his head; every cell in his body; he loved the purity of his life and the fact that he loved God with all his heart and soul and mind and strength. He had never done anything displeasing to him. How God loved Jesus! He had no sin of his own. His robe was seamless; his soul was sinless. Yet when Christ was made an offering for our sin, when God made him sin for us – the one who knew no sin, when he become the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world, when Christ died for our sins then it pleased the Lord to bruise him – he bruised the one he loved when sin and guilt and shame was imputed to him. He did not spare him. His love for him did not spare him. That one act of Christ, in laying down his life, was so glorious an exhibition of God’s justice, that the universe had never seen its like before and was never to see it again. Even hell does not show us that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God as Golgotha’s cross shows it. God spared him not his unalleviated wrath. If anything in the world shows that God will punish sin, it is the death of his dear and sinless Son when in our place he hung and suffered there.
Yet, men and women there is one display of God’s wrath that is yet to come. Our text says, “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath, prepared for destruction?” (v. 22) God is prepared to destroy the souls that he has made – not the angels that fell, for he has done that already when he cast them into hell, but men and women whose conduct he is bearing with the greatest patience. I am speaking of the half a dozen Indian men who killed a young woman who got into a bus with them this year. I am speaking of a TV personality who raped and abused hundred of vulnerable young women and sick women and imprisoned women. I am speaking of the constant unmentionable cruelties that we hear of day by day with the suicide bombers and the car bombs. This is a moral universe and what men sow that they will also reap. So there is to be a new display of wrath, such that the world has never seen the like before. God is going to show what he will do to defiant despisers of his Son—to those who deprecate his gospel. It will be new. Paul tells the Thessalonians that, “God will be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know him not, and that have not obeyed the gospel.” God is waiting patiently. He allows men in Britain to live until they reach 78, and women until they reach 82 on average. Daily he blesses them for these 80 long years, and they in turn will have nothing to do with him. “Back off! I did it my way.” They don’t want to talk about religion. Of Jesus they say, “We will not have this man rule over us.” God is willing to show his wrath towards them whom now he shows such patience towards. Men and women it will be fearful to feel it—it is fearful even now to think of it. You know, when a vessel goes down on the coast, it is customary to set up a lighthouse or a buoy with a red light to warn other vessels of the rocks that are there. So I believe it will be with the wicked. They, like the rebel angels, will be beacons, to show how God will punish sin.
GOD WAS WILLING TO MAKE HIS POWER KNOWN.
Here is the second reason why some will go to hell, that God may make his power known. We are frequently reminded in the Bible of the power of God. That is how he introduced himself to Abraham. He told him to leave everything and go at once to a land he had prepared for him, and that he would give him and Sarah a son in their great old age and that through this son’s line one would come and every nation in the world would be blessed. They are staggering promises, and to assure Abraham that he need not doubt God said to the patriarch, “I am the Almighty God.” Enough said; nothing is impossible with him. He is only limited by his own will in doing anything he chooses. We are told in the ninety-third Psalm, that “the Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters; yea, than the mighty waves of the sea.” We are frequently reminded of his almighty power; and not only so, but we are frequently given brilliant examples of God’s power. Think of creation itself, the sheer size of our cosmos. Even this week astrologist discovered a new galaxy like our Milky Way with its hundred million suns but this new one is five times larger. Yet this was all made by God when “God said, let there be light, and there was light.” “He spake and it was done—he commanded and all things stood fast.”
Another example of God making his power known is his constant providence, governing all things in all their actions. “In him we live, and move, and have our being.” He rides on the swift wings of the wind. Another example of the power of God is his restraining and bridling the wicked. “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding, whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle” (Ps. 32:9). There are evil men who hate the Western world so much that they would make a hydrogen bomb and explode it in London. So far God has restrained them. Long may he reign over them!
Another way in which God makes his power known is, in the conversion of souls. This is “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.” It was the Lord who opened Lydia’s heart; she did not open her own heart and Paul had no ability whatsoever to do that. This was the work of “the wisdom of God and the power of God.” We believe that the converting of a soul is greater than the making of a galaxy, and that it is possible only by exercise of that same power. What power other than God’s can explain the conversion of the apostle Paul?
Men and women, I have told you that there is one exhibition of divine power that yet remains—it will be in the destruction of the wicked. “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath, prepared for destruction?” Paul is speaking of that destination of the broad road that many are walking along, which Jesus told us of, whose end is destruction. We have been taught in this chapter that one reason why God raised up Pharaoh was to show his power in humbling and judging him. He said to Pharaoh, “For this cause have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee.” Now, I say very solemnly, in regard to those of you in this congregation who constantly reject the gospel of Jesus Christ the Lord and so will die unsaved, that God will get glory from you. You cannot escape from that. God has suffered your unbelief and indifference to himself so long in order to show his power in you. So God speaks through the great evangelical prophet Isaiah and says, “I trampled them in my anger and trod them down in my wrath; their blood spattered my garments, and I stained all my clothing” (Isa. 63:3). “I will do it” says the Lord. Then in Revelation 17, “She shall be utterly burned with fire; for strong is the Lord God who judges her.” And we are told by our Lord Jesus, in Matthew 10 and verse 28, to fear God, “who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” You will notice in this passage that he says, “God is able to destroy” and so, men and women, it is plain that there must be some great power needed and exercised in setting up the place of woe and destroying the wicked. Maybe, as M’Cheyne says in his sermon on this text (which I have loved for years and which I have freely used in this sermon), it consists in this, God destroying man’s well-being, but not their being. Here, then, is another example of God making his power known.
There have been high tides and stormy winds in the last months, and the waves have crashed over the harbour walls and the promenade. What power is in those waves. Have you tried to carry a bucket full of water for a distance? How heavy it is. Then think of the power of rivers in spate, and floods and tsunamis. There is the harbour wall and the promenade and the mighty waves dashing upon them. There are the great granite rocks out of which the promenade is made against which the waves come crashing and the rocks remain unmoved. No force of the waves could move them.
Men and women, this is an emblem of what will be witnessed on another great day, when God shall pour out his wrath on the wicked. Won’t it be fearful to see God display his power on those who refused to leave the broad road and arrived at such a scene of destruction. They were still upheld by the God in whom they lived and moved and had their being. I remember Dr. Cornelius Van Til talking of traveling on a train and sitting opposite him was a father with a four year old boy on his lay. The boy was irritated and restless and wriggling and he hit his father on the face. His father was supporting him. Without him he would be on the floor in the dust, but he struck his father. That is man today. But one day God’s great patience will be terminated and he pours out his wrath upon them.
Surely, brethren, the power of God’s wrath is very great. Gwyn Williams speaks of visiting the steel works in Port Talbot (where he was the pastor), and putting on an asbestos suit and approaching the furnace in which molten steel was flowing like water, and feeling the vibrations of the heat. What power fire possesses, but fire is God’s creature. What must be his power who is the Creator of fire and light and water and life?
3. GOD WAS DETERMINED TO MAKE KNOWN THE GLORIOUS RICHES OF HIS MERCY.
“What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory, even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” (vv. 23&24). Paul has been speaking about the strange work of God so far in our text, but he cannot do that for long before turning to his great theme of the glorious saving grace of God. We are told that God is love, but we are never told that God is wrath. Our God is a consuming fire; that is the nearest the Word of God gets to saying that. The Bible is a revelation of divine mercy to the utterly undeserving, of the promise of the coming of a Saviour, or the arrival of the one of whom John said that the law came by Moses but grace and truth by Jesus Christ. God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved. Jesus came to make know the riches of his glory to those Jesus describes as being given to him bu his Father before the foundation of the earth, what Paul calls here the objects of his mercy.
In other words we see these Christians and we are moved to wonder, love and praise. “What riches of God’s glory are seen here!” we say. Why do we say that? Because some of the vilest people who have ever lived are numbered among them – cannibals and slave traders and Pharisees and murderers and liars and thieves and sexual deviants. What riches of God’s glory are seen in the lives of these changed men and women! Again we see God’s glory in the sheer number of those who have received God’s mercy. They are as innumberable as the sands on the shore. Again what glory is seen in the usefulness of their lives now. Their chief end is to glorify and enjoy God. They are Christian parents; they are preachers and evangelists; they are helping the poor and sick; they are educating the ignorant and visiting the prisoners; they are praying for all kinds of men and women; they are loving their enemies; they are overcoming evil with good. Again what glory is seen as they enter heaven for ever, and each one, when he sees Christ is immediately made like him for ever. The killer, the cheat, the abuser of men and women and children, the thief, the murderer, the blasphemer – each one has been prepared in advance to become as glorious in his whole lifestyle in the new heavens and earth as the Son of God himself! What riches of God’s glorious grace are seen in their lives, and in our lives too as Paul says here, “Even us!” Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, smart or ignoramus, young or old, illiterate or genius – as long as they are called by God and united to Christ then they are all objects of glory.
Or again, the glory of Christ’s mercy is seen in the contrast seen in the destiny of the objects of God’s wrath that have been prepared by their own defiance and refusal to turn to Jesus Christ for destruction. For the one – glory! For the other there is only the worm that does not die, the fire that is not quenched, wailing, gnashing of teeth, the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels – all that Jesus warned us about so often. What a fearful end it is. What a contrast to the place where God wipes away every tear from our eyes and we are for ever with Jesus our Saviour. In hell they receive exactly what they deserve. In heaven they receive what Christ alone deserves.
One reason why there are objects of wrath prepared for destruction is in order that God may show by contrast the riches of his grace on the objects of his mercy, as if to say, “This is what you deserved, but this is what I freely and lovingly give you.” You know, brethren, we learn many things best by contrast: for example, the rainbow is never seen so bright as against a dark cloud. So, men and women, we shall never see the love and compassion of God displayed in those who have been saved so gloriously as when we see the destiny of the objects of God’s wrath.
So here Paul ends this little excursus on the sovereignty of God, so necessary for us all to believe and find to our comfort. Here we see the sovereignty of God and the bifurcation of the destinies of all men. There is a day coming when God will put it beyond a doubt. There are whole churches—whole bodies of professing Christians— that oppose this truth; but there is a day coming when there will be none in heaven, or earth, or hell, who will deny it. Suppose that day were come, and this congregation were divided, some on the left hand, some on the right, would you not see God’s sovereignty in the contrast of the choice and the great separation? You were once all indistinguishable. You were under the same condemnation. Some of you came out of the same womb. You were nursed at the same mother’s breast; you were the objects of the same parental love and the recipient of the same parental intercession, and yet it is seen that one has been taken and one left. What made the difference? Everyone will see that it was God who made the difference, that he had “mercy on whom he would have mercy.”
Another is, the reality of the complete and comprehensive pardon that God gives to the very worst offenders who seek God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness for clever sins, and for secret sins, and crafty sins, and vile shameful sins, and for the sins of omission – all pardoned! Who is a pardoning God like thee and who has grace so rich and free? At present this seems unbelievable and open to all kinds of abuse, but in that day it will be acknowledged to our adoring wonder. God will make known the riches of his glorious mercy to the objects of his mercy. Men and women, when one vessel is cleansed and taken up to glory, and another is left to perish, and when you are aware that they were equally defiled, then you will see that it was the blood of Christ that made the difference the protection of the pardon he bought and the covering of his righteousness. One sought for it and received it while the other disdained it. God will make known the riches of his mercy in the objects of his mercy, as well as make known his holy hatred of all that is defiling and sinful in those who were determined to remain objects of his wrath fitted to destruction.
In closing let’s learn a few lessons from this subject.
i] All will not be saved. There is no universalism; no hint that everyone will eventually be in heaven, that there is a hell but no one lies in it. No! The Bible says there are two roads and two destination and two resurrections. It is a fearful delusion in Wales today that in spite of the words of Jesus men think they know better and say that there’s no hell. Some have chosen to believe in reincarnation and in purgatory but not in hell. My thoughts would all be chained to Jesus. For me he can say nothing wrong. He is the truth. Men and women, there is a hell. It was God’s plan that there should be objects of wrath as well as objects of mercy. My friends, it is better that it should be so. Don’t dream! All will not be saved. There are objects upon whom the wrath of God will home in as well as objects of mercy. Some of you, I believe, are going to hell, and some, I trust, are going to heaven; and doubtless it is best it should be so, though I cannot explain the reason of it. The net has good and bad fishes: some will be taken into the vessel, and some will be cast away.
ii] Every one of you will be to the glory of God. You will be made to glorify him in one way or another. You will either do it willingly or unwillingly. You must form a step to his throne. Men and women I believe each of you will yet be a beacon or a monument—either a beacon of wrath or a monument of mercy. “He has made all things for himself; even the wicked for the day of evil.” Yes, wicked unbeliever, defiant man, you would rob God of his glory if you could, but you cannot. If you cast yourself on Christ then he will show forth his glory in saving you; but if you don’t, God will show forth his power in destroying a vessel of his wrath.
iii] There is a third lesson we may learn. It is that the chief end of God in this world and the world to come is to manifest his glory. Many think, especially unbelievers, that God’s chief end is the happiness of his creatures; but, from the word of God we see that it is not so. If that were his chief end, all would be happy. His chief end is diverse—it is self-manifestation. Had it not been for this, God would have remained alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the delight of their life with no share for us. I would desire to speak with deep reverence on such a subject. This seems to be the reason why there are objects of wrath as well as of mercy—that they might be mirrors to reflect his attributes. And I believe, men and women. That when creation is done, and when redemption is achieved for all that the Father has given the Son, that there will then be a complete manifestation of the glory of God.
iv] Another lesson we may learn is, God is longsuffering to the objects of wrath. There was a person who once argued that she had to be a child of God on account of all God’s goodness to her. She enumerated many blessings she had received—how God had protected her across the seas, how many trials she had been delivered out of, and how many comforts she’d enjoyed in her life. But the answer to her was, “The goodness of God leads you to repentance.” The blessings you have known have been no proof that you’re a child of God, the fact that God has been so patient with you for so long. There wouldn’t be an empty pew in this church if it were true that Christians are ‘people who have had an easy life.’ Men and women, please believe this, strange though it may seem, this holy and discriminating God does not want any of you to perish, and so he bears long with you. Although God will be glorified in the destruction of the objects of his wrath, he will be more glorified in making them objects of mercy.
God give you every encouragement to become an object of his everlasting mercy and love. Today go to him just like the guilty tax collector and say to him, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Why are you determined to go to hell? The first minute you are there you will look back on your life here with the deepest longings for deliverance but to no avil. There is a great gulf fixed that no one there can ever cross. Why face a confrontation with an angry God when you can today humble yourself and confess your sin to him and receive his pardon and become his child. Receive Christ! Ask him to receive you. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.
13th January 2013 GEOFF THOMAS