God’s purpose in Romans 9:23 is “to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.”
- By mercy, because in our rebellion we didn’t deserve to be awakened and opened and subdued to God.
- Through mercy, because every influence that worked on us to bring us to Christ was a mercy from God.
- For mercy, because every enjoyment that we will ever have, forever and ever, will be a merciful enjoyment. And mercy itself will be supremely pleasant to taste and know.
We are vessels of mercy. Which means that in all our thinking about election, and why we are saved and another not, we must continually focus on this: We do not deserve to be Christians. We do not deserve to be chosen or called or saved or transformed or heaven-bound. It is all mercy. Undeserved. Oh, may believers hear this as humbling, and unbelievers hear it as hopeful! Nothing in us was the decisive influence on God to make it happen. That we have received anything good – any forgiveness, any acceptance with God, any glimpse of his glory, any hope of everlasting joy – this is all mercy.
And here the words of the Lord Jesus fly over our lives like a great banner, and ring in our ears like a great trumpet-call to sacrifice:“Freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Oh, may the glorious doctrine of unconditional election – election unto mercy! – never, never, NEVER lead to pride, or cliquishness, or bigotry, or provincialism, or smug indifference to the perishing. Test yourself to see if you are in Christ: Mercy produces mercy and receives mercy again. We become merciful by being shown mercy. And we show mercy to obtain more mercy again. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Freely you received mercy, freely give – and you will receive more and more, “pressed down, shaken together, running over” (Luke 6:38). Mercy upon mercy.
That is what it means to be a vessel of mercy. It means being able to say, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me – pursue me – all the days of my life.” There will not be one day – neither the day of my delight nor the day of my death – when mercy does not track me down and make me a vessel for his blessing.