2Ti_2:20-21. In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.
IT was said by a heathen poet, and the truth and importance of the sentiment are strongly marked by its being cited by an inspired Apostle, that “evil communications corrupt good manners.” But there is by no means such attention paid to this aphorism as its importance demands. Men will indeed caution their friends against the society of those who are dissolute and profane; but, against those who may distract our minds with matters of doubtful disputation, or lower our standard of Christian duty, no one judges it necessary to put us on our guard. But St. Paul, that vigilant watchman, that faithful servant of the Most High God, has taught us to shun every thing which may pervert our judgment, or corrupt our minds, or in any way impede our progress in the Divine life. In the words which I have now read to you, he shews us,
What we must guard against, as injurious to our souls—
Two things he mentions, as necessary for us to be purged from;
Error in principle—
[Even in that early age of the Church, there were many, who, instead of upholding the faith, sought, by all imaginable subtilties, to turn men from their adherence to it. False teachers there were in great numbers, who “strove about words which were of no real profit, but tended only to the subverting of the hearers [Note: ver. 14.].” Against these St. Paul strongly guarded his son Timothy: “Shun profane and vain babblings; for they will increase unto more ungodliness, and their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymen
us and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred; saying, that the resurrection is passed already; and overthrow the faith of some [Note: ver. 16–18.].” Now such persons there have been in the Church, from that day even to the present hour. Some will magnify beyond due bounds the importance of some favourite doctrine, to the utter exclusion of other doctrines which have a different aspect. Others will dwell upon the circumstantials of religion, to the neglect of the points that are most essential. Others, again, will attack the fundamentals themselves; “bringing in damnable heresies, and denying the Lord who bought them.” Some, like the Pharisees of old, will make all religion to consist in the observance of rites and ceremonies: others will cast off every kind of ritual, and divest religion of every outward form. Some will discard from religion every thing that is mysterious or spiritual; whilst others will spiritualize every thing, and involve the most common truths of Scripture in mystery and allegory, like those who reduced the doctrine of the resurrection to the mere introduction of another dispensation, or the moral change that is wrought on the hearts of Christian converts. In fact, there is no end of the absurdities which men will introduce into religion, according to their respective fancies: and their zeal for their respective peculiarities will be considered by them as the best proofs of their zeal for religion. But it will be our wisdom “to purge ourselves from all such persons and sentiments; and to hold fast, with childlike simplicity, the truth as it is in Jesus.” For, in fact, these dispositions and habits are the fruits of vain conceit; and they gender nothing but strife and contention. In a word, they all “eat like a gangrene;” which, if not healed, will gradually destroy the whole body.]
Corruption in practice—
[This is invariably connected with the former: for the very alienation of heart, both from God and man, which controversial habits generate, must, of necessity, give advantage to Satan for the infusion of all manner of evil into our souls. Hence St. Paul, in his advice to Timothy, combines with a caution against error, a caution against sin also: “Flee youthful lusts; but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace with all them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart: but foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes [Note: ver. 22, 23.].” Amongst youthful lusts we must doubtless, in the first place, number those corrupt propensities which are so powerful in the time of youth: but we must also number those which are more nearly allied with heresies, whilst yet they are peculiarly influential on the youthful mind; such as, a love of novelty, a fondness for disputation, a desire after notoriety and distinction. The tempers which these habits generate are extremely hateful to God, and injurious to man. “The filthiness of the flesh,” as the Apostle speaks, is, in appearance, more opposite to true religion than what he calls “the filthiness of the spirit:” but it is not so in reality: and we must be purged from this, no less than from the other, if ever we would serve God acceptably, or be approved by him in the day of judgment. The beauty of all true religion consists in a childlike spirit, which is the very reverse of that conceit and forwardness which characterize the controversialist and vain disputer. I must therefore guard you, with all earnestness, against every thing which may corrupt your mind from the simplicity that is in Christ, or weaken the influence of real piety in your souls.]
And, that my exhortation may have the greater weight, let me proceed to shew,
What benefit we shall derive from this care—
In a great house, the Apostle observes, there is a great variety of vessels; some of purer, and others of baser, materials; some to honour, and others to dishonour. So also, in the Church of Christ, there is a great variety of persons; all indeed in some way or other subserving his interests, and widely differing from each other in their value, their use, and their ultimate destination.
Now those who are infected with evil principles or practice are of no estimation before God.
[Their spirit is hateful to him, as is their conduct also; nor are they of any use in the Church of God. They tend rather to corrupt others, than to benefit their souls; and to dishonour their profession, rather than adorn it. In fact, they are base in themselves, and subserve only base purposes: and “their end will be according to their works.”]
But “those who are purged from these will be regarded by him as vessels of honour, meet for their Master’s use.
[Under this image, the Apostle means to suggest, that persons of simple minds and pure habits shall be favoured with God’s peculiar regard, be set apart for his special service, and be made use of for his honour and glory. These are the distinctions conferred on “vessels of gold and silver in a great house or palace;” whilst the vessels of wood and of earth are disregarded and despised. Now, those nobler vessels are polished with care, in order that they may appear worthy of their owner, and of the uses to which they are applied: so are the godly “sanctified” by the Holy Ghost, and “prepared for every good work” to which they are destined.
Now, I would ask, is not this a great encouragement to us to keep ourselves pure? Is not this honour an abundant recompence for all the self-denial we can exercise, and all the caution we can maintain? See the golden vessel in the hand of the prince; its beauty, its symmetry, its splendour, admired by him; yea, and his own honour, as it were, advanced by it: and can you contemplate yourself thus in the hands of the God of heaven, and not feel a desire to be accounted worthy of that honour? I say, then, “purge yourselves from” every thing which, in a way either of principle or of practice, may defile you, and this honour shall be yours.]
Now, then, say whether there be not in this subject abundant matter,
For anxious inquiry—
[To which of these widely-different vessels may you be compared? Which of them do you resemble, in their essential qualities, or in their habitual use? Are you of gold or silver, or of the baser materials of wood or earth? Are you altogether consecrated to God? or are you occupied solely about the things of time and sense? To assist you in this inquiry, I must observe, that no man possesses, by nature, those higher qualities: they are all the fruits of grace: by nature we are earthly, sensual, devilish: it is by grace alone that we become heavenly, spiritual, divine. And, to judge whether this change have been wrought in us, we must not look to our outward conduct merely, but to that inward purification from erroneous principles and corrupt affections. See, then, whether you have yet been brought to humble yourselves before God, as guilty and undone sinners: see whether you are living altogether by faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, as your only source, either of righteousness or strength; and see whether you are devoting yourselves, unreservedly, to God in all holy obedience: this is the proper test of conversion: all other conversions are of no value: you may go the whole round, from one Church to another, espousing every one of them in succession, and zealously maintaining every distinction, whether in principle or practice, and yet be vessels in which God can take no pleasure, and which shall finally be hid from his eyes as objects of shame only and dishonour. Let this then be, as in truth it ought to be, a matter of anxious inquiry amongst you all: for I must again declare, that they only shall be approved of their God who correspond with the character drawn of them in our text.]
For necessary distinction—
[Here, you perceive, are “vessels of gold and of silver, as also of wood and of earth;” and, though all of one common origin, and alike of base materials, yet destined, some to honour, and others to dishonour. You perceive, also, that it is God alone who makes the difference between them; changing the nature and end of some, whilst others are left to their original worthlessness and debasement. Against this our proud hearts would be ready to rise; just as that of the objector did, when St. Paul declared, that “God had mercy on whom he would have mercy; and whom he would he hardened.” Hear the Apostle’s statement of the objector’s argument; and his reply to it: “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? for who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew 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 prepared unto glory [Note: Rom_9:18-23.]?” This is the answer which I also must make to any one who shall object to the statement which has been before made. I grant, yea, I assert, that all, as born into this world, are base in their nature, their use, and their end: and it is grace alone, even the sovereign grace of God, that changes them so that they become vessels of honour for his use. I assert, too, with the Apostle, that the same power which the potter has over the clay, our God has over all the works of his hands. But there is a distinction which the Apostle has made, and which we must ever bear in mind, that, though it is God alone who prepares any for glory, yet man fits himself for destruction: so that, whilst the godly have no ground for boasting, the ungodly have no reason whatever for complaint [Note: See the Greek of the fore-cited passage.]. To all eternity must those who are vessels of honour ascribe the glory to their God; but the vessels to dishonour will, through all eternity, be constrained to take all the shame to themselves.]
For grateful adoration—
[Let any one contemplate the state of a pious soul in glory. Let him see the feast that is there spread, at which God himself presides. Let him behold the vessels of gold and silver, polished to the utmost possible perfection, the ornament of the feast, the honour of their God; and every one of them filled to the utmost brim with all the richest effusions of blessedness and joy: then let him contrast with these the vessels of wrath, filled with the overflowings of God’s wrathful indignation: let any one, I say, contemplate the contrast; and then determine, whether those monuments of grace and mercy have not grounds for gratitude and praise? I trust, that to many of this description I am now addressing myself; and to them I would say, See to it that nothing which can defile, be admitted within you: see also that you be more and more polished every day and hour, that you may grow in a meetness for the honour that awaits you. And be looking forward to the time when your final destiny shall be awarded to you; and you shall, as objects of God’s love, and monuments of his grace, be for ever “filled with all the fulness of your God.”]