Romans 9:21
Has not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel to honor, and another to dishonor?
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(21) Hath not the potter . . .?—In strict logic, this verse would supply a confirmation, rather than a refutation, of the original objection. If man is merely as clay in the hands of the potter, it would not be un-reasonable to say, “Why doth He yet find fault?” No one would think of blaming a piece of earthenware because it was well or badly made. The argument of the Apostle is not directed to this. He has left the point with which he started in Romans 9:19, and is engaged in proving the position taken up in Romans 9:20. Whatever they may be, God’s dealings are not to be canvassed by men. Still, we cannot overlook the fact that there is apparently a flaw in the logic, though, perhaps, only such a flaw as is inseparable from our necessarily imperfect conceptions of this mysterious subject. The two lines of thought—that which proves the divine sovereignty and that which proves human freedom—run parallel to each other, and are apt to collude when drawn together. (See Notes on Romans 8:29-30; Romans 9:11; Romans 9:18, above.)

For the imagery of the clay and the potter, compare Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:3-10.

9:14-24 Whatever God does, must be just. Wherein the holy, happy people of God differ from others, God's grace alone makes them differ. In this preventing, effectual, distinguishing grace, he acts as a benefactor, whose grace is his own. None have deserved it; so that those who are saved, must thank God only; and those who perish, must blame themselves only, Hos 13:9. God is bound no further than he has been pleased to bind himself by his own covenant and promise, which is his revealed will. And this is, that he will receive, and not cast out, those that come to Christ; but the drawing of souls in order to that coming, is an anticipating, distinguishing favour to whom he will. Why does he yet find fault? This is not an objection to be made by the creature against his Creator, by man against God. The truth, as it is in Jesus, abases man as nothing, as less than nothing, and advances God as sovereign Lord of all. Who art thou that art so foolish, so feeble, so unable to judge the Divine counsels? It becomes us to submit to him, not to reply against him. Would not men allow the infinite God the same sovereign right to manage the affairs of the creation, as the potter exercises in disposing of his clay, when of the same lump he makes one vessel to a more honourable, and one to a meaner use? God could do no wrong, however it might appear to men. God will make it appear that he hates sin. Also, he formed vessels filled with mercy. Sanctification is the preparation of the soul for glory. This is God's work. Sinners fit themselves for hell, but it is God who prepares saints for heaven; and all whom God designs for heaven hereafter, he fits for heaven now. Would we know who these vessels of mercy are? Those whom God has called; and these not of the Jews only, but of the Gentiles. Surely there can be no unrighteousness in any of these Divine dispensations. Nor in God's exercising long-suffering, patience, and forbearance towards sinners under increasing guilt, before he brings utter destruction upon them. The fault is in the hardened sinner himself. As to all who love and fear God, however such truths appear beyond their reason to fathom, yet they should keep silence before him. It is the Lord alone who made us to differ; we should adore his pardoning mercy and new-creating grace, and give diligence to make our calling and election sure.Hath not the potter ... - This same sovereign right of God the apostle proceeds to urge from another illustration, and another passage from the Old Testament; Isaiah 64:8, "But now, O Lord, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand." This passage is preceded in Isaiah by one declaring "the depravity of man;" Isaiah 64:6, "We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." As they were polluted with sin, as they had transgressed the Law of God, and had no claim and no merit, God might bestow his favors as he pleased, and mould them as the potter did the clay. He would do no injury to those who were left, and "who had no claim to his mercy," if he bestowed favors on others, any more than the potter would do injustice to one part of the mass, if he put it to an ignoble use, and moulded another part into a vessel of honor.

This is still the condition of sinful people. God does no injustice to a man if he leaves him to take his own course to ruin, and makes another, equally undeserving, the recipient of his mercy. He violated none of my rights by not conferring on me the talents of Newton or of Bacon; or by not placing me in circumstances like those of Peter and Paul. Where all are undeserving, the utmost that can be demanded is that he should not treat them with injustice. And this is secured even in the case of the lost. No man will suffer more than he deserves; nor will any man go to perdition feeling that he has "a claim" to better treatment than he receives. The same sentiment is found in Jeremiah 18:6, "O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in my hand, O house of Israel. At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, etc."

The passage in Isaiah proves that God has the right of a sovereign over guilty individuals; that in Jeremiah, that he has the same right over nations; thus meeting the whole case as it was in the mind of the apostle. These passages, however, assert only the right of God to do it, without affirming anything about the manner in which it is done. In fact, God bestows his favors in a mode very different from that in which a potter moulds his clay. God does not create holiness by a mere act of power, but he produces it in a manner consistent with the moral agency of people; and bestows his favors not to compel people, but to incline them to be willing to receive them; Psalm 110:3, "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power." It should be further remarked, that the argument of the apostle here does not refer to "the original creation" of people, as if God had then made them one for honor and another for dishonor. He refers to man as fallen and lost. His argument is this: "Man is in ruins: he is fallen; he has no claim on God; all deserve to die; on this mass, where none have any claim, he may bestow life on whom he pleases, without injury to others; he may exercise the right of a sovereign to pardon whom he pleases; or of a potter to mould any part of the useless mass to purposes of utility and beauty."

Potter - One whose occupation it is to make earthen vessels.

Power - This word denotes here not merely "physical power," but authority, right; see Matthew 7:29, translated "authority;" Matthew 21:23; 2 Thessalonians 3:9; Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24, "The Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, etc."

Lump - Mass. It denotes anything that is reduced to a fine consistency, and mixed, and made soft by water; either clay, as in this place, or the mass produced of grain pounded and mixed with water; Romans 11:16, "If the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy;" 1 Corinthians 5:6, "Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?"

One vessel - A cup, or other utensil, made of clay.

Unto honour - Fitted to an honorable use, or designed for a more useful and refined purpose.

Unto dishonour - To a meaner service, or more common use. This is a common mode of expression among the Hebrews. The lump here denotes the mass of people, sinners, having no claim on God. The potter illustrates God's right over that mass, to dispose of it as seems good in his sight. The doctrine of the passage is, that people have no right to complain if God bestows his blessings where and when he chooses.

21. Hath not the potter power over the clay; of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another to dishonour?—"The objection is founded on ignorance or misapprehension of the relation between God and His sinful creatures; supposing that He is under obligation to extend His grace to all, whereas He is under obligation to none. All are sinners, and have forfeited every claim to His mercy; it is therefore perfectly competent to God to spare one and not another, to make one vessel to honor and another to dishonor. But it is to be borne in mind that Paul does not here speak of God's right over His creatures as creatures, but as sinful creatures: as he himself clearly intimates in the next verses. It is the cavil of a sinful creature against his Creator that he is answering, and be does so by showing that God is under no obligation to give His grace to any, but is as sovereign as in fashioning the clay" [Hodge]. But, Second: "There is nothing unjust in such sovereignty." He argueth from the less to the greater, that if a potter hath power over his clay, to form it as he pleaseth, then God hath much more power over his creatures, to form them or order them as he listeth. God’s authority over his creature, is greater than that of a potter over his clay. The potter made not his clay; but both clay and potter are made by God. Here is something implied, that as there is no difference in the matter or lump out of which the potter frameth diversity of vessels, so there is no difference in mankind; all men are alike by nature, and in the same corrupt state; both those who are elected, and those who are rejected, that are made vessels of mercy, or vessels of wrath. And here is this expressed, that as the potter maketh vessels of honour or dishonour, of nobler or viler use, out of the same lump, as he listeth, and is not bound to give a reason of his so doing to his pots; so God may choose some, and reject others, and give no account thereof unto his creatures. The potter takes nothing from the clay, of what form soever he makes it; and the Creator doth no wrong to the creature, however he doth dispose of it. Hath not the potter power over the clay,.... By the power the potter has over the clay, to shape it in what form he pleases, and out of it to make what vessels he pleases, and for what purposes he thinks fit, which will be most to his own advantage, the apostle expresses the sovereign and unlimited powder which God has over his creatures; the passages referred to, are Isaiah 64:8, in which God is represented as the potter, and men as clay in his hands; now if the potter has such power over the clay which he did not make, only has made a purchase of, or has it in his possession, much more has God a power, who has created the clay, to appoint out of it persons to different uses and purposes, for his own glory, as he sees fit; even

of the same lump, to make one vessel to honour, and another to dishonour. The apostle seems to design hereby, to point out to us the object of predestination to be man, as yet not made, but as lying in the mere mass of creatureship, signified by the unformed clay, before put into any shape; and is an allusion to the first creation of man, out of the clay, or dust of the earth, Genesis 2:7; for such a consideration of man best agrees with the clay, lump, or mass, not yet formed, than as already made, and much less as fallen and corrupted: for if men, in predestination, were considered in the corrupt mass, or as fallen creatures, they could not be so well said to be made out of it, both to honour and dishonour; but rather since they were all dishonourable, that some were left in that dishonour, and others removed from it unto honour: besides, if this is not the case, God must create man without an end, which is contrary to the principle of reason and wisdom; the end is the cause, for which a thing is what it is; and it is a known rule, that what is first in intention, is last in execution, and "vice versa": the end is first fixed, and then the means; for God to create man, and then to fix the end of his creation, is to do what no wise potter would do, first make his pots, and then think of the end of making them, and the use they are to be put unto. To make one vessel to honour, and another to dishonour, is for God to appoint creatures, which are to be made out of the same mass and lump, for his own glory; which end, his own glory, he determines to bring about by different means, as these following: with respect to the vessels of honour, whom he appoints for his glory, he determines to create them; to suffer them to fall into sin, whereby they become polluted and guilty; to raise and recover them, by the obedience, sufferings, and death of his Son; to regenerate, renew, and sanctify them, by his Spirit and grace, and to bring them to eternal happiness; and hereby compass the aforesaid end, his own glory, the glorifying of his grace and mercy, in a way consistent with justice and holiness: with respect to the vessels of dishonour, whom he also appoints for the glorifying of himself, he determines to create them out of the same lump; to suffer them to fall into sin; to leave them in their sins, in the pollution and guilt of them, and to condemn them for them; and hereby gain his ultimate end, his own glory, glorifying the perfections of his power, justice, and holiness, without the least blemish to his goodness and mercy: now if a potter has power, for his own advantage and secular interest, to make out of the same clay what vessels he pleases; much more has God a power, out of the same mass and lump of creatureship, to appoint creatures he determines to make to his own glory; which he brings about by different methods, consistent with the perfections of his nature.

{19} Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one {20} vessel unto {x} honour, and another unto {21} dishonour?

(19) Alluding to the creation of Adam, he compares mankind not yet made (but who are in the creators mind) to a lump of clay: who afterwards God made, and daily makes, according as he purposed from everlasting, both such as should be elect, and such as should be reprobate, as also this word make declares.

(20) Whereas in the objection propounded, mention was only made of vessels to dishonour, yet he speaks of the others also in this answer, because he proves the Creator to be just in either of them.

(x) To honest uses.

(21) Seeing then, that in the name of dishonour the shame of everlasting death is signified, those agree with Paul, who say that some are made by God for most just destruction: and they that are offended with this kind of speech betray their own folly.

Romans 9:21. ] The sense, without an interrogation, is: Unless perhaps the potter should not have power over his clay (τοῦ πηλοῦ), to make (ποιῆσαι, the infinitive of more precise definition), etc. Comp. Wis 15:7.

ἐκ τοῦ αὐτοῦ φυράμ.] The φύραμα (comp. on Romans 11:16; 1 Corinthians 5:6) is the lump of the πηλός, mixed with water and kneaded, out of which the potter makes the different vessels. In the application of the simile, the same lump denotes human nature in and by itself, as it is alike in all with its opposite moral capabilities and dispositions, but not yet conceived of in its definite individual moral stamp. Out of this, like the potter out of the clay-dough which is susceptible of various moulding, God—who does not merely “allow to come into being” the different moral quality of individuals, in order then to fulfil on them the ἐλεεῖν or σκληρύνειν which He will (Hofmann), but effectively produces it—makes partly such as are destined to stand in honour (namely, as partakers of the Messianic glory), partly such as are to stand in dishonour (namely, through the eternal ἀπώλεια). Comp. Romans 9:22-23. See also 2 Timothy 2:20-21. The former is the effect of His ἐλεεῖν, as in the case of Moses; the latter that of His σκληρύνειν, as in the case of Pharaoh. Much too general and rationalizing, in opposition to the text, is van Hengel’s view, that the figure refers generally to the “inexplicabiles divini rerum humanarum regiminis rationes;” and Beyschlag’s view amounts to the same thing: “out of the material of the human race (?) which is at His disposal as it continues to come into existence, to stamp individuals with this or that historical destination” (?).

εἰς τιμήν] This is the destination of the vessel; it is either to be honoured, so that it has τιμήν (as e.g. a sacred vase), or is to experience the opposite, so that ἀτιμία cleaves to it (as e.g. an utensil destined to foul use).

Observe the purposely-chosen arrangement of the words: the juxtaposition οί οὐκ ἔχει (or lacks), the juxtaposition of ὁ κεραμεὺς τοῦ πηλοῦ (although τοῦ πηλ. belongs to ἐξους.; comp. Buttmann, neut. Gr. p. 332), and the prefixing of εἰς τιμήν.Romans 9:21. ἢ οὐκ ἔχει ἐξουσίαν ὁ κεραμεὺς τοῦ πηλοῦ κ.τ.λ. The puts this as the alternative. Either you must recognise this absoluteness of God in silence, or you must make the pre-posterous assertion that the potter has not power over the clay, etc. The power of the potter over the clay is of course undoubted: he takes the same lump, and makes one vessel for noble and another for ignoble uses; it is not the quality of the clay, but the will of the potter, that decides to what use each part of the lump is to be put. True, the objector might say, but irrelevant. For man is not clay, and the relation of God to man is not that of the potter to dead matter. To say that it is, is just to concede the objector’s point—the moral significance is taken out of life, and God has no room any longer to pronounce moral judgments, or to speak of man in terms of praise or blame.21. the potter—the clay] This is the simile likewise in Isaiah just quoted, and in Isaiah 64:8. (Cp. Jeremiah 18:1-10.) It gets its force from the perfect pliability of the material. Certainly the illustration does not relieve the stern utterances it illustrates; nor is it meant to do so.—It must be remembered that the “clay” moulded by the Eternal here is not Humanity merely, but Humanity as sinful, and, as such, void of the least claim to furnish “vessels unto honour.” (See ante, long note on Romans 9:11.) This, however, is not the main thought here, but rather the immeasurable difference of position between the Creator and the Creature.

lump] Lit. kneaded mass. Same word as Romans 11:16; 1 Corinthians 5:6-7; Galatians 5:9.

one vessel unto honour, &c.] Cp., for similar language, 2 Timothy 2:20-21. The connexion there is akin to this, but such as brings out (what is not in view here) the moral results of sovereign grace. The special imagery of the potter and clay is absent there.Romans 9:21. ) particle of interrogation [an?].—ἐξουσίαν, power) construed with, over the clay. The potter does not make the clay but digs it out; God makes man, therefore He has greater power [over man], than the potter [over the clay]. But absolute power and liberty do not imply, that the will and decree are absolute. If God had left the whole human race under the power of sin and death, He would not have done unjustly, but He did not exercise that right. [Man is struck with the vivid exhibition of Divine power, so that he ever after unlearns all the outrageous (unreasonable) suspicions of his thoughts, against the justice [righteousness] of God, Matthew 20:15; Exodus 20:20; Job 42:2; Job 42:6.—V. g.].—φυράματος) lump, which has been prepared from clay and softened by steeping, and has its parts now more homogeneous.—εἰς ἀτιμίαν, to dishonour) Paul speaks circumspectly, he does not yet say, to wrath: vessel must be construed with these words [To make one, a vessel unto honour, etc.]Power (ἐξουσίαν)

Or right. See on Mark 2:10; see on John 1:12.

Lump (φυράματος)

From φυράω to mix so as to make into dough. Hence any substance mixed with water and kneaded. Philo uses it of the human frame as compounded. By the lump is here meant human nature with its moral possibilities, "but not yet conceived of in its definite, individual, moral stamp" (Meyer). The figure of man as clay molded by God carries us back to the earliest traditions of the creation of man (Genesis 2:7). According to primitive ideas man is regarded as issuing from the earth. The traditions of Libya made the first human being spring from the plains heated by the sun. The Egyptians declared that the Nile mud, exposed to the heat of the sun, brought forth germs which sprang up as the bodies of men. A subsequent divine operation endowed these bodies with soul and intellect, and the divine fashioner appears upon some monuments molding clay, wherewith to form man, upon a potter's wheel. The Peruvians called the first man "animated earth;" and the Mandans of North America related that the Great Spirit molded two figures of clay, which he dried and animated with the breath of his mouth, one receiving the name of First Man, the other that of Companion. The Babylonian account, translated by Berosus, represents man as made of clay after the manner of a statue. See Francois Lenormant, "Beginnings of History."

To make one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor (ποιῆσαι ὃ μεν εἰς τιμὴν σκεῦος, ὃ δὲ εἰς ἀτιμίαν)

Rev., more correctly, to make one part a vessel unto honor, and another part, etc. For vessel, see on 1 Peter 3:7; compare Matthew 12:29; Acts 9:15. The vessel here is the one which has just come from the potter's hand. Those in Romans 9:22 have been in household use.

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