19. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?
19. Dices itaque mihi, Quid adhuc conqueritur? voluntati ejus quis re-stitit?
20. 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?
20. Atqui, O homo, tu quis es qui contendis judicio cum Deo! hum dicit fictile figulo, cur me sic fecisti?
21. Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?
21. An non habet potestatem fi-gulus luti ex eadem massa, faciendi, aliud quidem vas in honorem, aliud in contumeliam?
It is indeed evident that no cause is adduced higher than the will of God. Since there was a ready answer, that the difference depends on just reasons, why did not Paul adopt such a brief reply? But he placed the will of God in the highest rank for this reason, -- that it alone may suffice us for all other causes. No doubt, if the objection had been false, that God according to his own will rejects those whom he honors not with his favor, and chooses those whom he gratuitously loves, a refutation would not have been neglected by Paul. The ungodly object and say, that men are exempted from blame, if the will of God holds the first place in their salvation, or in their perdition. Does Paul deny this? Nay, by his answer he confirms it, that is, that God determines concerning men, as it seems good to him, and that, men in vain and madly rise up to contend with God; for he assigns, by his own right, whatever lot he pleases to what he forms.
But they who say that Paul, wanting reason, had recourse to reproof, cast a grievous calumny on the Holy Spirit: for the things calculated to vindicate God's justice, and ready at hand, he was at first unwilling' to adduce, for they could not have been comprehended; yea, he so modifies his second reason, that he does not undertake a full defence, but in such a manner as to give a sufficient demonstration of God's justice, if it be considered by us with devout humility and reverence.
He reminds man of what is especially meet for him to remember, that is, of his own condition; as though he had said, -- "Since thou art man, thou ownest thyself to be dust and ashes; why then doest thou contend with the Lord about that which thou art not able to understand?" In a word, the Apostle did not bring forward what might have been said, but what is suitable to our ignorance. Proud men clamour, because Paul, admitting that men are rejected or chosen by the secret counsel of God, alleges no cause; as though the Spirit of God were silent for want of reason, and not rather, that by his silence he reminds us, that a mystery which our minds cannot, comprehend ought to be reverently adored, and that he thus checks the wantonness of human curiosity. Let us then know, that God does for no other reason refrain from speaking, but that he sees that we cannot contain his immense wisdom in our small measure; and thus regarding our weakness, he leads us to moderation and sobriety.
But he represses this arrogance of contending with God by a most apt similitude, in which he seems to have alluded to Isaiah 45:9, rather than to Jeremiah 18:6; for nothing else is taught us by Jeremiah, than that Israel was in the hand of the Lord, so that he could for his sins wholly break him in pieces, as a potter the earthen vessel. But Isaiah ascends higher, "Woe to him," he says, "who speaks against his maker;" that is, the pot that contends with the former of the clay; "shall the clay say to its former, what doest thou?" etc. And surely there is no reason for a mortal man to think himself better than earthen vessel, when he compares himself with God. We are not however to be over-particular in applying this testimony to our present subject, since Paul only meant to allude to the words of the Prophet, in order that the similitude might have more weight. 4
And further, bear this in mind, -- that as the potter takes away nothing from the clay, whatever form he may give it; so God takes away nothing from man, in whatever condition he may create him. Only this is to be remembered, that God is deprived of a portion of his honor, except such an authority over men be conceded to him as to constitute him the arbitrator of life and death? 5
1 The clause rendered by Calvin, "Quid adhue conqueritur -- why does he yet complain?" is rendered by Beza, "quid adhuc suecenset -- why is he yet angry?" Our common version is the best, and is followed by Doddridge, Macknight, and Stuart. The
3 "Quis es qui contendas judicio cum Deo ;"
4 The words in Romans 9:20 are taken almost literally from Isaiah 29: 16, only the latter clause is somewhat different; the sentence is, "
Then the words in Romans 9:21 are not verbally taken from either of the two places referred to above; but the simile is adopted. -- Ed.
5 The metaphor in these verses is doubtless to be interpreted according to the context. Not only Calvin, but many others, have deduced from it what is not consistent with what the next verse contains, which gives the necessary explanation. By the" mass" or the lump of day, is not meant mankind, contemplated as creatures, but as fallen creatures; or, as Augustine and Pareus call them, "massa damnata -- the condemned mass;" for they are called in the next verse vessels of wrath, that is, the objects of wrath; and such are all by nature, according to what Paul says in Ephesians 2:3; "we were," he says, "by nature the children of wrath, even as others."
"The words, 'I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,' imply that all deserved wrath; so that the lump of clay in the hands of the pot ter must refer to men already existing in God's foreknowledge as fallen creatures." -- Scott.
In all the instances in which this metaphor is used by Isaiah and Jere miah, it is applied to the Jews in their state of degeneracy, and very pointedly in Isaiah 64:8: where it is preceded, in the 6th verse, by that remarkable passage, "We are all as an unclean thing," etc. The clay then, or the mass, is the mass of mankind as corrupted and depraved. -- Ed.