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Commentary on Romans
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Romans 9:19-21

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 restitit?

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 honour, and another unto dishonour?

21. An non habet potestatem figulus luti ex eadem massa, faciendi, aliud quidem vas in honorem, aliud in contumeliam?

19. Thou wilt then say, etc. Here indeed the flesh especially storms, that is, when it hears that they who perish have been destined by the will of God to destruction. Hence the Apostle adopts again the words of an opponent; for he saw that the mouths of the ungodly could not be restrained from boldly clamouring against the righteousness of God: and he very fitly expresses their mind; for being not content with defending themselves, they make God guilty instead of themselves; and then, after having devolved on him the blame of their own condemnation, they become indignant against his great power. 302302     The clause rendered by Calvin, “Quid adhuc 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 γὰρ, in the next clause, is omitted by Calvin, but Griesbach says that it ought to be retained. — Ed. They are indeed constrained to yield; but they storm, because they cannot resist; and ascribing dominion to him, they in a manner charge him with tyranny. In the same manner the Sophists in their schools foolishly dispute on what they call his absolute justice, as though forgetful of his own righteousness, he would try the power of his authority by throwing all things into confusion. Thus then speak the ungodly in this passage, — “What cause has he to be angry with us? Since he has formed us such as we are, since he leads us at his will where he pleases, what else does he in destroying us but punish his own work in us? For it is not in our power to contend with him; how much soever we may resist, he will yet have the upper hand. Then unjust will be his judgment, if he condemns us; and unrestrainable is the power which he now employs towards us.” What does Paul say to these things?

20. But, O man! who art thou? etc. 303303     “But” is not sufficiently emphatical here; μενοῦνγε; “yes, verily,” in Romans 10:18; “yea, rather,” in Luke 11:28; “doubtless,” in Philippians 3:8; it may be rendered here, “nay, rather.” — Ed. As it is a participle in Greek, we may read what follows in the present tense, who disputest, or contendest, or strivest in opposition to God; for it is expressed in Greek according to this meaning, — “Who art thou who enterest into a dispute with God?” But there is not much difference in the sense. 304304     “Quis es qui contendas judicio cum Deo;” τίς εἶ ὁ ἀνταποκρινόμενος τῳ Θεῳ “that repliest against God,” is the rendering of Macknight and Stuart; “who enterest into a debate with God,” is what Doddridge gives. The verb occurs once in another place, Luke 14:6, and “answer again” is our version. Schleusner says that ἀντὶ prefixed to verbs is often redundant. In Job 16:8, and 32:12, this compound is used by the Septuagint simply in the sense of answering, for ענה He renders it here, “cure Deo altercari — to quarrel, or, dispute with God.” — Ed. In this first answer, he does nothing else but beat down impious blasphemy by an argument taken from the condition of man: he will presently subjoin another, by which he will clear the righteousness of God from all blame.

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.

Does what is formed? etc. We see that Paul dwells continually on this, — that the will of God, though its reason is hid from us, is to be counted just; for he shows that he is deprived of his right, if he is not at liberty to determine what he sees meet concerning his creatures. This seems unpleasant to the ears of many. There are also those who pretend that God is exposed to great reproach were such a power ascribed to him, as though they in their fastidiousness were better divines than Paul, who has laid down this as the rule of humility to the faithful, that they are to admire the sovereignty of God, and not to estimate it by their own judgment.

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. 305305     The words in Romans 9:20 are taken almost literally from Isaiah 29:16, only the latter clause is somewhat different; the sentence is, “μὴ ἐρεῖ τὸ πλάσμα τῷ πλάσαντι αὐτὸ οὐ σύ με ἔπλασας — shall what is formed say to its former, Thou hast not formed me?” This is a faithful rendering of the Hebrew.
   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.

21. Has not the worker of the clay? etc. The reason why what is formed ought not to contend with its former, is, that the former does nothing but what he has a right to do. By the word power, he means not that the maker has strength to do according to his will, but that this privilege rightly and justly belongs to him. For he intends not to claim for God any arbitrary power but what ought to be justly ascribed to him.

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. 306306     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 clay, 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 potter 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 Jeremiah, 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.


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