on Romans 9 :21
Hath not the potter power over the clay - The apostle continues his answer to the Jew. Hath not God shown, by the parable of the potter, Jeremiah 18:1, etc., that he may justly dispose of nations, and of the Jews in particular, according as he in his infinite wisdom may judge most right and fitting; even as the potter has a right, out of the same lump of clay, to make one vessel to a more honorable and another to a less honorable use, as his own judgment and skill may direct; for no potter will take pains to make a vessel merely that he may show that he has power to dash it to pieces? For the word came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work upon the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hands of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. It was not fit for the more honorable place in the mansion, and therefore he made it for a less honorable place, but as necessary for the master's use there, as it could have been in a more honorable situation. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel. At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation - to build and to plant it; is it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them. The reference to this parable shows most positively that the apostle is speaking of men, not individually, but nationally; and it is strange that men should have given his words any other application with this scripture before their eyes.
on Romans 9 :21
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.
on Romans 9 :21