You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power overthe clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? (v.19-21)
Once again I provide the contrasting commentaries. I begin with Art Sippo:
Here is the really deep mystery of God’s sovereignty over creation. Even though God is ULTIMATELY responsible for everything that happens, man must accept some moral responsibility. If that were not the case, then God would be the author of sin. This is a problem with the supralapsarian position taken by many Calvinists. We have been made by God and he ordains our ends but SOMEHOW we still have free will and are are (sic) responsible for our actions while God is free from any taint of moral blame. What the objector in these verses was seen as doing according to St. Paul is denying free will and moral responsibility, not divine predestination. God made us with free will and we misuse it. That is not God’s fault. It is ours.
Admittedly, this is not a simple matter to resolve. How can God be toatlly (sic) sovereign while man is still personally responsible for sin? There is no simple answer. This is a mystery that should humble us. But we need to have faith in God and his goodness as well as his overall sovereignty. Likewise we must accept moral responsibility and admit that we are sinners before God.
Now my own from The Potter’s Freedom. I did not break at the same point Sippo did, so my comments extend beyond this section, but will be relevant to his commentary on the later verses when we come to them:
Paul well knew the objections man presents to the words he had just penned. If God has mercy solely based upon His good pleasure, and if God hardens Pharaoh on the same basis, all to His own glory and honor, how can God hold men accountable for their actions, for who resists His will? Paul’s response is swift and devastating: Yes indeed God holds man accountable, and he can do so because He is the Potter, the one who molds and creates, while man is but the thing molded. For a pot to question the Potter is absurd: for man to answer back to God is equally absurd. These words cannot be understood separately from the fundamental understanding of the freedom of the Sovereign Creator and the ontological creaturelinessof man that removes from him any ground of complaint against God. Though already devastatingly clear, Paul makes sure there is no doubt left as to his point:
Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. (Romans 9:21-24)
The Potter’s freedom pulses through these words, flowing inexorably into the sea of sovereignty, rushing any would-be proponent of free will out of its path. God has the perfect right to do with His creation (including men) as He wishes, just as the Potter has utter sovereignty over the clay. Just as God had demonstrated His wrath and power by wasting idolatrous Egypt, so too He demonstrates His wrath upon vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. Are these nations? Classes? No, these are sinners upon whom God’s wrath comes. They are said to have been specifically prepared for destruction. That is their purpose.
Why are there vessels prepared for destruction? Because God is free. Think about it: there are only three logical possibilities here. Either 1) all vessels are prepared for glory (universalism); 2) all vessels are prepared for destruction; or 3) some vessels are prepared for glory and some are prepared for destruction and it is the Potterwho decides which are which. Why is there no fourth option, one in which the pots prepare themselves based upon their own choice? Because pots don’t have such a capacity! Pots are pots! Since God wishes to make known the riches of his grace to His elect people (the vessels prepared of mercy), there must be vessels prepared for destruction. There is no demonstration of mercy and grace where there is no justice.
The vessels of wrath, remember, like being vessels of wrath, would never choose to be anything else, and they detest the vessels that receive mercy. Indeed, during the writing of this book I encountered an unbeliever who, upon hearing me mention the wrath of God, mocked and said, “Ah, yes, the wrath of God! I LIKE IT!” This is the attitude of the vessel of wrath prepared for destruction.
God’s wonderful grace will be praised throughout eternity because of the great contrast between the vessels of wrath and the vessels of mercy. Why? Because the only difference between the vessels of wrath and the vessels of mercy is the sovereign grace of God that changes the heart of the rebel sinner and turns him from being a God-hater into a God-lover. This is why there is no basis for mans boasting, ever.
In response to Art Sippo’s commentary, we once again note the lack of exegetical interaction with the text itself. Surely these verses are humbling, but if they are, why is it that Sippo can find in these affirmations of God’s sovereign freedom over the works of His own hands references to a phrase never found on the lips or the pen of the Apostle Paul, “free will”? How can Sippo say the objector thinks Paul is denying free will? Sippo does not even attempt to connect this assertion to the text, for no connection can possibly be forged. His assertion is left without any grounding outside of his own personal authority. The objector is clearly questioning God’s ability to judge based upon His radical freedom to harden or to mercy. Where does the concept of “free will” appear in Paul’s writings here? Nowhere, of course, yet Sippo asserts it anyway. A classic example of eisegesis, reading into the text based here upon the over-riding authority of his tradition.