The Potter and His Clay
Romans 9:21-23
Has not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel to honor, and another to dishonor?…

"Hath he not power?" Yes, he has, is the answer the apostle expects, and he is right, and God the Almighty Potter has unchallengeable power over His clay. Let it be noticed —

I. THAT PAUL DOES NOT REFER TO PHYSICAL FORCE, i.e., that God, in virtue of His almightiness, is able out of the same lump to make one vessel to honour and another to dishonour. The word is not, δύναμας ability to do, but ἐξουσία — authority, prerogative right. God is not under any obligation to confer equal honour or dishonour upon all. He will be doing no wrong, although He make a difference.


1. True, the prerogative of the literal potter is absolute. He may do with his clay what he pleases, although it may be ridiculous, and ultimately ruinous to him. He may add inappropriate ingredients and spoil his clay: stupidly attempt to make fine vessels out of coarse clay; he may misshape his vessels, mar them, or when the whole batch is fashioned take an iron rod and dash them into shivers. If the clay, wheel, time, rod, be his own, he may set as absurdly as he pleases.

2. But then this absolute right will not shield him from the criticism of his fellows. They may not say "No, this won't be permitted; you are ill-using your clay." But they will be at perfect liberty to say what Jonathan Edwards said of the devil, "that he is one of the greatest fools and blockheads in the world."

3. Again, men are not like clay in all respects, e.g., they are possessed of rights. Man has a right to be treated with justice; to be furnished with ability to do his duty, if he is to be held responsible for not doing it to have the gate of heaven opened to him if he is to be blamed for not entering in. Man must have some power of formative self-control "unto honour," if he is to be blamed for being fashioned into a vessel "unto dishonour."

4. All this being the case, God's power over the human clay is not utterly unconditional. His right to do with it as He pleases is, by His own benevolent arrangement, modified by rights which He has conferred on His creatures. He has not reserved the right to do wrong. It cannot be the case, then, that God has reserved the right to deal tyrannically with His poor human creatures. If they are held responsible to Him for the shape their character assumes, then something is due to them as the basis of their accountability.

III. THE STATEMENT CANNOT BE QUOTED IN FAVOUR OF UNCONDITIONAL REPROBATION. There are, indeed, beings who deserve universal reprobation, and, therefore, Divine; and there is future reprobation; but is it right to so magnify the Divine sovereignty as to exclude from the circle of Divinity, justice, righteousness, goodness, wisdom, mercy, and love? Such inversion of theology would be akin in monstrosity to the wild political aphorism that monarchs reign by Divine right and can do no wrong.

IV. WHAT, THEN, WAS THE APOSTLE'S AIM IN PROPOUNDING HIS QUERY? Why should he be solicitous to show that God has a right to turn some of the race into a condition of dishonour, and others into a state of glory? The reason is that in chaps, 9-11, he is discussing the relation of his countrymen to the gospel. Alas! the great mass were unbelieving. What then? Would they, notwithstanding, be all turned on the Divine wheel into vessels of honour? The Jews contended that they would. It was the Gentiles only who were to be fashioned into vessels unto dishonour. "No," says the apostle, "you are wrong, my countrymen. It is with intensest sorrow that I say it. It is the penitent and believing only who shall be saved. And the Almighty Potter, who has us all on His wheel, has right, out of the same lump of Jews and Gentiles, to turn one man, even though he be a Gentile, provided he be penitent and believing, into a vessel of glory, and vice versa." The apostle had evidently the representation of Jeremiah 28, in his eye. If a vessel becomes marred in the hands of the potter, then, instead of proceeding with it, he crushes the clay together and fashions it into another kind of vessel. God desired to fashion the Jews into a glorious vessel, when, lo! it became marred in His hand, and He had to make it into another — unto dishonour. The vessel was marred, not because of any imperfection in the Potter's manipulation, for He is not liable to mistakes. Some bad and coarse ingredient had been by some enemy flung in, so that only a coarser vessel than what was desired could be made of it. Application: God is not willing that any should perish, i.e., He does not wish to have any vessels fashioned unto dishonour. He would have all to be beautiful and honourably serviceable, i.e., all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. Jesus, speaking to the impenitent, says, "I would, but ye would not," and just because men will not they spoil the clay that is in the Almighty Potter's hand.

(J. Morison, D.D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

WEB: Or hasn't the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel for honor, and another for dishonor?

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