Who Art Thou?

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters. Who hath enjoined him his way? or who can say, Thou hast wrought iniquity? Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it. Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous?
~ Micah 6:8, Job 33:13, Job 36:23, Job 38:2-3, Job 40:2, Job 40:8

Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
~ Matthew 20:15-16

Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
~ Titus 2:9, 1 Corinthians 1:20

Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
~ 1 Timothy 6:5

Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding? Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands? Woe unto him that saith unto his father, What begettest thou? or to the woman, What hast thou brought forth? Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me.
~ Isaiah 29:16, Isaiah 45:9-11

A Commentary on Romans 9:6-23, by John Calvin.

Romans 9:6-9

6. Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:

6. Neque tamen, quasi exciderit verbum Dei: non emro omnes qui sunt ex Israele sunt Israelitae:

7. Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.

7. Nec qui sunt semen Abrabae, ideo omnes filii; sed in Isaac voca-bitur tibi semen:

8. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.

8. Hoc est, non qui sunt filii car-nis, ii filii sunt Dei; sed qui sunt filii promissionis, censebuntur in semen:

9. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son.

9. Promissionis enim verbum hoc est, Secundum hoc tempus veniam, et erit Sarae filius.

6. Not however, etc. Paul had been carried away by the ardour of his wish, as it were, into an excess of feeling, (in ecstasin,) but now, returning to discharge his office as a teacher, he adds what may be viewed as somewhat qualifying what he had said, as though he would restrain immoderate grief. And inasmuch as by deploring the ruin of his own nation, this inconsistency seems to follow, that the covenant made by God with the seed of Abraham had failed, (for the favour of God could not have been wanting to the Israelites without the covenant being abolished,) he reasonably anticipates this inconsistency, and shows, that notwithstanding the great blindness of the Jews, the favour of God continued still to that people, so that the truth of the covenant remained firm.

Some read, “But it is not possible,” etc., as though it were in Greek hoion te (290) but as I find this reading in no copy, I adopt the common reading, Not however that it had failed, etc., and according to this sense, “That I deplore the destruction of my nation is not because I think the promise, given formerly by God to Abraham, is now void or abolished.”

For not all, etc. The statement is, — that the promise was so given to Abraham and to his seed, that the inheritance did not belong to every seed without distinction; it hence follows that the defection of some does not prove that the covenant does not remain firm and valid.

But that it may be more evident on what condition the Lord adopted the posterity of Abraham as a peculiar people to himself, two things are to be here considered. The first is, That the promise of salvation given to Abraham belongs to all who can trace their natural descent to him; for it is offered to all without exception, and for this reason they are rightly called the heirs of the covenant made with Abraham; and in this respect they are his successors, or, as Scripture calls them, the children of the promise. For since it was the Lord’s will that his covenant should be sealed, no less in Ishmael and Esau, than in Isaac and Jacob, it appears that they were not wholly alienated from him; except, it may be, you make no account of the circumcision, which was conferred on them by God’s command; but it cannot be so regarded without dishonour to God. But this belonged to them, according to what the Apostle had said before, “whose are the covenants,” though they were unbelieving; and in Acts 3:25, they are called by Peter, the children of the covenants, because they were the descendants of the Prophets. The second point to be considered is, That the children of the promise are strictly those in whom its power and effect are found. On this account Paul denies here that all the children of Abraham were the children of God, though a covenant had been made with them by the Lord, for few continued in the faith of the covenant; and yet God himself testifies, in the sixth chapter of Ezekiel, that they were all regarded by him as children. In short, when a whole people are called the heritage and the peculiar people of God, what is meant is, that they have been chosen by the Lord, the promise of salvation having been offered them and confirmed by the symbol of circumcision; but as many by their ingratitude reject this adoption, and thus enjoy in no degree its benefits, there arises among them another difference with regard to the fulfilment of the promise. That it might not then appear strange to any one, that this fulfilment of the promise was not evident in many of the Jews, Paul denies that they were included in the true election of God.

Some may prefer such a statement as this, — “The general election of the people of Israel is no hinderance, that God should not from them choose by his hidden counsel those whom he pleases.” It is indeed an illustrious example of gratuitous mercy, when God deigns to make a covenant of life with a nation: but his hidden favour appears more evident in that second election, which is confined to a part only.

But when he says, that all who are of Israel are not Israelites, and that all who are of the seed of Abraham are not children, it is a kind of change in the meaning of words, (paronomasia); for in the first clause he includes the whole race, in the second he refers only to true sons, who were not become degenerated.

7. But, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” Paul mentions this, to show that the hidden election of God overrules the outward calling, and that it is yet by no means inconsistent with it, but, on the contrary, that it tends to its confirmation and completion. That he might then in due order prove both, he in the first place assumes, that the election of God is not tied to the natural descendants of Abraham, and that it is not a thing that is included in the conditions of the covenant: and this is what he now confirms by a most suitable example. For if there ought to have been any natural progeny, which fell not away from the covenant; this ought to have been especially the case with those who obtained the privilege at first: but when we find, that of the first sons of Abraham, while he was yet alive, and the promise new, one of them was separated as the seed, how much more might the same thing have taken place in his distant posterity? Now this testimony is taken from Genesis 17:20, where the Lord gives an answer to Abraham, that he had heard his prayer for Ishmael, but that there would be another on whom the promised blessing would rest. It hence follows, that some men are by special privilege elected out of the chosen people, in whom the common adoption becomes efficacious and valid.

8. That is, They are not, etc. He now gathers from God’s answer a proposition, which includes the whole of what he had in view. For if Isaac, and not Ishmael, was the seed, though the one as well as the other was Abraham’s son, it must be that all natural sons are not to be regarded as the seed, but that the promise is specially fulfilled only in some, and that it does not belong commonly and equally to all. He calls those the children of the flesh, who have nothing superior to a natural descent; as they are the children of the promise, who are peculiarly selected by the Lord.

9. For the word of promise is this, etc. He adds another divine testimony; and we see, by the application made of it, with what care and skill he explains Scripture. When he says, the Lord said that he would come, and that a son would be born to Abraham of Sarah, he intimated that his blessing was not yet conferred, but that it was as yet suspended. (291) But Ishmael was already born when this was said: then God’s blessing had no regard to Ishmael. We may also observe, by the way, the great caution with which he proceeds here, lest he should exasperate the Jews. The cause being passed over, he first simply states the fact; he will hereafter open the fountain.


(290) Were this the case, the verb which follows, as Wolfius says and proves by an example, must have been in the infinitive mood. Piscator says the same. But Pareus and Beza take this to be the meaning; and so does Macknight, “Now it is not possible that the promise of God hath fallen.” — Ed.

(291) Genesis 18:10. The quotation is not from the Septuagint, but is much nearer a literal version of the Hebrew: the only material difference is in the words, “at this time,” instead of “according to the time of life.” The words in different forms occur four times, — Genesis 17:21; Genesis 18:10,14; Genesis 21:2; we meet with the same words in 2 Kings 4:16,17. It appears that the Apostle here took this expression, “at this time,” from Genesis 17:21, while he mainly followed the text in Genesis 18:10. The meaning of the phrase, “according to the time of life,” as given in Genesis and in Kings, evidently is the time of child-bearing, what passes between conception and the birth. This was repeatedly mentioned in order to show that the usual course of nature would be followed, though the conception would be miraculous; the child to be born was to be nourished the usual time in the womb, — “according to the time of producing life,” or of child-bearing. The exposition of Gesenius, adopted by Tholuck and Stuart, “when the time shall be renewed,” does not comport with the passage, as it introduces a tautology. Hammond says, that the Hebrews interpret the expression in Kings as meaning the time between the conception and the birth. — Ed.

Romans 9:7
Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.
Romans 9:8
That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.
Romans 9:9
For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son.
Romans 9:10
And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac;

Romans 9:10-13

10. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac;

10. Non solum autem hic, sed et Rebecca, quae ex uno conceperat, patre nostro Isaac:

11. (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)

11. Qunm enim nondum nati es-sent pueri, nec quidpiam boni aut mali egissent, ut secundum electio-nem propositum Dei maneret,

12. It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.

12. Non ex operibus, sed ex vo-cante, dictum est ei, Major serviet minori;

13. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have Ihated.

13. Quemadmodum scriptum est, Jacob dilexi, Esau autem odio habui.

10. And not only, etc. There are in this chapter some broken sentences, such as this is, — But Rebecca also, who had conceived by one, our father Isaac; for he leaves off in the middle, before he comes to the principal verb. The meaning, however, is, that the difference as to the possession of the promise may not only be seen in the children of Abraham, but that there is a much more evident example in Jacob and Esau: for in the former instance some might allege that their condition was unequal, the one being the son of an handmaid; but these were of the same mother, and were even twins: yet one was rejected, and the other was chosen by the Lord. It is hence clear, that the fulfilment of the promise does not take place in all the children of the flesh indiscriminately.

And as Paul refers to the persons to whom God made known his purpose, I prefer to regard a masculine pronoun to be understood, rather than a neuter, as Erasmus has done: for the meaning is, that God’s special election had not been revealed only to Abraham, but also to Rebecca, when she brought forth her twins. (292)

11. For when the children, etc. He now begins to ascend higher, even to show the cause of this difference, which he teaches us is nowhere else to be found except in the election of God. He had indeed before briefly noticed, that there was a difference between the natural children of Abraham, that though all were adopted by circumcision into a participation of the covenant, yet the grace of God was not effectual in them all; and hence that they, who enjoy the favour of God, are the children of the promise. But how it thus happened, he has been either silent or has obscurely hinted. Now indeed he openly ascribes the whole cause to the election of God, and that gratuitous, and in no way depending on men; so that in the salvation of the godly nothing higher (nihil superius) must be sought than the goodness of God, and nothing higher in the perdition of the reprobate than his just severity.

Then the first proposition is, — “As the blessing of the covenant separates the Israelitic nation from all other people, so the election of God makes a distinction between men in that nation, while he predestinates some to salvation, and others to eternal condemnation.” The second proposition is, — “There is no other basis for this election than the goodness of God alone, and also since the fall of Adam, his mercy; which embraces whom he pleases, without any regard whatever to their works.” The third is, — “The Lord in his gratuitous election is free and exempt from the necessity of imparting equally the same grace to all; but, on the contrary, he passes by whom he wills, and whom he wills he chooses.” All these things Paul briefly includes in one sentence: he then goes on to other things.

Moreover, by these words, When the children had not yet been born, nor had done any good or evil, he shows, that God in making a difference could not have had any regard to works, for they were not yet done. Now they who argue on the other side, and say, that this is no reason why the election of God should not make a difference between men according to the merits of works, for God foresees who those are who by future works would be worthy or unworthy of his grace, are not more clear-sighted than Paul, but stumble at a principle in theology, which ought to be well known to all Christians, namely, that God can see nothing in the corrupt nature of man, such as was in Esau and Jacob, to induce him to manifest his favour. When therefore he says, that neither of them had then done any good or evil, what he took as granted must also be added, — that they were both the children of Adam, by nature sinful, and endued with no particle of righteousness.

I do not dwell thus long on explaining these things, because the meaning of the Apostle is obscure; but as the Sophists, being not content with his plain sense, endeavour to evade it by frivolous distinctions, I wished to show, that Paul was by no means ignorant of those things which they allege.

It may further be said, that though that corruption alone, which is diffused through the whole race of man, is sufficient, before it breaks out, as they say, into action, for condemnation, and hence it follows, that Esau was justly rejected, for he was naturally a child of wrath, it was yet necessary, lest any doubt should remain, as though his condition became worse through any vice or fault, that sins no less than virtues should be excluded. It is indeed true, that the proximate cause of reprobation is the curse we all inherit from Adam; yet, that we may learn to acquiesce in the bare and simple good pleasure of God, Paul withdraws us from this view, until he has established this doctrine, — That God has a sufficiently just reason for electing and for reprobating, in his own will. (293)

That the purpose of God according to election, etc. He speaks of the gratuitous election of God almost in every instance. If works had any place, he ought to have said, — “That his reward might stand through works;” but he mentions the purpose of God, which is included, so to speak, in his own good pleasure alone. And that no ground of dispute might remain on the subject, he has removed all doubt by adding another clause, according to election, and then a third, not through works, but through him who calls. Let us now then apply our minds more closely to this passage: Since the purpose of God according to election is established in this way, — that before the brothers were born, and had done either good or evil, one was rejected and the other chosen; it hence follows, that when any one ascribes the cause of the difference to their works, he thereby subverts the purpose of God. Now, by adding, not through works, but through him who calls, he means, not on account of works, but of the calling only; for he wishes to exclude works altogether. We have then the whole stability of our election inclosed in the purpose of God alone: here merits avail nothing, as they issue in nothing but death; no worthiness is regarded, for there is none; but the goodness of God reigns alone. False then is the dogma, and contrary to God’s word, — that God elects or rejects, as he foresees each to be worthy or unworthy of his favour. (294)

12. The elder shall serve the younger See how the Lord makes a difference between the sons of Isaac, while they were as yet in their mother’s womb; for this was the heavenly answer, by which it appeared that God designed to show to the younger peculiar favour, which he denied to the elder. Though this indeed had reference to the right of primogeniture, yet in this, as the symbol of something greater, was manifested the will of God: and that this was the case we may easily perceive, when we consider what little benefit, according to the flesh, Jacob derived from his primogeniture. For he was, on its account, exposed to great danger; and to avoid this danger, he was obliged to quit his home and his country, and was unkindly treated in his exile: when he returned, he tremblingly, and in doubt of his life, prostrated himself at the feet of his brother, humbly asked forgiveness for his offence, and lived through the indulgence shown to him. Where was his dominion over his brother, from whom he was constrained to seek by entreaty his life? There was then something greater than the primogeniture promised in the answer given by the Lord.

13. As it is written, Jacob I loved, etc. He confirms, by a still stronger testimony, how much the heavenly answer, given to Rebecca, availed to his present purpose, that is, that the spiritual condition of both was intimated by the dominion of Jacob and servitude of Esau, and also that Jacob obtained this favour through the kindness of God, and not through his own merit. Then this testimony of the prophet shows the reason why the Lord conferred on Jacob the primogeniture: and it is taken from the first chapter of Malachi, where the Lord, reproaching the Jews for their ingratitude, mentions his former kindness to them, — “I have loved you,” he says; and then he refers to the origin of his love, — “Was not Esau the brother of Jacob?” as though he said, — “What privilege had he, that I should prefer him to his brother? None whatever. It was indeed an equal right, except that by the law of nature the younger ought to have served the elder; I yet chose the one, and rejected the other; and I was thus led by my mercy alone, and by no worthiness as to works. I therefore chose you for my people, that I might show the same kindness to the seed of Jacob; but I rejected the Edomites, the progeny of Esau. Ye are then so much the worse, inasmuch as the remembrance of so great a favour cannot stimulate you to adore my majesty.” (295) Now, though earthly blessings are there recorded, which God had conferred on the Israelites, it is not yet right to view them but as symbols of his benevolence: for where the wrath of God is, there death follows; but where his love is, there is life.


(292) Here is a striking instance of a difficulty as to the construction, while the meaning of the whole passage is quite evident. The ellipsis has been variously supplied; “and not only this,” i.e., what I have stated; “and not only he,” i.e., Abraham to whom the first communication was made; “and not only she,” i.e., Sarah, mentioned in the preceding verse; “but Rebecca also is another instance.” But it may be thus supplied, — “and not only so,” i.e., as to the word of promise; “but Rebecca also had a word,” or a message conveyed to her. That the verse has a distinct meaning in itself is evident, for the next begins with a gar, “for;” and to include Romans 9:11, in a parenthesis, seems by no means satisfactory. The three verses may be thus rendered, — 10. And not only so, but Rebecca also received a message, when she conceived by the first, (i.e., son or seed,) even our father Isaac: 11. for they being not yet born, and having not done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not 12. through works, but through him who calls, it was said to her, “The elder shall serve the younger.” The words ex henos, rendered commonly “by one,” have never been satisfactorily accounted for. It. seems to be an instance of Hebraism; the word ‘chd, “one,” means also “first.” We have other instances of this in the New Testament; eis mian ton sabbaton — “on the first (i.e., day) of the week,” Matthew 28:1; see also Mark 16:2; John 20:19. “The first day” in Genesis 1:5, is rendered by the Septuagint, hemera mia. Isaac was the first son or seed of promise: and a difference was made in the children of the very first seed. But this meaning of eis is said by Schleusner to be sanctioned by Greek writers, such as Herodotus and Thucydides There is no necessity of introducing the word “children,” at the beginning of Romans 9:11; the antecedent in this case, as it sometimes happens, comes after the pronoun; and it is the “elder” and “younger” at the end of Romans 9:12. — Ed.

(293) Archbishop Usher asks this question, “Did God, before he made man, determine to save some and reject others?” To this he gives this answer, — “Yes, surely; before they had done either good or evil, God in his eternal counsel set them apart.” It is the same sentiment that is announced here by Calvin But to deduce it from what is said of Jacob and Esau, does not seem legitimate, inasmuch as they were in a fallen condition by nature, and the reference is evidently made to anything done personally by themselves. Election and reprobation most clearly presuppose man as fallen and lost: it is hence indeed, that the words derive their meaning. That it was God’s eternal purpose to choose some of man’s fallen race, and to leave others to perish, is clearly taught us: but this is a different question from the one touched upon here, — that this purpose was irrespective of man’s fall, — a sentiment which, as far as I can see, is not recognised nor taught in Scripture. And not only Calvin, but many other divines, both before and after him, seem to have gone in this respect somewhat beyond the limits of revelation; it is true, by a process of reasoning apparently obvious; but when we begin to reason on this high and mysterious subject, we become soon bewildered and lost in mazes of difficulties. — Ed.

(294) Nothing can be conceived more conclusive in argument than what is contained here. The idea of foreseen works, as the reason or the ground of election, is wholly excluded. The choice is expressly denied to be on account of any works, and is as expressly ascribed to the sovereign will of God. “He does not oppose works to faith, but to him who calls, or to the calling, which precedes faith, that is, to that calling which is according to God’s purpose. Paul means, that the difference between Jacob and Esau was made through the sole will and pleasure of God, not through their wills or works, existing or foreseen.” — Poli. Syn. Yet some of the Fathers, as Chrysostom and Theodoret, as well as some modern divines, ascribe election to foreseen works. How this is reconcilable with the argument of the Apostle, and with the instances he adduces, it is indeed a very hard matter to see. One way by which the Apostle’s argument is evaded, is, that the election here is to temporal and outward privileges. Be it so: let this be granted; but it is adduced by the Apostle as an illustration — and of what? most clearly of spiritual and eternal election. He refers both to the same principle, to the free choice of God, and not to anything in man. “God foresaw the disposition of each.” — Theodoret and Chrysostom “His election corresponds with the foreseen disposition of men.” — Theodoret “It was done by the prescience of God, whereby he knew while yet unborn, what each would be.” — Augustine These are quotations made by a modern writer (Bosanquet) with approbation: but surely nothing could be suggested more directly contrary to the statements and the argument of the Apostle. There is a mistake, I apprehend, as to the last quotation; perhaps similar to that made in quoting Augustine on the latter part of the 7th chapter of this Epistle, where the writer quotes a sentiment of Augustine, which he afterwards retracted, a thing which has been often done by the advocates of Popery, but by no means becoming a Protestant. — Ed.

(295) The meaning of the words “loving” and “hating” is here rightly explained. It is usual in Scripture to state a preference in terms like these. See Genesis 29:31; Luke 14:26; John 12:25 — Ed.

Romans 9:11
(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)
Romans 9:12
It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.
Romans 9:13
As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
Romans 9:14
What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.

Romans 9:14-18

14. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.

14. Quid ergo dicemus? num in-justitia est apud Deum? Absit:

15. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

15. Moses enim dicit, Miserebor cujus miserebor, et miserebor quem miseratus fuero.

16. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.

16. Ergo non volentis neque cur-rentis, sed miserentis est Dei.

17. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.

17. Dieit enim Scriptura Phara-oni, In hoc ipsum excitavi te, ut os-tendam in te potentiam meam, et ut praedicetur nomen meum in universa terra.

18. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.

18. Ergo cujus vult miseretur, et quem vult indurat.

14. What then shall we say? etc. The flesh cannot hear of this wisdom of God without being instantly disturbed by numberless questions, and without attempting in a manner to call God to an account. We hence find that the Apostle, whenever he treats of some high mystery, obviates the many absurdities by which he knew the minds of men would be otherwise possessed; for when men hear anything of what Scripture teaches respecting predestination, they are especially entangled with very many impediments.

The predestination of God is indeed in reality a labyrinth, from which the mind of man can by no means extricate itself: but so unreasonable is the curiosity of man, that the more perilous the examination of a subject is, the more boldly he proceeds; so that when predestination is discussed, as he cannot restrain himself within due limits, he immediately, through his rashness, plunges himself, as it were, into the depth of the sea. What remedy then is there for the godly? Must they avoid every thought of predestination? By no means: for as the Holy Spirit has taught us nothing but what it behoves us to know, the knowledge of this would no doubt be useful, provided it be confined to the word of God. Let this then be our sacred rule, to seek to know nothing concerning it, except what Scripture teaches us: when the Lord closes his holy mouth, let us also stop the way, that we may not go farther. But as we are men, to whom foolish questions naturally occur, let us hear from Paul how they are to be met.

Is there unrighteousness with God? Monstrous surely is the madness of the human mind, that it is more disposed to charge God with unrighteousness than to blame itself for blindness. Paul indeed had no wish to go out of his way to find out things by which he might confound his readers; but he took up as it were from what was common the wicked suggestion, which immediately enters the minds of many, when they hear that God determines respecting every individual according to his own will. It is indeed, as the flesh imagines, a kind of injustice, that God should pass by one and show regard to another.

In order to remove this difficulty, Paul divides his subject into two parts; in the, former of which he speaks of the elect, and in the latter of the reprobate; and in the one he would have us to contemplate the mercy of God, and in the other to acknowledge his righteous judgment. His first reply is, that the thought that there is injustice with God deserves to be abhorred, and then he shows that with regard to the two parties, there can be none.

But before we proceed further, we may observe that this very objection clearly proves, that inasmuch as God elects some and passes by others, the cause is not to be found in anything else but in his own purpose; for if the difference had been based on works, Paul would have to no purpose mentioned this question respecting the unrighteousness of God, no suspicion could have been entertained concerning it if God dealt with every one according to his merit. It may also, in the second place, be noticed, that though he saw that this doctrine could not be touched without exciting instant clamours and dreadful blasphemies, he yet freely and openly brought it forward; nay, he does not conceal how much occasion for murmuring and clamour is given to us, when we hear that before men are born their lot is assigned to each by the secret will of God; and yet, notwithstanding all this, he proceeds, and without any subterfuges, declares what he had learned from the Holy Spirit. It hence follows, that their fancies are by no means to be endured, who aim to appear wiser than the Holy Spirit, in removing and pacifying offences. That they may not criminate God, they ought honestly to confess that the salvation or the perdition of men depends on his free election. Were they to restrain their minds from unholy curiosity, and to bridle their tongues from immoderate liberty, their modesty and sobriety would be deserving of approbation; but to put a restraint on the Holy Spirit and on Paul, what audacity it is! Let then such magnanimity ever prevail in the Church of God, as that godly teachers may not be ashamed to make an honest profession of the true doctrine, however hated it may be, and also to refute whatever calumnies the ungodly may bring forward.

15. For he saith to Moses, etc. (296) With regard to the elect, God cannot be charged with any unrighteousness; for according to his good pleasure he favours them with mercy: and yet even in this case the flesh finds reasons for murmuring, for it cannot concede to God the right of showing favour to one and not to another, except the cause be made evident. As then it seems unreasonable that some should without merit be preferred to others, the petulancy of men quarrels with God, as though he deferred to persons more than what is right. Let us now see how Paul defends the righteousness of God.

In the first place, he does by no means conceal or hide what he saw would be disliked, but proceeds to maintain it with inflexible firmness. And in the second place, he labours not to seek out reasons to soften its asperity, but considers it enough to check vile barkings by the testimonies of Scripture.

It may indeed appear a frigid defence that God is not unjust, because he is merciful to whom he pleases; but as God regards his own authority alone as abundantly sufficient, so that he needs the defence of none, Paul thought it enough to appoint him the vindicator of his own right. Now Paul brings forward here the answer which Moses received from the Lord, when he prayed for the salvation of the whole people, “I will show mercy,” was God’s answer, “on whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” By this oracle the Lord declared that he is a debtor to none of mankind, and that whatever he gives is a gratuitous benefit, and then that his kindness is free, so that he can confer it on whom he pleases; and lastly, that no cause higher than his own will can be thought of, why he does good and shows favour to some men but not to all. The words indeed mean as much as though he had said, “From him to whom I have once purposed to show mercy, I will never take it away; and with perpetual kindness will I follow him to whom I have determined to be kind.” And thus he assigns the highest reason for imparting grace, even his own voluntary purpose, and also intimates that he has designed his mercy peculiarly for some; for it is a way of speaking which excludes all outward causes, as when we claim to ourselves the free power of acting, we say, “I will do what I mean to do.” The relative pronoun also expressly intimates, that mercy is not to all indiscriminately. His freedom is taken away from God, when his election is bound to external causes.

The only true cause of salvation is expressed in the two words used by Moses. The first is chnn, chenen, which means to favour or to show kindness freely and bountifully; the other is rchm, rechem, which is to be treated with mercy. Thus is confirmed what Paul intended, that the mercy of God, being gratuitous, is under no restraint, but turns wherever it pleases. (297)

16. It is not then of him who wills, etc. From the testimony adduced he draws this inference, that beyond all controversy our election is not to be ascribed to our diligence, nor to our striving, nor to our efforts, but that it is wholly to be referred to the counsel of God. That none of you may think that they who are elected are elected because they are deserving, or because they had in any way procured for themselves the favour of God, or, in short, because they had in them a particle of worthiness by which God might be moved, take simply this view of the matter, that it is neither by our will nor efforts, (for he has put running for striving or endeavour,) that we are counted among the elect, but that it wholly depends on the divine goodness, which of itself chooses those who neither will, nor strive, nor even think of such a thing. And they who reason from this passage, that there is in us some power to strive, but that it effects nothing of itself unless assisted by God’s mercy, maintain what is absurd; for the Apostle shows not what is in us, but excludes all our efforts. It is therefore a mere sophistry to say that we will and run, because Paul denies that it is of him who wills or runs, since he meant nothing else than that neither willing nor running can do anything.

They are, however, to be condemned who remain secure and idle on the pretence of giving place to the grace of God; for though nothing is done by their own striving, yet that effort which is influenced by God is not ineffectual. These things, then, are not said that we may quench the Spirit of God, while kindling sparks within us, by our waywardness and sloth; but that we may understand that everything we have is from him, and that we may hence learn to ask all things of him, to hope for all things from him, and to ascribe all things to him, while we are prosecuting the work of our salvation with fear and trembling.

Pelagius has attempted by another sophistical and worthless cavil to evade this declaration of Paul, that it is not only of him who wills and runs, because the mercy of God assists. But Augustine, not less solidly than acutely, thus refuted him, “If the will of man is denied to be the cause of election, because it is not the sole cause, but only in part; so also we may say that it is not of mercy but of him who wills and runs, for where there is a mutual cooperation, there ought to be a reciprocal commendation: but unquestionably the latter sentiment falls through its own absurdity.” Let us then feel assured that the salvation of those whom God is pleased to save, is thus ascribed to his mercy, that nothing may remain to the contrivance of man. (298)

Nor is there much more colour for what some advance, who think that these things are said in the person of the ungodly; for how can it be right to turn passages of Scripture in which the justice of God is asserted, for the purpose of reproaching him with tyranny? and then is it probable that Paul, when the refutation was at hand and easy, would have suffered the Scripture to be treated with gross mockery? But such subterfuges have they laid hold on, who absurdly measured this incomparable mystery of God by their own judgment. To their delicate and tender ears this doctrine was more grating than that they could think it worthy of an Apostle. But they ought rather to have bent their own stubbornness to the obedience of the Spirit, that they might not surrender themselves up to their gross inventions.

17. For the Scripture saith, etc. He comes now to the second part, the rejection of the ungodly, and as there seems to be something more unreasonable in this, he endeavours to make it more fully evident, how God, in rejecting whom he wills, is not only irreprehensible, but also wonderful in his wisdom and justice. He then takes his proof from Exodus 9:16, where the Lord declares that it was he who raised up Pharaoh for this end, that while he obstinately strove to resist the power of God, he might, by being overcome and subdued, afford a proof how invincible the arm of God is; to bear which, much less to resist it, no human power is able. See then the example which the Lord designed to exhibit in Pharaoh! (299)

There are here two things to be considered, — the predestination of Pharaoh to ruin, which is to be referred to the past and yet the hidden counsel of God, — and then, the design of this, which was to make known the name of God; and on this does Paul primarily dwell: for if this hardening was of such a kind, that on its account the name of God deserved to be made known, it is an impious thing, according to evidence derived from the contrary effect, to charge him with any unrighteousness.

But as many interpreters, striving to modify this passage, pervert it, we must first observe, that for the word, “I have raised,” or stirred up, (excitavi,) the Hebrew is, “I have appointed,” (constitui,) by which it appears, that God, designing to show, that the contumacy of Pharaoh would not prevent him to deliver his people, not only affirms, that his fury had been foreseen by him, and that he had prepared means for restraining it, but that he had also thus designedly ordained it, and indeed for this end, — that he might exhibit a more illustrious evidence of his own power. (300) Absurdly then do some render this passage, — that Pharaoh was preserved for a time; for his beginning is what is spoken of here. For, seeing many things from various quarters happen to men, which retard their purposes and impede the course of their actions, God says, that Pharaoh proceeded from him, and that his condition was by himself assigned to him: and with this view agrees the verb, I have raised up. But that no one may imagine, that Pharaoh was moved from above by some kind of common and indiscriminate impulse, to rush headlong into that madness, the special cause, or end, is mentioned; as though it had been said, — that God not only knew what Pharaoh would do, but also designedly ordained him for this purpose. It hence follows, that it is in vain to contend with him, as though he were bound to give a reason; for he of himself comes forth before us, and anticipates the objection, by declaring, that the reprobate, through whom he designs his name to be made known, proceed from the hidden fountain of his providence.

18. To whom he wills then he showeth mercy, etc. Here follows the conclusion of both parts; which can by no means be understood as being the language of any other but of the Apostle; for he immediately addresses an opponent, and adduces what might have been objected by an opposite party. There is therefore no doubt but that Paul, as we have already reminded you, speaks these things in his own person, namely, that God, according to his own will, favours with mercy them whom he pleases, and unsheathes the severity of his judgment against whomsoever it seemeth him good. That our mind may be satisfied with the difference which exists between the elect and the reprobate, and may not inquire for any cause higher than the divine will, his purpose was to convince us of this — that it seems good to God to illuminate some that they may be saved, and to blind others that they may perish: for we ought particularly to notice these words, to whom he wills, and, whom he wills: beyond this he allows us not to proceed.

But the word hardens, when applied to God in Scripture, means not only permission, (as some washy moderators would have it,) but also the operation of the wrath of God: for all those external things, which lead to the blinding of the reprobate, are the instruments of his wrath; and Satan himself, who works inwardly with great power, is so far his minister, that he acts not, but by his command. (301) Then that frivolous evasion, which the schoolmen have recourse to respecting foreknowledge, falls to the ground: for Paul teaches us, that the ruin of the wicked is not only foreseen by the Lord, but also ordained by his counsel and his will; and Solomon teaches as the same thing, — that not only the destruction of the wicked is foreknown, but that the wicked themselves have been created for this very end — that they may perish. (Proverbs 16:4.)


(296) The quotation is from Exodus 33:19, and literally from the Septuagint. The verb eleeo is to be taken here in the sense of showing favour rather than mercy, according to the meaning of the Hebrew word; for the idea of mercy is what the other verb, oikteiro, conveys. Schleusner renders it here and in some other passages in this sense. The rendering then would be — “I will favour whom I favour,” that is, whom I choose to favour; “and I will pity whom I pity,” which means whom I choose to pity. The latter verb in both clauses is in Hebrew in the future tense, but rendered properly in Greek in the present, as it commonly expresses a present act. — Ed.

(297) These two words clearly show that election regards man as fallen; for favour is what is shown to the undeserving, and mercy to the wretched and miserable, so that the choice that is made is out of the corrupted mass of mankind, contemplated in that state, and not as in a state of innocency. Augustine says, “Deus alios facit vasa irae secundum meritus; alios vasa miserieordiae secundum gratiam — God makes some vessels of wrath according to their merit; others vessels of mercy according to his grace.” In another place he says, “Deus ex eadem massa damnata originaliter, tanquam figulus, fecit aliud vas ad honourem, aliud in contumeliam — God, as a potter, made of the same originally condemned mass, one vessel to honour, another to dishonour.” “Two sorts of vessels God forms out of the great lump of fallen mankind.” — Henry

(298) The terms “willing” and “running” are evidently derived from the circumstances connected with the history of Esau. “In vain,” says Turrettin, “did Esau seek the blessing. In vain did Isaac hasten to grant it, and in vain did Esau run to procure venison for his father; neither the father’s willingness nor the running of the son availed anything; God’s favour overruled the whole.” But the subject handled is God’s sovereignty in the manifestation of his favour and grace. Esau was but a type of the unbelieving Jews, when the gospel was proclaimed, and of thousands of such as are in name Christians. There is some sort of “willing,” and a great deal of “running,” and yet the blessing is not attained. There was much of apparent willing, and running in the strict formality and zeal of Pharisaism, and there is much of the same kind still in the austerities and mechanical worship of superstition, and also in the toils and devotions of self-righteousness. The word or the revealed will of God is in all these instances misunderstood and neglected. Isaac’s “willingness” to give the blessing to Esau, notwithstanding the announcement made at his birth, and Rebecca’s conduct in securing it to Jacob, are singular instances of man’s imperfections, and of the overruling power of God. Isaac acted as though he had forgotten what God had expressed as his will; and Rebecca acted as though God could not effect his purpose without her interference, and an interference, too, in a way highly improper and sinful. It was the trial of faith, and the faith of both halted exceedingly; yet the purpose of God was still fulfilled, but the improper manner in which it was fulfilled was afterwards visited with God’s displeasure. — Ed.

(299) “For,” at the beginning of this verse, connects it with Romans 9:14; it is the second reason given for what that verse contains: this is in accordance with Paul’s manner of writing, and it may be rendered here, moreover, or besides, or farther. Macknight renders it “besides.” Were gar rendered thus in many instances, the meaning would be much more evident. — Ed.

(300) It is somewhat remarkable, that Paul, in quoting this passage, Exodus 9:16, substitutes a clause for the first that is given by the Septuagint: instead of “heneken touto dieterethes on this account thou hast been preserved,” he gives, “eis auto touto exegeira se — for this very end have I raised thee.” The Hebrew is, “And indeed for this end have I made thee to stand, hmdtyk” The verb used by Paul is found only in one other place in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 6:14; where it refers to the resurrection. In the Septuagint it often occurs, but never, as Stuart tells us, in the sense of creating, or bringing into existence, but in that of exciting, rousing from sleep, or rendering active. References are made to Genesis 28:16; Judges 5:12; Psalm 7:7; Jeremiah 50:41; Joel 3:9, etc. Hence it is by him rendered here, “I have roused thee up.” But to make the Hebrew verb to bear this sense is by no means easy: the three places referred to, Nehemiah 6:7, and Daniel 11:11 and 13, do not seem to afford a satisfactory proof. Psalm 107:25, is more to the point. Its first meaning is, to make to stand, and then, to present persons, Numbers 13:6, — -to establish or make strong a kingdom or a city, 1 Kings 15:4, — to fix persons in office, 2 Chronicles 35:2, — to set up or build a house, Ezra 9:9, — to appoint teachers, Nehemiah 6:7, — and to arrange or set in order an army, Daniel 11:13. Such are the ideas included in this verb. “I have made thee to stand,” established, or made thee strong, may be its meaning in this passage. To establish or to make one strong, is more than to preserve, the word used by the Septuagint: and hence it was, it may be, that Paul adopted another word, which conveys the idea, that Pharaoh had been elevated into greater power than his predecessors, which the Hebrew verb seems to imply. Venema, as well as Stuart, thought that the idea of exciting, rousing in to action, or stimulating, is to be ascribed to the verbs here used, and that what is meant is, that God by his plagues awakened and excited all the evil that was in Pharaoh’s heart for the purposes here described, and that by this process he “hardened” him; and the conclusion of Romans 9:28 seems to favour this view, for the hardening mentioned there can have no reference to anything in the context except to what is said in this verse. But the simpler view is that mentioned by Wolfius — that reference is made to the dangers which Pharaoh had already escaped. God says, “I have made thee to stand,” i.e., to remain alive in the midst of them. We hence see the reason why Paul changed the verb; for “preserve,” used by the Septuagint, did not fully express the meaning; but to “raise up,” as it were from the jaws of death, conveys more fully what is meant by the original. — Ed.

(301) Much has been unnecessarily written on this subject of hardening. Pharaoh is several times said to have hardened his own heart, and God is said also several times to have hardened him too. The Scripture in many instances makes no minute distinctions, for these may be easily gathered from the general tenor of its teaching. God is in his nature holy, and therefore hardening as his act cannot be sinful: and as he is holy, he hates sin and punishes it; and for this purpose he employs wicked men, and even Satan himself, as in the case of Ahab. As a punishment, he affords occasions and opportunities to the obstinate even to increase their sins, and thus in an indirect way hardens them in their rebellion and resistance to his will; and this was exactly the case with Pharaoh. This, as Calvin says, was the operation or working of his wrath. The history of Pharaoh is a sufficient explanation of what is said here. He was a cruel tyrant and oppressor; and God in his first message to Moses said, “I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not by a mighty hand.” God might indeed have softened his heart and disposed him to allow them to depart: but it pleased him to act otherwise, and to manifest his power and his greatness in another way: so that “whom he wills, he favours, and whom he wills, he hardens;” and for reasons known only to himself. Reference is at the end of this section made to Proverbs 16:4. The creation mentioned can be understood in no other sense than the continued exercise of divine power in bringing into existence human beings in their present fallen state. But “creation” is not the word used, nor is the passage correctly rendered. It is not vr’ nor sh, but phl; and it is not a verb but a substantive. Literally rendered the passage is the following — Every work of Jehovah is for its (or, his) purpose, And even the wicked is for the day of calamity. The Rev. G. Holden is very indignant that this text has been applied to support the doctrine of reprobation. Be it, that it has been misapplied; yet the doctrine does not thereby fall to the ground. If Paul does not maintain it in this chapter and in other passages, we must hold that words have no meaning. The history of God’s providence is an obvious confirmation of the same awful truth. — Ed.

Romans 9:15
For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
Romans 9:16
So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
Romans 9:17
For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.
Romans 9:18
Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
Romans 9:19
Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?

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 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 honour, and another unto dishonour?

21. An non habet potestatem fi-gulus luti ex eadem massa, faciendi, aliud quidem vas in honourem, 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. (302) 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. (303) 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. (304) 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 honours not with his favour, 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. (305)

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 honour, except such an authority over men be conceded to him as to constitute him the arbitrator of life and death. (306)


(302) 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 gar, in the next clause, is omitted by Calvin, but Griesbach says that it ought to be retained. — Ed.

(303) “But” is not sufficiently emphatical here; menounge; “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.

(304) “Quis es qui contendas judicio cum Deo;” tis ei ho antapokrinomenos to Theo “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 anti 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 nh He renders it here, “cure Deo altercari — to quarrel, or, dispute with God.” — Ed.

(305) The words in Romans 9:20 are taken almost literally from Isaiah 29:16, only the latter clause is somewhat different; the sentence is, “me erei to plasma to plasanti auto ou su me eplasas — 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.

(306) 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.

Romans 9:20
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?
Romans 9:21
Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
Romans 9:22
What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:

Romans 9:22-23

22. What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:

22. Quid autem si Deus volens demonstrare iram, et notam facere potentiam suam, sustinuit in multa patientia vasa irae, in interitum ap-parata;

23. And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,

23. Ut notas quoque faceret divi-tins gloriae sum in vasa misericordiae, quae preparavit in gloriam?

22. And what, etc. A second answer, by which he briefly shows, that though the counsel of God is in fact incomprehensible, yet his unblamable justice shines forth no less in the perdition of the reprobate than in the salvation of the elect. He does not indeed give a reason for divine election, so as to assign a cause why this man is chosen and that man rejected; for it was not meet that the things contained in the secret counsel of God should be subjected to the judgment of men; and, besides, this mystery is inexplicable. He therefore keeps us from curiously examining those things which exceed human comprehension. He yet shows, that as far as God’s predestination manifests itself, it appears perfectly just.

The particles, ei de, used by Paul, I take to mean, And what if? so that the whole sentence is a question; and thus the sense will be more evident: and there is here an ellipsis, when we are to consider this as being understood, — “Who then can charge him with unrighteousness, or arraign him?” for here appears nothing but the most perfect course of justice. (307)

But if we wish fully to understand Paul, almost every word must be examined. He then argues thus, — There are vessels prepared for destruction, that is, given up and appointed to destruction: they are also vessels of wrath, that is, made and formed for this end, that they may be examples of God’s vengeance and displeasure. If the Lord bears patiently for a time with these, not destroying them at the first moment, but deferring the judgment prepared for them, and this in order to set forth the decisions of his severity, that others may be terrified by so dreadful examples, and also to make known his power, to exhibit which he makes them in various ways to serve; and, further, that the amplitude of his mercy towards the elect may hence be more fully known and more brightly shine forth; — what is there worthy of being reprehended in this dispensation? But that he is silent as to the reason, why they are vessels appointed to destruction, is no matter of wonder. He indeed takes it as granted, according to what has been already said, that the reason is hid in the secret and inexplorable counsel of God; whose justice it behoves us rather to adore than to scrutinise.

And he has mentioned vessels, as commonly signifying instruments; for whatever is done by all creatures, is, as it were, the ministration of divine power. For the best reason then are we, the faithful, called the vessels of mercy, whom the Lord uses as instruments for the manifestation of his mercy; and the reprobate are the vessels of wrath, because they serve to show forth the judgments of God.

23. That he might also make known the riches of his glory, etc. I doubt not but the two particles kai hina, is an instance of a construction, where the first word is put last; (husteron proteron) and that this clause may better unite with the former, I have rendered it, That he might also make known, etc. (Ut notas quoque faceret, etc.) It is the second reason which manifests the glory of God in the destruction of the reprobate, because the greatness of divine mercy towards the elect is hereby more clearly made known; for how do they differ from them except that they are delivered by the Lord from the same gulf of destruction? and this by no merit of their own, but through his gratuitous kindness. It cannot then be but that the infinite mercy of God towards the elect must appear increasingly worthy of praise, when we see how miserable are all they who escape not his wrath.

The word glory, which is here twice mentioned, I consider to have been used for God’s mercy, a metonymy of effect for the cause; for his chief praise or glory is in acts of kindness. So in Ephesians 1:13, after having taught us, that we have been adopted to the praise of the glory of his grace, he adds, that we are sealed by the Spirit of promise unto the praise of his glory, the word grace being left out. He wished then to show, that the elect are instruments or vessels through whom God exercises his mercy, that through them he may glorify his name.

Though in the second clause he asserts more expressly that it is God who prepares the elect for glory, as he had simply said before that the reprobate are vessels prepared for destruction; there is yet no doubt but that the preparation of both is connected with the secret counsel of God. Paul might have otherwise said, that the reprobate give up or cast themselves into destruction; but he intimates here, that before they are born they are destined to their lot.


(307) Critics have in various ways attempted to supply the ellipsis, but what is here proposed is most approved. Beza considered the corresponding clause to be at Romans 9:30, and viewed the intervening verses as parenthetic, “And if God,” etc., — “What then shall we say?” Grotius subjoined, “Does God do any wrong?” Elsner,” Has he not the power?” and Wolfius,” What canst, thou say against God?” Stuart proposes to repeat the question in Romans 9:20, “Who art thou?” etc. Some connect this verse with the question in Romans 9:20, and include the latter part of it and Romans 9:21 in a parenthesis. Whatever way may be adopted, the sense is materially the same. It has also been suggested that ei de is for eiper, since, seeing, 2 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Peter 2:3. In this case no apodosis is necessary. But we may take ei as meaning since, and de as an iliatire, and render the three verses thus, — 22. “Since then God willed (or, it was God’s will) to show His wrath and to make known his power, he endured with much forbearance the vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction; 23. So he willed to make known the riches of his glory towards the vessels of mercy, whom he has fore-prepared for glory, 24. Even us, whom he has called not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles.” The verb esti, or en, is often understood after participles, especially in Hebrew; and kai has the meaning of so’ in some instances, Matthew 6:10; Acts 7:51; Galatians 1:9; and in some cases, as Schleusner says, without being preceded by any particle of comparison, such as Matthew 12:26, and 1 John 2:27, 28; but ei; here stands somewhat in that character. The beginning of Romans 9:23 presents an anomaly, if, with Stuart and others, we consider “willing:” or wills to be understood, as it is followed in the preceding verse by an infinitive, and here by a subjunctive mood. But Beza, Grotius, and Hammond, seem to regard the verb “endured,” to be here, as it were, repeated, which gives the same meaning to the passage as that which is given to it by Calvin — Ed.