The following is something I transcribed from a portion of James White’s podcast, “The Dividing Line.” Note how well James White does NOT exegete what the passages in question are actually saying.
Today on the Dividing Line: What a Program!
12/02/2010 – James White
Felt like I was back in a seminary classroom today! It was great. Our first caller, Peter, set a new record for how many questions you can cram into one phone call. Well done.
Peter (P): “And the last thing is about the whole Potter and the clay thing. If I were to mold something in my art class and I were to mold something obscene…I’d think I’d get in trouble for it. How is that different when it comes to God?
God makes the dishonorable vessels (verse 21). These dishonorable vessels are also called “vessels of wrath” (verse 22) because God has made them for the purpose of demonstrating His power and wrath in them; they are fitted out by God for the purpose of destruction. Some dishonorable vessels (i.e., reprobates) are obscene — that is, their entire life is characterized by obscenity. And of course, some dishonorable vessels are outwardly religious and superficially moral who trust in their own righteousness.
James White (JW): Ummm….I
P: Romans 9:20…basically said…how could you say to your Maker, why did You make me this way? Is that directly attributing to God what He had made…in reference to Pharaoh?
JW: Umm, well the use of the term obscene…I don’t know where in the world that’s coming from…the context is talking about vessels of honor and vessels of dishonor.
Well, I think the point the caller was trying to make was that Pharaoh was doing something “obscene” by rebelling against God and then the objection of one like Pharaoh (or perhaps an advocate of Pharaoh) is, “Why did You make me like this?”
JW: That is, vessels specifically made to glorify God and to…find a place in His home versus vessels of wrath that demonstrate His justice and His…wrath against sin…which are for common use, not obscene use. Um, so the point…of the Potter’s illustration is God’s sovereignty and His right to do with His own creation as He sees fit. I don’t think that there’s a direct correlation to someone creating something obscene in an art class.
Romans 9:21 implies dishonorable use. All that is obscene is dishonorable; but not all that is dishonorable is obscene. For like I said above, there are non-obscene moral self-righteous religionists who are not obscene (but certainly dishonorable). James had said that it is “His right to do with His own creation as He sees fit.” You are certainly correct on that point, Dr. White.
P: So when he says in Romans 9:20…why have You made me this way?…you wouldn’t say that God made Pharaoh the way he is, a wicked sinner?
The Scriptural teaching is that God DID make Pharaoh a wicked sinner.
JW: Uh, the actual objection there is found in Romans 9:20 where it says, for who resists His will?
Actually, the phrase “who resists His will” is found in Romans 9:19.
JW: The objection is to the sovereignty of God…and to the fact that He chooses to extend His grace and to free certain people and He does not extend that grace to others.
Is it merely an objection to God not extending grace to others? Does Romans 9:18 say, “to whom He desires, He extends mercy. And to whom He desires, He does not extend mercy”? Of course it doesn’t. The objection is not to a mere “withholding of mercy,” but to an unconditional hardening by God.
JW: Pharaoh was exactly what God intended him to be and exactly what Pharaoh wanted to be.
This is true. Pharaoh, created by God as a vessel of dishonor, did not and could not resist God’s decretive will to actively harden him for destruction. To paraphrase the late heretic Gordon Clark, Pharaoh did not complain about being a vessel of wrath but some people would complain for him.
JW: In fact, God had to restrain Pharaoh from being worse than he was…
This is eisegesis with a vengeance. This is cavalier in the extreme. Where in the world does White get this from the relevant Romans and Exodus texts? It was impossible for Pharaoh to be “worse” than he was. If God is truly the Sovereign Controller of His creation — that is, if God is truly God — then for Him to restrain makes no sense. Think back to Isaiah 10 and the vaunting axe. What kind of ridiculous picture is painted if the Sovereign Woodsman had to “restrain” the axe from being worse than it was. Absolutely ridiculous.
JW: and so there was actually an extent of what could be called in some ways, a restraining grace or a common grace that kept Pharaoh from being as bad as he was…as bad as he could have been, let’s put it that way.
White just regurgitates the swill he probably read from his truthless heroes, John Murray and Jonathan Edwards. This God-dishonoring teaching of “common” or “restraining grace” is not limited to Murray and Edwards of course — in fact, it is part of the “wonderfully grand” Reformed tradition. What vain speculation on the part of James White to say that somewhere hidden underneath the teaching of God’s unconditional hatred (Romans 9:11-13) and unconditional active hardening (Romans 9:17-22), is the doctrine of common or restraining grace.
JW: But…the objection of Romans 9 is not so much to why am I a sinner? as it is to why…would one person be given grace and another person not given grace…
Well, certainly the whole of Romans 9 includes why one person would be given grace unconditionally and another person unconditionally hardened. But Romans 9:20 DOES say, “Why did You make me like this?” Why is he a sinner, White? Because God made him a sinner by unconditionally hardening him. In the objector’s mind, if this be the case then God cannot find fault with him. That’s the objection.
JW: As if grace could be something that was demanded…not the idea that we’re all sinners and God somehow forced us to be that way…no God didn’t force Pharaoh to be a sinner…He kept Pharaoh from being a worse sinner than he actually was. But He did have a purpose in Pharaoh’s life and He had a purpose in putting him in the position he was in and that was to demonstrate His power and His majesty.
White says, “God didn’t force Pharaoh to be a sinner.” There’s that exceedingly, infinitely too weak of a term being used again to misrepresent God’s active hardening. God did WAY MORE than force Pharaoh, Dr. White. Read the relevant texts James — this type hardening, this alleged “forcing” CANNOT BE RESISTED (Romans 9:18-19). If God had to “force” Pharaoh to be a sinner, then He would not be the omnipotent God of Scripture. God did NOT keep Pharaoh from being a worse sinner than he actually was. Pharaoh, as a created vessel in whom God desired to show His wrath and power, was precisely as bad as God intended him to be.
P: Would it be proper for someone like Dawkins to walk outside…lift his hands up to the heavens and say why have You made me this way? Would that be proper on his part?
JW: What is proper for Richard Dawkins according to Romans chapter one verse 20 is to recognize that he has a Creator and therefore he should thank Him for the life that he has been given…Dawkins has no grounds upon which to question God….Now whether Dawkins would go out and scream that is another issue…but he certainly would not have any grounds for doing so because the reality is that he is not owed anything by God and that if it were not for God’s restraint he would be a whole lot worse of a person than he is…
The same heretical, humanistic, and anti-God hogwash that White applied to Pharaoh, now gets applied to Richard Dawkins.
JW: So he actually should be thanking God…that God has been so patient with because uh, Christopher Hitchens…Richard Dawkins if God wanted to just simply exercise His justice at one fell swoop, He could call either one of them out of existence at any moment and do so completely justly. But He has not, He has extended to them life and health and…slowly taking that from both of them since they’re both aging and Christopher Hitchens has cancer…and they both are continuing in their hatred of Him despite all those things.
P: Okay, so what would be a practical example of a dishonorable use or a vessel for dishonorable use? Is that like something evil…is that reference to…evil use?
JW: Dishonorable use in Romans 9 is in contrast to honorable use…so in other words, the difference between the beatiful piece of pottery that is in the king’s house and the trash can that is in the servant’s house. In other words, God…the potter has a right at His own wheel…to make whatever he chooses to make…That is his kingly right.
The Sovereign Potter has a right to make what He wants at His own wheel, Dr. White. And that means He has the right to make Pharaoh a sinner for the purpose of displaying His power and wrath in and also to make known to the vessels of mercy that Christ’s work alone is what makes them to differ from the vessels of wrath (see Romans 9:22-23).
JW: That’s God’s right to do as He chooses…with His creation which brings about His greatest glory…the point that Paul is making is what if He chose to be patient with vessels of wrath? Vessels that He is having to restrain…that He is having to hold His power back from punishing…that experience great things in this life from His hand, even though they do not deserve any of it and they hate Him and they spit in His face…and they live their lives in direct rebellion to Him…what if He does that so that He might demonstrate His wrath and His power in their eventual judgment and in the glorification of those vessels of honor that in this world seemed so despised by the world but in that final judgment will be shown to be the heirs of grace.
What White does not understand is that IT WAS BECAUSE God desired to display His wrath and to make His power known that He endured in much long-suffering vessels of wrath having been fitted out for destruction. The patience and long-suffering of God towards vessels of wrath is NOT an expression of “common or restraining grace.” On the contrary, it is a display of power and wrath. Even the hyper-conditionalist heretic John Piper appeared to understand that much:
“What he desires is to accomplish a purpose, namely, ‘to demonstrate wrath and to make known his power.’ Therefore, by revealing a twofold purpose which God desires to accomplish, Rom 9:22ab answers the question why God sustains and tolerates vessels of wrath. Evidently, by doing this, God’s sovereign power and terrible wrath can be demonstrated even more vividly than if God were to bring down final judgment on vessels of wrath at the very outset of their disobedience” (John Piper, The Justification of God, p. 187, emphasis Piper’s [Piper used italic emphasis in the original, but I am using bold-face print instead–CD]).
Some might say that Romans 2:4-5 refutes the idea that God sustains and tolerates vessels of wrath IN ORDER to show His wrath and power. But they would try to fabricate a contradiction in Scripture since we already see from Exodus and Romans 9 that the intention of God was NOT to express some kind of “common grace” or kindness to Pharaoh, but to unconditionally harden him for destruction. The intention of God expressed in Romans 9:22 is to show wrath precisely by means of patient enduring in much long-suffering.
Romans 2:4 says: “Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, and the forbearance and the long-suffering, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” Pharaoh did NOT know that the kindness of God leads (or points) to repentance. Only those who have repented and been saved know that the kindness of God leads to repentance. Romans 2:5 describes the case of Pharaoh — one of hardness and impenitence; a treasuring up of wrath.
Another quote from Piper:
“Since the language of Rom 9:22 is so clearly reminiscent of 9:17, where God’s dealings with Pharaoh are in view, there is good reason, therefore, to infer that the divine action of 9:22 is indeed the action of a mighty commander who wills to display his power and wrath in defeating his enemies (the ‘vessels of wrath’) for the sake of his people, the ‘vessels of mercy.’ Against this contextual backdrop the idea of sustaining and tolerating the enemy in much patience is not inconsistent with, but conducive to, God’s ‘desire to show his wrath and make known his power'” (Piper, p. 210; italics Piper’s [Piper used italic emphasis in the original, but I am using bold-face print instead–CD])
Continuing with the dialogue of Peter and James:
P: So the what if in Romans 9:22, is that a hypothetical or is that actually what God does?
JW: No, that’s simply demonstrating in Romans 9:22 the fact that…well let’s read it for folks…
P: What if God…desiring to show His wrath to make know His power has endured with much patience…it sounds like it’s hypothetical by the ‘what if,’ right?
JW: Not…that’s his whole point…on the contrary who are you O man who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, why did You make me like this, will it? 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? There’s the usage things there…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. And so Paul is saying…this is what God has done and here is the reason He has done so, so that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy….the fact that you have Him patiently enduring vessels of wrath allows for those of us who, by His grace are vessels of mercy…to not only praise and worship Him for what He has done for us, but in the final judgment His justice is seen in how patient and enduring He was with them and then in the final judgment of them…that glory is then revealed to those of us who will see this in its entirety who will surround the throne and worship Him forever.
Just a quote here by Piper on the “although willing” or “although desiring” of the NASB translation:
“I will read it to you from verses 22-23 and you decide if you think that is a fair restatement of Paul’s argument. ‘What if God, desiring to show his wrath – [it is wrong to insert ‘although’ before ‘desiring’ the way the NASB does, saying ‘Although he desired to show his wrath…’
That’s a paraphrase that gets the meaning exactly backward. It’s wrong because we know from verse 17 it is not although God desired to show his wrath and power that he raised Pharaoh up and endured his rebellion through 10 plagues; rather it is because he desired to display his power and wrath that he dealt with Pharaoh the way he did (Exodus 7:3; 8:10; 10:1; 14:4)] – What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/how-god-makes-known-the-riches-of-his-glory-to-the-vessels-of-mercy).