“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? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” (Romans 9:20-21)
The following excerpt is from Chrysostom’s (349-407) homilies on Romans (this homily is on Romans 9:20-21). He clearly shows that he is the unbelieving objector in Romans 9:19.
“Here it is not to do away with free-will that he says this, but to show, up to what point we ought to obey God.”
There ought to be no mutinous objection to God making someone a vessel of dishonor, of course. But the passage IS doing precisely what Chrysostom says it is not doing. The passage speaks of God’s power over the clay, etc., and Golden-mouth comes up with the power of free-will.
“For in respect of calling God to account, we ought to be as little disposed to it as the clay is. For we ought to abstain not from gainsaying or questioning only, but even from speaking or thinking of it at all, and to become like that lifeless matter, which followeth the potter’s hands, and lets itself be drawn about anywhere he may please. And this is the only point he applied the illustration to, not, that is, to any enunciation of the rule of life, but to the complete obedience and silence enforced upon us.”
“And this we ought to observe in all cases, that we are not to take the illustrations quite entire, but after selecting the good of them, and that for which they were introduced, to let the rest alone.”
Paul presents the illustration of a potter forming clay into into a vessels; some unto honor, others to dishonor. The potter has power over the clay to make whatever he wants. The potter has “made [them] thus” (cf. Romans 9:20). This is quite clear and straightforward, yes?
“As, for instance, when he says, ‘He couched, he lay down as a lion;’ (Numb. xxiv. 9) let us take out the indomitable and fearful part, not the brutality, nor any other of the things belonging to a lion. And again, when He says, ‘I will meet them as a bereaved bear’ (Hos. xiii. 8), let us take the vindictiveness. And when he says, ‘our God is a consuming fire’ (Deut. iv. 24; and Heb. xii. 29), the wasting power exerted in punishing. So also here must we single out the clay, the potter, and the vessels.”
The book of Revelation speaks of the wrath of the Lamb. A wonderful passage.
Okay, so Chrysostom correctly says we should “single out the clay, the potter, and the vessels.”
“And when he does go on to say, ‘Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?’ do not suppose that this is said by Paul as an account of the creation, nor as implying a necessity over the will, but to illustrate the sovereignty and difference of dispensations; for if we do not take it in this way, divers incongruities will follow, for if here he were speaking about the will, and those who are good and those not so, He will be Himself the Maker of these, and man will be free from all responsibility. And at this rate, Paul will also be shown to be at variance with himself, as he always bestows chief honor upon free choice.” [underlining mine]
The illustration demonstrates there is a sovereign God who makes a difference in how He dispenses with both types of vessels. Chrysostom basically says that we ought not to suppose this is about creation. Now WHY would he tell us not to suppose that? Probably because it would involve the Creator actually creating things.
Presumably Golden-mouth’s problem is not with God creating per se, but with God creating reprobates (cf. Romans 9:20). By Chrysostom’s lights, this creating — forming — of reprobate vessels of dishonor, would imply “a necessity over the will.” And this cannot be since he told us earlier that man has free-will.
If we cannot bring forth the water of free-will from the dry stone of God’s sovereignty, then “divers incongruities will follow” (so we are told). Here is one resultant “incongruity” for not turning the text on its head:
“… He will be Himself the Maker of these, and man will be free from all responsibility.”
If we do not twist this passage to our own destruction, then we make God the “Maker of these”; and if the Maker then, “free from all responsibility.”
Chrysostom’s objection amounts to this:
“Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?” (Romans 9:19)
Free from all responsibility is equivalent in meaning to “Why doth he yet find fault?” His earlier comment about “implying a necessity over the will” approximates, “For who hath resisted his will?” The carnal reasoning goes like this:
If there is an omnipotent necessity over the will of the sinner, then he is not responsible and thus the Maker cannot find fault.
“There is nothing else then which he here wishes to do, save to persuade the hearer to yield entirely to God, and at no time to call Him to account for anything whatever.”
Is Chrysostom “[yielding] entirely to” God’s sovereign prerogative to do whatever He desires to do with His creatures (cf. Romans 9:22)? No, clearly not.
“For as the potter (he says) of the same lump makes what he pleaseth, and no one forbids it;”
Except that he would vainly forbid God to do what He pleaseth, since that would (allegedly) free creature-man from all responsibility.
“thus also when God, of the same race of men, punisheth some, and honoreth others, be not thou curious nor meddlesome herein, but worship only, and imitate the clay. And as it followeth the hands of the potter, so do thou also the mind of Him that so ordereth things. For He worketh nothing at random, or mere hazard, though thou be ignorant of the secret of His Wisdom. Yet thou allowest the other of the same lump to make divers things, and findest no fault:”
Right — no one is being meddlesome here. As for “[imitating] the clay.” Well, it depends on which clay you’d advise me to imitate. I think I’ll imitate the clay called Paul, and utterly repudiate that carping clay called Chrysostom.
“but of Him you demand an account of His punishments and honors, and will not allow Him to know who is worthy and who is not so; but since the same lump is of the same substance, you assert that there are the same dispositions. And, how monstrous this is! And yet not even is it on the potter that the honor and the dishonor of the things made of the lump depends, but upon the use made by those that handle them, so here also it depends on the free choice.” [underlining mine]
That underlined portion is so blatant in its mutiny. Honor and dishonor do not depend on the Potter, but upon the “free choice” of the pots.
“Still, as I said before, one must take this illustration to have one bearing only, which is that one should not contravene God, but yield to His incomprehensible Wisdom. For the examples ought to be greater than the subject, and than the things on account of which they are brought forward, so as to draw on the hearer better. Since if they were not greater and did not mount far above it, he could not attack as he ought, and shame the objectors. However, their ill-timed obstinacy he silenced in this way with becoming superiority.” [underlining mine]
Except that Chrysostom has been obstinately contravening God throughout most of this homily.