Vessels of Wrath Fitted to Destruction
“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 …?” (Rom. 9:22). A reader asks, “Are ‘the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction’ by themselves (as many advocates of a divine desire to save the reprobate claim) or by God?”
Of course, it is true that humans who perish eternally do fit themselves for their destruction by their unbelief and other sins. They themselves are morally responsible for their damnation; God is not to blame. Belgic Confession 13 declares, in the context of God’s almighty providential government even over evil, that He is not “the author of … sins.” But this ethical responsibility of lost sinners is not the teaching of Romans 9:22.
The text clearly teaches that Almighty God fits the vessels of wrath to destruction. First, the verb form is passive: they are fitted. Romans 9:22 does not state that the vessels fit themselves, actively, for destruction but that they are fitted by Another. As the first part of verse 22 indicates, this Other is “God,” who is “willing” (i.e., desiring) to show His wrath upon the vessels of wrath and to make His power known upon them.
Second, the thought of all of Romans 9 is the sovereignty of God in damnation, as well as in salvation. God hardens whom He wills or wishes or wants or desires (18). God is the omnipotent Potter who (actively) makes vessels “unto dishonour” (21). The thought of verse 22, in its close relation with verse 23, is that just as God prepares some humans unto glory so He fits others unto destruction.
How does God fit some to destruction? The fitting of verse 22 is not the eternal decree of reprobation itself, but an activity of God upon and within some humans that carries out the decree of reprobation. God has sovereignly reprobated some in the same predestinating decree in which He has elected others unto eternal life. This damnation is in the way of God’s fitting the reprobate for their destruction. This fitting consists of their condemnation and total depravity in the fall of Adam, God’s hardening of them by the preaching of the gospel and His giving them over to all their other sins.
Some who claim that Romans 9:22 teaches that the vessels of wrath fit themselves for destruction and who oppose the doctrine that God fits them profess to be Calvinists. I confront them, therefore, with Calvin’s own explanation of “the vessels of wrath” in Romans 9:22: “That they were ‘fitted to destruction’ by their own wickedness is an idea so silly that it needs no notice. It is indeed true that the reprobate procure to themselves the wrath of God and that they daily hasten the falling of its weight upon their own heads, but it must be confessed by all that the apostle is here treating of that difference made between the elect and the reprobate that proceeds from the secret will and purpose of God alone” (Calvin’s Calvinism [Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2009], p. 66).
Who are the genuine Calvinists? Those who reject and twist the apostle’s confession of God’s sovereignty in Romans 9:22, and outrightly contradict Calvin’s explanation of the text and hold a view which he calls “so silly,” or all those who faithfully confess Jehovah’s sovereignty and stand with Calvin on Romans 9:22? Prof. David J. Engelsma