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? 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[.]
Sadly, there aren’t many expository songs from Romans 9. In fact, the only option we have to feature today is a somewhat controversial one.
It has become a general practice for the last several generations of writing for the church to avoid especially controversial topics. Isaac Watts, being in the position of pioneer in English-language hymnody, didn’t have such a restriction in place. So time and again, we’ll find him tackling passages that practically nobody since has been willing to write about.
Whether or not one agrees with Watts’ interpretation of this controversial passage, this song is a masterclass in expository songwriting. This is a passage most songwriters today, even those of a Reformed persuasion, would look at and say, “It would be impossible for congregations to praise God about this passage!” Whether or not you agree with his end result, it’s still instructive to see how one of the greatest hymnwriters of all time approached a passage that seems impossible to sing about:
Behold the potter and the clay,
He forms his vessels as he please:
Such is our God, and such are we,
The subjects of his high decrees.
Doth not the workman’s power extend
O’er all the mass, which part to choose
And mold it for a nobler end,
And which to leave for viler use?
May not the sovereign Lord on high
Dispense his favors as he will,
Choose some to life, while others die,
And yet be just and gracious still?
What if, to make his terror known,
He lets his patience long endure,
Suff’ring vile rebels to go on,
And seal their own destruction sure?
What if he means to show his grace,
And his electing love employs
To mark out some of mortal race,
And form them fit for heav’nly joys?
Shall man reply against the Lord,
And call his Maker’s ways unjust,
The thunder of whose dreadful word
Can crush a thousand worlds to dust?
But, O my soul! if truths so bright
Should dazzle and confound thy sight,
Yet still his written will obey,
And wait the great decisive day.
Then shall he make his justice known,
And the whole world before his throne
With joy or terror shall confess
The glory of his righteousness.