Jeremiah 18:4
Great Texts of the Bible
The Marred Vessel

And when the vessel that he made of the clay was marred in the hand of the potter, he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.—Jeremiah 18:4.

The whole process of pottery as it was practised by the Israelites is represented on wall paintings still in existence. The clay was dug from the field, and then trodden by the feet of labourers until it became a workable paste, ready for the hand of the potter. His implements were few and simple. A disc of stone or wood rested upon a point fixed into a larger disc below, and upon it the clay was placed, and while the disc was whirled rapidly, the potter shaped the vessel with his hands. He wrought the work upon the wheels until it was complete; then it was smoothed, coated with a glaze, and burned in a furnace. And it is remarkable that pottery thus simply and swiftly made was so durable that fragments of it are the only signs left of many once flourishing cities, sole witnesses to life and industry long since passed away. The trade, which the Israelites had learned in Egypt, was common among them. Culinary vessels, jars for the safe keeping of parchments, tiles of all sorts were made in vast numbers. Indeed, in the Book of Chronicles we read that there was a royal pottery establishment, and it was either the site of that old factory, or else the place where fragments or potsherds from it were cast away, that is referred to both in the Old and in the New Testament as the Potters Field. To this well-known pottery Jeremiah was sent, not to preach a sermon, but to prepare one—a reminder to us that ordinary scenes and secular work may be eloquent with Divine teaching to any whose hearts are ready to receive it. Indeed, there is no sphere of activity anywhere about which God cannot say to His servant as He said to this prophet, “There I will cause thee to hear my words.”

A few years ago I had the privilege of closely observing an Eastern potter as he was seated at his work. When I began to watch him his wheel was at rest, for he was in the act of preparing the clay for the moulding, kneading it just as a woman kneads dough. When satisfied that it was just right for his purpose, he took up a short stick, placed it in the junction of one of the spokes on the inner side of the rim, and then with some six or eight vigorous turns he set the wheel a-spinning swiftly. Then he lifted the shapeless mass of clay, placed it in the very centre of the wheel, by doing which, of course, he caused it to revolve with great rapidity. He then smoothed the clay and fashioned it with both hands, till it looked just like a low cone; and then he thrust the thumb of his right hand down through the top of the cone to the centre, carefully widening the hole so as to give the sides the requisite thinness; and thus with wonderful dexterity, and in a surprisingly short space of time, he fashioned a beautiful vase. So far as one could judge from the mere observers point of view, that vase was perfect, but I noticed that time after time his fingers returned to it in the endeavour to do something that had not been effected. His practised, keen eye and his delicate touch informed him that there was a flaw, a defect, of which those who were round him were wholly ignorant; and much to the surprise of us all who stood around him, he, after one moments pause and careful scrutiny, crushed that vase into a shapeless lump of clay again, began to remodel it, and produced an entirely different vessel. As I stood there and saw it all, this incident recorded in the Book of Jeremiah was vividly recalled to my mind. There before me was a living commentary on this particular section of Scripture, and the whole scene was well calculated to impress the spiritual truth more deeply on ones memory and heart.1 [Note: J. M. Munro, in The Christian World Pulpit, lxxviii. 381.]

Let us note—

The Original Design of the Potter.

The Marring of the Vessel.

The Final Result.


The Original Design

1. The text clearly teaches that God has a plan for every life, a pattern for every character, an ideal for every soul. God is the Almighty Potter; and, in one sense, we are but clay in His hands. There is some definite, desirable, and beautiful ideal which God wishes us to realize. All mens lives are in Gods hands. In Isaiah 45:5, God says of Cyrus, “I girded thee, though thou hast not known me.” This is striking language. It is as if God had said, “I placed on thee the military belt, and prepared thee for war and conquest.” Men who are strangers to God are often employed by God to accomplish His providential plans. Thus He raised up Cyrus on account of the Hebrew people. In a sense, Cyrus was the Lords anointed, as we learn from the first verse of this same chapter. This does not mean that Cyrus was a worshipper of the true God; but it means that God had set him apart to perform a most important public service. The title here given to Cyrus is one of appointment to office rather than one expressive of holiness of character. He was Gods instrument in the accomplishment of His vast designs among the nations. All nations and kings are in Gods hand. In this sense He called Nebuchadnezzar His servant, the staff of His indignation, and the rod of His anger. God “doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth.” He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and sets up kings. He makes the wrath of men to praise Him and the remainder of wrath He restrains.

There seems to lie in all men, in proportion to the strength of their understanding, a conviction that there is in all human things a real order and purpose, notwithstanding the chaos in which at times they seem to be involved. Suffering scattered blindly without remedial purpose or retributive propriety—good and evil distributed with the most absolute disregard of moral merit or demerit—enormous crimes perpetrated with impunity, or vengeance when it comes falling not on the guilty, but the innocent—

Desert a beggar born,

And needy nothing trimmed in jollity—

these phenomena present, generation after generation, the same perplexing and even maddening features; and without an illogical but none the less a positive certainty that things are not as they seem—that, in spite of appearance, there is justice at the heart of them, and that, in the working out of the vast drama, justice will assert somehow and somewhere its sovereign right and power, the better sort of persons would find existence altogether unendurable. This is what the Greeks meant by the Ἀνάγκη or destiny, which at the bottom is no other than moral Providence.1 [Note: J. A. Froude, Short Studies, ii. 8.]

2. This implies the living presence of the Potter in this world which is being moulded. It involves the constant, direct impact, if one may so speak, of the Divine fingers. That is one part of St. Pauls great argument in the Epistle to the Romans. The Israelites thought that God had selected them and wound them up like a clock, so that they were to go on and on without further change for ever. St. Paul says No. God has not taken His fingers from the work. He never bound Himself to have mercy on you and on no one else. “He will have mercy on whom he will have mercy.” And if you do not answer His purpose, He will change matters with you. And so, according to the picture before us, God is ever actively present, and what we call secondary laws are figments of the imagination, phrases that speak out our ignorance, the sign of the veil upon our eyes. We so speak because we cannot see the great Hand at work, touching every individual thing, allowing nothing, whether law or anything else, to intervene between His living purpose and the world that is being moulded by Him. If God is indeed thus moulding the world, secondary laws in any real sense are out of the question. When you start the world like a clock, as some scientists suppose, and then leave it going by its own machinery, all moulding is over, all purpose beyond that point has vanished, all progression has disappeared. You have nothing but a monotonous mechanism that goes on without progress until the wheel runs down. But in the picture of the potter Gods presence here is a living presence. He has the clay in His hand; He has moulded it, and is shaping it on His wheel.

No one has shown more lucidly than Dr. Martineau has that in all our Ideals there is revealed a Divine Presence which, though felt in us, is also felt to be not of us, so that we can clearly distinguish between this self-revelation of the immanent God, which carries with it the sense of an objective reality, and those subjective desires, affections, and sympathies which pertain to us as separate individuals. But though the Divine Ideal is ever more or less vividly present in our consciousness, and is that which gives to our life all its highest features, and all its truest charms and blessedness, yet it first distinctly reveals itself and its authority when it resists and condemns our personal desires and aims. Now it is this aspect of the Ideal as opposing us, commanding us, obliging us, which is the characteristic feature of our ethical consciousness; and it is this experience which is a continual warning to us against falling into the paralysing fallacy of supposing that our lives are nothing more than transient modes or phases of Gods eternal life. Here it is we learn our true individuality, and learn also, what Kant so clearly saw, the quite infinite value of a “Good Will.”1 [Note: The Life and Letters of James Martineau, ii. 473.]

3. The pattern which it is possible for any man to reach may be, indeed must be, different for each. There was one ideal possible for Egypt, another for Assyria, and another for Babylon, with their respective privileges and opportunities, and quite another for Israel, with its pre-eminent advantages. These other nations were not required to be everything that the Jewish people ought to have become. God is not unrighteous to demand equal attainments from unequal gifts. He gives to one five talents, to another two, and to another one; but He does not look at last for ten from each of them. And what is true thus of nations is true also of individuals. God has one ideal for those who, like ourselves, are favoured to the full with gospel blessings, and another for such as have not our advantages. But there is a possible result that shall be worthy of His approval for each; and that each may attain to it has been His original and primary design in their creation. The ideal is not the same for all, but it is in each appropriate to and in correspondence with the environment in which he is placed.

The one secret of life and development is not to desire and plan, but to fall in with the forces at work—to do every moments duty aright—that being the part in the process allotted to us; and let come—not what will, for there is no such thing—but what the eternal Thought wills for each of us, has intended for each of us from the first. If men would but believe that they are in process of creation, and consent to be made—let the maker handle them as the potter his clay, yielding themselves in respondent motion and submissive hopeful action with the turning of the wheel, they would ere long find themselves able to welcome every pressure of that hand upon them, even when it was felt in pain, and sometimes not only to believe but to recognize the Divine end in view, the bringing of a son into glory.1 [Note: George MacDonald.]

4. There are two things to be remembered with respect to this moulding of our individual life by God. One is, that God always moulds our life with a view to righteousness. That is the one undeviating Divine aim. God is righteous. “Can there be unrighteousness with God? God forbid!” Then every touch of the Divine finger must be a touch on behalf of righteousness. Every imprint on the clay must stamp the eternal righteousness on it, and must make for righteousness. Another thing to be remembered is, that because God moulds for the sake of righteousness, He moulds first and chiefly intelligent creatures, with mind and thought and moral purpose and will of their own. So we are led on from step to step; and here is where the great perplexity, the great wonder, comes in, though, after all, a good deal of perplexity is created by our thinking that our minds ought to be large enough to comprehend the infinite nature of God. We cannot get our way except with puppets that will not move unless we touch them. But God will get His way in a grander fashion, not with puppets, but with men, with creatures that can resist His will, with creatures that have something of the God stamped on their own lives, with creatures that shall stand as gods in the glory of the eternal Presence.

In a letter to Mr. Watts Russell, regarding the scheme for the transfer of the oratory of St. Philip Neri from Birmingham to Cheshire, Faber writes, “Gods will is the one thing; it seems to magnify its own sweetness the longer and the more lovingly we adore it; one is fit to burst out into raptures of venturesome congratulation of God that His will is so all-strong, and we so base and vile; and to wonder that He has not crushed us in the path of some great providence instead of making such as we are a part and parcel of His overwhelming, onward-bearing will.”2 [Note: The Life and Letters of Frederick William Faber, 265.]

Thou, Thou art the Potter, and we are the Clay,

And morning and even, and day after day,

Thou turnest Thy wheel, and our substance is wrought,

Into form of Thy will, into shape of Thy thought.

Should Clay to the Potter make answer and say,

“Now what dost Thou fashion?” Thy hand would not stay:

Untiring, resistless, without any sound,

True, true to its Master, the wheel would go round.

How plastic are we as we live in Thy hands!

Who, who as the Potter the Clay understands?

Thy ways are a wonder, but oft, as a spark,

Some hint of Thy meaning shines out in the dark.

What portion is this for the sensitive Clay!

To be beaten and moulded from day unto day;

To answer not, question not, just to be still,

And know Thou art shaping us unto Thy will.

This, this may we plead with Thee, Workman Divine—

Press deep in our substance some symbol of Thine,

Thy name or Thy image, and let it be shown

That Thou wilt acknowledge the work as Thine own.


The Marring

1. The raw material with which the potter works is clay. This is the stuff of which each vessel, no matter what its shape may be, is composed. There resides in it the promise of becoming an object of usefulness or of beauty, once it has been subjected to the process of manufacture. Our lives possess a similar capacity. There are possibilities in us that admit of being realized. Out of the undeveloped material, which the fact of our existence in time represents, there can be produced forms and modes of personality of the most diverse kinds. Like the clay, we yield to treatment. Our natures are plastic. Powers of body and mind and will, abilities of a physical, an intellectual, and a moral order, manifest themselves. Character expresses itself, and more and more tends to stereotype itself on settled lines, and to harden into a permanent shape. Whereas in the early period there was little by which to distinguish one life from another; in the later, peculiarities assert themselves, differences are conspicuous. We display our individuality not only by the features of our face, our height, our speech, our manner of walking, but in a multitude of characteristic ways, definable in some cases, but in others too subtle to be explained in words.

I have been spending the weeks end with a friend in Sussex. On Sunday morning we strolled upon the downs—ascending many miles to a stretch of pasture where, losing sight of the sea, we had nothing but the zenith above us and the wide veldt below. There we lay upon the grass, where Proserpina had evidently been before us, for it was bright with flowers; the summer air was soft, and flooded with golden light, and there was no sound except the singing of a lark at an immeasurable height. Suddenly the line against the sky formed by the brow of the hill was broken with moving shapes, and almost before we could spring to our feet we were surrounded by a countless flock of sheep. On they came, like Dantes lost souls in the Divine Comedy. To me they seemed all alike, but the shepherd told us that he knew every one of them, as a schoolmaster knows his scholars. My friend and I exchanged thoughts. He was a landscape painter, and our conversation fell on the limitations of our vision. We found that a traveller—we were both travellers—in a strange country is quick to discern the difference between race and race; but slow to discern the difference between face and face in the same race. To an Englishman, visiting for the first time a plantation in the Southern States, the are black—that is all. To the African in London, we are—white. To both of us all pigtails are alike. The subtler differences of form and expression, by which we discriminate character and disposition, and which we count beautiful or ugly, have to be learned like a new language.1 [Note: Sir Wyke Bayliss, Olives, 137.]

2. Clay and human life are alike subject to effects being produced on them by a cause outside themselves. We know this about ourselves, that our lives do not consist of a series of experiences which we determine beforehand. We have not the choosing of our future, any more than we had of our past or of our present, in all the circumstances of it. The orbit of our career does not follow the path traced by our preconceptions and wishes. Things happen to us—bringing unexpected joys, or unlooked-for sorrows. Events take place, in whose initiation and accomplishment we had no part. We are indeed often denied even the opportunity of foreseeing them and preparing for them. They occur without any premonition. Perhaps we are apt to forget this fact about the circumstances of our lives. Incidents of an ordinary kind, while they befall us in the character of unanticipated happenings, are not sufficiently unfamiliar to remind us of it. But when any great event takes place—any event, that is to say, which is fraught with serious consequences to us and ours, and which transforms our whole outlook; when God asserts His power in our life either in His providence or in His grace—then we realize that, in a true sense, we are clay.

The evening exercise, on the question anent the providence of God, was sweet to me; and in converse after it, it was a pleasure to think and speak of the saints grounds of encouragement from that head under trouble; particularly, how tis their God that guides the world; and nothing do they meet with but what comes thro their Lords fingers; how He weighs their troubles to the least grain, that no more falls to their share than they need; and how they have a covenant-right to chastisements, to the Lords dealing with them as with sons to be rightly educated, not as servants whom the master will not strike but put away at the term.1 [Note: Thomas Boston, A General Account of My Life, 107.]

3. This clay failed to answer to the potters design. “The vessel that he made of the clay was marred in the hand of the potter.” Why was it marred? There was no lack of skill; no, but there was some gritty substance there, some stubborn resisting quality that would not yield to the deftness of the potters hand. Human nature is often resistant, rather than pliable, to Gods touch. Our wills conflict with His. Our way winds and bends like the flow of a river, when it should be straight as an arrow. An evil disposition in our nature mars the vessel in the hands of the Potter. The child must be docile if it is to learn, and we yielding if we are to profit.

We recognize at once that there is a great difference, almost an infinite difference, between us and a lump of clay. That is passive, powerless, helpless in the hands of the potter. It has no power of will, no liberty of choice, no possibility of decision. We are not clay. We were made in the image of God. We have some likeness to God. His image is defaced, but not effaced. It is our glorious, but also our terrible, prerogative that we are endowed with the power of choice. We can oppose the Divine Potter. We may joyously submit to God, or we may wickedly oppose God. Weak and wicked men may say, “No,” to the mighty and holy God.

Ay, note that Potters wheel,

That metaphor! and feel

Why time spins fast, why passive lies our clay,—

Thou, to whom fools propound,

When the wine makes its round,

“Since life fleets, all is change; the Past gone, seize to-day!”

Fool! All that is, at all,

Lasts ever, past recall;

Earth changes, but thy soul and God stand sure:

What entered into thee,

That was, is, and shall be:

Times wheel runs back or stops: Potter and clay endure.

He fixed thee mid this dance

Of plastic circumstance,

This Present, thou, forsooth, wouldst fain arrest:

Machinery just meant

To give thy soul its bent,

Try thee and turn thee forth, sufficiently impressed.…

Look not thou down but up!

To uses of a cup,

The festal board, lamps flash and trumpets peal,

The new wines foaming flow,

The Masters lips a-glow!

Thou, heavens consummate cup, what needst thou with earths wheel?

But I need, now as then,

Thee, God, who mouldest men;

And since, not even while the whirl was worst,

Did I,—to the wheel of life

With shapes and colours rife,

Bound dizzily, mistake my end, to slake Thy thirst:

So, take and use Thy work:

Amend what flaws may lurk,

What strain o the stuff, what warpings pass the aim!

My times be in Thy hand!

Perfect the cup as planned!

Let age approve of youth, and death complete the same!1 [Note: Browning, Rabbi Ben Ezra.]


The Final Result

1. The potter does not fling away the marred vessel, but he breaks it and puts it on the wheel again and reshapes it. The potters skill is not to be baffled. He wants to give his ideal reality. And he will shape and break, shape and break again, till the clay has taken the form he wishes. Jeremiah saw what that meant for the Israelites as a nation. It meant the breaking of their nation, their land left desolate, submission to the iron rule of Babylon. That was the breaking of Israel. But the prophet saw that God would still hold them, and by sterner discipline, by harder blows and hotter fires, would mould them to the use and form He wanted. That was the answer to Jeremiahs question, What can God do with this perverse nation? Break it and reshape it.

The patience and persistence of God with man is the truth which this sets forth. God will not easily let man go. He stands over mankind and over every individual soul with boundless patience. The gifts and calling of God, says St. Paul, are without repentance, without recall or change.

“So he made it again.” That is surely very wonderful when we remember that the parable applied first of all to a nation that had deliberately defied its Maker and refused His counsel; but the prophecy was actually fulfilled in the wonderful national revival under the Maccabees, and will yet have its final fulfilment in that glorious day when Israel shall “blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit.” And as with nations, so also is it with individuals. He can remake us. Our dead selves may become stepping-stones to higher things. He who transformed Simon into an apostle can transform our lives, if we permit it, into vessels meet for His own use.

It is reported of Wedgwood that he was trying to make an imitation of the Portland Vase in the form of jasper ware. In the soft clay the vases were done to perfection, but when they came out of the oven they were spoiled. This went on for six months. Then one of the workmen said to Wedgwood in despair, “Master, we have drawn the oven again and we havent got a single good vase.” The masters reply was, “Well, you have had your wages, havent you? Go on.” They did go on, and shortly after they succeeded, and the celebrated vase was produced. So God persists till His purpose is achieved.1 [Note: F. B. Cowl.]

2. “He made it again another vessel.” The potter could not make what he might have wished; but he did his best with his materials. So God is ever trying to do His best for us. If we refuse the best, He gives the next best. If we will not be gold, we may be silver; and if not silver, there are still the clay and the wood. How often He has to make us again! He made Jacob again, when He met him at the Jabbok ford, finding him a supplanter and a cheat, but after a long wrestle leaving him a prince with God. He made Simon again, on the resurrection morning, when He found him somewhere near the open grave, the son of a dove—for so his old name Bar-Jonah signifies—and left him Peter, the man of the rock, the Apostle of Pentecost. He made Mark again, between his impulsive leaving of Paul and Barnabas, as though frightened by the first touch of seasickness, and the times when Peter spoke of him as his son, and Paul from the Mamertine prison described him as being profitable.

The marred life will never again be what it might have been and what it ought to have been. It is said with deepest reverence that even God Himself cannot fully restore a marred life. It is sometimes supposed that Gods grace is peculiarly manifested when a great sinner is saved, when a man is lifted from the gutter and placed among Gods redeemed children. Gods grace is vastly more honoured when boys and girls are converted to Christ in their sweet childhood, before they have gone down into the awful depths of sin. It is ten thousand pities that the potters vessel was ever marred; it is ten thousand pities that men should ever know the degradation of sin by a personal experience. How much sweeter, cleaner, purer, and diviner their lives, had they never served sin and Satan. But it is better that a life should be saved though marred than that it should be utterly lost. God will not throw your marred life away if you bring it to Him to be mended. You may have failed to realize your noblest possibilities and your highest ideals; you may have added failure to failure in your struggles toward noble attainment; nevertheless, you may bring your marred life as it is to God to be restored. He is waiting to be gracious; He desires to give you another chance.

Broken Earthenware is the title of Mr. Harold Begbies book in which he gives some account of the saving work of the Salvation Army in a particular district of West London, and by “Broken Earthenware” he means the broken human lives which have been mended and sanctified, and made meet for the Masters use by the work of our friends of the Salvation Army. The book is full of interest to the philosopher and the psychologist, because it furnishes abundant evidences of that possibility of conversion in human life and character which modern psychology is ready to allow. But it is of still more interest to the Christian, the Christian who believes that the whole purpose of religion is to save the lost and to make the bad good. In that comparison of Christianity with other religions of the world, which is now conducted with such thoroughness that it ranks as a science, the most striking thing, perhaps, that is brought out is that Christianity is alone among the religions of the world in even entertaining the thought, and much more in accomplishing the fact, of making bad men good.1 [Note: R. F. Horton.]

Last summer, at one of the great Chautauqua Assemblies, I had the opportunity of hearing Mr. Bilhorn, the famous evangelist singer. One of his most effective solos is Butterworths little poem, entitled, “The Bird with a Broken Wing.” The bird with a broken wing was found in a woodland meadow; it received tender care and made progress toward complete restoration. But the wound was still there, and its sad effects never could be forgotten, nor could they be obliterated. Thus Mr. Bilhorn sang:

I healed its wound, and each morning

It sang its sweet old strain;

But the bird with the broken pinion

Never soared as high again.

Then the song told of a broken life and its second chance:

I found a young life, broken

By sins seductive art;

And, touched with a childlike pity,

I took him to my heart.

He lived with a noble purpose,

And struggled not in vain;

But the life that sin had stricken

Never soared as high again.

But the bird with a broken pinion

Kept another from the snare;

And the life that sin hath stricken

Raised another from despair.

But the soul that comes to Jesus

Is saved from every sin,

And the heart that fully trusts Him

Shall a crown of glory win.

Then come to the dear Redeemer,

Hell cleanse you from every stain;

By His wonderful love and mercy

You shall surely rise again.1 [Note: R. S. MacArthur, Quick Truths in Quaint Texts, ii. 215.]

3. When the clay has received its final shape from the potters hands, it must be baked in the kiln, to keep it; and even then its discipline is not complete, for whatever colours are laid on must be rendered permanent by fire. It is said that what is to become gold in the finished article is a smudge of dark liquid before the fire is applied; and that the first two or three applications of heat obliterate all trace of colour, which has to be again and again renewed. So in Gods dealings with His people. The moulding Hand has no sooner finished its work than it plunges the clay into the fiery trial of pain or temptation. But let patience have her perfect work. Be still and know that He is God. Thou shalt be compensated when the Master counts thee fair and meet for His use.

Canon Wilberforce told me that he had his likeness painted by the great artist Herkomer, who told him the following story: Herkomer was born in the Black Forest, his father a simple wood-chopper. When the artist rose to name and fame in London, and built his studio at Bushey, his first thought was to have the old man come and spend the rest of his years with him. He came, and was very fond of moulding clay. All day he made things out of clay, but as the years passed he thought his hand would lose its cunning. He often went upstairs at night to his room with the sad heart of an old man who thinks his best days are gone by. Herkomers quick eye of love detected this, and when his father was safe asleep his gifted son would come downstairs and take in hand the pieces of clay which his old father had left, with the evidences of defect and failure; and with his own wonderful touch he would make them as fair as they could be made by human hand. When the old man came down in the morning, and took up the work he had left all spoiled the night before, and held it up before the light, he would say, rubbing his hands: “I can do it as well as ever I did.” Is not that just what God Almighty is going to do with you? You are bearing the marks of failure just because you have been resisting Him and fighting Him. But, ah! my Lord comes with those pierced hands, and says: “Will you not yield to Me? Only yield, and I will make you again.”1 [Note: F. B. Meyer, The Souls Ascent, 29.]

4. There is a point when discipline ends, and God takes a man as he is, not for probation but for judgment. When, or where, that point is reached we dare not say of others, seeing we scarcely know it of ourselves. But always we must keep it in view as a dread possibility which may be nearer to us than we think. Now, if under any circumstances it is conceivable that final failure should be the result—what then of the Divine sovereignty? Perhaps we are too sensitive in this connexion. God is great enough to fail. He has failed in the past; He is failing every day. He cannot escape the risk of failure so long as He has to deal with free intelligences in a state of probation. No passage in Scripture is so pathetic as that which records our Lords final departure from the Temple courts. How often had He come there, as boy and man, to worship and to work. How often had He looked into the wistful faces of the men and women that thronged past Him, and thought of the weary hearts that lay behind, and would have gathered them, but they would not. Now, His work is done; He will go His way and leave them to themselves. Slowly the sun sets; the evening lights linger on the Temple towers; the solemn hush of twilight falls over the busy city, as He moves away into the deepening gloom, into the shadow of the cross. “I would, and ye would not.” It was the greatest failure in history; but we know what came of it. For it was Love that failed; and Loves failures are Lifes triumphs.

He who staggers striving after the ideal life, even though he fail, is not himself utterly lost to good and God; that striving spirit is still an asset in the All-wise Eye. “Its of no use,” say some after their early failures; “I must dree my ain weird and play out the game as it has begun.” But it is of use. Many a man of good standing to-day was braced by his failures when outward-bound; many a man successfully “pulled himself together,” and, like Jacob the errant, became, after his sifting discipline, a prince and power. Avert your ear from the demoncritic who would nip your better mind, and bind yourself by all the domestic and religious ties available to the things that save and make a man. Believe greatly, and life and God will answer to your faith and hope. Accept and openly wear the ring of discipleship that wards off temptation and keeps you safely heart-bound.1 [Note: R. E. Welsh, Man to Man, 47.]

Why hast Thou made me so,

My Maker? I would know

Wherefore Thou gavst me such a mournful dower;—

Toil that is oft in vain,

Knowledge that deepens pain,

And longing to be pure, without the power?

“Shall the thing formed aspire

The purpose to require

Of him who formed it?” Make not answer thus!

Beyond the Potters wheel

There lieth an appeal

To Him who breathed the breath of life in us.

I know we are but clay,

Thus moulded to display

His wisdom and His power who rolls the years;

Whose wheel is Heaven and earth;—

Its motion, death and birth;—

Is Potter, then, the name that most endears?

I grudge not, Lord, to be

Of meanest use to Thee;—

Make me a trough for swine if so Thou wilt;—

But if my vessels clay

Be marred and thrown away

Before it takes its form, is mine the guilt?

I trust Thee to the end,

Creator, Saviour, Friend,

Whatever name Thou deignest that we call.

Art Thou not good and just?

I wait, and watch, and trust

That Love is still the holiest name of all.

I watch and strive all night;

And when the mornings light

Shines on the path I travelled here below;—

When day eternal breaks,

And life immortal wakes,

Then shalt Thou tell me why Thou madst me Song of Solomon 1 [Note: J. J. Murphy, Sonnets and other Poems.]

The Marred Vessel


Alexander (A.), The Glory in the Grey, 11.

Bonner (H.), Sermons and Lectures, 28.

Burrell (D. J.), The Unaccountable Man, 55.

Chapman (J. W.), Revival Sermons, 229.

Cowl (F. B.), Digging Ditches, 34.

Hamer (D. J.), Salt and Light, 337.

Howatt (J. R.), The Childrens Pulpit, 59.

James (F.), A National Pentecost, 24.

Litchfield (G.), The House of the Potter, 1.

MacArthur (R. S.), Quick Truths in Quaint Texts, ii. 206.

Macaulay (A. B.), The Word of the Cross, 13.

Meyer (F. B.), The Souls Ascent, 19.

Meyer (F. B.), Jeremiah: Priest and Prophet, 75.

Pearse (M. G.), The Bramble King, 101.

Robertson (J.), Sermons and Expositions, 217.

Stuart (E. A.), The City Pulpit, iv. 181.

Taylor (W. M.), Contrary Winds, 150.

Thomas (J.), Myrtle Street Pulpit, iv. 337.

Waugh (T.), Mount and Multitude, 1.

Welldon (J. E. C.), Youth and Duty, 181.

Whitefield (G.), Sermons, 170.

Christian Commonwealth, xxxii. 777 (R. J. Campbell).

Christian World Pulpit, xxv. 152 (A. Rowland); lxviii. 315 (H. Kenward); lxxviii. 1 (R. F. Horton); lxxxi. 214 (W. Harvey-Jellie).

Church Family Newspaper, Oct. 1, 1909 (A. E. Barnes-Lawrence).

Expositor, 1st Ser., iv. 469 (E. H. Plumptre).

Keswick Week, 1907, p. 74 (J. S. Holden).

The Great Texts of the Bible - James Hastings

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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