The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,…
You can really see the prophet in his loose flowing robes, walking slowly and softly out of the temple, and away through the narrow streets of Jerusalem towards the Eastern Gate. Then selecting his road, he wanders down the slopes into the Valley of Hinnom. The voice of God is in his ear. The Spirit is directing his steps. Listen! He is reciting over the pathetic words of his great predecessor, with almost as much pathos as Isaiah himself. "O that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea." The prophet has come forth from a night of sore travail of spirit. The deep thought of his soul was ever this, "How different may have been the course of Israel, and the flow of their national life, if only God's rule had been supreme." He had chosen them to be a light to the Gentiles, but, alas! they were darkness. In their evil choice and deeds they had foiled the Divine plan, and frustrated the Divine purpose. A father loves his boy dearly. He conceives a plan unto which to shape his life. The boy is the one object for which he lives; to carry out his ideal he saves his hard earnings and seeks to inspire the lad to its lofty attainment. But there is resistance, and the plan is abortive. Again the father tries to shape the lad's life according to another plan, only to result in another failure. Still the father never despairs, he will try again and again, until upon some noble model he has shaped the career of his lad. Now, while Jeremiah was wandering on, he was thinking something like that about Israel. Presently the prophet reaches the base of the Valley of Hinnom, and pauses in front of a potter's bench. Here he stands and observes. He sees the potter take the clay that is on his bench, knead it until it is soft and pliable to the touch. What was the great truth that God forced home upon the prophet's heart? Some have thought it was that men are irresistibly in God's hand, that He is the absolute Sovereign, "working all things after the counsel of His own will." We do not deny this truth, but we do not believe that was the lesson God taught Jeremiah by the side of the potter's bench.
I. It is not a discussion of "FIXED FATE, FREE WILL, FOREKNOWLEDGE ABSOLUTE." God's will had not been absolute in Israel, or there would have been no Divine pleadings, "Turn ye, turn ye, for, why will ye die." But another and more hopeful lesson came into the prophet's heart. When the vessel was marred, the potter did not throw away the clay, but changed the pattern, and remoulded it. When God first called Abraham the type was patriarchal, afterwards it was theocratic, when God governed them by the dispensation of angels, prophets, and judges. After this there was set up a kingdom, wherein David was God's viceroy, but now, as the 11th verse of the 19th chapter makes clear, God was about to change the pattern again, and ever will, until Shiloh shall come. Israel shall yet be perfected.
II. THE SYMBOLS EMPLOYED. The clay, the worker, the wheels, and the production. The people are the clay. God made man of the dust of the earth, and breathed into him the breath of life. Though made in the image of God, man fell; but God lifts man out of the pit of destruction and from the miry clay, that He may by regeneration conform him into the image of His Son. That clay is resistant or pliable. It was not for want of skill on the part of the potter that the vessel was marred, but there was some hidden defect in the clay itself, that would not yield to the plastic guidance of wheel and hand. But where the clay is pliable the potter perfects the vessel. The Worker is plainly God Himself. He is represented as possessing will, intelligence, and ability to execute. There are two wheels, an upper and a lower, a heavenly influence and an earthly circumstance. His hand is on the upper, His foot upon the lower. While the Divine Potter by His Spirit moulds us, He keeps His foot upon the lower wheel. Providence is under His control as well as grace. The productions are various. He may mould of the clay a common vessel or a beautiful vase. But we are all to be vessels for the King's use, we are all to bear a likeness to His dear Son.
III. GOD HAS DESIGN IN THE LIFE OF EVERY BELIEVER. What is the difference between the work of an unskilled workman and an artisan? We may define it thus. The unskilled man creates his design as he proceeds, according as necessity determines, or his ideal grows. A skilled man designs first, and then constructs according to plan. The Divine Potter is not shaping our lives indefinitely, but is moulding our character according to His will and purpose. You cannot understand the drift of your life, there is so much mystery in it; it often seems chaotic, a mere tangled skein. But patience! "Hope thou in God." Be of good courage. We are not the creatures of chance, the subjects of a blind force that is whirling us round and round without purpose or aim. God employs all things to accomplish His will. God's unique power is to use all things in our life to His glory, and our highest good. There may be a full flowing river, with a desert land on either side, but its larger usefulness is lost until it is skilfully employed to irrigate the land through which it flows. In the economy of God's providence, nothing runs to waste. "All things" are turned to good account. All defeats, as well as victories, all the blightings of our hopes, as all fulfillments, are made to "work together for good to them that love God." Herein is the power and the wisdom of the Master Potter. God works wonders out of the most disappointing lives. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!"
IV. MUCH DEPENDS ALSO UPON THE MATERIAL. With one piece of wood you may be able to do much, but with another nothing — it flies off ink chips, and breaks into fragments at the touch of the chisel. There are some souls that never yield to God's moulding; others only when they are melted in the fires of affliction. There our wills bend. Now see this vessel that is marred in the hands of the potter. But why is it marred? There is no lack of skill. No, but there is some gritty substance there, some stubborn resisting quality that will not yield to the deftness of the potter's hand. Human nature is often resistant, rather than pliable, to God's touch. An evil disposition in our nature mars the vessel in the hands of the Potter.
V. THE PATIENCE OF THE POTTER. Jeremiah was not particularly impressed with the fact that the clay was marred in the hand of the potter, but what made the deepest impression was, that when the clay was spoilt there was no sign of anger upon the face of the potter. That was the great lesson for Jeremiah, and for us. He had laboured for Israel, and failed; but had he been as patient as this? Had he not despaired when he should have commenced afresh? And have not we been Jeremiahs, and do we feel this rebuke? I have seen a mechanic spoil a piece of handicraft, and because he spoilt it, in a passion of wrath, dash it to the ground. That is never God's way. If Israel has failed to answer to the one mould, He will try another. There are broken ideals, over which we all mourn. But God is patient, and if He cannot make us of such a glorious pattern as He first designed, He will go on shaping our life according to another pattern, and finally perfect us for the palace of the King.
VI. THE PROCESS TO WHICH THE CLAY WAS SUBJECTED. Had the clay possessed mental, sensitive being, it might have complained of the method, the pressure of the kneading hand, the spinning of the wheel. But objection is unwisdom. We are sometimes whirled round and round upon the wheel of life, until the head is giddy and the heart sick. But there is not one unnecessary pang. "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth." Courage! Trust in God. God's will is of the highest purpose. Character can only come by discipline, and through suffering we pass into the perfect beauty of holiness.
Parallel VersesKJV: The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,