The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,…
Am I clay in the hands of the Divine Potter? The Bible does not say so: yet apparently this is the very thing that it does say. The context does not teach us that God is speaking about the individual man, or about personal salvation, or about the eternal destiny of the individual soul: the Lord is speaking about nations, empires, kingdoms, vessels which He only can handle. Moreover, He Himself descends into reasoning, and therefore He gives up the arbitrary power or right, if He ever claimed it. He bases His action upon the conduct of the nation spoken about. So His administration is not arbitrary, despotic, independent, in any sense that denies the right of man to be consulted, or that undervalues the action of man as a moral agent. The potter did not reason with the clay: God did reason with Israel. The analogy therefore can only be useful up to a given point; never overdrive any metaphor; always distinguish between the purpose of the parable, its real substance and its accessories, its incidental draperies and attachments. Let us take the inquiry in its crudest and most ruthless form. Can He not do with a man as this man does with the clay? The answer is in a sense Yes, in a larger sense No. As a matter of power, crudely defined, God can do with us as the potter does with the clay: but God Himself has introduced a new element into power; He is no longer in relation to the soul simply and merely omnipotent, He has made Himself a party. In so treating Himself He exercised all His attributes. He need not have done so, but having done so He never shrinks from the conditions which He has created and which He has imposed. Observe, He does not give up any part of His sovereignty. In the first instance He created man, devised a great scheme and ministry of things: all this was done sovereignly; it was not man that was consulted as to his own creation, it was the Triune God that said, "Let us make man." The Lord, then, having thus acted from the point of His sovereignty, has Himself created a scheme of things within which He has been pleased to work as if He were a consenting and cooperating party. When did God say, By the exercise of a potter's right I will break you, the soul, in pieces, although you want to be preserved and saved? When did Jesus Christ ever say to any man, You want to be saved, but I do not want to save you; I doom you to everlasting alienation from the throne of light and the sceptre of mercy? Never. May not a man, changing the level of inquiry, do what he likes with his own? No. Society says No; law says No; the needful security without which progress is impossible says No. Yet we must define what is meant by can. and may and cannot. Then in the use of the word "can" we always come upon the further word "cannot" at the same time. You can and you cannot, in one act. Why, how is that? Is not that a simple contradiction of terms? No, that statement, though apparently paradoxical, is one, and admits of easy reconciliation in both its members. If it were a question of mere power or physical ability, as we have often seen in our study of this Bible, we can do many things: but where are we at liberty simply to use ability or power in its most simple definition? Power is a servant; power is not an independent attribute that can do just what it likes: power says, What shall I do? I am an instrument, I am a faculty, but I am intended by the Sovereign of the universe to be a servant — the servant of judgment and conscience and duty and social responsibility. Power stands in an attitude of attention, awaiting the orders of conscience. Mere power therefore is one thing, mere ability, and it is a faculty that never ought to be exercised in itself, by itself, for itself. It must be always worked in consent, in union, in cooperation. I repeat, power — great, self-boasting power — must obey orders. "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God." May not a man do what he likes with his own? What is his own? Not his child. He says, This child is my own; we say, Yes and No. Once more we come upon the double reply. Every child has two fathers. There is a little, measurable, individual father, and there is the greater father called Society: may we not recognise a third, and say, there is the Father in heaven? Your child cannot speak, and yet you cannot do with it what you like; your child has no will, no opened judgment, and yet you cannot do with the child as you please. Society has taken its name, and its age, and the eyes of Society are upon that child night and day, and if you slew it at midnight you would have to answer for its blood at midday. Here, then, we rest, in presence of this great doctrine of Divine sovereignty in relation to man. We may search the Bible from beginning to end to find that the sovereignty of God ever said to a man, I will not save you when you want to be saved, and we shall find no such instance in the record. With regard to nations, it is perfectly evident from the face of things that there is a Power that is placing nations where they are, and working up the great national unit to great national ends. God has always had, as it were, a double policy, and it is because we have confounded the one policy with the other that we have been all our lifetime subject to bondage through fear lest God may have predestinated us to hell. He never predestined any man to such a place. He predestined unrighteousness to hell and nothing can ever get it into heaven; into that city nothing shall enter that is unholy, impure, defiled, or that maketh a lie. Eternity has never been at peace with wickedness. The infinite tranquillity of immeasurable and inexpressible duration has never been reconciled to one act of trespass, one deed of violence, one thought of wrong.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,