This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:
I. THE INFLUENCE OF GOD UPON HUMAN DESTINY. Some of the forms into which human life builds itself impress the imagination with the presence of a power greater than human, which conditions and determines them. The race, the nation, the Church, represent relations and affinities which are not of merely human origin. But even the individual life, if properly studied, will be found to be associated with the same mystery and full of the same suggestion of a Divine influence. In the case before us it is the Jewish nation which is suggested to the mind of the prophet. The hand of God is apparent in its formation and history. God's influence upon these is felt to be
(4) to create or to destroy.
II. CIRCUMSTANCES IN HUMAN NATURE THAT AFFECT DESTINY. The clay in the hand of the potter was marred and had to he remolded. The allusion here was to the idolatrous practices of the Jews in Jeremiah's own time. The causes at work, therefore, in the marring of the vessel are not mechanical or constitutional in their nature, but moral. The history of the same people has shown that external circumstances are of little account in this question. The chief hindrances to God's purposes with man in nations, institutions, and individuals arise from
(1) original depravity and
(2) willful disobedience. The free-will of man may thwart even the grace of God.
III. THE PURPOSE OF GOD WITH REGARD TO MAN. This is essentially and persistently a creative one. The first effort of the petter is formative; and when, through the marring of the vessel, he has to reduce the clay into the lump again, there still remains an intention to form anew. The effects of sin are shown to be profound from the fact that the potter is obliged to remake what has been marred. The effort of restoring love succeeds upon another, and "where sin abounded grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:20). There is no nation which has not had many opportunities of recovering its position and influence forfeited by unfaithfulness and unbelief, and there is no sinner hardened in his sins who has not repeatedly rejected a heavenly voice. Each proclamation of God's Word is a fresh opportunity which may avail for salvation to every one who will embrace it. - M.
I. EVERY MAN NATURALLY ENGENDERED OF THE OFFSPRING OF ADAM, IS, IN THE SIGHT OF AN ALL-SEEING, HEART-SEARCHING GOD, ONLY AS A PIECE OF MARRED CLAY.
Go down to the potter's house.Romans 9:19-24): — The potter and the clay! Is not that parable the germ of all that is most oppressive in the "terrible decree" of Calvinism? Does it not justify the Moslem's acceptance of the will of Allah as a destiny which he cannot understand, but to which he must perforce submit? Is not this the last word of the apostle, even when he is most bent on vindicating the ways of God to men, in answer to the question which asks now, as Abraham asked of old, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" "Why doth He yet find fault, for who hath resisted His will?" I do not purpose entering into the thorny labyrinth into which these questions lead us. We shall do well to trace the history and to note the bearings of this parable. Does it really teach what men have imagined that it taught — the powerlessness of man and the arbitrary sovereignty of God? or does it lead us to acknowledge a wisdom and righteousness and mercy in the history of men and nations? Does it simply crush us to the ground with the sense of our own impotence? or does it rightly take its place in that noble argument which makes the Epistle to the Romans, more than any other art of Scripture, a true Theodicaea, a vindication of the ways of God to man?
I. IT WAS IN A DARK AND TROUBLOUS TIME THAT JEREMIAH WAS CALLED TO DO HIS WORK. The purpose and promises of Jehovah to His people Israel seemed to fail utterly. It was in this mood that there came to him an inner prompting in which, then or afterwards, he recognised "the Word of the Lord." Acting on that impulse he left the temple and the city, and went out alone into the valley of Hinnom, where he saw the potter at work moulding the clay of the valley into form and fashioning it according to his purpose. The prophet looked and saw that here too there was apparent failure. "The vessel that he wrought was marred in the hands of the potter." The clay did not take the shape; there was some hidden defect that seemed to resist the plastic guidance of wheel and hand. The prophet stood and gazed — was beginning, it may be, to blame the potter as wanting in his art, when he looked again and saw what followed. "So he returned, and made it another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it." Skill was seen there in its highest form — not baffled by seeming or even real failure — triumphing over difficulties. And then by one of those flashes of insight which the world calls genius, but which we recognise as inspiration, he was taught to read the meaning of the parable. "Then the Word of the Lord came to me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in Mine, O house of Israel." Did the thought which thus rushed in on his soul crush it as with the sense of a destiny arbitrary, supreme, not necessarily righteous, against which men struggled in vain, and in whose hands they had no freedom and therefore no responsibility? Far otherwise than that. To him that which he saw was a parable of wisdom and of love, working patiently and slowly; the groundwork of a call to repentance and conversion. When he passed from the potter and his wheel to the operations of the great Work-Master, as seen in the history of nations, he saw in the vessels that were being moulded, as on the wheel of providence, no masses of dead inert matter. Each was, as it were, instinct with a self-determining power, which either yielded to or resisted the plastic workings of the potter's hand. The urn or vase designed for kingly uses refused its high calling, and chose another and less seemly shape. The Supreme Artificer, who had determined in the history of mankind the times before appointed and the bounds of men's habitations, had, for example, called Israel to be the pattern of a righteous people, the witness of truth to the nations, a kingdom of priests, the first-fruits of humanity. That purpose had been frustrated. Israel had refused that calling. It had, therefore, to be brought under another discipline, fitted for another work: "He returned, and made it another vessel." The pressure of the potter's hand was to be harder, and the vessel was to be fashioned for less noble uses. Shame and suffering and exile — their land left desolate, and they themselves weeping by the waters of Babylon — this was the process to which they were now called on to submit. But at any moment in the process, repentance, acceptance, submission might modify its character and its issues. The fixed unity of the purpose of the skilled worker would show itself in what would seem at first the ever-varying changes of a shifting will. True it was that a little later on in the prophet's work he carried the teaching of the parable one step further, to a more terrible conclusion. The Word of the Lord came to him again, "Go and get a potter's earthen bottle, and take of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests; and go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom" (Jeremiah 19:1), and there in their sight he was to break the bottle as a witness that, in one sense, the day of grace was over, that something had been forfeited which now could never be regained. But not for that was the purpose of God frustrated. The people still had a calling and election. They were still to be witnesses to the nations, stewards of the treasure of an eternal truth. In that thought the prophet's heart found hope and comfort. He could accept the doom of exile and shame for himself and for his people, because he looked beyond it to that remoulded life.
II. THE AGE IN WHICH ST. PAUL LIVED was like that of Jeremiah, a dark and troublous time for one whose heart was with his brethren, the children of Abraham according to the flesh. Once again the potter was fashioning the clay to high and noble uses. "To the Jew first, and also to the Gentile," was the law of all his work. But here also there was apparent failure. Blindness, hardness, unbelief, these marred the shape of the vessels made to honour. Did he for that cease to believe in the righteousness and faithfulness of God? Did he see no loving purpose behind the seeming severity? No, the vessel would be made for what men held dishonour — exile lasting through centuries, dispersion over all the world, lives that were worn down with bondage — but all this was in his eyes but the preparation and discipline for the far-off future, fitting them in the end for nobler uses.
III. THE HISTORY OF NATIONS AND CHURCHES HAS THROUGH ALL THE AGES BORNE WITNESS OF THE SAME TRUTH. Each has had its calling and election. Dimly as it has been given to us to trace the education of mankind, imperfect as is any attempt at the philosophy of history, we can yet see in that history that the maze is not without, a plan. Greece and Rome, Eastern or Latin or Teutonic Christendom — each nation or Church, as it becomes a power in the history of mankind, has been partly taking the shape and doing the work which answered to the design and purpose of God, partly thwarting and resisting that purpose. So far as it has been faithful to its calling, so far as the collective unity of its life has been true to the eternal law of righteousness, it has been a vessel made to honour. Those who see in history, not the chaos in which brute forces are blindly working from confusion to confusion, but the unfolding of a righteous order, can see in part how resistance, unfaithfulness, sensuality, have marred the work, — how Powers that were as the first of nations have had written on them, as it seemed, the sentence passed of old on Amalek, that their latter end should be that they should perish forever. Spain, in her decrepitude and decay; France, in her alternations of despotism and anarchy; Rome, in the insanity of her claims to dominate over the reason and conscience of mankind — these are instances, to which we cannot close our eyes, of vessels marred in the potter's hands. Each such example of the judgment of the heavens bids us not to be high-minded, but to fear. We need to remember, as of old, that the doom which seems so far from us may be close at hand, even at our doors, that that which seems ready to fall on this nation or on that, Turk or Christian, Asiatic or European, is not irreversible. "At what time soever," now as in the prophet's days, "a nation shall turn and repent," and struggle over the stepping stones of its dead self to higher things, there is the beginning of hope. The Potter may return and mould and fashion it, it may be to lowlier service, perhaps even to outward dishonour, but yet, if cleansed from its iniquity, it shall be meet for the Master's use.
IV. THE PARABLE BEARS UPON THE INDIVIDUAL LIFE OF EVERY CHILD OF MAN, and it is obviously that aspect of its teaching which has weighed most heavily upon the minds of men, and often, it would seem, made sad the hearts of the righteous whom God has not made sad. Does it leave room there also for individual freedom and responsibility? Did the inspired teachers think of it as leading men to repentance and faith and hope, or as stifling every energy under the burden of an inevitable doom? The words in which St. Paul speaks of it might be enough to suggest the true answer to that question. To him even that phase of the parable which seems the darkest and most terrible does but present to man's reverential wonder an instance of the forbearance of God enduring with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction. The Potter would fain return and mould and remould till the vessel is fit for some use, high or humble, in the great house of which He is the Supreme Head. By the discipline of life, by warnings and reproofs, by failures and disappointments, by prosperity and success, by sickness and by health, by varying work and ever-fresh opportunities, He is educating men and leading them to know and to do His will. Who does not feel in his calmer and clearer moments that this is the true account of the past chances and changes of his life? True, there is a point at which all such questionings reach their limit. In the language of another parable, to one is given five pounds, to another two, and to another one — to each according to his several ability. But the thought that sustains us beneath the burden of these weary questions is that the Judge of all the earth shall assuredly do right. Men's opportunities are the measure of their responsibilities. "To whom men have committed much, of him will they ask the more." The bitter murmur and passionate complaint are checked by the old words, "Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus?" The poorest and the humblest may find comfort in the thought that if his work be done faithfully and truly, if he sees in the gifts which he has received, and the outward circumstances of his life, and the work to which they lead him, but the tokens of the purpose of the great Designer, he, too, yielding himself as clay to the hands of the potter, may become in the least honoured work, a vessel of election. What is required in such a vessel when formed or fashioned is, above all, that it should be clean and whole, free from the taint that defiles, from the flaws that mar the completeness of form or the efficiency of use. The work of each soul of man is to seek this consecration, to flee the youthful lusts, the low ambitions, the inner baseness, which desecrate and debase. Our comfort is, that in so striving, we are fellow workers with the great Work-Master. Our prayer to Him may well be that He will not despise what His own hands have made.
Homilist.I. Man in the hand of God as MORALLY DEFECTIVE.
1. Humanity throughout all ages and climes has been defective —
(1) (2) (3) 2. How this defection occurred is a question that lands us into the mysterious region whence evil sprang. II. Man in the hands of God as MORALLY IMPROVABLE. 1. God can improve the "marred" vessel of humanity. (1) (2) (3) 2. The Gospel is the power of God. III. Man in the hands of God AS MORALLY FREE. 1. Man is responsible for his conduct. The social history of the world, the universal consciousness of man, and the concurrent teachings of the Bible all show this. 2. Man is responsible for his destiny. Humanity will be "plucked up," and "pulled down" by God, or built up and planted according to its conduct. (Homilist.)
(2) (3) 2. How this defection occurred is a question that lands us into the mysterious region whence evil sprang. II. Man in the hands of God as MORALLY IMPROVABLE. 1. God can improve the "marred" vessel of humanity. (1) (2) (3) 2. The Gospel is the power of God. III. Man in the hands of God AS MORALLY FREE. 1. Man is responsible for his conduct. The social history of the world, the universal consciousness of man, and the concurrent teachings of the Bible all show this. 2. Man is responsible for his destiny. Humanity will be "plucked up," and "pulled down" by God, or built up and planted according to its conduct. (Homilist.)
(3) 2. How this defection occurred is a question that lands us into the mysterious region whence evil sprang. II. Man in the hands of God as MORALLY IMPROVABLE. 1. God can improve the "marred" vessel of humanity. (1) (2) (3) 2. The Gospel is the power of God. III. Man in the hands of God AS MORALLY FREE. 1. Man is responsible for his conduct. The social history of the world, the universal consciousness of man, and the concurrent teachings of the Bible all show this. 2. Man is responsible for his destiny. Humanity will be "plucked up," and "pulled down" by God, or built up and planted according to its conduct. (Homilist.)
II. Man in the hands of God as MORALLY IMPROVABLE.
1. God can improve the "marred" vessel of humanity.
2. The Gospel is the power of God. III. Man in the hands of God AS MORALLY FREE. (Homilist.)
2. The Gospel is the power of God.
III. Man in the hands of God AS MORALLY FREE.
1. As man was created originally "after God in knowledge," as well as righteousness and true holiness, we may rationally infer that his understanding, in respect to things natural as well as Divine, was of a prodigious extent: for he was made but a little lower than the angels, and consequently, being like them, excellent in his understanding, he knew much of God, of himself, and all about him; and in this, as well as every other respect, was, as Mr. Collier expresses it in one of his essays, a perfect major: but this is far from being our case now. Men of low and narrow minds soon commence wise in their own conceits; and having acquired a little smattering of the learned languages, and made some small proficiency in the dry sciences, are easily tempted to look upon themselves as a head taller than their fellow mortals, and accordingly, too, too often put forth great swelling words of vanity. But persons of a more exalted and extensive reach of thought dare not boast. No: they know that the greatest scholars are in the dark in respect to many even of the minutest things in life.
2. This will appear yet more evident, if we consider the perverse bent of his will. Being made in the very image of God; undoubtedly before the fall, man had no other will but his Maker's. God's will, and Adam's, were then like unisons in music. There was not the least disunion or discord between them. But now he hath a will as directly contrary to the will of God, as light is contrary to darkness, or heaven to hell.
3. A transient view of fallen man's affections will yet more firmly corroborate this melancholy truth. These, at his being first placed in the paradise of God, were always kept within proper bounds, fixed upon their proper objects, and, like so many gentle rivers, sweetly, spontaneously, and habitually glided into their ocean, God: but now the scene is changed; for we are now naturally full of vile affections, which, like a mighty and impetuous torrent, carry all before them.
4. The present blindness of natural conscience makes this appear in a yet more glaring light. In the soul of the first man Adam, conscience was, no doubt, the candle of the Lord, and enabled him rightly and instantaneously to discern between good and evil, right and wrong. And, blessed be God! some remains of this are yet left; but, alas! how dimly does it burn, and how easily and quickly is it covered, or put out and extinguished.
5. Nor does that great and boasted Diana, I mean unassisted, unenlightened Reason, less demonstrate the justness of such an assertion. The horrid and dreadful mistakes which the most refined reasoners in the heathen world ran into, both as to the object as well as manner of Divine worship, have sufficiently demonstrated the weakness and depravity of human reason: nor do our modern boasters afford us any better proofs of the greatness of its strength, since the best improvement they generally make of it is only to reason themselves into downright wilful infidelity, and thereby reason themselves out of eternal salvation. Need we now any further witness that man, fallen man, is altogether a piece of marred clay?
6. But this is not all, we have yet more evidence to call; for do the blindness of our understandings, the perverseness of our will, the rebellion of our affections, the corruption of our consciences, the depravity of our reason, prove this charge; and does not the present disordered frame and constitution of our bodies confirm the same also? Doubtless in this respect, man, in the most literal sense of the word, is a piece of marred clay: for God originally made him of the "dust of the earth."
II. THE ABSOLUTE NECESSITY THERE IS OF THIS FALLEN NATURE'S BEING RENEWED. Archimedes once said, "Give me a place where I may fix my foot, and I will move the world"; so, without the least imputation of arrogance, with which perhaps he was justly chargeable, we may venture to say, Grant the foregoing doctrine to be true, and then deny the necessity of man's being renewed, who can. I suppose I may take it for granted that all hope after death to go to a place which we call heaven. But permit me to tell you, heaven is rather a state than a place; and consequently, unless you are previously disposed by a suitable state of mind, you could not be happy even in heaven itself. For what is grace, but glory militant? what is glory, but grace triumphant? This consideration made a pious author say, that "holiness, happiness, and heaven, were only three different words for one and the self-same thing." And this made the great Preston, when he was about to die, turn to his friends, saying, "I am changing my place, but not my company." To make us meet to be blissful partakers of such heavenly company, this "marred clay," I mean these depraved natures of ours, must necessarily undergo a universal moral change our understandings must be enlightened; our wills, reason, and consciences, must be renewed; our affections must be drawn toward, and fixed upon things above; and because flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven, this corruptible must put on incorruption, this mortal must put on immortality. Christ hath said it, and Christ will stand. "Unless a man," learned or unlearned, high or low, though he be a master of Israel as Nicodemus was, unless he "be born again, he cannot see, he cannot enter into, the kingdom of God." If it be required, Who is to be the potter? and by whose agency this marred day is to be formed into another vessel? Or in other words, if it be asked, how this great and mighty change is to be effected? I answer, not by the mere dint and force of moral suasion. Neither is this change to be wrought by the power of our own free-will. We might as soon attempt to stop the ebbing and flowing of the tide, and calm the most tempestuous sea, as to imagine that we can subdue, or bring under proper regulations, our own unruly wills and affections by any strength inherent in ourselves. And therefore I inform you, that this heavenly Potter, this blessed Agent, is the Almighty Spirit of God the Holy Ghost, the Third Person in the most adorable Trinity, co-essential with the Father and the Son. This is that fire which our Lord came to send into our earthly hearts, and which I pray the Lord of all lords to kindle in every unrenewed one this day.
( G. Whitefield, M. A.)
II. DIVINE PATIENCE IS ASSOCIATED WITH DIVINE POWER. You do not see in the potter at work what God can do if it pleases Him, but what it pleases Him to do; not what He may do with the clay, but what His purpose is. We are taught the intention of the Divine worker to mould men and nations according to a Divine pattern, that there is nothing arbitrary in His procedure; that every act is regulated by a reference to His plan, and that Divine patience is constantly and perseveringly at work.
III. DIVINE PATIENCE PERSEVERES IN THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF ITS DESIGN. How often have you been marred through want of submission to a perfect and loving will, manifested in God's providential dealings with you or in His Gospel? The clay may be broken so often that it loses all its adhesive properties, and when placed on the wheels may splinter into fragments and become utterly worthless.Conclusion —
1. There is a fixed and settled plan, an original idea in the Divine mind, according to which His work is to be conformed. "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning." Man is God's work. God found in Himself the pattern of this wondrous creation. He made man in His own image, in His own likeness. Man was a failure; the world therefore was a failure, and the flood was brought in, and the work destroyed. There was to be a new manifestation of humanity. Men were to be distributed into families and tribes, into nations and kingdoms. We are "predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son." We are to be "like Him": our bodies are "to be fashioned like unto His glorious body." There is a perfect type of society. There is to be the universal diffusion of truth and righteousness. There is a perfect type of a Church.
2. God does not make anything for the sole purpose of destroying it. See the interest God takes in what is going on in the world, and the effect it has on Him.
3. That there is no waste in life. There is no waste in nature. There was in Christ's miracles no waste of power. There is no waste in human life. That part of it which is introductory to the rest, which we call childhood, is not waste; it has its relations to the rest of life. That portion which is tried and tested, which is subjected to many experiments, is not waste. The sorrows and tears of life are not the waste of life — toil, strife, agony, are not lost. All these things that seem to fall from life, are worked up again into new forms. Life may be a marred and broken thing, but God can work it up into a form of Divine beauty.
4. Life is a "work on the wheels." Character is in the course of formation: it will come out either marred or perfected, just as you submit to the Divine will, or resist the influences brought to bear upon you.
(H. J. Boris.)
1. The preparation of the clay. In my ignorance I had thought very lightly of that. I supposed that the clay was brought from some place or other, and, after being kneaded, would be used for the purpose of the potter. But as we looked over the various processes, several things astonished us very much in this preparation of the clay. In the first place, we were astonished at the materials used. There was, of course, the clay as we understand it, but in addition we found stones of the very hardest description and flints also used. In one factory some eight or ten mills did nothing else but grind to the very smallest powder these hard flint stones mixed with the clay. And then these ground flint stones were further churned with water until it became a fluid mass. Another interesting feature was the straining, and the use of magnets to extract any iron that might be there. At last it was run into bags placed under a press and the water squeezed out, and the clay left behind. It was then turned out as plastic clay for the potter's use. We often speak of the potter and the clay, and we are warranted by the Scriptures to use this simile for the sovereignty of God. And, no doubt, we must hold fast the eternal sovereignty of God. But I am not quite sure that we do not see here the process anterior to what we speak of as the sovereignty of God. The sovereignty of God is shown in the form of the vessel made from the clay, but here we have something anterior to the making of the vessel — the preparation of the clay. And while we believe in the sovereignty of God, we also believe that salvation is perfectly free. Your heart may be as hard as a flint, or without any stamina as that liquid mass, and yet it is quite possible from that hard flinty rock, or from that fluid liquid mass, to make the clay which shall be plastic for the Potter's use. Are you willing to be made clay? — willing to be just put into His hands?
2. The making of the vessels. Nothing could be more beautiful than to watch the skilful potter mould the clay upon his wheel until it became a beautiful vessel under his touch. Here I learnt what a great variety of vessels the potter made. Here were vessels which would adorn the tables of the rich, and also vessels necessary for the poor; here were vessels which might only be for ornaments, and others of the greatest practical use. Oh, if you are only willing to be as clay in the Great Potter's hands, He is able to make you vessels meet for the Master's use. The use may be very varied, and the vessels may differ in form and beauty, but if you are willing to be as clay in His hands, He will fashion you so that you may be a vessel for His glory, and for the benefit of those around you.
3. The varied processes to fix the shape of the vessels. Until the vessel was fired, the potter could break it up, as he did, and throw it back into the mass, but when once the vessel was fired, its shape and form were fixed. Two things about the firing interested me. The one was the gradual preparation that the vessel had to go through. I asked why it was necessary to dry it so slowly by steam first, before it was put into the great oven. I received the reply that if it was put into the oven at once, it would break. There must be the slow process of drying by steam. Ah! and is it not so with our Great Potter? Does He not gently train us? He does not put us into the fiery oven all at once. He prepares us by less difficult temptations for the fiery heat which we must all go through. Every man must pass through the fire in order that the stability of his own character may be brought out. God knows the amount of heat which is necessary, and He will not send one temptation more than we are able to bear. Another interesting thing in the firing was, that every vessel had to be separate from the others. They were packed up in the saggers so that not one single clay vessel should touch another. And the reason, they told us, was that the two vessels would be so fused in the fire that both would be spoilt. Is it not true with the great fiery oven through which the Great Potter passes us? We must pass through the fire alone.
4. Then we came to the decorative process. First, there was the making of the pattern. The pattern was made upon a copper plate, and then taken off upon the tracing. paper and placed upon the plate. The pattern in many cases was very similar. One machine rolled off some millions of patterns. The Christian has only one pattern — the Lord Jesus Christ. It is His purpose that we should be conformed to His image. The next thing that struck us was the number of hands through which the pattern had to pass. An ordinary dinner plate had to pass through some ten or twelve different hands — one filling in one colour, and another another colour, until it passed down the whole line; one fining in a little stroke of blue, another red, another colouring a leaf, until at last the whole pattern was brought out upon the one plate. Is it not so with the Christian? The pattern must be the same, but the pattern is variously brought out. It may be a very different colour. We take our pattern from those we mix with day by day, and if we are only upon the lookout we may find many things to colour the pattern of Jesus Christ in our lives. Here we may colour with a little bit of unselfishness, here a little bit of charity, here a little bit of self-sacrifice. You may take from one and another impressions which will bring out the grand pattern. Another interesting thing was the firing in order to fix these colours. The vessel must be put into the kiln to fix the colours. There is intense scorching heat in there. And is it not so with the Great Potter? Does He not often put us Christians into the kiln in order to fix the colour? How many Christians you see who have had their colours fixed by adversity! This one's love is brought out by trial; this one's charity by temptation. Then came the last process. Once more the vessel is put into the kiln, and the fire brought to bear upon it, and then the colour and pattern come out still more glorious than before. The glaze is now dry, and the work of the potter now finished. And so ofttimes the Christian is plunged into despondency, losing all the evidences of his faith; is plunged once more into the fire; and in the fire he sees that there is One walking with Him, and His form is as the Son of God, and he sees the pattern is being brought out by the great Potter.
5. At last we were taken up to the showroom, and here were displayed all the triumphs of the potter's art, and we could have spent hours in admiring the work of the potter. So we look forward to the show. room when we leave all the dross of the workshop and the whirl of the factory; and when we ascend up to the showroom where we shall see the triumphs of the Great Potter's art, we shall simply wonder that out of these stones and liquid clay it is possible to make such vessels as He has prepared for His glory.
(E. A. Stuart, M. A.)Jeremiah 18:4). And so can I do, says the cheery word to the prophet, so can I the Lord do with this apparently hopeless and intractable nation. With them, as with the piece of clay, there is a resolute, rebellious intermingling. They show themselves unworthy. They make themselves incapable of the high destiny among the nations to which My call would lead them. They must lose their crown. My purpose must be fulfilled in other ways, and by other instruments and ministries. But — and here speaks the heart of generous, patient love — I have not done with them. I shall do the very best that can be done with them, and put them in a place which they can fill. This is My pleasure anything short of it would be anguish. But, to do the possible best, even with the most unpromising material, is the object and aim of My redeeming hand. The right-hearted workman is like-minded of God, and, in his sphere, does an identical work. The man who makes two ears of corn grow where only one would grow before; the man who shapes wood, or beats and moulds metal into fashions of use, beneficence, and comeliness, is, besides all the wage-profit that his industry brings, doing a redemptive work that is akin to Divine. Industry, cleanliness, usefulness, beautifying labour — these are far more than means of livelihood, they are means of might and spiritual life.
(D. J. Hamer.)
1. With regard to the figure, it is in the particulars of the fourth verse that Jeremiah's use of it differs from that of most other scriptural writers. As soon as the potter saw that the clay he was dealing with would not answer the purpose he had in view, with a slight touch of his hand he crushed it down into a shapeless heap of mud, began anew, and made it into "another vessel." In other words, the potter's treatment of the clay depends upon his knowledge or discovery of its qualities, its capability, or its faultiness. Or, dropping the figure, God does not always act upon and complete His first apparent design with a man; and any change of design on His part is determined by some adequate cause, which is always to be found in the man himself — in the way in which he exercises his freedom of will, or in the attitude in which he puts himself towards conscience, and duty, and truth. There has sometimes been a disposition, amongst nations and amongst individuals, to imagine that some moral character had been stamped indelibly upon them by God, and was permanent and unalterable, whatever they did. So far was Jeremiah from believing that, and so far is the Bible from teaching it, that it represents man's will as in a sense entrusted with the supreme control over his spirit and over his destiny. The plastic skill and power of the Great Potter, in themselves immeasurable and without limit, are yet not applied arbitrarily, under the impulse of fancy or caprice, but depend at least for their direction upon the clay itself.
2. That truth is sometimes overlooked, or qualified, or even rejected. Some of the current philosophies deny it in theory, but, when pressed, will reluctantly acknowledge that consciousness can be quoted in its favour, or, as the greatest English psychologist of the day puts it, "The assumption of the freedom of the will is in a certain sense inevitable to anyone exercising rational choice." In the Old Testament it is an especial favourite of Jeremiah's, though not confined to him; and in this single paragraph he is not contented with the dubious form it assumes in the figure, but recurs to it once and again afterwards. When verse 14 is compared with the preceding verse, it becomes evident that the prophet wanted to point a contrast between the steadfastness of the phenomena and laws of nature, and the apparent fickleness of those of morals. To the one the eternal will of God which knows no change is central; to the other, the uncertain will of man. The forces that seem to play in the cloud forms and the winds, to move with slow rhythm in the solid structures of the ages, or with quick inapparent catastrophe and explosion, the life that modifies the cell and pulsates in a myriad forms through the universe — all simply fulfil their Sovereign's will; and the only power, not in the same way subject to His rule, but permitted to rebel against Him, and to check and alter His purposes, is that of the personality or will of man. To that extent the Potter renounces His power over the clay, and the clay is allowed to determine the design of the Potter.
3. The same truth is put in a third way in verses 7-10. The inference evidently is, that neither God's threats nor His promises are absolute, in the sense that they are incapable of diversion or of change. Every word that goes forth from His lips is of necessity law; but the nations, the individuals, are left at liberty to choose which of the words shall govern them, and the occasions of choice are more than one. It appears accordingly that men can actually, by their choice of evil or carelessness concerning right, frustrate God's purposes or grace, just as by penitence and self-reform they can avert a doom that is impending. That is the word of the Lord by others than Jeremiah (Ezekiel 18:20-24). Nor does the New Testament reject such a lesson, which is in accordance further with the teaching of reason and with the fundamental conception of justice. There is no finality in God's design for a man, until the man's will has either frittered itself away, or hardened itself into invincibility. But by the attitude towards God into which men put themselves, they determine the pattern according to which His methods mould them, and every change of attitude on their part is quickly followed by its appropriate and necessary change of design. Nor is this modification of God's design represented as confined to nations or communities. Jonah himself was called of God to be a prophet, but the action of his own will made him a sacrifice to appease the sea, until, when he willed better things, God's plan for him changed back again. There is thus cumulative evidence, in Scripture, in history, in human experience, that God does not always act to the end upon His original design for a man, but that His designs are sometimes changed on account of something in the men themselves. What is that something? This chapter alone, to say nothing of teaching that abounds elsewhere, leaves no room for doubt. "If that nation turn from their evil," is laid down with all emphasis in the eighth verse as the one condition upon which the modification of God's purpose depends; and the most powerful and essential human factor in every act of moral turning is of necessity the will. The responsibility for a man's character rests substantially, it would be hardly too much to say entirely, upon himself. It is a terrible responsibility, of which men have tried to rid themselves in many ways; but so long as human nature remains what it is, free to choose the right or the wrong, it is a responsibility which every man must face and every man must bear. God gives, in the conscience and by His Spirit, a clear revelation of what is right, and in His Son a source of strength that is sufficient for every duty. He gives opportunities, allurements, warnings without number; and having given those, ceaselessly present with us, His part in the formation of character may be said to be done. The man has then to determine, by the action of his own will, whether the law of perfecting or the law of perdition shall work in him.
(R. W. Moss.)
I. EVERY HUMAN LIFE IS, FIRST OF ALL, AN IDEA IN THE MIND OF GOD. The potter is an artist, and it is the thoughts of his head he embodies in the vessels he makes. He is thus a likeness to us of God. Such men as Bernard Palissy and Josiah Wedgwood did not spend their instructive lives only to make clayware for human use, but also to reveal to us, and enable us to understand, the working of the Divine Artist in the formation of human lives. Can you recall, you who have read Palissy's life, the passionate eagerness with which he sought out beautiful forms in nature? Do you remember how his unresting brain toiled to make new combinations of colour and form? And with what unwearying zeal he sought to bring beauty and strength and polish into the vessels he made? It is all a far-off portrait of God. The human artist who never saw a wonderful conjunction of natural objects, of form and colour, in field or wood, without bringing it in straightway to his workshop in the brain, is but an outshadowing to us of the Divine Artist, and of the thought, the care, the skill, the beauty, which God expends on every life He makes. It is true that the Divine Artist has to work with inferior clay. He has to embody the thoughts of His creative mind in material that has been soiled by sin — flesh that has corrupted its way, and transmitted its taints and diseases and weaknesses to the children. But, all the same, the life and the outshaping of the life are the work of God. The gladsome fact, therefore, in the teaching of the potter and the clay, is that our lives are not shaped by accident; nor are the materials of our life combined by blind chance. My personality, as truly as my body, is the work of His hands. But here is my joy. In this very fact I have a ground of appeal to God. When my spirit is overwhelmed by the mysteries of existence, or my way hedged up by moral difficulties, which I have in myself no strength to overcome, I can go to Him and say: "O Maker of my being, O Planner out of my lot, Thou faithful Creator, I am poor and needy: wilt not Thou have respect to the work of Thy hands, and make haste to help me?"
II. EVERY HUMAN LIFE IS SHAPED FOR A DIVINE USE. When the potter turns a vessel on his wheel, the first pulse of thought concerning it touches its use. It is the use which determines the shape. And this holds good in the shaping of human life by God. Anterior to the infinite variety of shape in our lives is this grand common fact for all life, We are not driftwood on a tumbling sea. We are created to be vessels for God and of God, vessels of His sanctuary, set apart to His service, and filled with all sweet and wholesome things. This great primal purpose of the Creator seeks to fulfil itself many ways in our lives. But in all ways the Divine intention is that we shall contain and give forth some fair measure of his own life. One is set to fulfil this purpose on one level, another on a level higher or lower. One must do it by work, another by suffering. But for one and all this is the Divine purpose and requirement, that we be vessels of truth and righteousness, embodiments and manifestations — up to the measure of our natural capacities and shapes — of the Divine character and life. It is the sad fact, as we all know, that this primal use intended by our Creator is not fulfilled in all. But our shortcomings do not alter the fact that we were made for this purpose. In the fulfilment of this end our happiness consists. He who made us has linked the right use of life and our personal well-being together.
III. LIVES TRIED IN ONE SHAPE ARE SOMETIMES BROKEN UP AND RESHAPED TO FULFIL THEMSELVES IN NEW SPHERES OR DIFFERENT CAPACITIES. And He breaks up Joseph the dreamer and the slave, and forms Joseph the wise statesman, administrator, and prince of Egypt. That was a strong well formed vessel who went forth from Jerusalem to Damascus, carrying fiery zeal for God, cruel death for God's people. The Divine Artist takes this vessel — formed of good clay, impact of such energies, such zeal — and breaks it up and puts it on the wheel, and reshapes it for higher levels and wider ends. Christian biography is full of such instances. Here is one who was only a timid lad at the outset, shrinking from boisterous companions, retiring to woods for meditation on God's Word. The timid lad becomes a fearless preacher, and the founder of the Society of Friends. Here is another, a poor cobbler, piecing together little scraps of different coloured leathers to make a map of the world, and by the black pieces to point out to his friends the extent, of heathenism. The poor mapmaker becomes William Carey, the founder of Missions to India and the translator of the Bible into Indian languages. A third is at first a poor piecer in a spinning factory on the banks of the Clyde. But at last he is the voice of one crying in a wilderness: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord: make a highway in the desert for God." And so great in this ministry that black men carry his bones, when he dies, a year's journey from the depths of Africa to England; and white men there reverently bury them in the sepulchres of their kings, because he had done good to God and to man. God breaks up the first-shaped clay which has promise in it to make better vessels for His use. Shall we turn aside and look at the Divine Artist at this work of reshaping? Those awful times in the experience of His people when He comes with a succession of trials, when He sends whole tides of sorrow into the soul, are the times when we shall best see God at His work, when He reshapes for higher ends the clay that was shaped for lower ends before.
IV. GOD HAS LEFT IT TO MAN HIMSELF TO DECIDE WHETHER HE WILL BE A VESSEL OF HONOUR OR OF DISHONOUR. "Hath not the potter power over the same lump to make one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour?" — that is one side of this mystery. "If a man purge himself" — from being a vessel unto dishonour — "he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master's use" — this is the other. But the one side does not contradict the other. The Creator has power over the lives He moulds; but it is never so wielded as to quench the power of choice He has given to us. In respect of natural capacity, position in society, function, time and place of birth, joy and sorrow, health and sickness, this power of God is absolute. He appoints the bounds of our habitation. He alone designs the fashion of our personality. He alone fixes the doom on sin. But at those points in the development of life, where the real battle of the soul is waged, where the decisive shocks of the conflict between righteousness and unrighteousness have to be sustained, and the burden of responsibility taken up, we are in a region where God leaves man as absolutely free as He is Himself. The Creator has power over the life; but, as put forth by God, it is a power tempered with justice and mercy, and quick with all the goodness of the Divine character.
V. BE TRUE TO THE DIVINE INTENTION AND SHAPING OF YOUR LIVES. Do not lower yourselves to evil shapes. Do not suffer yourselves to degenerate into vessels set to vile uses and filled with base, unwholesome things. What the great King desires is that we should all be vessels for Him, vessels to carry and pour forth His love, His life, His purity, in all we do and wherever we go. And what He seeks to fill our souls with is His own life as God, that eternal life which He has poured out for us all in Christ. And this is eternal wisdom to receive that life of God into the heart. This is the one grand, informing, outshaping, abiding power for human life. This will reshape the most unshapely into the very image of God.
(A. Macleod, D. D.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
I. The first thing which attracts our notice is the CLAY. It is of different qualities. Some of it is very pure and pliable, other is too soft — "fat" the potter calls it — to be used in its present state; some is almost white, and will make the finest porcelain, other has such an excess of iron that it will make only coloured ware; some is doubtful, — it will form, but it will twist or crack in the firing. The clay of the potter is human nature, good, bad, and indifferent. Is there any of it so bad that it cannot be used? Not if it be clay. There is no clay that the potter cannot employ. He cannot use stone, and he cannot make a vase of water. There are men so hard that they seem to be stone; there are others so flabby that it seems as if they never could hold together on the revolving wheel; still, if they be men, something can be done. It may not be possible to make poets and statesmen of them, any more than it is possible to make Sevres china of Jersey clay; but they can be moulded and fixed into some form of usefulness as long as they are men. The difficulty, however, which arises in some men's minds, even when that is settled, is this: Is not the best what we want? Can we rest satisfied with any dealing with human nature which leaves the large majority of the race on a low plane, and exalts only a chosen few? Now, if we cannot, how can the Creator? Must we not suppose that He too is disappointed in His work, and that He is limited in His operations? How, then, can we believe in One who is omnipotent? Is not He too limited by necessity, and are we not right in saying that that which determines character is the previous condition of the material with which God works? And does not this lead finally to disbelief, in God? It certainly does lead to a disbelief in such a God as we have fancied. But it may lead to a belief in a nobler God than that. The potter puts his hand on a lump of clay. He can never make pure porcelain out of it. Well, who said that he intended to? Who told us that he tried to and failed? Did not the potter bring the clay into the house? Did he not know what he would find there? Not so. The fineness of the pottery is determined by the quality of the clay, and so is its colour, but not its form. That is the work of the potter alone. It is in that that we see the power of his genius. And the coarser the material and the cruder its colour, the more are we led to marvel at the genius and the goodness which was content to embody itself in such material. The more we study human nature, the more we become convinced that God never intended all men to be alike. The more we study sociology, the more we feel convinced that it would be a fatal thing to have a town with but a single industry, a nation with no variety of employments, a world perfectly homogeneous. We all admit that it is not possible for every man to have all the moral qualities in an equal degree. The important thing in life is that each man should be faithful in the employment of those which he has. It is with individuals as with nations. We say that we cannot, and God ought not to be content with anything less than the best. But what is best? Is it best that all the clay in the world should be turned into Dresden china? By no means. What is best is that there should be a great variety fitted for different purposes. There are certain virtues which would be out of place in certain conditions of civilisation — that is, in certain individuals. Refined sensibility would be as embarrassing to a frontiersman as a carriage hung on delicate springs. What is needed is that he should be brave and just. We say that it is not as high a type as the courteous gentleman who would shrink from profanity as from physical pollution. But the test is to be found not in the quality of the virtue, but in the faithfulness with which it is used. Two things, then, ought to be learned from a consideration of the clay in the potter's house. The first is, that God is dealing with men as individuals indeed, yet not as isolated beings, but as members of a great family. It is to the advantage of the family that they should differ, and it is to their own advantage too. This difference in the clay, of which we have many theories, such as the law of heredity, or the influence of environment, are the conditions which God Himself has ordained. All creation is self-limitation. God is working in clay. He must make what the clay is capable of expressing; only, there is no clay which is not capable, on a higher or lower plane, of being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.
2. The second thing which we see in the potter's house is the WHEEL. On it the lump is placed, and the unseen foot presses the treadle, and the wheel revolves. About the wheel, too, men have formed a theory. First they began with the clay — the substance of human nature. And there was evolved many a philosophy. It has produced the spirit of agnosticism. Men, weary with speculations which lead to nothing, have said there is nothing to be known of the constitution of the clay nor the mind of the worker. And they are right: there is nothing to be known by the exclusive study of the human mind. And so they have turned to the study of the revolutions of the wheel. The clay is on the wheel, and it turns and turns, and slackens not its speed, still less stops in answer to curses or groans. If you ask whence came the clay, the answer is, the wheel made it. If men asked how it took forms of beauty, the answer was given by pointing out that, if the wheel went slower by one revolution in a thousand years, the thing of beauty would be marred; that if it increased its speed but the fraction of a second, the clay would be destroyed. The wheel never changes. Well, how does the ease stand today? Men have roused themselves, and asked at length, What moves the wheel? Such a simple, natural question! But no one can answer it. "We do not know," say the wisest students of nature. "Every increase of knowledge only serves to widen the surrounding abyss of nescience. And what is more, nothing can ever be known of that secret, for we have learned enough of nature to know that no study of it will tell us any of those things which we would like to know." The study of the clay was formulated in metaphysics, and led to agnosticism. The study of the wheel has done the same. There are, however, certain impressions which the mind has received from the study of nature which nothing will ever shake. The first is the universality of law — that nothing happens anywhere except in accordance with invariable rules, which are never changed. That is the one thing we have learned from the study of nature, and almost the only thing we have learned which throws any light on the great problem which perplexes us. Is this all that can be learned from the potter's house? So many tell us, but as we turn away there comes, we cannot tell how, & feeling that we have not seen all. And to me that is, after all, the greatest mystery of life. How did it ever come to pass that man should dream that there is more to be known than can be seen? That is the mystery. From what does it arise? How is it that I, a creature of a moment, without power, an infinitesimal particle in the universe, should come to believe that this is not the whole story of my life, but that there is a hand upon me fashioning me and moulding me, making me walk in the paths which I would not, and comforting me, and filling me with hope? It is because of something else which is in the potter's house. That which the prophet saw first of all: "I saw the potter work a work on the wheels." It is on that that our eyes must be fixed if we would gain comfort and hope. It is on that that the eyes of thoughtful men must be fixed before we can have a philosophy of life. The study of the clay will show us only the limitations of the clay. The study of the wheel will teach us nothing but the conditions under which the clay is moulded. The contemplation of the hand alone will yield nothing but unsubstantial dreams. The result of the first has been formulated in philosophy; of the second in science; of the third in theology. Should there ever be a complete philosophy of life, it must be from the combination of what each thing in the potter's house has to teach us. The clay we can analyse. The wheel we can watch. How can we learn from the hand? Only by taking the testimony which the clay itself bears to its own experience, only by noting the effects produced on the human soul by the awful, mysterious experiences of life. The limitations of your life and mine were fixed long before we saw the light. We have learned that to begin with. The experiences which come to you and me are not made to break in upon the course of this world, violating the law which governs life. They come by rule. There is an undeviating law which governs life. That, too, we have learned. Where, then, is Providence? That is to be seen in the moulding of our life. God's hand is on us, and in the turn of the wheel which brings joy He lifts us up, and in the turn which brings calamity He moulds us for some use. That is what men forget. The race. has always believed, that there was. overruling, but supposed that the proof of it was to be found in the events of life, and then was dumfounded when these events proved different from what had been expected. It is not in the events, but in the result of them, that we shall find the proof of the hand of God. That thought frees us at once from the deadness of spirit which comes with the knowledge of inexorable law. If there be a hand fashioning, we may be sure that it chose the clay to make that which it knew the clay could become. If there is a hand moulding our souls, it must be that these laws were prepared by it because He knew that no condition which those laws produce is unfavourable to the development of the life which He loves. And more than that, if there be laws for the clay and laws for the wheel, there are likewise, we may be sure, laws for the moulding hand as well. What are these laws? That we do not know, and that is why there is so much confusion and fear. There is one thing more to be said, and that is, that the parable is incomplete in one respect. There are times when we can speak of humanity as clay in the hands of the potter, but we all know that this human clay has the power of resistance. It can tear itself from the moulding hand; it can fatten itself in sin, so as to frustrate the work on the wheels. So the house of the potter has an exhortation for us, as well as an object lesson. What it is saying to every man is, Do not resist, but cooperate. Look at the clay — it is yourself, it has its limitations. Two things are before you when that truth has entered into your soul. You may despair; you may throw away your life because it is physically, mentally, or morally incomplete or marred. Or you may submit. You may learn to be content; you may rise to thank God that you are what you are. You may be made useful, and in the eyes of the Master beautiful, because expressing the love of God. Look on the wheel. It is the revolving life, with all its manifold experiences. They may be so joyous that we forget that we are here for a purpose, and pass the time in the enjoyment of things which unfit us for beauty or power. They may be hard and bitter, and you may upbraid God. You may say, I have been a religious man, and look at me, old and poor and sad! Are not these laws, which He established, and which now bear heavy on me, for a purpose? We may go further, and say, "The consolations of God are not small with us." We may hear the voice of the apostle saying, "My brethren, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial" as if some strange thing happened to you; there hath no trial taken you but such as is common to man. He wrought a work on the wheels. Let nothing shake that faith. Submit your souls to God. Do not ask Him to make you great, only to make you useful. The hand of the Potter is on your life, moulding it in the midst of manifold experiences. It is the hand of your Father — the same hand which was on Jesus, and moulded that sweet Jewish boy into the perfect manifestation of His own glory. Remember that, and He will make you a thing of beauty, fit for the Master's use.
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.
I. THE DIVINE MAKING OF MEN.
1. The potter has an ideal. Floating through his fancy there is the vessel that is to be. He already sees it hidden in the shapeless clay, waiting for his call to evoke. Before the woman applies scissors to the silk, she has conceived the pattern of her dress; before the spade cleaves the sod, the architect has conceived the plan of the building to be erected there. So of God in nature. The pattern of this round world and of her sister spheres lay in His creative thought before the first beam of light streamed across the abyss. So of the mystical body of Christ, the Church, His Bride. So also of the possibilities of each human life. See that mother bending over the cradle where her firstborn baby son lies sleeping! Mark that smile which goes and comes over her face, like a breath of wind on a calm summer's day! Why does she smile Ah! she is dreaming; and in her dreams is building castles of the future eminence of this child — in the pulpit or the senate; in war, or art. If only she might have her way, he should be foremost in happiness, renowned in the service of men. But no mother ever wished so much for her child as God for us, when first cradled at the foot of the Cross.
2. The potter achieves his purpose by means of the wheel. In the discipline of human life this surely represents the revolution of daily circumstance; often monotonous, common place, trivial enough, and yet intending to effect, if it may, ends on which God has set His heart. Many, on entering the life of full consecration and devotion, are eager to change the circumstances of their lives for those in which they suppose that they will more readily attain a fully developed character. Hence, much of the restlessness and fever, the disappointment and wilfulness of the early days of Christian experience. Do not, therefore, seek to change, by some rash and wilful act, the setting and environment of your life. Stay where you are till God as evidently calls you elsewhere as He has put you where you are. In the meanwhile, look deep into the heart of every circumstance for its special message, lesson, or discipline. Upon the way in which you accept or reject these will depend the achievement or marring of the Divine purpose.
3. The bulk of the work is done by the potter's fingers. How delicate their touch! How fine their sensibility! It would almost seem as though they were endued with intellect, instead of being the instruments by which the brain is executing its purpose. And in the nurture of the soul these represent the touch of the Spirit of God working in us to will and to do of His good pleasure. But we are too busy, too absorbed in many things, to heed the gentle touch. Sometimes, when we are aware of it we resent it, or stubbornly refuse to yield to it. The wheel and the hand worked together; often their motion was in opposite directions, but their object was one. So all things work together for good to them that love God. God's touch and voice give the meaning of His providences; and His providences enforce the lesson that His tender monitions might not be strong enough to teach.
II. GOD'S REMAKING OF MEN. "He made it again." 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. 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-jonas signifies — and left him Peter, the man of the rock, the apostle of Pentecost. Are you conscious of having marred God's early plan for yourself? Whilst into the soul the conviction is burnt: "I had my chance, and missed it; it will never come to me again. The survival of the fittest leaves no place for the unfit. They must be flung amid the waste which is ever accumulating around the furnaces of human life." It is here that the Gospel comes in with its gentle words for the outcast and lost. The bruised reed is made again into a pillar for the temple of God. The feebly smoking flax is kindled to a flame.
III. OUR ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE GREAT POTTER. Yield to Him! Each particle in the clay seems to say "Yes" to wheel and hand. And in proportion as this is the case, the work goes merrily on. If there be rebellion and resistance, the work of the potter is marred. Let God have His way with you. We cannot always understand His dealings, because we do not know what His purpose is.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
(J. D. Jones, M. A.)
O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
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