The Place Of Humanity In God's Purpose
Part 3

The lessons of the Potter

by John H. Essex

MOST OF YOU who read these words will at some time or other have been to an exhibition, for all kinds of shows are held in the main countries of the world every year. Generally they are designed to be instructive and to further the interests of those who are putting on the display. They are often made up of different stands, each presenting its own theme. In a travel exhibition, for example, one stand might portray the grandeur of the United States, another the historical attractions of Britain, another the various means of travel from place to place, another the advantages of being able to converse with peoples of foreign countries. On each stand will be placed the best examples that can be found to illustrate its particular theme, and everything will be done, through arrangement and lighting effects, to enhance its impact.

Now this idea of putting things on exhibition in order to demonstrate certain facts is by no means new and has indeed been used by God on many occasions. For instance, He has filled the heavens with stars in order to display His majesty and glory. "The heavens declare (or are rehearsing) the glory of God," says the Psalmist (Psalm 19:1). This is a display that is going on all the time; it was true in David's day, when the psalm was written. It was true back in Abraham's time, for was not he told to gaze into the heavens and count the stars and see if it were possible to number them? It is still true today. It is a tremendous display of God's greatness and wisdom and power, both in the creation and in the control of such a multitude of heavenly bodies, and it is rehearsed for us both by day and by night. "Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge."

And into whatever aspects of creation we look, whether into the infinitely great or the infinitesimally small, we find the majesty of God displayed. Indeed, as Paul reminds us in the beginning of his Roman letter, the achievements of God from the creation of the world have been used by Him to make Himself known to humanity, so that nobody shall have an excuse if he fails to give Him the thanks that are rightly His due. In Him we live and move and are, and everything around us gives testimony to this, so that on this ground alone, without reference to the Scriptures, we should be prepared to acknowledge God as our Creator, Provider and Sustainer.

But to move from the general to the particular, we find one special way in which God chose to display a portrait of Himself, and this was in the person of His Son. "Lord, show us the Father," said Philip to Jesus. Jesus told him, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:8,9). Christ is truly the Image of the invisible God, and in the person of Jesus all facets of the Father are revealed.

But now let us look at a particular incident in the Hebrew Scriptures, where God invited one of His prophets to observe something which would give God the opportunity to explain to him His intentions concerning His people, Israel. We are thinking of the occasion when Jeremiah visited the potter's house. Let us read from Jeremiah 18:
The word which comes to Jeremiah from Ieue, saying,
"Rise and go down to the house of the potter,
And there I will announce to you My words."
And I am going down to the house of the potter,
And behold! He is making a work on the stones ( or wheels).
Yet the vessel which he is making of the clay
Is ruined in the hand of the potter.
And he turns it back and is making another vessel of it,
As it is upright in the eyes of the potter to make it.
And coming is the word of Ieue to me, saying,
"As this potter does, cannot I do to you, house of Israel?"
Averring is Ieue,
"Behold! As the clay in a potter's hand,
So are you in My hand, house of Israel.
The moment I speak of a nation or of a kingdom,
To pluck them up, to break down and to destroy,
And that nation turns back
From all their evil, of which I spoke,
Then I regret the evil which I had designed to do to them.
And the moment I speak of a nation or of a kingdom,
To build and to plant,
And they do evil in MY eyes,
To avoid hearkening to My voice,
Then I regret the good, the good I spoke to do to them.
And now, speak, pray, to the men of Judah,
And to the dwellers of Jerusalem, saying,
`Thus says Ieue: Behold! I am forming evil against you...'"

In this passage, we have God using a little scene in a potter's house to illustrate several vital truths - truths of supreme importance and magnitude - great Divine principles which, though here applied to Israel, nevertheless obtain all through the eons. Here we have a potter with a vessel in his hands that he has just made, and he finds a flaw in it, so he immediately crushes it in his hands and makes it again, another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do so. The lessons that we learn from this simple exhibition of the potter's craft are many.

>First, the potter has the power to do what he wills with that which is in his hand. Similarly, God has the power to do whatever He wills with whatever is in His hand. The house of Israel was in God's hand; they were His people. "Cannot I do with you as this potter?" saith the Lord.

Second, the potter has not only the power but also the right to do what he wills with whatever is in his hand. Paul emphasizes this point when he, in spirit, visits a similar pottery, for he says in Romans 9:20,21, "That which is molded will not protest to the molder, Why do you make me thus? Or has not the potter the right over the clay, out of the same kneading to make one vessel, indeed, for honor, yet one for dishonor?" The right lies with the potter, not with the clay, and when the potter finds a flaw in the vessel that is in his hand, he has the right to destroy it and remake it. And God has the right to do this with Israel, who has become marred in His hand.

Third, the marred vessel never leaves the hand of the potter. It is not put on display until it satisfies its maker as being perfect for the use for which he has designed it. Israel, in spite of all that nation's deficiencies, has never been out of the Potter's hand. God has always held her secure.

Fourth, the potter can destroy as well as create, and from this action of the potter, we learn the great truth that God can create evil as well as good. The prophet Isaiah tells us that God is the Creator of evil (Isaiah 45:7); the prophet Jeremiah tells us that God, on occasions, forms evil. "Thus saith the Lord, behold I frame evil against you" (AV). But when God does so, it is always that good may come out of it, as when He crucified His own Son. But surely men crucified the Lord of glory! Indeed, they did, but they were only instruments to effect God's purpose. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, speaks of Jesus as "This One, given up in the specific counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23). Later, in his first epistle, he writes of "the precious blood of Christ, as of a flawless and unspotted lamb, foreknown, indeed, before the disruption of the world" (1 Peter 1:19,20). John, in Revelation 13:8, refers to "the Lambkin slain from the disruption of the world."

The disruption of the world, as we have noted earlier, was that event right at the beginning of Genesis, which brought chaos and darkness on the scene, and submerged the original creation in water, before the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters and brought light to the scene. This was the point at which the Lambkin was slain, and humanity was not then in existence. How could any of the sons of Adam be responsible for this primal decision of God?

Thus, the display in the potter's house gives us the real explanation of evil at the hand of God. It is in order that He may erase all defects so that the ultimate outcome may be to His glory. And now let us note a fifth point. The potter remakes the vessel, he does not repair it. When God's purpose concerning Israel is accomplished, it will not result in a patched-up job. There will be no concealed defects. And this is true of all of God's creations. When once anything becomes marred, it must be made afresh. God does not say, "Lo! I patch all up," but, "Lo! I make all new."

And, a sixth point, when God makes anew, He does it as it pleases Him. The potter makes it again another vessel, as it seems good to the potter to do so. Once, when on holiday, I saw this little scene in the potter's house enacted exactly as Jeremiah describes. It was in a little pottery in South Wales, and over the door were the words of Romans that have already been quoted, only, of course, they were in the more familiar rendering of the Authorized Version, "Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?"

As we watched the potter, he had a vase in his hand. Something about it displeased him, for he immediately crushed it, slapped the clay back on the revolving wheel, and his fingers began to fashion a bowl. He exercised his prerogative to make what he pleased with what was in his hand, and it was not the same as before. It might have been; he might have made another vase, but he p200 God Operates all in accord with the Counsel of His own Willdid not. He made something else, something different. And this opens up a wide field for consideration if we care to explore it, though it is not strictly relevant to the context of Jeremiah, which relates solely to Israel.

If, for example, we look at the new creation in Christ Jesus as the achievement of a Divine hand (as it surely is - we are "God's achievement, being created in Christ Jesus for good works" - Eph.2:10) then it is certainly not fashioned the same as the old. "The primitive passed by. Lo! there has come new" (2 Cor.5:17). And the bodies which will be ours in resurrection will not be like these bodies of humiliation which we now possess; they will be conformed to the body of Christ's glory. And the new heavens and the new earth will not be like the old heavens and the old earth which are to be destroyed, for the former will not be remembered nor even brought to mind.
"Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear My words" (AV).

God is an ideal Instructor, but if we wish to learn of Him we must go to the place to which He directs us. Jeremiah went to the potter's house; we must go to the Scriptures. We shall not find enlightenment concerning God's character and intentions in the philosophies of the world; without exception they teach us that we must seek to make something better out of what already exists, however marred or however imperfect that may be. Some are so optimistic as to preach that we are steadily advancing by a process of evolution from immaturity to perfection, despite evidences on every hand that moral standards are much lower today than they were even a few years ago.

Truly, God's ways are not man's ways, and man's wisdom is stupidity with God, for the simple reason that it consistently ignores the basic principle that God never mends but always remakes. And when He remakes, He consults nobody else, but does it in a manner that pleases Him. He operates all in accord with the counsel of His own will.

The lessons to be learned in a potter's house are truly many and varied. The Hebrew word yahtzar or itzr, translated "potter" in Jeremiah 18, is also translated "form" or "former" in other places, and when we read in Genesis 2:7 that the Lord God (Ieue Alueim) is forming the human of soil from the ground, we have a description of the Potter at work. Cannot we see His hands forming - fashioning - a vessel in His own Image and likeness? All humanity is in the hands of the Potter, and if humanity becomes marred in His hands, we have the scriptural assurance of a new humanity, in which there is no marring.

Some years ago, when speaking on this subject, we concluded by remarking that there is only one Potter. To us there is only one God. All is out of Him. A brother then reminded us that there is also only one clay. Yes, all humanity is of the same stock; and of the same kneading God can make one vessel to honor and one to dishonor. That is to say, there is nothing intrinsically different in the makeup of those who are designated vessels of honor and those who are appointed to be vessels of dishonor. The basic ingredient is the same. We are all of the same kneading, of the same clay. Let us always remember this. If we think of ourselves as being chosen of God, it is not because of any virtue in ourselves. Fundamentally we are no different from our fellows; we have nothing within ourselves of which to boast.

In the hands of the potter, the clay is powerless, but in his hands it can be adapted for any use that the potter may determine. And humanity in the hand of God is equally impotent, yet can be used by Him to achieve the purpose for which it was created in His image and likeness. Even the Lord Jesus came to be of the one clay. He came to be in the likeness of humanity (Phil.2:7). He was born of a woman and thus given the form in which He was to minister and do the will of God. The flesh He wore was the flesh of humanity. Though Himself without sin, because of the life He had received direct from His Father, He nevertheless came in the likeness of sin's flesh that He might condemn sin in the flesh (Rom.8:3). In appearance He was like any other man; His flesh was the same as any other man's flesh, liable to the same inherent passions and lusts which however in His case were always kept under complete control by His God-given Spirit. If this were not so, how could He have been tested by the Adversary in the way that He was? Satan tested Him in His weakened state towards the end of a forty-day fast by appealing to the desires of the flesh; Jesus withstood the attacks by the exercise of the powers of His Spirit. In Christ, humanity found its highest expression; He is the Son of Mankind, but let us not forget that He is also the Son of God, and in Him God finds the fulfillment of all that He had in mind when He created humanity.

Though all the millions of human beings, who are descended from Adam, can of themselves accomplish nothing - "all is vanity" - yet God, through the One Who came in the likeness of humanity and was actually born of a woman, can accomplish all, and can through Him reconcile all to Himself, whether in earth or in heaven (Col.1:20).

"Go to the potter's house!" There comes a call,
And, like the prophet, I must needs obey.
Upon the wheel a shapeless mass of clay
Assumes at once a form symmetrical
Beneath the master's fingers. Slim and tall,
A lovely vase arises to display
Its maker's skill, as well it seems it may;
Till, with a suddenness, which must appall,
The potter crushes it in one sharp blow.
A hidden flaw has caused its swift return
To former state. Fresh turns the wheel, and lo!
A perfect bowl is formed. Thus I discern
The hand of God, Who only will destroy
To make anew for His transcendent joy.

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