THE POTTER AND THE CLAY

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HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

If I could summarize my sermon into one sentence it would be this –

“God has a very special plan and purpose for each of our lives, and He works relentlessly to cause that plan and purpose to come to pass.”

The title of my message is – “The Potter and the Clay.” As many of you know, the passage of scripture that best deals with this subject is Jeremiah 18.

Jeremiah 18:1 The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, 2 Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. 3 Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. 4 And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.

What can we learn from this important passage of scripture?

I. The Potter and His Clay

A. The Potter Making a Vessel

Most of the utensils in Jeremiah’s day were made out of clay. Though perhaps some vessels were made out of gold or silver, common everyday household items were made out of clay. Today the most recognizable clay object for many of us is a flower pot.

For centuries clay vessels have been made on a device known as the potter’s wheel. The potter’s wheel is just what it sounds like. It is a flat wheel that is turned in a circular motion, thus allowing the potter to use his hands to form and fashion a lump of clay into a beautiful vessel.

God told Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house and watch him make a vessel. As Jeremiah was watching the potter fashion the vessel, something unusual happened. The potter suddenly stopped in the middle of the process, wadded the clay back into a ball, and started the process again. What was that about? The potter made the vessel, but then he had to remake the vessel.

B. The Potter ‘Remaking’ a Vessel

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

1. A Vessel ‘Marred’ in His Hand

As the potter worked to form the vessel, he noticed that for some reason the vessel wasn’t turning out the way he intended. Scripture says that the vessel was ‘marred’. Marred means – unfit. There was something about the vessel that the potter was forming that caused it to be defective.

a. Two Factors – Determine the Outcome of the Vessel

As I have thought about this I have come to realize that there are two key factors that determine how a vessel will turn out:

i. The Skill of the Potter

If I was the potter, every vessel would turn out looking like a glass. I’m sure that somewhere doing the process, both the clay and I would be down on the floor together.

But what about the potter in this story? Was he unskilled? Was it his fault that the vessel was defective?

Jeremiah 18:5

  • 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
  • 6 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 hand, O house of Israel.

Who is the potter in this story? It is God. Does God lack the ability to form a vessel? Did not the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:17) Therefore we can know for certain that the problem wasn’t with the potter and his ability. That means that the problem must have been with the clay.

ii. The Condition of the Clay

For some reason, the clay wouldn’t cooperate that day. Perhaps there were still some impurities in the clay that still needed to be removed. Or perhaps there were air bubbles that would cause the finished product to be weak. Maybe the clay was too wet or too dry. We don’t know what the problem was; we only know that there was something wrong with the clay that would cause the finished product to be less than the potter had planned.

Let us look into our lives and see if there are impurities in our lives that are hindering the end results of the clay.

  • Are we material fit for the potter?
  • Are we in the right hands and is enough to fit the mould?
  • Who is your potter?

b. The Decision to Remake the Vessel Again

At this point, the potter had a major decision to make.

i. He Could Throw the Clay Away and Start With a Brand New Piece

The potter could have thrown the clay away at this point. He could have said that this clay was completely unuseful and discarded it.

There’s a beautiful old gospel song about this passage entitled – “He Didn’t Throw the Clay Away.” The first verse says –

Empty and broken, I came back to Him
A vessel unworthy, so scarred from sin.
But He did not despair…He started over again
And I bless the day, He didn’t throw the clay away.

ii. He Could Refine the Clay and Use it Again

The potter could have thrown the clay away, but instead, he chose to refine whatever was wrong with the clay and start again.

One of the commentaries I studied last week said that the original text seems to indicate that the potter had to start over several times. There wasn’t just one problem with the clay, there were several. Yet the potter didn’t give up on the clay. He patiently worked with the clay until he was able to produce what he had planned. So it is with us that profess faith in our God.

So many times we come up short of the expectations that God desires of us, but He continues to work with us. You should never write off anyone unless you have tried with that person over and over. You see God is still working on me (Godfrey Gregg) and until I am right in His hands before He puts me back into His mould. He wants a perfect product and so He is still working on me.

2. The Remaking by His Hand

Sooner or later we’re all going to find ourselves on the potter’s wheel.

a.  On the Potter’s Wheel and We Know Why

Israel should have known why they were on the wheel.

Jeremiah 18:5

  • 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
  •  6 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 hand, O house of Israel.
  • 7 At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;
  • 8 If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. 9
  • 9 And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it;
  • 10 If it does evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
  • 11 Now, therefore, go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good.
  • 12 And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart.

What was God looking for in Israel? God was looking for a repentant heart.

The Bible says – “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)

But – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

The nation of Israel was very stubborn at this point. As a matter of fact, in verse 12 they reply back to Jeremiah as one translation puts it – “Don’t waste your breath…” Can you imagine anyone being so foolish? Did Israel actually think that they could brush off the God of the universe and get by with it?

What happened to Israel? The Bible teaches us that the day came when God caused the nation of Babylon to come against Israel and to defeat them. Like the potter who took the clay and wadded it into a ball and threw it back on the wheel to begin the process again, so God took the nation of Israel and broke them so that He might remake them. NOTICE this wheel was in the days of Jerimiah and not Ezekiel. What wheel will God use to refine you on?

b. The Potter’s Remaking When We Don’t Know Why

Sometimes we’re on the potter’s wheel and we know why. Other times we are on the potter’s wheel and we don’t know why. As far as we can tell, we’re doing everything we can to serve God and to do His will. But then, without any warning or explanation, we feel the pressure of the potter’s hand as He is remoulding and remaking us.
Sometimes when this happens, the temptation is for us to become angry with God and perhaps question His wisdom and goodness. Job found himself in this place. As far as Job could tell, he had been living the very best life he could live before God. But then, suddenly, Job’s world fell down around him and he didn’t know why. Like many of us, Job began to question whether or not God knew what He was doing.

There is an important verse of scripture found in the book of Isaiah that we need to plant deep within our hearts.

Isaiah 45:9 “Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker… woe to the pot that contends with the potter and questions whether or not God knows what He is doing.”

It’s hard when you find yourself being refashioned and you really don’t know why. Yet at such times we must resist the temptation to become angry with God and to accuse Him of doing something that is wrong. Instead, we must submit our lives to our Maker and allow Him to perform His will.

Later on, we read from the book of Isaiah the proper response to God whenever we find ourselves on the potter’s wheel –

Isaiah 64:8 Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

II. The Potter and His Children

Originally this story was about God and the nation of Israel, but I think we all can see how it still applies to us today. God is still the potter and we’re still the clay.

As I have meditated on this passage, a verse from the New Testament comes to my mind.

Philippians 1:6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

There are three important truths that we need to glean from this verse.

A. The Certainty of God’s Work in Our Lives

God is the potter and we are the clay. Because we are clay, we don’t always understand what God is doing. God says in His Word – “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is 55:9)Just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean that there’s not an explanation. It only means that the created cannot always understand the Creator. The created cannot always see the areas in their lives that need improvement. The created cannot always see what lies in the future. The created cannot always understand how something bad today could turn out for good tomorrow. God is the potter and we are the clay. Therefore we must choose to trust in the goodness of God and seek His will and He reveals it.

The Bible says –

Hebrews 12:11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Discipline is another word for refinement. It’s all a part of the process whereby God removes the impurities from our lives so that He might form us into a vessel for His glory and honour.

B. The Constancy of God’s Work in Our Lives

Philippians 1:6 Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

As Jeremiah watched the potter at work, he saw him refashion the clay over and over again. There is a term used in the Bible to help describe a part of God’s nature and character. It’s the word ‘longsuffering.’ Today we might translate it as patience or persistence. God’s patience causes Him to be slow to anger, and steadfast in His work. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God is God.

Paul tells us that the same God who started the work of salvation in our lives will continue the work of sanctification in our lives until the day we see Jesus. The same God who saved us will work to separate us unto Himself. God will constantly be at work in our lives until we reach heaven’s shores. Only then will the work be complete.

C. The Completion of God’s Work in Our Lives

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

We will not always understand what God is doing in our lives, nor why He is doing it. Sometimes the process will be very painful and confusing. But perhaps it is in those moments of pain and confusion that God is able to do some of His best work. Perhaps it is in those moments of brokenness that the Potter is able to gently fashion the vessel into something beautiful for His glory.

Take me, mould me, use me, fill me
I give my life to the Potter’s hand
Call me, guide me, lead me, walk beside me
I give my life to the Potter’s hand

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Author: Sir Godfrey Gregg

Sir Godfrey Gregg is one of the Administrators and managing Director of this site
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