Go and get a potter's earthen bottle.
There is a point up to which the potter can do what he pleases with the clay: he can make the vessel high or low, broad or narrow, shapely or ungainly; he can play with the wet clay. There was a time when the Lord could do this with man; when He took the dust out of the ground and shaped it, and prepared it for the reception of inspiration; He could have broken it, or reshaped it, or done what he liked with it, but not after He had breathed into man the breath of life, and man became a living soul. Reverently, then, God conditioned and limited Himself. The Lord cannot convert the world without the world's consent. In Almightiness the Lord still reigneth in the fulness of His power. He can make the nations, and put them down; but what can He do with a little child's heart when that heart is set in deadly animosity against Him? He could break the child upon the wheel, but breakage is not conversion, destruction is not reconciliation. How does He propose to proceed in this matter of bringing the world to Himself? We find the answer in the music of the New Testament. What is there? Any hint of omnipotence? Not one. What is the tone of the New Testament? Reasoning, entreaty, persuasion. Everything depends, then, upon the state in which the potter's vessel is found. Jeremiah is to take a potter's earthen bottle for dramatic uses. He is to go forth, not personally, but officially: "Take of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests; and So forth." Cruelly have these prophets been used, as if they in. tended all the harsh expressions they used. They had nothing to do with them; they were errand bearers; they were sent with messages of thunder, and all they had to do was to deliver them. They themselves trembled under the very burden they carried. The Lord has made men different. Some men could not read a prophecy aloud without taking out of it all that is distinctive of its intellectual energy and spiritual dignity. Such men would turn a denunciation into a kind of lying benediction. Others, again, could not read the Beatitudes am they ought to be read, with musical tremulousness, with tears, with infinite suggestiveness of tone, with sympathy that would not irritate a wound. Each man must operate according to his own gift and function. We need some such introduction as this to the tremendous sentence which Jeremiah pronounced when he went unto the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the east gate. He was there to recite a lesson: "proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee," at the moment. How he must have writhed under the torture! How his lips must have been made again to speak this molten lava! How he must have lost consciousness in a certain way for a time, and have become a mere instrument or medium for the using of Almighty God! Man never conceived these supreme judgments; they bear an impress other than human. What an awful cataract of judgment — what complaining of neglect and forsakenness — what an exhibition of treachery, blasphemy, self-idolatry, and all shame! And what resources of retaliation — what mockery — what taunting! What then happened? Jeremiah, having thus denounced the judgment of the Lord, took up the bottle and broke it in the sight of the men that went with him. Then he was to say: "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Even so will I break this people and this city," etc. Sometimes we need graphic displays of God's meaning. The Lord resorts to all manner of exhibition and illustration and appeal, if haply He may save some. This is the reason why He dashed your fortune to pieces. You remember when the sum was large, and you said you would die in your nest, how He took you up the bottle and broke it at your feet, and you started, and wondered as to what was coming next. It was thus that God broke the bottle of your little child's life; He saw that this was the only way in which your attention could be excited, for you were becoming imbruted and carnalised; you were losing all spiritual life and dignity and value, and were rapidly amalgamating yourself with the dust; therefore He had to send infinite trouble before your eyes could be opened in wakeful and profitable attention. Thus the Lord is defeating crafty politicians, and selfish statesmen, and ambitious kings, and families that are bent on their ruin through their dignity: and thus, and thus, by a thousand breakages, God is asking man to think, ere it be too late. Throughout this condemnation there is a spirit of justice. We never have mere vengeance in the providence of God, any more than we have mere power in the miracles of Christ. The miracles of judgment and the miracles of Providence are all explained by a moral impulse or purpose. The Lord condescends to use the explanatory word, "Because." Thus we read: "Because they have forsaken Me." Why this Divine wail because God has been left, neglected, forsaken? This is not the complaint of mere fastidiousness; this is the revelation of the Divine nature. He condescends to cry that we may understand that He has heart; He is willing to send upon the earth a shower of tears that we may know how capable He is of being grieved. There is, then, a spirit of justice in the whole condemnation. Verily, there is a reason or an explanation of all the judgment that falls upon our life.
A London Minister.I.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE PARABLE OF THE MARRED VESSEL AND THAT OF THE BROWN VESSEL. The one parable speaks of reformation, the other of destruction. The vessel was made of clay which had become hard, and it was impossible to remodel it. Therefore it was broken to shivers.
II. THE INSIGHT WHICH THIS PARABLE GIVES INTO THE SPIRITUAL CONDITION OF THE PEOPLE TO WHOM IT WAS SPOKEN. People who needed to have the messages of God brought home to them by such signs as this, who seem to have been incapable of laying to heart God's Word unless it was accompanied by some external manifestation, must have had little spiritual perception, and were therefore most likely to be in a low state as regards moral character.
III. THE SIGNIFICATION OF THE PARABLE. It declares that the nation would, in time, fill up the full measure of its iniquity. The Divine Potter never breaks what can be mended. The message which accompanied the parable, being a repetition of the curses threatened by Moses in Deuteronomy 28, is intended to make the people feel that the fault was with themselves alone if the curses therein foretold were fulfilled, and the promised blessings withheld. We come into this world and find laws in existence which we soon understand are prophecies. They tell us beforehand that their observance will be accompanied with blessings, and their non-observance with penalty. We can choose for ourselves which shall be fulfilled in our case. The people to whom Jeremiah brought this message found themselves in such a position. God had set before them "life and good, and death and evil" (Deuteronomy 30:15). So that the terrible woes foretold in this chapter were the choice of the people of Israel, and not unheard of penalties now promulgated for the first time.
(with Jeremiah 18:3, 4
I. THERE IS A DIVINE IDEAL POSSIBLE FOR EVERY MAN. God has not made any man simply for destruction. There was one ideal possible for Egypt, another for Assyria, and another for Babylon, with their respective privileges and opportunities, and quite another for Israel, with its preeminent advantages. And what is true thus of nations is true also of individuals. He has one ideal for those who, like ourselves, are favoured to the full with Gospel blessings; and another for such as have not our original advantages. But there is a possible result that shall be worthy of His approval for each; and that each may reach that, has been His original and primary design in the creation of each.
II. THIS IDEAL IS TO BE ATTAINED BY A MAN ONLY THROUGH IMPLICIT FAITH IN GOD AND WILLING OBEDIENCE TO HIS COMMANDS. It was a profound saying of a great philosopher in regard to physical things that "we command nature by obeying her." He meant, for example, that by complying with the requisite conditions in electricity, we can command that agent to do our work. And similarly we may affirm that we command God by obeying Him (Isaiah 45:11). By obeying God we secure HIS approval and cooperation with us and in us by His Spirit for the attainment of that which He has designed to make us.
III. IF SUCH FAITH AND OBEDIENCE ARE REFUSED BY A MAN, THAT MAN'S HISTORY IS MARRED, AND IT IS NO LONGER POSSIBLE FOR HIM TO BECOME WHAT OTHERWISE HE MIGHT HAVE BEEN. That is seen by us every day in common life. The youth who trifles through these years which ought to have been devoted to education, may possibly, as the saying is, "take himself up" in after days, but he can never attain such a position as might easily have been his if he had been diligent all through the formative period of early life. And the same thing holds morally. Sin mars the Divine ideal for a man. It deprives him of the full advantage of the skill and help of God in the development of his character.
IV. IF THE MAN SHOULD REPENT AND RETURN TO THE LORD, HE MAY YET, THROUGH THE RICH FORBEARANCE OF GOD, RISE TO A MEASURE OF EXCELLENCE AND USEFULNESS WHICH, THOUGH SHORT OF THAT WHICH WAS ORIGINALLY POSSIBLE TO HIM AND INTENDED FOR HIM, WILL SECURE THE APPROVAL OF THE MOST HIGH. — There will always be in you and about you, indeed, the marks of your former lives; but God has you yet upon the wheel, and He will make you "another vessel as it pleases Him." Think here of such a case as that of Manasseh. But why need we go so far back for illustrations of this truth? I think of John Newton in the pulpit, doing a noble work for God and men in spite of his early sins and shameful habits. He was never such a man as he might have been had he been all through his days truly devoted to his God, but he was a good and useful man after all, saved by grace through faith in Christ and repentance unto life. I think of some, long enslaved by intemperance, and even yet feeling degraded at the thought of what but for it they might have been, but now emancipated from the thraldom of habit, by the power of the Holy Ghost, through faith in Jesus, and living mainly "for the good that they can do." And with such cases before me, I proclaim the willingness of God to save all who penitently turn to Him, and to make them vessels of mercy which He will "prepare for His glory."
V. IF THE MAN HARDEN HIMSELF INTO PERSISTENT REJECTION OF GOD, AND SHOW STUBBORN IMPENITENCE, THERE COMES A TIME WHEN IMPROVEMENT IS NO LONGER POSSIBLE, AND THERE IS NOTHING FOR HIM BUT EVERLASTING DESTRUCTION FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD AND THE GLORY OF HIS POWER. The clay that was plastic was made into another vessel; but the bottle that was burned into hardness and was found to be worthless, was broken into pieces and cast out. So when impenitence is perversely persisted in there comes a point at which the heart is so hardened thereby that repentance is neither thought of, nor prompted to, nor desired, and the man is abandoned to perdition. Do not dream of probation after death. Even if it were true that such a thing were to be given to the heathen, there would still be no hope for you. And so, while you may, before the day of grace ends and the door of opportunity is shut, return to the Lord by faith in Jesus and in obedience unto Him. I conclude with a word of exhortation especially addressed to the young. I have tried to show you that the morning of sin will prevent you from reaching the highest excellence of character in life, and I have pointed out also that, though you may afterward turn to God, the result, at last, will be short of that which otherwise you might have gained. How important it must be, therefore, to give yourselves to God, in Christ, with the first dawnings of your moral intelligence!
An earthen vessel is a true emblem of human life, so frail, so brittle. But there is something frailer yet in our resolutions and efforts after holiness. And when once these have failed us, we can never be again what we were. Always the crack, the rivets, the mark of the join. In Gideon's days there was a light within the earthen vessels; and when these were broken it shone forth. There is, therefore, a breaking of the vessel which is salutary and desirable. If there be in any one of us a proud and evil disposition, a masterful self-will, which frets for its own way and makes itself strong against God, then indeed we may ask to be so broken as never to be whole again. "Take me — break me — make me," is a very wholesome prayer for us all.
How exactly God's judgments tally in their attendant circumstances to the sin which has provoked them. The valley of Hinnom, the scene of the Jews' greatest guilt, was made the scene of the denunciation of their doom, and was to be the scene of its execution (ver. 2). As its name Tophet once indicated the loud drum peal of joy (ver. 6), so it was hereafter to be noted as the scene of unmingled woe. Once it resounded with the cries of "innocent" (ver. 4) children cruelly put to death, hereafter it was to resound with the death groans of adult men who richly merited their retributive punishment. As the "houses of Jerusalem" were defiled by the burnt offerings "unto the host of heaven" upon the flat roofs, so were they to be "defiled as Tophet" and to be burnt with fire by the enemy, as the Jews "estranged" the place (ver. 4) which was God's from Him who was its rightful owner, so was the land to be estranged from them and given to strangers, whilst they themselves must sojourn as captives and strangers in a strange land.
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