The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,…
The whole revealed Word of God takes for granted, appeals to, and proceeds upon two facts: first, that nothing can proceed from God which is not like God; next, that man is a co-worker with God in the shaping out of his own destiny. The Bible is all quick with the great truth that man can escape from evil, and that the work to which the good God has, more than anything else, set Himself is to help him to escape. Even the heritage of misery and disease which a bad parent leaves to his child is — in God's world — not so potent but that the child may rise above it.
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,