The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,…
Such was the invitation which came to me as I spent a holiday among the potteries of North Staffordshire.
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,