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Consider what Jeremiah's business was, and how the potter might help him in understanding and performing it.
I. Jeremiah sees a man engaged in a task to which he is devoting all his thoughts. He designs to make some clay into a vessel of a certain shape; the form or pattern is present to his mind; he is fully resolved that the material with which he is working shall come forth in that form and no other. But apparently it disappoints him. One piece of clay after another is marred in his hands; he has to break his vessel again and again; he goes on perseveringly till he has done the thing which he intended to do. If there is any force or worth in the analogy at all, it must mean that there is a form according to which God is seeking to mould men and nations. It must imply that He is patiently, continually, working for the accomplishment of this purpose. Here, then, was the mystery of a people's repentance. If they acknowledged the will which was working upon them, if at any time they yielded to it and desired to be formed by it, this was that conversation and inward change which He was seeking to produce.
II. The prophet looks upon this symbol as teaching him the principle of God's government of a people. I apprehend that we shall learn some day that the call to individual repentance and the promise of individual reformation has been feeble at one time; productive of turbulent, violent, transitory effects at another; because it has not been part of a call to national repentance, because it has not been connected with a promise of national reformation. We must speak again the ancient language that God has made a covenant with the nation, and that all citizens are subjects of an unseen and righteous King, if we would have a hearty, inward repentance which will really bring us back to God.
III. Jeremiah could not bring the image of the potter's work to bear with its proper force upon Israelites at that moment if he confined the purpose of God within the limits which they had fixed for it As he gazed on the potter and saw how one piece of clay after another was marred, and yet how the thing he designed was at last done; it came with an awful vision of what was preparing for his land, with a bright vision of what must ultimately follow from every judgment. That which seemed now compact, and yet which consisted of elements that were always ready to separate from each other, might split into fragments: but the vessel must be made: not after some different type, but after the original and perfect type which dwelt not in the dead matter but in the living mind of Him who was shaping it.
F. D. Maurice, Prophets and Kings of the Old Testament, p. 395.
Reference: Jeremiah 18:1-10 . E. H. Plumptre, Expositor, 1st series, vol. iv., p. 469.
(with Jeremiah 19:1-2 , Jeremiah 19:10-11 )
I. There is a Divine ideal possible for every man. God has not made any man simply for destruction. He has an archetype or pattern before Him, which it is possible for each man to reach. That ideal is not the same for all, but it is in each appropriate to and in correspondence with the environment in which he is placed.
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 that "we command nature by obeying her." And similarly we may affirm that we command God by obeying Him.
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. 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. It is no longer possible even for God, in consistency with the moral nature of His government, to make of him all that was originally attainable by him.
IV. If the man should repent and turn 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.
V. If the man harden himself into persistent rejection of God, 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 conies a point at which the heart is so hardened that impenitence is neither thought of nor desired, and the man is abandoned to perdition.
W. M. Taylor, Contrary Winds, p. 150.
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. Our beings are Divine productions, embodied thoughts of the Divine heart, the very work of the Divine hands.
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. We are created to be vessels for God, and of God; vessels of His sanctuary, set apart for His service, and filled with all sweet and wholesome things.
III. The third truth in this parable is that lives tried in one shape are sometimes broken up and re-shaped to fulfil themselves in new spheres of different capacities and shapes of the Divine character and life.
IV. God has left it to man himself to decide whether he will be a vessel of honour or dishonour. If we were mere clay, God being Lord and Maker of us, each would pass to the fulfilment of the Divine purpose as stars and trees do, and there would be no after-story of sorrow no divergence from the Divine intention. But we are human beings, not mere clay. 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.
V. Be true to the Divine intention and shaping of your lives. The Great Householder reserves for the highest honour the cup which carries the wine to His own lips or to the lips of His guests. Be, each of you, that cup for God. So shall God be well-pleased with the work of His hands.
A. MACLEOD, Days of Heaven upon Earth, p. 23.
References: Jeremiah 18:11 . Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes : Ecclesiastes to Malachi, p. 279. Jeremiah 18:12 . Ibid., Sermons, vol. xii., No. 684.Jeremiah 18:18-19 . J. S. Howson, Good Words, 1868, p. 617. Jeremiah 19:13 . S. Greg, A Layman's Legacy, p. 223.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Jeremiah 18". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25