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This chapter is the introduction of a group of prophecies (extending to Jeremiah 25:1-38.) of various dates; their sequence has evidently not been determined by chronological considerations. The prophet's first object is, perhaps, to refute the scoffing inquiry (Jeremiah 17:15), "What has become of the [threatening] word of Jehovah?" and to justify the glorious premise given at the conclusion of the last chapter. The fulfillment of threatenings and promises alike is conditioned by the moral attitude of the people (comp. Ezekiel 33:11). God, as it were, holds them in either hand, and there is still time (contrast Jeremiah 16:21) to choose the sweet and reject the bitter by sincerely turning to their true Friend. Unhappily the people misuses its day of grace, and, instead of listening to God's messenger, seeks to rid itself of him by persecution. Upon this, Jeremiah falls again into the tone of bitter complaint, and, so far from interceding for his people, does the very opposite; on which painful and mysterious phenomenon, see remarks in general Introduction.
The simple and familiar craft of the potter becomes a parable of religious truth (comp. Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 45:9; Isaiah 64:8; Ecclesiasticus 33:13; Romans 9:20; and the account of man's creation in Genesis 2:7, which has doubtless given rise to the figure). God has the sovereign right to do as he wills with his own handiwork; thus much can be expressed by the figure. But the moral element in Jeremiah's teaching stands outside this, viz. that the Divine action is governed, not by mere caprice, but a regard for character. "The thought is not so much the arbitrariness as the patience of God, who will bring men to be what he would have them be in the end, as the potter eventually twists the clay to the shape he originally intended, stubborn as the clay may be." But whether Jeremiah meant the lesson which Mr. Maurice deduces from his words may be gravely doubted. It is not of individuals that the prophet is thinking, but of the nation, and not of the nation as destined to be all but certainly saved, but as placed before a serious and awful decision. (For different lessons derived from the same figure, see the ' Rabbi Ben Ezra' of Browning.) Egypt and Palestine were, as it seems, at one in the extreme simplicity of the potter's art. Dr. Birch has given us an account of the Egyptian potter at his work, as he appears in the pictorial representations at Beni Hassan, and Dr. Thomson has described the procedure of a potter in modern Palestine. The chief difference between them seems to be that in Egypt the wheel was turned with the left hand, and the vase shaped with the right, while in modern Palestine the wheel is turned with the fool "Taking a lump in his hand," says Dr. Thomson, "he placed it on the top of the wheel (which revolves horizontally), and smoothed it into a low cone, like the upper end of a sugar-loaf; then thrusting his thumb into the top of it, he opened a hole down through the center, and this he constantly widened by pressing the edges of the revolving cone between his hands. As it enlarged and became thinner, he gave it whatever shape he pleased with the utmost ease and expedition." It should be observed that in verse 3 the "wheels," or rather "two wheels," spoken of are simply the two round plates which formed the horizontal lathe of the potter.
And the vessel that he made, etc.; rather, And whensoever the vessel … was marred in the hand of the potter, he made it again another vessel
Jeremiah 18:7, Jeremiah 18:8
At what instant, etc.; rather, One instant I may speak … but if that nation, against which 1 have spoken, turn from their evil, I repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. A similar rendering for the next verse.
And they said; rather, But they go on saying (comp. Ezekiel 33:17, Ezekiel 33:20). There is no hope. The rendering may be easily misunderstood. The speakers are not, as we might suppose, despondent about their state and prospects, but they seek to check the troublesome preacher by the warning that he has no chance of success (so Jeremiah 2:25). Imagination; rather, stubbornness (as constantly).
Will a man leave the anew of Lebanon, etc.? This passage is unusually obscure. Literally we must, it would seem, render, Doth the snow of Lebanon fail from the rock of the field (or possibly, cease to flow from the rock unto the field)? This is explained as pointing a contrast to the infidelity of God's people. "The snow never leaves the summit of Lebanon; the waters which take their rise therein never dry up; but my people have forgotten the law of their being, the source of their prosperity." The rendering of the first clause is, however, grammatically dubious (there is no example of this construction of ‛āzabh), and all the old versions point to (or at least favor) a reading, Shaddai (the Almighty) instead of sadai (the field). If we keep the text, we must explain "the rock of the field" on the analogy of "my mountain in the field" (Jeremiah 17:3), as meaning "the rock which commands a wide prospect over the open lowland country," i.e. Mount Lebanon. The cold flowing waters; i.e. the numerous "streams from Lebanon," referred to in Song of Solomon 4:15. That come from another place; i.e. whoso sources are foreign. But as this does not suit the connection, it is better to take the Hebrew word (zārı̄m), usually rendered "foreign," in the sense of "pressing or hurrying along," with Ewald, Graf, and virtually Henderson. It thus becomes descriptive of these streams "as contracted within narrow channels while descending through the gorges and defiles of the rocks." Camp. "like an oppressing stream," Isaiah 59:19 (a cognate verb). Be forsaken. The Hebrew text has "be plucked up' (i.e. destroyed?); but as this is unsuitable, we must transpose two letters (as in not a few other cases), and render, dry up. So Gesenius, Graf, Keil, Delitzsch, and Payne Smith.
Because my people hath forgotten me; rather, Surely, etc.; or better still, Yet surely. It is not uncommon for a particle of asseveration to acquire a contrasting force from the context; see e.g. Jeremiah 3:20; Isaiah 53:4; and, still more completely parallel, Isaiah 2:6; Jeremiah 9:1, where Authorized Version, with substantial correctness, has "nevertheless." Israel "forgot" Jehovah (as Jeremiah 2:32); no doubt he was responsible for so doing, but still it was not "of malice preponse." To vanity; i.e. to the unreal idol-gods. And they have caused them to stumble; viz. the idol-gods; these are responsible (.for they have a real existence in the consciousness of their worshippers) for this interruption of Israel's spiritual progress. In their ways from the ancient paths. "From," however, is interpolated by the Authorized Version; the Hebrew places "the ancient paths" in apposition to "their ways," "Stand ye in the ways," Jeremiah cried at an earlier period, "and see, and ask for the old paths, which is the good way" (Jeremiah 6:16). These "old" or "ancient" paths were ideally "their ways," the ways appointed for the Jews to walk in. To walk in paths; rather, in tracks, footpaths leading up and down and often ending in nothing; or, in other terms, in a way not cast up (Isaiah 40:3, Isaiah 40:4, gives a graphic picture of the operation of "casting up a way").
The effect of this is to make the land of the transgressors an object of horror and astonishment (so render rather than desolate).
As with an east wind. The east was a stormy wind (Psalms 48:7; Job 27:21). I wilt show them the back; as they have done to Jehovah (Jeremiah 2:27; Jeremiah 32:33).
A fresh conspiracy (comp. Jeremiah 11:18), called forth by the preceding discourse; Jeremiah's prayer.
The law—or rather, direction, instruction, which was a special function of the priests (Deuteronomy 33:10; Deuteronomy 17:9-11)—shall not perish from the priest. The Jews were but obeying the Deuteronomic Law (on which Jeremiah, as we have seen, laid so much stress) in alluding to the priests. Unhappily, the priests in Jeremiah's time (Jeremiah 2:26), as in Isaiah's (Isaiah 28:7), were forgetful of their high mission. Nor counsel from the wise. The wise men formed an important order in Jewish society, the importance of which in the Divine education of Israel has not been sufficiently recognized. It was their custom to sit in public places, generally in the chambered recess in the city gate, and give advice on questions of moral practice to those who applied for it. But there were wise men and wise men. Some appear, to have "mocked" at the earnest preaching of the prophets (hence the solemn rebukes in the Book of Proverbs), others to have as it were prepared the way for the latter by a more or less distinct recognition of the religious foundation of morality, and of these we have ample monuments in the canonical Proverbs. There may also have been other shades and varieties of wise men, for their characteristic was not a faculty of intuition, but rather of reflectively applying fundamental moral principles. One highly esteemed branch of "wisdom" would, of course, be political, and this would be the most liable to perversion. It is of such (Proverbs 29:14). Nor the word from the prophet. "The word" is a general term for prophesying. Of course, the speakers take no account of the advance in prophecy from the time, at any rate, of Amos. They are satisfied with the lower order of prophets; but still they are afraid of Jeremiah, much as Balak was afraid of Balaam, when that soothsayer was blessing Israel (Numbers 23:25). Smite him with the tongue; i.e. by slanderous accusations. The same figure as in Jeremiah 9:3, Jeremiah 9:8.
Jeremiah 18:19, Jeremiah 18:20
Them that contend with me. Shall evil, etc.? Compare the phraseology of Psalms 35:1-12 (either Jeremiah imitated this psalm or vice versa); and for another point of contact with this psalm, see on Jeremiah 23:12. They have digged a pit, etc. Comp. Psalms 57:6. To speak good for them. See Jeremiah's intercessions in Jeremiah 14:7-9, Jeremiah 14:19-22.
Pour out their blood by the force, etc.; rather, spill them into the hands of, etc. (see Psalms 63:10); a phrase akin to that in Isaiah 53:12. The sword is personified. Let their men he put to death; another personification, for the Hebrew has "slain of Death"—pestilence is referred to, as Jeremiah 15:2.
Let them be overthrown before thee; i.e. count them as those who have been brought to ruin. This explanation seems required by the parallelism, the companion clause meaning "do not regard their sin as cancelled." The ruin may be either spiritual or temporal; the parallelism favors the former (comp. Jeremiah 18:14; Hos 14:1-9 :10, where "fall" should be "stumble"). Deal thus with them. "Thus" is interpolated by the Authorized Version; "deal" should rather be deal terribly ("deal" is constantly used in a pregnant sense; see on Jeremiah 14:7).
The potter and the day.
The relations of the potter to his clay afford a familiar and apt illustration of the relations between God and his human family. At first sight this illustration suggests a harsh view of providence and a hopeless prospect for human endeavor. But on closer consideration, while it teaches lessons of humility and reverent submission on our part, it also throws light on the merciful goodness of God, and encourages us both to hope and to act for that which will lead to our highest blessedness.
I. MEN ARE UNDER THE ABSOLUTE POWER OF GOD, LIKE CLAY IN THE HANDS OF THE POTTER. The potter has power to leave the clay untouched or to make out of it either a vessel of honor or a vessel of dishonor, a beautiful vase or an ugly piece of crockery, a dainty cup for a prince's banquet or a coarse culinary utensil. God has absolute power over us. He is the Almighty. No man can eventually succeed in resisting the will of God. No Divine purpose can be eternally frustrated. God has also absolute authority over us. He has the ultimate right of supreme sovereignty to do as he will with his subjects. Yet there is nothing alarming in this fact, but rather an infinite consolation. For God is not a heartless, conscienceless despot, displaying arbitrary power by mere caprice; he is holy, and exercises his sovereignty according to principles of strict justice, truth, and right. He is gracious, and rules with purposes of love for the good of his creatures. Our dependence on God is, like that of the infant on its mother, the security of our own welfare. Those horrible applications of the doctrine of Divine sovereignty which attribute to it designs that would be accounted cruel in any responsible being are blasphemous insults to the impartial justice and love of God's character. If God's actions are not limited by any physical compulsion or constitutional law, they are governed by his regard to eternal righteousness and by the beneficence of his nature.
II. MEN CAN NO MORE ATTAIN A WORTHY END IN LIFE WITHOUT GOD THAN THE CLAY CAN BECOME A SHAPELY VESSEL WITHOUT THE POTTER. There lies the clay—a dead, heavy, amorphous mass, with no possibility of spontaneously generating forms of beauty, with no secret principle of evolution to work it into something orderly. We are as clay. Except God wrought in us and upon us, we could simply lie helpless, only to waste away with the flux of circumstances. If we are more than clay, it is because God breathes his life into us and sustains us every moment by his indwelling Spirit. If we seem to effect anything actively, it is because he first works in us both to will and to do.
III. GOD HAS A PURPOSE IN EVERY LIFE AS THE POTTER HAS WITH THE CLAY. There is a meaning for the strange discipline of providence. God is shaping us into that form which he deems most fitting. Every life has not the same purpose. The potter makes vessels of innumerable shapes. Yet each life is successful as its own particular purpose is fulfilled. The homely jug may be perfect, though it is very different from the graceful vase. A life is no failure because it is lowly and put only to lowly uses so long as it attains the end for which God designed it. It is important to note that God's first work with us is in forming our own souls aright. The first question is not as to what we do, but as to what we are. The potter is making vessels: God is making characters, souls, lives. After this we may be put to some further end—used for good after we have been made right, as the vessel is of service after the potter has done his work with it.
IV. GOD SHAPES OUR LIVES BY THE DISCIPLINE OF PROVIDENCE AS THE POTTER THE CLAY UPON HIS WHEELS. The wheel of time spins fast, but not carrying us away, changing but not destroying each separate individuality. In providence there are wheels within wheels. We do not understand their meaning. The clay is pressed now below into a solid base, now above into a dainty rim, but it is difficult to see what the final outcome will be till all is finished. So our lives are pressed on one side and on another—something which in our eyes is indispensable is taken away, something which to us seems needless is added. But out of the dizzy whirl, the rush and confusion of life, God is steadily working out his purpose.
V. GOD WILL ULTIMATELY ACCOMPLISH HIS PURPOSE IN US, THOUGH AT FIRST IT SEEMS TO FAIL. (Jeremiah 18:4.) The clay is refractory. It must be broken up and remodeled. Man is more than clay. He has free will, mysterious as may be the connection of this with the almighty sovereignty of God. In a much more terrible way he too is refractory, willfully and stubbornly. For this he must be broken. His life must be disturbed and shaken up, but only that God may begin again to fashion him for his destined end. Great disappointments, destructive events, the failure of a man's work, the disruption of a Church, the revolution of a nation, may seem simply disastrous. But we see how that by means of these things God, in his infinite patience and gracious perseverance, will finally effect his own great purposes, and so secure the true blessedness of his creatures.
God's action determined by man's conduct.
These verses may be read as balancing those that precede. The illustration of the potter at his work shows us simply the Divine side of life. The following verses take us round to the human side, and the human conditions in accordance with which God exercises the rights and power of his absolute sovereignty.
I. GOD DETERMINES HIS ACTION ACCORDING TO THE CONDUCT OF MAN. He does not act blindly, inconsiderately, on. general principles alone, without regard to individual cases, nor with one changeless course irrespective of the changes in the behavior of his creatures. He takes note of these changes and modifies his treatment of men by their varying requirements.
1. This fact is not derogatory to the absolute sovereignty of God. A just sovereign considers his people. God acts according to his own will; but his will, though inflexible in moral principles, varies in the choice of particular actions according as the application of those principles varies with the circumstances of the world.
2. This fact is not inconsistent with the definiteness of the purposes of God. The potter has his definite design, yet he proceeds with his work to the conclusion or breaks up the clay and begins again, according as he finds it plastic or brittle.
II. A CHANGE ON MAN'S PART FROM REBELLION TO PENITENCE WILL BE MET BY A CHANGE ON GOD'S PART FROM WRATH TO MERCY. God's threats are conditional. Forgiveness is the result of no after-thought, of no change in the "temper" of God. It is contemplated by God from the first, and promised on condition of repentance whenever repentance is genuinely experienced. Therefore there is every encouragement to repentance and hope. The darkest denunciations of judgment refer only to the impenitent. It is not too late to expect the forgiving mercy of God, so long as it is not too late for us to repent. This is reasonable, since the end of punishment is not vindictive but remedial. The mere paying of a penalty is of no good in itself. It might please a vain and vengeful despot, but not a merciful father. If the restoration of his child is effected without it the father will gladly acknowledge that it is needless.
III. A CHANGE ON MAN'S PART FROM FIDELITY TO APOSTASY WILL BE MET BY A CHANGE ON GOD'S PART FROM MERCY TO WRATH. This is a necessary consequence of the preceding principles. God's promises are as conditional as his threats. It would be neither just nor merciful to us for God to continue his favors unabated after we had departed from him. The removal of them is a wholesome warning to us. It springs naturally from the personal relation of God to his people, one which depends on reciprocal sympathy. Therefore it is vain to presume on our past experience of God's goodness, for immunity from the consequences of our later sins, or to suppose that a happy condition of peace with God once attained can never be lost. We may lose it and be in a worse condition than if we had never had it (Hebrews 6:4-6).
I. THE BEST PREACHING MAY BE REJECTED. Jeremiah was a true messenger of God and an able preacher, yet he was unpopular. Christ, who "spoke as never man spake," was "despised and rejected of men." No greater mistake can be made than to judge of the value of any preaching by the popularity of it.
II. IT IS THE DUTY OF THE FAITHFUL PREACHER TO BEAR HIS TESTIMONY EVEN IF IT BE REJECTED. He must not be unfaithful to his mission in order to catch the ears of his audience, nor must he silence his voice because it is unheeded. His duty is to speak, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear. If he loyally discharges this duty his conscience is clear.
III. THE REJECTION OF THE PREACHING OF TRUTH IS OFTEN TO BE ATTRIBUTED TO THE PRIDE OF INTELLECT. People have their "own devices." Divine truth does not require the contradiction of intellect nor the suppression of it, but it requires the submission of intellect to well-grounded faith in a God who is worthy of trust, even when he requires our acceptance of dark and painful doctrines.
IV. THE REJECTION OF THE PREACHING OF TRUTH IS OFTEN TO BE ATTRIBUTED TO STUBBORNNESS OF WILL. The Jews are represented as saying, "We will every one practice the stubbornness of his evil heart." The excuse of intellectual doubt may be sought as a cloak for moral aversion to Divine truth. Many who have no doubt of the truth of the message of the servant of God refuse to accept it from sheer opposition to its spiritual requirements.
V. THE TRUTH PREACHED IS NOT AFFECTED BY THE REJECTION OF IT. If the word would be true when accepted it would remain tree when rejected. We cannot alter facts by closing our eyes. If we refuse to hear the words of faithful admonition, u e shall not escape the doom against which they warn us, but only the more surely run into it. We shall then simply rush blindfolded to meet our fate.
VI. THE REJECTION OF THE PREACHING OF DIVINE TRUTH IS ITSELF A GREAT SIN. If the truth is recognized as Divine, rejection of this is rejection of the voice of God. ]t is an act of direct resistance to the will of God. It is sinning against light. It is refusing to accept offers of mercy, and returning insult for favors.
Any one who has found himself in the valley of Chamounix on a sultry summer afternoon must have felt the striking contrast between the eternal winter of the vast snow-fields of Mont Blanc, spread out in blazing sunlight high above his head, and the dust and heat of the parched land around. The permanence of this mountain snow is suggestive of spiritual lessons.
I. MOUNTAIN SNOW IS AN EMBLEM OF SPIRITUAL LIFE MAINTAINED IN THE MIDST OF WORLDLY SCENES. Mountain snow is found in the hottest countries. You need not travel to arctic regions for perpetual snow, it may be found in the tropics. Christians need not be transported to heaven in order to live a pure Divine life. The duty of the Christian is to preserve this fresh and holy in the midst of the world, not to flee from the world. By remaining in the world the Christian is a means of blessing it as the mountain snow descending in glaciers and streams refreshes and fertilizes the valley. But the Christian's mission to the world is dependent on the preservation of his unworldly spirituality, as the refreshing streams that flow down the gorges of the mountain are dependent on the snows high above them. If the snow fails the stream is dried up. If the spirituality fails the Christian work becomes barren.
II. MOUNTAIN SNOW IS AN EMBLEM OF SPIRITUAL LIFE MAINTAINED IN THE MOST TRYING TIMES. The remarkable fact about the mountain snow is that it is perpetual. It is nothing that there is snow on the hills in winter; are not the plains then equally snow-clad? The Christian who only remains faithful under favorable circumstances is but superficially religious. The difficulty is to be true when all things are adverse, in the heat and burden of work, under the fierce onslaught of temptation, while the spirit of the age is against us, when Christianity is out of fashion, out of season. Yet we are to be instant out of season as well as in season (2 Timothy 4:2), to be independent of the weather, of the social atmosphere, in the changeless purity of a spiritual life.
III. THE CAUSES OF THE PERSISTENCE OF MOUNTAIN SNOW ARE SUGGESTIVE OF THE CAUSES OF THE PRESERVATION OF THE FRESHNESS AND PURITY OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE. How is it that we find snow in the tropics, snow in summer?
1. Great elevation. A few thousand feet in height will produce climatic changes equal to those caused by a distance of many degrees of latitude. The Christian must find his fidelity preserved by elevation of life. He must live on high, a risen life, with affections above the earth, with a treasure in heaven, and his heart there also. By constant communion with heaven constant purity on earth may be maintained, as the silent solitudes of snow remain through the summer in the cool regions of their great elevation.
2. Constantly renewed supplies. The snows melt under the sun and send roaring torrents down the hillsides, and in course of time they would disappear unless they were renewed. But clouds gather round the mountain summits and descend in fresh snows, and winter on its return makes up for the partial loss of snow in summer. So the Christian must maintain his spiritual life, not only by the elevation of his own thoughts, but by receiving repeated supplies of heavenly grace. He may be thankful that he is favored by "times of refreshing" when the fierce heat of trial is abated, and strength is accumulated for the time of need.
The opposition of officials.
I. IT IS COMMON TO SEE OFFICIAL PERSONS RESISTING THE WORK OF GOOD AND GREAT MEN. The prophets usually met with this opposition, and it forced them to become nonconformists. Christ received the most bitter enmity from the official classes. This opposition may be traced
(1) to pedantry—the official only believes in what comes in the regular way of officialism;
(2) to jealousy—the official is jealous of the greater influence of the unauthorized teacher;
(3) to conviction of unfaithfulness—the true prophet exposes the faults of his official contemporaries. The inevitable result is discredit and shame to them, rousing a spirit of revenge.
II. THE OPPOSITION OF OFFICIALS FINDS EXCUSE IN OFFICIALISM. Have they not their appointed office? Are they not discharging their regular functions? They have been so accustomed to the unbroken routine that this seems to them part of the eternal order of things. They can believe in nothing better. They cannot conceive the possibility of any alteration in it. True, the spirit of the Law has evaporated from the service, but the droning of the letter of it shall not depart from the priest. The wisdom of spiritual insight is no longer enjoyed by the wise man, but there is no end to his casuistical pleading with old worn maxims. Prophecy in its higher flights is denied to the professional prophet, but there seems to be no abatement of the power to echo the cries of the day and win the popular favor by flattery and hollow rhetoric. Why, then, listen to the disturbing words of the new teacher? Thus officialism is always excusing its opposition to new good movements on the plea of its own self-sufficiency.
III. THE OPPOSITION OF OFFICIALISM IS POWERFUL FOR HARM. For how many scenes of martyrdom is it responsible! It was this that crucified Christ. It has peculiar weapons of its own. It carries the weight of prestige. It is very effectual with the thoughtless, who are ready to submit to the voice of the recognized authorities, partly out of indolence, partly out of fear, partly out of ignorance. It needs independence of thought and courage to recognize that this may be all wrong, and truth and right with the irregular minority—the peasant apostles rather than the haughty Sanhedrim, the plain German monk rather than the cardinals of Rome, the simple teachers of truth rather than the recognized masters of the world.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
The potter and the clay.
The revelations of God are often given in unlikely places, and common circumstances and scenes may symbolize the divinest mysteries. The profoundest things in God's universe are side by side with the simplest. If the mind be open and the spirit susceptible we shall see God in everything. Is there not a fitness in this ancient handicraft of the potter becoming the symbol of the eternal action of God? The potter's clay suggests—
I. THE INFLUENCE OF GOD UPON HUMAN DESTINY. Some of the forms into which human life builds itself impress the imagination with the presence of a power greater than human, which conditions and determines them. The race, the nation, the Church, represent relations and affinities which are not of merely human origin. But even the individual life, if properly studied, will be found to be associated with the same mystery and full of the same suggestion of a Divine influence. In the case before us it is the Jewish nation which is suggested to the mind of the prophet. The hand of God is apparent in its formation and history. God's influence upon these is felt to be
(4) to create or to destroy.
II. CIRCUMSTANCES IN HUMAN NATURE THAT AFFECT DESTINY. The clay in the hand of the potter was marred and had to he remolded. The allusion here was to the idolatrous practices of the Jews in Jeremiah's own time. The causes at work, therefore, in the marring of the vessel are not mechanical or constitutional in their nature, but moral. The history of the same people has shown that external circumstances are of little account in this question. The chief hindrances to God s purposes with man in nations, institutions, and individuals arise from
(1) original depravity and
(2) willful disobedience. The free-will of man may thwart even the grace of God.
III. THE PURPOSE OF GOD WITH REGARD TO MAN. This is essentially and persistently a creative one. The first effort of the petter is formative; and when, through the marring of the vessel, he has to reduce the clay into the lump again, there still remains an intention to form anew. The effects of sin are shown to be profound from the fact that the potter is obliged to remake what has been marred. The effort of restoring love succeeds upon another, and "where sin abounded grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:20). There is no nation which has not had many opportunities of recovering its position and influence forfeited by unfaithfulness and unbelief, and there is no sinner hardened in his sins who has not repeatedly rejected a heavenly voice. Each proclamation of God's Word is a fresh opportunity which may avail for salvation to every one who will embrace it.—M.
Jeremiah 18:11, Jeremiah 18:12
The fatalism of the wicked.
The conception of God's judicial omnipotence furnished in the parable of the potter is misinterpreted by the wicked. It is made a reason for continuing in their sin, they arguing that it is their fate, or needs be, to follow in the path they have chosen.
I. IN THIS WE HAVE AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE SOWER OF EVIL HABIT. Sin has acquired such influence over the nature that it becomes its ruler. A recklessness born of desperation takes the place of prudent and hopeful counsels. The inward indisposition colors the view that is taken of the possibilities of the situation. Instead of the sinner seeing that his condition is due to a continual withdrawal from God, he declares that he is "past feeling," that God's grace cannot save him, and that it is "no use." But—
II. IT IS NOT JUSTIFIED BY:
1. The condition of God's opposition. It is the perverseness and unreality of man. He refuses to suffer. False religion God will not accept.
2. The circumstances of the simmer. So long as life continues there is hope. The repetition of the gospel's appeal has the same significance. Are there any signs of relenting in his mind now? any stirrings of heavenly aspiration? any shame and sorrow for past sin? God's Spirit has not ceased to strive with him, and he may yet be saved.
3. The means of salvation that offer themselves. Christ is both able and willing to save. His sacrifice on the cross is a finished work and a complete atonement for our sin. "The Spirit helpeth our infirmities." He is able to save "unto the uttermost," etc.
III. IT IS A SUPREME EXPRESSION OF WICKEDNESS AND WILL BE PUNISHED AS SUCH.
Jeremiah 18:14, Jeremiah 18:15
Jehovah an unfailing Help to his people; or, the snow of Lebanon.
One of the most striking scenes visible from a great distance is Hermon, with its snow and vapors. It is covered with white snow all the year round, and from its summits flow down cold, pent-up streams to the valley beneath. God asks why Israel has forsaken him; whether there was any failure of his grace and power. Has he not been constant and ever ready to help? How is it, then, that he is forsaken? The snow of Lebanon is, like the dew of Hermon, a symbol of the grace of God abiding upon Zion, from which the streams of grace flow forth in inexhaustible supply.
I. THOSE WHO FORSAKE GOD DO SO BECAUSE OF THEIR OWN PERVERSITY AND NOT BECAUSE OF GOD'S NEGLECT. "Is his arm shortened that it cannot save?" is a question we ought to ask ere we make up our minds to leave God. The secret of spiritual disaffection and apostasy is in ourselves and not in God.
II. APOSTASY FROM GOD IS A TRANSCENDENT INSTANCE OF INGRATITUDE.
1. The providences of God have been unceasing, manifold, and overflowing. They have come without effort of man. Yet the sinner has gone away and obstinately continues in his sin.
2. But in the grace of God there are elements that appeal to our deepest affection and trust. It is so rich, undeserved, and free. Why should he have chosen any one? How often has he healed the backslidings of his people! The cross of Christ is the grandest expression of love of which we know. It "passeth knowledge."
III. WHEN SINNERS FORSAKE GOD IT IS TO THEIR OWN INJURY.
1. By their pursuit after sinful gratifications they forfeit the enjoyment of Divine mercy. Providential mercies may not always be withdrawn, but their beneficial effect is destroyed. The fellowship and presence of God are lost. His favor and help cannot be expected.
2. The sources of pleasure they apply themselves to are disappointing and fatal. Sinful pleasures soon pall. There is no enduring rapture in the gratification of sense, but an enduring sting remains. The constitution of the sinner is sapped and undermined by his excesses, and the general, social, and political life of the nation corrupted. There is no sorrow so profound and incurable as that which results from the abuse of religious privileges and the loss of the heavenly birthright; it "worketh death." But, in addition to all this, the anger of God is kindled, and who shall extinguish it? He himself can. With him is forgiveness that he may be feared, and plenteous redemption that he may be sought unto. "His mercy endureth forever." It is only needed that we change in heart and life to recover our lost estate and experience again more than our lost joy.—M.
Ecclesiastical succession versus individual ministry.
The spirit of these words is not hard to divine. "We have a succession of priests, teachers, and prophets assured to us by our traditional institutions; so there is no great loss if Jeremiah be discounted; and we need not fear the cessation of the Divine revelation,—is it not provided against by a sacred succession?"
I. THERE ARE MANY WHO BELIEVE IN THE OFFICE OF THE MINISTRY AS AN INDEPENDENT SOURCE OF INSPIRATION AND TRUTH.
II. THIS IS ALLEGED IN EXCUSE FOR:
1. Refusing support to special religious effort.
2. Contempt and opposition of individual ministers.
III. IN CORRECTION OF THIS ERROR MAY BE NOTED:
1. That it is not countenanced by God.
2. History has frequently shown its falsehood.
3. It is really a reliance upon the human and not the Divine.
4. God does his special work nearly always through individuals.
5. The dishonor done to the servant is done to his Master.—M.
Jeremiah 18:18, Jeremiah 18:19
The preacher's foes; or, false tongues and deaf ears.
I. THESE OPPOSE MORE OR LESS EVERY TRUE MINISTRY. The persecutors of Stephen "stopped their ears and ran upon him."
II. THEY ARE AN INDIRECT TESTIMONY TO THE TRUTH AND FAITHFULNESS OF THE MESSAGE DELIVERED.
III. THEY MAY RETARD, BUT THEY CANNOT STIFLE, THE DIVINE MESSAGE. The slander can be lived down. The voice of just men done to death will speak when they are dead. Magna est veritas et prevalebit.
IV. THERE IS A SILENT WITNESS WHO SHALL TAKE ACCOUNT OF ALL.
1. It is of less consequence to us that men approve and attend than that God should do so. The preacher addresses not only a visible, but an invisible, audience. Of every word that proceeds from his servants' lips God takes note.
2. He will protect his servant until his work has been accomplished.
3. The slanders and indifference of those to whom the Word is spoken will be punished. (Matthew 12:36, Matthew 12:37.)—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The blessed parable of the potter and the clay.
Few passages of Scripture have been more misread or with sadder results than this one. From St. Paul s reference to it in Romans 9:1-33 it has been thought that it taught the absolute sovereignty of God, his right to dispose of men as he pleases; that, in the exercise of that sovereignty, he makes some vessels unto destruction, and that the vessels so made have no ground of complaint whatsoever. Now, we affirm that, whilst there is much truth in these representations, they are not "the whole truth," still less are they" nothing but the truth." God is Sovereign, we cheerfully confess, and has right to dispose of us as he will. But that he exercises these rights in any arbitrary, or capricious, or cruel way, as is taught by this misreading, or that if he did the vessels made for destruction would have no ground of complaint, we altogether deny. Such teaching has clouded the face of God to many souls and made God our Father "a terror" to them. But blessed be his Name, this misreading is not the truth. Let us try to see what that truth is. In passing, we may note how the command to the prophet to go down to the potter's workshop teaches us how workshops and our common work may have precious lessons about God to teach us if we be like as was the prophet, willing to learn them. The star-studying Magi were led by a star to Jesus. The centurion by his soldier-life gained true comprehension of Christ. The fishermen-apostles of how they were to be "fishers of men." Manifold are the ministers and ministries of God to attentive souls.
"There is a book, who runs may read,
Which heavenly truth imparts;
And all the lore its scholars need,
Pure eyes and Christian hearts."
That is said of the book of nature, so it may be of the book of our lawful work. Now let us go down to the workshop told of here and learn what we may. And we are taught—
I. THAT IT DOTH NOT YET APPEAR WHAT WE SHALL BE." We are the clay. But who can tell what is to be fashioned out of that mere mass of material? Every human soul is but as clay in process of formation into some designed result.
II. GOD HAS WISE AND GRACIOUS INTENT IN REGARD TO ALL. The meanest vessel that the potter makes is an advance in worth and excellence on the clay ere it was fashioned by him. How much more, then, in the case of the "vessels of honor!"
III. BUT THE CLAY CAN FOR A WHILE MAR AND FRUSTRATE THE POTTER'S PURPOSE. The vessel the prophet saw was marred in the making. What innumerable instances there have been and are of this! Not Israel and Judah alone, but other nations, other churches, innumerable separate souls. And they have had to be broken up and set down from the place of honor for which they were at first intended. They have with shame to take a lower place. But—
IV. EVENTUALLY THE MAKER'S WILL WILL BE DONE IN REGARD TO THEM. "So he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it." It is never "all the same" to a man if he sins against God. He may not be destroyed, but his will be "another" position and a worse one.
V. AND ALL THIS IN HARMONY WITH THE NATURE OF THE MATERIAL WROUGHT UPON. As the potter's work was in harmony with the clay out of which he fashioned his varied vessels, so God's work will be in harmony with the mental and moral nature which he has given to us. It is to us an inexplicable problem—the harmony of the Divine sovereignty and human freedom. We cannot tell how it will be done, only that it will be done.
VI. THE LESSONS OF THE WHOLE ARE.
1. Of inquiry. Are we, by obedience to the Divine will, furthering the work designed in us or by disobedience hindering? Romans 9:9 teaches that, however good and gracious a purpose God may cherish concerning us, if we "do evil" then God's work will be marred.
2. Of admonitions. Seeing how terrible a process is the "making again" of the marred vessel—what was it not to Judah and Israel? and the process is not finished yet-let us repent of sin and turn to God now, and so be delivered from so great a woe. It has been said that the most terrible part of the road to heaven is that which the sinner goes over three times—once in his first following of Christ next when he by sin goes back that way, and the third time when in bitter repentance he travels over it again.
3. Of praise to God, that he has revealed so gracious a purpose concerning man, and that his will shall be done.
4. Of prayer, that we may be found not resisting but ever obedient to that will.—C.
A never-to-be-forgotten principle of interpretation.
These verses plainly teach that all God's threatenings, even the most terrible, and all God's promises, even the most blessed, are conditional on the continuance of the moral character to which they were addressed. Now, this is—
I. A CORDIAL AGAINST DESPAIR. When the convicted sinner—as the men of Nineveh—hear the awful denunciations of God's judgment, all hope seems to be forbidden. The Ninevites, to encourage themselves in a forlorn hope, could only say, "Who can tell whether God will be gracious?" But this and the like Scriptures, confirmed by so many facts of experience, forbid all such despair.
II. A CHECK TO PRESUMPTION. How many prate concerning final perseverance who are not persevering at all except in sin and worldliness? But they need to be reminded of this sure condition, one which the great adversary of souls is ever striving to make us forget.
III. AN EXPLANATION OF THE STERN WORDS OF SCRIPTURE. When one would give the alarm of fire he does not whisper the word. So when God would warn sinners he does not soften his words, but in most vivid manner sets before men the awful doom of the ungodly. Thus would God, by his terrors, scare men—if naught else will do—to "flee from the wrath to come," so that "he may repent of the evil he thought to do unto them." Such words are not the utterance of absolute decrees against any soul to whom they are addressed, but loving warnings to such soul to turn to God and live.
IV. A REASON FOR ITS WORDS OF WARNING. These are found in varied form, addressed to disciples of Christ, to those to whom the most glorious promise had been made. See the sermon on the mount; how full of warnings! Therefore this conditionalness of God's words speaks:
1. To the believer, and bids him" Be not high-minded, but fear." "If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee"
2. To the ungodly. See the sure end of thy way; how awful! But see, too, God's earnest desire that thou shouldest forsake that way.—C.
Despair, its causes, consequences, and cure.
"And they said, There is no hope," etc. There is a show of humility about this word. The man has evidently no hope in himself, nor in any Church, nor in any. human help whatsoever. Now, this so far so good. To get men away from trusting m an arm of flesh is ever one of God's purposes. And when a man is thus weaned from self and all human reliance it is a good sign. But such distrust at times goes beyond this, to belief that there is no hope anywhere, which is despair. Now, this a sore evil (cf. homily on Jeremiah 2:25, "A dread snare of the devil"). And to help in overcoming it we would speak—
I. OF ITS CAUSES. They are of varied kinds, but a man is near to despair when he sees:
1. That his sin is inveterate. When year after year goes by and still there the sin is.
2. That it is continually successful in reducing his will to consent to it.
3. That his defenses are only those derived from considerations of the consequences and punishment of his sin. Motives of love to God and Christ, hatred of the sin itself, have ceased to rule him; it is only the fear of what may happen that holds him back, though, indeed, such defense is weak enough.
4. That his sin has rendered ineffectual many special dealings of God with him in relation to it. He has broken through all these gracious barriers one after another. All these are dreadful facts to contemplate, and tend to fill a man with the belief that "there is no hope." The good Lord forbid that we should ever have such facts to contemplate concerning ourselves.
II. ITS CONSEQUENCES. They are dreadful in the extreme. They produce sullen obstinacy in evil. "They said … but we will walk after our own devices." Also unrestrained license. The thought comes, "We can but be lost; we will have what enjoyment we may." This is a frightful fruit of despair. If, then, any considering these dread consequences of despair tremble lest they should yield to it, but yet by reason of such facts as those above named are sore tempted thereto, let them remember there is deliverance for them. Consider, therefore—
III. ITS CURE. It can only be, it ought only to be, by good hope of deliverance from that which is the cause of thy despair—thy sin. But whence can come this deliverance? Wise and godly men have counseled after this manner.
1. Seek to gain and keep before the mind a deep sense:
(1) Of the guilt of thy sin. You who have received such light and grace are involved in far deeper guilt and your sin is far more heinous than that of others.
(2) Of the danger of it. The danger of being hardened by its deceitfulness. Of bringing down on thyself some great temporal judgment as God's punishment of thy sin. Of losing thy peace with God and strength to serve him. Of eternal destruction.
(3) Of the evils of it. It grieves the Holy Spirit of God. The Lord Jesus Christ is wounded afresh by it. All thy usefulness will be destroyed. God will neither bless thee nor make thee a blessing.
2. Wrestle in prayer.
3. Watch against occasions and advantages of sin.
4. Go again to the Lord Jesus Christ, especially to him as your dying, crucified Lord. Live near his cross, for "his blood cleanseth from all sin." Cleave to him and let thy faith fasten upon him. So—his Word assures and experience proves, for there is no instance to the contrary, but innumerable ones in proof—the chain of thy sin shall be broken, and the sight of this shall so cheer thy heart that the demon of despair shall spread its dark wings and depart and leave thy soul unclouded. (See on all this, Owen on the Mortification of Sin.)—C.
The cruel sufferings of God's prophet which here and in other parts of his prophecy are recorded throw not a little light on all like persecution. For, though its rough and brutal forms have for the most part disappeared, still in others it yet lingers, and is the source of much distress. Note, then—
I. ITS CAUSES. They are ever the same—hatred to the faithful Word which the persecuted one persists in preaching. Persecution, therefore, is inevitable where a faithful messenger of God comes into collision with those who hate and will not submit to his message.
II. ITS PRETEXTS. Zeal for the Church and for sacred institutions imperiled by the prophet's preaching. We see them standing up for the priests and the Law and the prophetic order, all which, of Divine appointing, were wronged and injured by the prophet. Persecutors never will own, even to themselves, their own true motives. Those who sought to kill our Lord ever insisted on the highest motives for their conduct. Persecution is such an odious thing that, unless some fair disguise be thrown over it, no one would have anything to do with it. And no doubt some persecutors—like Saul of Tarsus—have been deceived by this disguise, and have sincerely thought they were doing God service. There is never any need for persecution, though our forefathers thought there was; for if any doctrine be of man only it will come to naught. The facts of life, the Word of God, reason and conscience, are all against falsehoods, and will expose and so extinguish them without persecution. For the nature of man is made for truth, and hence what is contrary to truth cannot long live.
III. ITS INTENT. Revenge and the forcible silencing of an adversary.
IV. ITS METHODS.
1. Defamation. "Let us smite him with the tongue."
2. Ostentatious disregard of his teaching. "Let us not give heed," etc. (Jeremiah 18:18).
3. Whatever "devices" will most of all tell against him. Sometimes open hostility is not safe. It was not against John the Baptist, nor our Lord, nor here (cf. Jeremiah 26:16). And then other devices have to be sought out, and the finding, when sought by the persecuting spirit, does not take long.
V. ITS RELIEF. Not compromise. To give way where conscience commands steadfastness is to incur such spiritual shame and distress, such hiding of the face of God, as to be more intolerable than the fiercest persecution (Cf. the history of Cranmer and his piteous misery). But—as with Jeremiah—turning to the Lord in prayer. We cannot commend the spirit of his prayer, it is all unlike our Lord's in regard to his enemies, and therefore not a pattern for us to follow; but it was right, and ever is so, when persecuted by man to turn to him "who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself." His grace will keep us from being wearied and faint in our minds. Patience, too, will greatly help. Persecutors soon tire when they find that their methods are of no avail. Prudence, likewise, should not be forgotten. Sometimes we may get out of its way, and at no time is there need to provoke persecution by imprudent, ill-timed, and ill-toned obtrusion of the distasteful theme. There are times when at all costs a man must stand to his pest and speak out, but there are other times, and more of them, when the quiet, consistent life will do more for God and his truth than the longest and loudest speech. But in such difficult circumstances it is well to keep near to God in constant prayer for counsel and direction how to bear one's self wisely as he would have us. Relief also is found in contemplation of—
VI. ITS SURE RESULTS if faithfully endured. It makes us have real fellowship with Christ. It wins for us a glorious recompense at his coming. Even now the soul is cheered by the communications of his approval and the clear vision of the shining of his countenance upon his faithful servant. And not seldom likewise by beholding the lion turned into the lamb, the persecutor becoming an apostle and preacher of the faith he once destroyed. These are consolations indeed. And confirmation in the truth for which we have suffered is gained by seeing the manifest displeasure of God against the persecutors. How it hardens them in their sin! How it fills up the cup of their iniquity! How sore the vengeance that befalls them! These considerations are derived from the contemplation of the persecution of the Lord's servant Jeremiah. They will be all of them strengthened if we mark the sufferings of the Lord himself. Here, but there most vividly, are seen warnings most solemn against this great sin, and consolations most precious to all the "blessed" who endure.—C.
The prophet's prayer for vengeance on his enemies.
(Cf. homily on "Imprecatory prayers," Jer 40:1-16 :20-43.)
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
The potter and the clay.
The analogy here instituted enshrines truths that are of universal application. They have their individual quite as much as their national beatings. Nowhere does the representative character of the house of Israel appear mere clearly than in this passage; nowhere do we get a more striking view of the general method of the Divine dealings with the human race. It suggests—
I. GOD'S ABSOLUTE SOVEREIGNTY OVER THE BEING AND LIFE OF EVERY MAN. The figure of the potter and the clay is one of frequent occurrence in Holy Scripture (vide Job 10:9; Isaiah 64:8; Romans 9:10). It vividly represents the subjection of our nature and our personal history to the Divine control. The fact of our moral freedom, the mysterious prerogative that belongs to us of choosing and following our own way, must needs make the comparison defective. There is some point at which all such physical analogies fail duly to set forth the realities of moral and spiritual life. But it is deeply true as suggestive of the power God has over us to mold us as he pleases. Free as our will may be, is not our whole nature as plastic material in the hands of him who made us? Free as we may be to pursue our own chosen course of life, can we ever escape the "Divinity that shapes our ends?" There is a hidden power, whether we acknowledge it or not, the mastery of which over thought, feeling, purpose, and action is the deepest reality of our existence.
II. HIS FORMATIVE PURPOSE. Distinguish between a sovereign power and one that is arbitrary and capricious. Complete as the Divine mastery over us may be, it is not lawless or purposeless. It has always a definite end in view, and that end is wise and holy and good. As the potter seeks to fashion the clay into some beautiful or useful form that his own brain has first conceived, so God, by his providential and spiritual control, seeks to work out a Divine idea in our being and life, to body forth in us some archetype of moral beauty that exists in his own eternal mind. He would fain fashion us into a noble form and fit us for some noble use. In God's "great house" there are many utilities. And even the vessel "unto dishonor" has its place and its purpose. Our faith in the infinitely wise and holy love that governs all leads us to rest in the thought—
"That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroyed
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete."
But he who formed us for himself would not have any of us to be content with an inferior position and a lower aim. He would so mold and fashion us that we shall be "vessels unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the Master's use" (2 Timothy 2:21).
III. HIS LONG-SUFFERING PATIENCE. When the potter's work is marred, he presses the clay into a shapeless mass and casts it upon the wheel again. We are reminded of the various methods God employs in molding us to his will, and how if one fails he will often subject us to another. There are events that sometimes break up the whole form of a man's life; old ties are severed, old associations pass away; he beans an altogether new career, with new responsibilities, new moral tests, new possibilities of good. There are afflictions that change the whole tenor of a man's inward life; his spirit is crushed, wounded, softened, that it may the better receive Divine impressions. "God maketh my heart soft, etc. (Job 23:16). "My heart is like wax" (Psalms 22:14). Thus does God "humble us to prove us, to know what is in our heart, whether we will keep his commandments or not" (Deuteronomy 8:2). There may come a time when all these Divine methods fail and the soul is found to be reprobate. In Jeremiah 19:1-11 we have a figurative prophecy of the ultimate abandonment of the Jewish people to their fate. In this case the vessel has been baked in the fire; it is incapable of taking a new shape, and is broken so "that it cannot be made whole again." Such is the doom of the finally impenitent and intractable. But God's patience is very wonderful. In this world at least the door of mercy is always open. There is always the possibility of a new and nobler life. He "is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).—W.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The clay in the potter's hand.
I. THE PURPOSE OF THIS PRACTICAL ILLUSTRATION. It is a practical illustration in the most suggestive sense of the word "practical." Jeremiah had not to go out of his way to produce a sufficiently impressive figure of what God was about to do. He had to go through a very peculiar and protracted experience to bring out the lesson of the marred girdle. But here he has only to go down to the potter at his wheel, a thing he could do at any time; and there is a lesson particularly plain and forcible, as coming out of the daily life, the simple and common life, of the people. Notice, then, that Jeremiah was not sent down to learn just what his own unaided observation might tell him concerning the potter and the clay. He might, indeed, have drawn out many important lessons, yet overlooked the one that was most important of all. God wished the prophet clearly to understand and then distinctly to impress upon the people this truth, that as the potter is to the clay, in respect of the control which he has over it as clay and in its plastic condition, so Jehovah is to Israel in respect of his control over its temporal destiny as a nation. Hence we have to look at the potter's action upon the clay, positively and negatively. We have to recollect both what he can do and what be cannot do. Within certain limits his power is resistless; outside those limits he has no power at all. Give the potter a piece of moist plastic clay; he takes it up, designing to make from ira vessel of a certain shape and for a certain use. Suddenly he finds it desirable to change the shape, and because the clay is still moist and plastic he can do this with the rapidity, expertness, and success which come from long practice It is this particular power of the potter which God would have us to understand is his power over us. What the potter does is limited by the nature of that with which he works. He cannot turn clay into something else than clay. Clay it is when he first touches it: clay it remains when its shape is finally decided. Let the vessel be baked in the furnace and come out hard, its shape cannot then be altered. If it is thrown to the ground it will be broken, it may even be shivered "so that there shall not be found in the bursting of it a shard to take fire from the hearth, or to take water withal out of the pit" (Jeremiah 30:14). No volition or power of the potter will give to the clay vessel the qualities of a wooden vessel or one of metal. He may fashion it for a vessel of honor or dishonor, just as he pleases; but whatever its use its material is still of clay. And similarly we must recollect that, whatever God does with us, he does in harmony with our nature. He finds us, as to the affections and purposes of our hearts, free agents, and, however great the changes he may affect in our circumstances and our future, all must be done without touching this freedom. The Divine potter hero was changing the circumstances of the human clay, just because that clay was so stubborn in submitting to his will so clearly, so lovingly, so often expressed. If we refuse to be molded into the shape that means for us true peace, glory, and blessedness, then we must be molded into the shape which will secure at the least peace and blessedness in God's kingdom, and manifest glory to his great Name.
II. THE GREAT RESULT WHICH SHOULD BE PRODUCED BY OUR CONSIDERATION OF THIS ILLUSTRATION. Too readily is it said by many, "If we are as clay in the hands of the potter, then we need not trouble ourselves. God will shape our destiny, whatever we do." But if we look honestly and humbly at this illustration, we shall see that what God would have us above all things to learn from it is that the shaping of our destiny lies practically with ourselves. In selfish and ignorant obstinacy we wish our life to take a certain mold. Strenuously, and heedless of all Divine counsel and warning, we try what self can do toward the shaping. Then at last our purpose comes to be broken off. All that we have been and all that we have done prove useless so far as our aims are concerned. But for all that we cannot be useless to God. God wishes to work in us a change which would make all our circumstances those of liberty. He wishes to renew our hearts and establish in them a holy love as the central principle. If we refuse this Divine appeal, then we must come under ever-narrowing constraints. We are asked to walk in the liberty of God's children; if we refuse and confess ourselves the enemies of God, then we must be loaded with chains and put in the innermost dungeon. Our wisdom is to turn from our hardness and impenitent hearts, and allow God to lead us into the full μετάνοια (Romans 2:4). Then with understanding shall we address God, "We are the clay, and thou our potter" (Isaiah 64:8). If we by repentance come beck to God and make ourselves clay, such as will have in it a peculiar responsiveness to the touch of God, then we may leave ourselves to his loving-kindness. He will fashion us into just that shape whereby we shall be meet for the Master's service. And if men say in their ignorance that we are turning out but vessels of dishonor, let us recollect that of honor and dishonor God alone is judge. If we only stoop from our pride to do the will of God, God will take care of our position. For is not God he who exalts the humble and abases the proud?—Y.
Jeremiah's enemies and his prayer against them.
I. THE CAUSE OF HIS SUPPLICATION. His enemies have entered into a plot against him, and he has heard of the plot. He has to do, we may imagine, not only with the open threats of passionate men, face to face, but also with secret wiles. The language of intense provocation in which he speaks must be remembered in trying to estimate the extent, depth, and bitterness of the hostility against him. Who were they that thus proposed to join together in ruining the prophet? Doubtless the three classes embraced by the reference that is made, namely, priest, wise man, and prophet. The priest would go to the wise man and prophet, saying, "See how this fellow speaks against us all." A common hatred and a common peril swallow up for a time all jealousies amongst bad men, and constitute a strong bond of union, a strong incitement to all the ingenuity and designing powers of the mind. We are not left without means of judging as to the motives of these three classes of men and their methods of proceeding when we consider the similar conspiracies against Jesus himself. Men belonging to conspicuous classes of the community attacked him, and they are constantly mentioned as being joined together. This attack gives the strongest evidence, both of the appropriateness of Jeremiah's message and his fidelity in delivering it. Such truth as a prophet has to speak must be met either with penitent friendliness or with bitter and active enmity. It must be reckoned no strange thing if the faithful proclaimer of truth is exposed, not only to reproaches, misrepresentations, and loss of old associates, but even to deep-laid conspiracies. These men, while they were bent on ruining Jeremiah, wished also to do it in a safe and plausible way. It was to be done by a plan. They were going to smite him with the tongue. Very likely they hoped to get him put to death under judicial forms. Again, one asks—How came the prophet to hear of these plans? The wise men must have shown a very imperfect kind of wisdom in not being able to keep their designs secret. Indeed, they may have thought that they were secret. The Jews who swore not to eat or drink till they had killed Paul did not reckon that Paul's own nephew had discovered their designs.
II. THE SUPPLICATION ITSELF. In readings, this supplication, we. vainly try to escape from feeling what a ferocious, savage tone the words have. The dreadful meaning of the words, taken in their natural signification, is only too plain. We must by no means try to defend the prayer; we can only do something to extenuate the language by remembering the provocation the prophet had received, and the spirit of the age in which he lived. It is at least important to remember that he is distinctly conscious of having had good motives towards these enemies. He knew that God meant their good, and he, in speaking, had meant the same. It must be noticed also that, whatever his feelings, he expresses them as a prayer to God. He does not take retaliation into his own hands. His rights and interests, whatever they are, he leaves in the hands of Jehovah. He has, indeed, his own estimate as to what his enemies deserve, but he seeks that they may get their deserts in the way of manifestly Divine judgments. Then he evidently spoke in great excitement. The wrath even of a good man may boil over into language which he would not wish to be held by in cooler moments. We may be perfectly sure that if, in after years, Jeremiah had been reminded of this prayer, and asked if he really, seriously meant that the innocent connections of his enemies should be ruthlessly slaughtered, he would have been quick to plead that his words were those of excitement. Shall it be thought wonderful that he should utter such a wish when the disciples of the meek and lowly Jesus had drunk in so little of the spirit of their Master as to wish fire from heaven to come down upon the inhospitable Samaritans? The passage under consideration is just one of those which strongly shows the difference which has been made by the sermon on the mount. If Jeremiah had been a Christian apostle instead of a Jewish prophet, his prayer would have been a very lamentable utterance indeed.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 18". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34