This sermon was originally preached in 1956.
“Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. … Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand” (Jeremiah 18:3-4, 6).
What an accurate portrayal of men and women this is! The Prophet Jeremiah portrays God as the divine Potter and a man or woman as the clay that the Master Artist seeks to make into a vessel of usefulness. But in the process, the vessel becomes marred—a flaw appears in the work—and tenderly the skilled Craftsman of life refashions it to His own liking.
Three ideas stand out boldly in this parable of the potter: made, marred and made again.
We humans, in our vaunted pride and self-styled wisdom, would claim that we are self-created. We would wrest ourselves from the skillful hands of the Potter, and cry, “I evolved, and I am the product of natural law; I am self-created!”
But the only true record and the only true evidence indicates that it was otherwise.
The Bible states that God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. … So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him. … Then God blessed them” (Genesis 1:26-28).
Notice, He did not make men and women haphazardly, but with an infinite plan and purpose. He made us in His own image and likeness: creatures with whom He could commune, companion and fellowship. You were made for God’s fellowship, and to fulfill any other purpose is to fail to fulfill your destiny.
That heart of yours, despite its waywardness and evil, in its serious moments reaches out for the stars and cries out for fellowship with the infinite God. That mind of yours, so fraught with evil imaginations, sensual images and earthly aspirations, longs for communion and affinity with the divine Potter—God. That body of yours, tired of its labors and wanderings, aching with loneliness, hungers for companionship with the One for whom you were created.
Race, ethnic background and language make no difference—all hearts repeat the words of David: “My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Psalm 84:2).
There are thousands of people who admit that they are unhappy. Economic security, recreation, pleasure and a good community in which to live have not brought them the peace and happiness they expected. The reason is that we were created in the image of God, and we can find no complete rest, happiness, joy and peace until we come back to God.
You were not only made for a purpose, you were made with a will of your own. This will of yours is capable of obeying or disobeying, of choosing life or death, darkness or light, Heaven or hell, sin or the Savior.
If there is no will, there can be no true love. God wanted us to love Him willingly, with a free heart, by choice. This was a calculated risk on God’s part, but it was the only way true love and fellowship could be achieved.
As we all know, mankind failed. Curiosity, lust and pride caused Adam and Eve to turn their backs on all the promise of Eden—its fertile fields, its fruit-laden gardens, its abounding rivers, its indescribable beauty, its unspeakable fellowship—to go their erring way to the forbidden tree.
That paradise of peace was turned into a prison of confusion. The sun sank over the fringe of Eden, and the gloom of despair and loneliness settled down upon the world.
The man and woman, who a few hours previously had basked in the glorious light of Eden, now hid in the shadows of a forest, and the sword of their consciences cut deeply into their souls. The vessel had become marred.
They had become sinners, transgressors, disobedient children of creation. Mankind was alienated from God.
We can see, strewn along the shores of time, the wreckage of sin’s devastation. History is full of it. Cain, vanishing into a forest of condemnation, with his innocent brother’s blood crying from the ground; the faithless people of Noah’s generation, slipping into the relentless flood of God’s judgment; the sufferings of a wicked Pharaoh, as he stubbornly defied God’s offer of mercy; Samson, who once knew the presence of God’s Spirit, blindly and remorsefully grinding grain in the prison; King Saul, consumed with envy, falling on the point of his own sword; Jezebel, defiant and unbelieving, cast from the window of her palace for the dogs to eat; David, broken and shattered with sorrow brought on by his own wrongdoing. Humanity, like the foolish lemmings, running headlong into a sea of destruction. This is our tragic story.
But the Potter was not thwarted by the marring of His vessel. Immediately, in love and mercy, He put His plan into action to restore the marred vessel to a vessel of honor.
Even in the judgment that God pronounced was a promise of hope. He said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15).
The seed of the woman was to be the Son of God who would fatally bruise Satan’s head and restore ruined mankind to God. So, although the story of Genesis contains tragedy, it also holds out radiant hope and a golden promise of restoration.
The Fall, the marring of mankind, proved one thing: that our righteousness had utterly failed. God gave us liberty, and we abused it. God gave us strength, and we dissipated it. God gave us privilege, and we squandered it. This vessel God had created broke at the point of our responsibility and became utterly marred.
Every day a million Edenic scenes are reenacted. Men and women trade their divine rights for a pittance of pleasure; they trade their favor with God for the tawdry things of this world. But now as then, God, in patience and tenderness, seeks to restore and redeem His marred vessels.
The same power of choice that leads men and women away from God can lead them back. Obedience is still the test of love. Our will must be yielded and conformed to the will of God before restoration can be complete. Through Christ, a way has been opened to God, but now as then, we must approach Him in the manner He has prescribed, not in our own way.
The Potter made the clay again into another vessel.
Our ruin was complete, but our redemption is even more complete. We were utterly marred; we are made completely new in Christ. We were utterly lost; we are saved through Him to the uttermost.
Salvation is not a patching up of the old person—it is a new creation. “Old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The emphasis today, in many circles, is on patching up the old nature. They see some degree of righteousness remaining in it; some hope apart from a divine miracle; some way of skirting the doctrine of the new birth. “Think good thoughts; do good deeds; be the person you ought to be!”
But may I remind you in all earnestness that human nature in its unredeemed state is helpless to think good thoughts, to do good deeds, to measure up to God’s requirements.
The Bible says, “You were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation” (Ephesians 2:12-14).
A gospel that appeals to our reason or our righteousness will always be popular, for we like to feel that we can circumvent the cross of Christ. The cross set aside the flesh altogether. It left no footing for us to stand upon. It put the responsibility for our redemption upon Christ.
The cross comes in with its mighty power to bring low as well as to exalt, for it exalts none but those whom first it humbles. It calls pious worshipers to come down out of their ivory towers in which they trust, and take their place at the cross with the outcast and the vile.
It tells the earnest seeker and the anxious inquirer that by their own efforts they are made not one whit better; they must put their hope fully in Him who was slain.
It tells the sincere evangelical with a spotless life, whose mind is a treasury of orthodox doctrines, that he or she must stand beside the drunkard and prostitute and say, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
The cross levels every man and woman. It says “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23). It decrees that every man or woman, marred by sin, must be remade.
So, the heavenly Potter, through a process which unfolded across the centuries, “made again another vessel as seemed good to the potter to make it.”
But our will remains intact. The first man and woman used their wills to choose death; you must use your will to choose life! God invites, but you must come. The Bible says, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).
You must use your will to say yes to Christ. You must receive Him as Savior. And the moment you do that, the Spirit of the living God will come into your heart and make you a new creation, with a new heart.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.