Vessels of the Great Potter

“Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words.” —Jeremiah 18:2

JEREMIAH FOLLOWED THE LORD’s directions, as we read, “Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.”—Jer. 18:3,4

One of the important lessons of this allegory is that the Lord, who is pictured in this case as the potter, does not deal in an arbitrary manner with individuals or nations—the ‘vessels’ he is creating. The responsibility rests upon them—the ‘clay’ in this illustration—to allow themselves to become vessels fit for the Master’s use. They must yield themselves under his masterful hand to work in harmony with his plans for mankind, and for themselves in particular. Their usefulness to the Lord depends entirely upon the heart attitude they allow to develop in themselves, and their responsiveness to his direction throughout their entire relationship with him.

The context of this chapter in Jeremiah clearly shows that God reserves the right to extend or withhold blessings, or to administer punishments and rewards according to the demands of behavior. His actions are a direct result of the obedience or disobedience of those involved.

In the sixteenth century, the doctrine of ‘Election’ came into common acceptance in Protestant Europe, through the teachings of John Calvin. His doctrine taught predestination in the most complete sense. However, the Calvinistic mold is not compatible with the Word of God, for our Heavenly Father does not interfere with the free moral agency which he has given to each human being. Right from the beginning, God had a design for his human family, and he is successfully carrying it out despite the cooperation, or lack of it, from his creatures. They will all, eventually, have the liberty, and great privilege, of cooperation.

It was his will that all would become acquainted with him and his magnificent character, and each one be given an opportunity to serve him freely. They would thereby receive inexpressible blessings such as only he can bestow upon them. And it is his desire that every creature in heaven or upon earth, created or yet to be created, worship and obey him and his righteous laws because they love them, and are in full harmony with righteousness.

Light is thrown upon our subject of the vessels of the Great Potter by the words of the Apostle Paul, “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” (Rom. 9:21) Now this is the King James Translation, but Strong’s Concordance gives the meaning of the word dishonor as ‘of less honor’ or ‘by comparative degree’. So in this study, we will endeavor to use the latter meaning as being the more accurate interpretation. In other words, there are many vessels being produced by the Master Workman, some to great honor through their more important usage—some to less honor comparatively, but still to some great purpose in his plan of the ages.

However, we must remember that it is important to keep the background of this lesson in mind, lest we get the erroneous thought that human beings are under the control of a divine being which arbitrarily governs everything they do. If this were so, God’s creatures would be like robots that have absolutely nothing to say about their destiny. This thought of predestination, which, obviously is not a correct premise, is not taught in the Bible. The study of Jeremiah 18, shows that the attitude of the individual determines whether he will eventually be formed as a vessel of great honor, or one of lesser honor. Also the particular use for which a vessel was designed very often determines whether it has special honor or not. Some were used for very menial tasks, and others were decorated with beautiful designs and colors, and were used as splendid ornaments in the home or synagogue.

Potter’s vessels are spoken of in the Scriptures a number of times. They contain certain illustrations in connection with the professed people of God. When traveling through Israel and Jordan, even today, women can be seen gathered around a well, drawing water for the needs of their family. The vessels which they use generally hold four or five gallons of water. They must be nice, clean jugs, usually decorated with painted or embossed designs.

These vessels which are used for drawing water must be kept spotless, as we have stated, and this would be their most outstanding characteristic. From them was dispensed pure water for cooking and drinking, as well as for washing, and for these functions—essential for life—the containers must always remain pure and clean lest life-threatening disease should result. And so they were designated as vessels of honor.—Isa. 52:11; Rom. 9:21

As one would walk down a pathway toward the well, even if a stranger, he could say to the woman carrying her container of water, “Would you please give me a drink?” And more often than not, she would willingly take the vessel off her head and set it down, and allow you to take a drink. This vessel of honor dispensed a life-giving liquid, which so nicely illustrates the people of God. First they must be clean, pure, made so by the precious blood of Christ. They hold within themselves the pure water of life, which they freely share with all who desire to partake of it to quench their thirst. These vessels were formed from clay. They were earthen vessels (II Cor. 4:7), but nevertheless they were vessels of honor because of the way they were used. And so also the church has been formed from material taken from the earth, and transformed into vessels fit for the Master’s use.

When several vessels were made at one time, the potter did not make a decision as to which would be a vessel of honor, and which would be a vessel of less honor from the outset. What determined their position or honor was, first the way they yielded to the potter’s hand while being formed; and second, how they were used by those to whom they eventually belonged. Here is another distinctive lesson. We ask ourselves, “Are we striving earnestly with all of our ability to become a vessel of honor? Are we endeavoring to exercise that generosity of spirit which would be willing under every circumstance to nourish and sustain any who would be benefited by a little sip of water from our vessel?” There is indeed no higher honor in the entire universe than to be used by God to dispense the water of life. God’s people are continuing even until today to be engaged in doing just that, to the very best of their abilities.

More than six thousand years ago, near the close of the Sixth Creative Day, the Great Potter took some dust—Strong’s Concordance translates the word dust as ‘day’, and he formed it into the body of a man, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and that day became a ‘living soul’. What a beautiful vessel Adam was—so beautiful that it would be impossible for us to describe his glory! (Ps. 8:5) He was a perfect man, a perfect human being. But, sad to say, Adam’s disobedience made the human day unfit, and the vessel which had been wrought in perfection became marred and imperfect.

One of the first men chosen by God from the human family to become a vessel of honor, in a very extraordinary and special way, was the patriarch, Abraham. The call of Abraham to leave his home and his family to migrate into a land of God’s choosing, known only to God, showed that the Great Potter’s intention was to work with a very particular kind of clay—we find that faith was a necessary factor incorporated into the material God would select to use for the creation of his vessels.—Heb. 11:6

After Abraham’s death, God dealt in turn with his seed—Isaac and Jacob—who were also part of the same original lump of clay from which God had formed Adam. They were his posterity. Later the Lord made a further choice of Abraham’s descendants—stating that the nation of Israel was to be his chosen people (Amos 3:2), chosen for their father’s sakes. (Rom. 11:26-28) God gave them many experiences and lessons which were designed to prepare them—to fashion and mold them—to a particular service God had in mind. It was God’s plan to produce from Abraham’s seed a heavenly class, as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore.—Gen. 22:17

The lump of clay from which the Potter desired to form this vessel—the nation of Israel—was composed of mixed materials. It had to be ground, and reground, time and again, through the leading and chastening of the Lord over the centuries, to make it more plastic. However, many times it proved that it still was not pliable enough for the Potter’s purpose. It evidenced a lack of faith. Nevertheless certain vessels, quite honorable ones, too, were formed to the Lord’s great pleasure, during the Jewish Age. The Apostle Paul gave a partial listing of that group in Hebrews 11, with which we are very familiar.

Great though the work of developing the Ancient Worthy class was, a still greater work began with our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Here was a vessel, perfect in every aspect, created once again as was Adam, in the image and likeness of God—the human likeness of the Creator. Then followed the calling of the apostles, and then the disciples of Jesus, which work has proceeded throughout the entire Gospel Age. These would indeed prove to be gloriously artistic vessels! These were vessels of the very highest honor—called to glory, honor, and immortality!

There are many illustrations in the Scriptures to depict the followers of Christ. The following is not an exhaustive list, by any means, but it contains most of the familiar titles: “the body of Christ,” “the Lamb’s wife,” “the Little Flock,” “heirs of God,” “Abraham’s seed,” and the “more than conquerors.” These ‘vessels’—still another picture—even in their preparatory stages, are considered the sons of God. We read, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”—I John 3:2

We remember the occasion when Saul of Tarsus was struck down on the Damascus Road, and called to become a follower of Jesus. Ananias was given the wonderful privilege of lending assistance and comfort to this former terrible enemy of the church, whose life had once been dedicated to wiping out the followers of Christ. It is understandable to us that at first Ananias was reluctant to accept Saul as one called of God. But when the Lord said to him, “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15), Ananias was ready to follow the Lord’s bidding.

The expression, ‘a chosen vessel’, was a very common one to the Israelites of that day. It was a custom in the East when one desired a particular kind of vessel, to go to the potter’s house and ask, “Please, would you pick out a very special vessel for me? I would like to give it as a gift.” Or the purchaser might say, “It is my wife’s and my anniversary, and I would like an especially nice vessel to commemorate the occasion.” And so the potter would say, “I will gladly pick one out for you. I think I know just what you have in mind.” And he would go back to look over his shelves where he stocked the jars he had completed.

He would look his wares over rather slowly, pausing here and there. And finally he would take one down from the shelf, saying, “I believe that this is the one you want. The material that went into its creation was exceptional. And it was very difficult to obtain this special shape. The craftsmanship is unusually fine, and we have decorated it with beautiful designs as well. You will never be ashamed to display this piece in your home.” This is what is meant by the chosen vessel.

Now an inexperienced purchaser of vessels might not be able to tell the difference between the real value of one vessel and another, but not so with a craftsman such as the potter. Likewise, our Heavenly Father—the Great Potter—never, ever makes mistakes! When Saul of Tarsus was designated by God as a chosen vessel, we can be certain that he was very special. This was not an arbitrary choice. God made this decision because he knew that Saul of Tarsus had qualifications which could be used in his service—faith, loyalty, zeal, honesty, love. We have learned through the short biography contained in the New Testament what a talented person he was, and how faithfully he laid down his life, using his abilities to the praise and honor of the Heavenly Father.

So it is with the selection of all the kingdom vessels. This is the way it was with Saul of Tarsus, and with Simon Peter, and all the rest of the apostles. So it was with Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha and Lazarus, and with each and every one who has been called to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. We are chosen vessels unto God! And we are speechless when it comes to offering our thanks and appreciation to God for that great honor and privilege.

We read, “It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13) The Heavenly Father considers our frame and he knows we have weaknesses and shortcomings. He knows that we have been born in sin and shapen in iniquity. With great patience and understanding he deals with our minds and wills, and with the spirit that motivates us—the intentions of our hearts. He works the clay of our beings in his own skillful way, magnificently fitting it, preparing it, and shaping it for a special place as a chosen vessel in the glorious temple of God. Each of the 144,000 members of the church class will be unique. No two will be alike. Each one will be different, as “star differeth from star in glory.” (I Cor. 15:41) Every one of the 144,000 faithful will be beings of extraordinary beauty, within and without.

If you have ever visited the fine china section of any famous museum, or quality store, you will realize that the choicest products of this form of art receive special molding and shaping by their designer and creator—or, in the case of our lesson, the potter. After all the lines have been carefully studied and beautifully fashioned, there is still one more very necessary step that must be taken before the item is useful. The material making up the porcelain, pottery, or china, is still soft and delicate. It can crumble very easily, or become marred and spoiled. Before it is valuable, it is necessary for it to be fired, or baked, in an extremely hot kiln.

But the vessels are never exposed directly to the raw flame, such as is produced by a fireplace, or a bonfire. They are carefully placed in an oven where the heat is regulated to an ideal temperature for the purpose of hardening the clay. From this rather severe treatment, the pottery benefits a great deal. It becomes sealed and firm—less apt to crumble—able to withstand reasonable usage. Likewise, our Heavenly Father—the Great Potter—after he has shaped and transformed us according to our perfect pattern, the Lord Jesus Christ, places us into the oven of affliction and tribulation, in order that we might be made strong and useful to him.

In this stage of development some of the vessels crack under the extreme temperature. Does the potter discard them if this occurs? No, he does not, because too much work and love has gone into the design and creation of the piece for him to simply discard the vessel. There is a special cement, which we can liken to the healing balm of the Holy Spirit, with which cracks can be resealed. Then, back into the kiln it goes for another period of firing, after which time it is examined again for flaws. More cement is used if another imperfection is discovered, and the process continues. But our Potter has a great deal of patience and skill, and he has a particular end in view. He is willing to work long and hard, lovingly and patiently, to make each vessel perfect.

During the process of firing, there can be three different results. First, there are those vessels which are able to stand the heat without cracking. Second, there are vessels that do crack in the heat, but after repair work are beautiful and useful. And third, there are some vessels that crack so badly that they are useless, and must be discarded.

The Apostle Paul told us, “In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor [less honor].” (II Tim. 2:20) In this important lesson we think that the gold vessels could appropriately represent the Little Flock, and the silver vessels might picture the Great Company. In Romans 9:21,22, we read, “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor [less honor]? What if God, willing to show his wrath [displeasure], and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.” Here the Scriptures evidence the fact that there will be a class who will not submit to the correction or the craftsmanship of the Heavenly Father, even after they have been subjected to the tremendous heat more than one time. There is an important lesson in this for us.

Note that in the Timothy citation, in addition to the gold and silver vessels, Paul also mentions vessels made of wood and of earth. The Great Potter does not exhaust his skills in the creation of the church and the Great Company, who will receive the highest rewards—heavenly rewards. But God is also creating and will have great use for vessels of ‘less honor’—vessels of wood, which could represent the perfected world of mankind. This lesson shows how the great Master Potter can utilize a variety of materials to develop different classes, all of whom will be vessels to bring glory to his name.

The Apostle Paul said, “If a man therefore purge himself from these [imperfections], he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.” (II Tim. 2:21) What imperfections does the apostle urge us to purge ourselves from? Starting to read in II Timothy 2:22, and continuing to the end of chapter four, we will discover what we must purge out of our lives in order to become vessels of honor. Summing up, the apostle advises us to “follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (II Tim 2:22) We must be clean vessels if we will be used to serve the Lord and then we are to be filled with the pure, living water of God’s precious truth, which we are to share with any and all who will receive it, and thirstily drink it.

There is a tale told which sounds like an old Persian fable. The story concerns some common clay that lay out on the ground of a field, with no distinction from all the other dirt which surrounded it. It was coarse and common. It was, however, resting high up on the bank of a river, and so it was very proud of its own importance. It listened as the trees spoke of their increasing glory when they leafed out in the Spring; and the flowers in their bright coats congratulated each other on their loveliness; the river made melody, rejoicing in its majesty. And so the clay began to conclude that it was something special too.

One day, all of a sudden, it found itself being dug up out of the bank, placed in a cart, and transported to a small shed. There the potter placed it on a whirling wheel which spun it around until it nearly fell off. Finally the potter pressed down hard and roughly until it began to think, “Surely this pain and misery will be worthwhile, because I will become a beautiful object of art.” But soon it was placed inside a very hot oven, when the clay gave up all hope. But it was not the end! The potter took the vessel out of the kiln and stood it alongside a pool of clear water. The pot, now completed and ready for use, could hardly wait to see what would happen next.

It glanced curiously down into the water to see its reflection, and what a shock it received! It discovered that it was just an ordinary flowerpot! How disappointed it was! But this was not the end of the story. Soon a lady picked up the flowerpot and took it inside a greenhouse. She instructed the gardener to plant a beautiful scepter of regal lilies in the pot. Then she carried it into the great cathedral, where everyone who saw it said, “What a beautiful treasure that is!”

How similar we are to the plain little flowerpot, as we are used to display the regal lilies of truth. We read, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the Excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”—II Cor. 4:6,7

Soon the vessels will be complete. Soon the kiln of fiery experiences will end. Just a small finishing stroke here, and a little polish there will bring out the full beauty. Then one glorious day, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, we will be transformed into spiritual vessels, and taken into that marvelous temple, where we will hear our Father’s voice say, “Well done my good and faithful servant. Enter into the joys of thy Lord.”

Dawn Bible Students Association
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