“But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter, so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.” – Jeremiah 18:4
The primary purpose of this verse and this passage is to give an illustration of the coming rejection and ruin of the nation of Israel because of their persistent rebellion against the LORD, because of their idolatry and because of “the stubbornness of their evil heart” (18:12). These sins and this rebellion led Jeremiah to prophesy of the future remaking of “Israel” (national, ethnic Israel) when, in Christ, all the elect from every nation are gathered into the church, which is true Israel. So the primary understanding of this parable of the potter is the destruction of the spoiled vessel of national Israel and the remaking of true Israel into the new and useful vessel of the church.
But there is also another secondary meaning here and it is this secondary meaning that I want to explore. In this writing I want to consider the parable of the potter as an illustration of salvation and sanctification, wherein the LORD, the master Potter, graciously finds particular spoiled vessels and puts these ruined vessels on His special potter’s wheel to remake them into vessels of honor, useful to the Master and prepared for every good work. So I want to explore this parable as a picture of the Lord’s saving and sanctifying work in the life of each one of His chosen saints.
In this light, then, the first thing that I want to consider is the utterly ruined condition of the vessel. Notice that in our study verse “the vessel is spoiled in the hand of the potter.” Before the Lord begins His rescuing work in our lives, the vessel of our life is utterly ruined. Our condition is not slightly flawed in need of a little touch-up work. Rather, sin has made us into vessels which are spoiled beyond remedy. When we were in our unsaved condition outside of Christ, we had no hope and were without God in the world. It was not patching and repair of the vessel that we needed; rather we were irredeemably spoiled and could only be saved if someone had the power to demolish the spoiled vessel and remake it into another vessel that was pleasing to the Master. And this is exactly what God does in Christ. The “old man,” who is the spoiled vessel, is crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20) when a person believes, and is buried with Christ in baptism unto death (Romans 6:4a), and then the “new man,” who is the remade vessel, the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), is raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4b) and the new self is created in the righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:24).
So the first consideration is the utterly ruined condition of the vessel.
The second thing to consider is that, while the vessel on the potter’s wheel is utterly ruined and must be remade if it is to be pleasing to the potter, there is nothing in the vessel itself that makes it worth remaking. We are all spoiled vessels (Romans 3:23), and there is no desert and there is no merit in any ruined vessel. All are equally ruined and all are equally in need of being remade. By His sovereign choice, God remakes into vessels of mercy those He graciously calls (Romans 9:21-24).
So the second consideration is that no spoiled vessel deserves to be remade, but some are remade by the sovereign choice of God.
The third thing to consider is that we are dramatically remade in our new birth. The vessel is utterly ruined and is hopelessly beyond repair and then God the Holy Spirit causes us to be born from above (“born again”). When we, as ruined vessels, call upon the Lord for salvation, in that moment we are remade. In that first moment of faith in Christ we are justified, redeemed, regenerated, converted, saved and united with Christ. We have been remade and have passed from death to life (John 5:24). We have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1:13-14). Our spoiled vessel is remade into a new vessel in the moment when we trust Christ.
The fourth thing to consider is that once our gracious God has remade us into useful vessels, He continued to remake us day-by-day as we, in sanctification, grow in practical holiness. Our inner man is being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). As we continue on life’s journey and persevere through trials; as we meditate on Scripture and as we cry out to the Lord in prayer; as we proclaim His excellencies and drink the pure milk of the Word; as we suffer for His name’s sake and hope for heaven and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we are being remade by the Spirit of God. So the vessel you were at salvation is not the vessel you are now is not the vessel you will be tomorrow, for the remade vessel is a vessel that continues to be remade and to grow.
The fifth and final thing to consider is that all remade vessels will one day be glorified vessels. God’s grace remakes ruined vessels into saved and useful vessels. Through His Holy Spirit, God’s grace remakes saved vessels into more and more sanctified vessels. And God will ultimately remake us into glorified vessels. Then we will be like Jesus (1 John 3:2) and we will be conformed to His image (Romans 8:29). All who have been remade into Christ will be raised in glory and power (1 Cor. 15:43) and will bear the image of the heavenly beings (15:49).
The Potter will remake all His chosen vessels into glorified vessels to praise His holy name forever. Amen.
SDG rmb 7/10/2016