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Lessons of the Potter
by John H. Essex


 
 

WHERE, or what, is the Potter's House?

      The expression, "the potter's house" (KJV), or "the house of the potter" (CV), occurs twice in the same passage in God's Word, namely, Jeremiah 18:2,3. Let us read from verse 1 to verse 12.

The word which comes to Jeremiah from Yahweh, saying,

"Rise and go down to the house of the potter,
And there I will announce to you My words."
And I am going down to the house of the potter,
Yet the vessel which he is making of the clay
Is ruined in the hand of the potter.
And he turns it back and is making another vessel of it
As it is upright in the eyes of the potter to make it.
And coming is the word of Yahweh to me, saying,
"As this potter does, cannot I do to you, house of Israel?"

Averring is Yahweh,

"Behold! As the clay in a potter's hand,
So are you in My hand, house of Israel.
The moment I speak of a nation or of a kingdom,
To pluck them up, to break down and destroy,
And that nation turns back
From all the evil of which I spoke,
Then I regret the evil which I had designed to do to them.
And the moment I speak of a nation or of a kingdom,
To build and to plant,
And they do evil in My eyes,
To avoid hearkening to My voice,
Then I regret the good, the good I spoke to do to them.
And now speak, pray, to the men of Judah,
And to the dwellers of Jerusalem, saying, Thus says Yahweh:
`Behold! I am forming evil against you....'"

      It is clear that in this passage the potter's house is being used as an illustration for the instruction of Israel through one of her prophets. If the work of the potter was confined in Scripture to this one incident, important though it is, we doubt whether we would have chosen it as the basis of our meditation in this series of studies. But we propose to point out other references to the work of the potter, and some in places where it is perhaps not at first evident.

      Before we proceed further, let us make the point that the potter's house is a place of employment, the place where he plies his craft, and not necessarily a place of residence, though he may live there. We speak today of "business houses," and those who own them do not usually live on the premises. The potter's house is where he operates, and where he demonstrates his skill.

"GO DOWN"

     The potter's house of Jeremiah 18 was evidently in a valley, for the prophet was instructed to "go down" to it. Prepositions in the Scriptures are very important, and God's Word speaks of "going up" to Jerusalem and "going down" to Egypt; up to heaven and down to the pit or grave.

     Here it is down to the potter's house because physically the prophet had to descend to get to it. Spiritually, he had to humble himself if he wished to learn of God. We all have to do this if we would learn of Him, since God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. We must put aside our own conceits-- our own preconceived notions--and seek our knowledge in the place which He appoints. Many of the sorrows confronting humans today are caused by their neglect of God's Word, and their preference for their own ideas rather than the principles which God has wisely ordained. God's wisdom has become stupidity to them, and man's wisdom has likewise become stupidity to God. Yet man was created in God's image and likeness!

      There are quite a number of lessons to be learned in the potter's house. The incident that the prophet witnessed was a simple one, almost trivial, yet the lessons to be gained from it were profound in their depth of meaning.

VALUABLE LESSONS

     Firstly we note that the vessel is marred (ruined), but the potter does not repair it. He brings the clay back to an unrecognizable lump, and then makes another vessel.

      To introduce a personal note, we once saw this happen when we visited a tiny pottery in South Wales. Over the entrance was an inscription, taken from the KJV of Romans 9, "Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel to honor and another to dishonor?" Once inside, we saw a potter at his wheel, and he had just made what seemed to us to be a perfect vase. But something about it displeased him, for he immediately crushed it between his hands, and then worked on the shapeless clay to make another vessel, this time a bowl. This evidently satisfied him, for he set it to one side, ready for the kiln.

     Secondly, we perceive that the vessel was ruined in the hand of the potter. In the subsequent verses, God likens Himself to this potter, and the nation of Israel to the marred vessel. But Israel, for all her faults, for all her disobedience, for all her rebellions against God, is never allowed to slip out of His hand. The same is true of humanity and indeed of the whole universe. Because creation is never out of His hands, God accepts responsibility for all that happens to His creatures. Let us note, responsibility is quite different from accountability; God still requires all to be accountable to Him.

      Thirdly, we note that the vessel is ruined from the moment that it was made. In the case of Israel, the nation was marred or ruined from the time of its birth at Sinai. This was demonstrated by the fact that, even while Moses was on the mountain receiving the law of the Covenant which the newly-formed nation had promised to keep, the people were building a golden calf to worship. Again, the beggar at the Beautiful Gate of the sanctuary ( Acts 3), who was illustrative of Israel, was "inherently lame from his mother's womb."

THE POTTER'S PREROGATIVES

      "He...is making another vessel of it." These words reflect the power of the potter to make anew. The new vessel may be like the old, or it may be something quite different, as we saw in the pottery in Wales when the vase was turned into a bowl. In the incident which Jeremiah saw, we feel reasonably certain that the new vessel would be similar to the old, for the incident was intended to illustrate God's dealings with Israel, and the new nation of Israel will be like the old in that it will not be a new creation but a new birth. The promises to Israel in Peter's first epistle are a reaffirmation of those made by God to the nation at Sinai (compare 1 Peter 2:9 with Ex.19:5). But now they are made more positive, for the `if' clause is removed.

      The potter has both the right and the power to do what he wills with the clay that is in his hand. "He is making another vessel of it as is upright in the eyes of the potter to make it.... As this potter does, cannot I do to you, house of Israel?" Chapters 18 and 19 of Jeremiah detail God's actions against Israel because, as He says, "they stiffen their scruff (harden their necks] to avoid hearkening to My words." God can do evil as well as good.

      Before we leave the matter as it applies to Israel, let us note Isaiah 45:11, "Thus says Yahweh Elohim, the Holy One of Israel, and its Former." The word here translated Former (Maker in the King James Version) is the one rendered potter in Jeremiah 18. Verily God is the Potter of Israel.

PAUL'S APPLICATION OF THE POTTER'S CRAFT

      So much, then, for Jeremiah's prophecy. But Paul also refers us to the potter's craft in a remarkable passage in his letter to the Romans. He, too, affirms the right of the potter to do what he wills with the clay that is in his hand. This is true of every potter, but particularly so of the Divine Potter.

      Paul's lessons, learned from observing the potter at work, are, however, different from those taught in Jeremiah. Paul sees the potter not just making a new vessel out of an old one, but forming two vessels out of the same lump of clay, indeed, out of the same kneading, and one of these is for honor and one for dishonor. As the Divine Potter, can God, in justice, do this? Paul has no doubts on the matter, He most certainly can.

      Again introducing a personal note, we were speaking many years ago on the lessons of the potter, and emphasized that there was only one Potter, namely, God. Someone came up afterwards and said, "Yes, there is only one Potter, and there is only one clay."

      We had missed this vital point, and how true it is! All Humanity is of the same clay, and there are vessels to honor and vessels to dishonor. Cain and Abel in the same generation--one a murderer and the other a righteous man. And even closer--twins of the same birth, Jacob to love and Esau to hate. And how can God be justified in this, especially as He Himself predetermined The future of both Jacob and Esau before they were born, and thus before they had any opportunity to prove themselves? God can be merciful to one vessel while hardening another. He can raise up both a Moses and a Pharaoh, being merciful to the former while hardening the heart of the latter. How can God be justified in what He does? Only in the light of the ultimate outcome of His purpose, when He is to be merciful to all; indeed, when He is to be All in all, for then He will have more than made up for what the vessels of dishonor may have temporarily lost.

ALL TO BE MADE NEW

      We have already indicated that God will not be satisfied with a patched up job. "New am I making all," He declares in Revelation 21:5. He may endure the ruined vessels for a time, but eventually they are destroyed in order to be made anew, and in the new, nothing of the marring of the old is remembered. Isaiah 65:17 reads, "Behold Me creating new heavens and a new earth, and the former shall not be remembered, nor shall they come upon the heart." In Revelation 21:4 we have, "And death will be no more, nor mourning, nor clamor, nor misery: they will be no more, for the former things passed away," and in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; the primitive passed by. Lo! there has come new! "

     Summing up, then, what we have so far noted, God has the right to make vessels for His own use, in whatever form He chooses, and He has also the right to use them in whatever way He wills, "that the purpose of God may remain as a choice, not out of acts, but of Him Who is calling" ( Rom.9:11).

THE POTTER'S HOUSE

      Returning to our original question, we ask again, Where, or what, is the Potter's House? And we are, of course, referring to God as the Divine Potter.

      Remember, the potter's house is not where he dwells, but where he works, or operates, and we have to descend to find it.

      We submit that the Potter's house, in a wider sense, is this earth on which we live. Here God has been working out His purpose for thousands of years. Has He not said, in effect, to the celestials, "Rise and go down to the house of the Potter, and there I will announce to you My words?"

      Remember that, prior to the appearance of humanity upon this earth, there had been a disruption, and the earth, created in light, had become a submerged chaos, shrouded in darkness. The physical disarray upon the earth was indicative of the spiritual disarray in the heavens. Celestials, who had rebelled against the Headship of Christ, had no way of effecting reconciliation with God. This could only be accomplished by God Himself; He must make the move, and He directs their attention to this earth.

      The earth is a mere speck in the universe. Saying that God created the heavens and the earth is as incongruous as saying that He created the Atlantic Ocean and a raindrop, or a continent and a grain of sand, so vast are the heavens, so small is the earth. Yet the earth becomes the theater of the universe, the stage upon which the greater part of God's purpose is enacted. The celestials are the audience, but who are the actors? Are they not the members of humanity, whom the Director is moving about the stage according to His preconceived plan, for the Scriptures speak of "the purpose of the One Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will" ( Eph.1:11; see also Eph.3:10,11).


LESSONS OF THE POTTER'S HOUSE
PART TWO

THE VESSEL OF HUMANITY

BEFORE we proceed any further, let us remind ourselves of the reason (or reasons) for the creation of humanity.

      A whole eon had gone by before humanity came into being, and all the events of that eon, whatever they were, had terminated in "the disruption of the world," that is, the disruption of the society as it existed at that time. That society was clearly a celestial one, for it was in being before the earth was even founded, as Job 38:4-7 makes plain:

Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell, if you know with understanding. Who placed its measurements, in case you know? Or who stretched out a leveling tape over it? on what are its sockets sunk? Or who directed its cornerstone into place, When the stars of the morning jubilated together And all the sons of Elohim were shouting in joy?

      Man was not there when this happened, but there were creatures in existence, described in this passage as the stars of the morning and the sons of Elohim, who were so moved by what took place as to sing together in sheer jubilation.

      It seems evident that elements among this celestial society went into a measure of rebellion against God, and the spread of this is indicated by the fact that the eon ended in total disruption, accompanied by darkness. Genesis 1:2 and 2 Peter 3: 5,6, tell us of this. Never let us think that God created the earth out of darkness, as many have supposed. All is out of Him, as Paul tells us in Romans 11:36, and God Himself is light, and darkness in Him there is none ( 1 John 1:5). Nor was the earth created a chaos; Isaiah 45:18 establishes this. No, darkness and barrenness and waste and desolation and chaos came into being as a result of previous opposition to God. From then on, the jurisdiction of darkness is contrasted with the kingdom of the Son of God's love ( Col.1:13).

SPIRITUAL FORCES OF WICKEDNESS

      The nature of the original rebellion would doubtless be an attempt at the usurpation of the Headship given by God to the Son of His love. Among the celestials are forces which are described, in Ephesians 6, as being not of blood and flesh, but as sovereignties, authorities, world-mights of this darkness and spiritual forces of wickedness. All of these are under the control of the Adversary, as verse 11 makes clear. They would seem to be powerful and numerous. The very terms used suggest opposition to Him Whom God declares to be Sovereign ( Col.1:18).

      Now it was against such a background that humanity was created. The sinning hosts among the celestials had no means of delivering themselves from the consequences of their rebellion, and thus restoring the state of harmony and peace with God. Did they see in this new development some hope for the reconciliation of their own defectors with God? Whether they did or not, this was indeed the case, because, before any reconciliation anywhere in the universe could be effected, the question of sin itself had to be dealt with, and only the one sinned against, namely God, could adequately see to this. Hence His decision to bring into being a fresh creation (i.e., humanity), unique, apart from His Son, in being in the image and likeness of Himself, so that One in the form of humanity could give Himself up, and suffer death, for the sake of all. In suffering death, such a One would take sin with Him into death, thereby accomplishing its own destruction.

HUMANITY CREATED IN THE IMAGE OF ELOHIM

     Humanity was the vessel made by the Divine Potter. Let us read Genesis 1:26,27. "And saying is Elohim, `Make will We humanity in Our image, and according to Our likeness, and sway shall they over the fish of the sea, and over the flyer of the heavens, and over the beast, and over all land life, and over every moving animal moving on the land.' And Elohim is creating humanity in His image. In the image of Elohim He creates it. Male and female He creates them."

      Here we find a creation, made in the image and likeness of its Creator, and immediately given dominion over other forms of creation. As we have previously stated, no one else in the universe, other than the Lord Jesus Himself, is described as being in the image of God. We suggest that only those in the image and likeness of God are entitled to exercise dominion, since only such can truly represent Him or deputize for Him. When we compare Psalm 8 with Hebrews 2, we see how the dominion originally given to humanity is enlarged from a sway over the lower creatures to dominion over all. Hebrews 2:8 reads, "For in the subjection of all to him [man], He leaves nothing unsubject to him. Yet now we are not as yet seeing all subject to him."

      At this point, let us note a very fine distinction, which may explain much that may in the past have seemed obscure. Many have wondered how God could have created humanity in His own image and likeness when men have proved themselves to be so vile and sinful. They have supposed that man was originally created perfect and then suffered a fall from perfection. The idea of a "fall" is, however, a human invention, not taught in scripture.

      The point of distinction is this. In Genesis 1, there is no mention or suggestion of soulishness in respect of humanity-- in respect of animals, yes (see verses 20-24), but not in respect of humanity. Nor in this first chapter is there any mention of the Potter at work. All this must come in chapter 2.

      It must be appreciated that the accounts in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are not describing two separate events, but are complementary to each other, presenting the coming into being of humanity on the sixth day from two different aspects.

      In chapter 1, it is the concept of humanity which is being created, that which will be used of God to deal with the problems caused by the estrangement of the celestials. Its importance is indicated by the threefold use of the word "create" both here and in Genesis 5:1. Even at this stage, God had His sights fixed upon the creation of the new humanity, to be headed up by His own Son. As a new concept, designed to further His purpose, the creation of humanity was "very good" in the eyes of its Creator. It must be so, or the Son of God could never have come in the form of humanity.

      Yes, indeed, after the creation of humanity, God surveyed the work of the six days, and pronounced it very good. All was exactly how He required it to be in order that His purpose might go forward in the way He had designed. He does not improvise, for nothing ever takes Him by surprise. He operates all in accord with the counsel of His will, and sees the end from the beginning because He has planned and purposed the whole.

      But humanity must never be able to boast in itself, either at the time of its creation or afterwards; it must be shown that it is merely a vessel in the hands of the Potter, an instrument for His use as He wills, and so it was to suffer a traumatic experience which would prevent future boasting. Its head was to become marred, and the marring was to spread to the whole vessel, for through one man's transgression "sin entered the world, and through sin death, and thus death passed through into all mankind, on which all sinned" ( Rom.5:12,13).

THE POTTER AT WORK

      Humanity had its beginning in Adam; in fact, Adam takes his name from humanity, for the Hebrew for humanity is the same as the Hebrew for Adam, and carries the meaning of likeness. But now comes an interesting point. In Genesis 2:7, where it declares that God (Yahweh Elohim) is "forming the human of soil from the ground," the word translated "forming" is the one rendered "potter" in Jeremiah 18. (The same word is used in Jeremiah 10: 16--" the Former of all is He.") Here, in Genesis 2, the Potter is truly at work. Can we not see His hands fashioning humanity, working lovingly on the clay to form a beautiful vessel?

      It has long been a puzzle to many as to why there are two separate accounts of the bringing into being of humanity, and why they should be so different. It has even been suggested that the book of Genesis was written by two different authors. This is thought to be supported by fact that two different designations of the Deity are used. In chapter 1, God is referred to as Elohim, while in the second chapter, after verse 4, the name Yahweh (Ieue, Jehovah) is added. But a thoughtful examination will show that the different terms are in accord with God's relations with humanity.

      To a fresh creation, brought into being to further His purpose, He is Elohim, the Subjector (the title is in plural form). All rebellious forces are to be made subject to His will, and that means being made subject to the One against Whose Headship the celestials had rebelled. Humanity is to be the medium through which this subjection is to be brought about, for humanity is the form in which the Saviour would eventually come. To humanity, therefore, God is presented as Elohim, and, humanity, being in His image and likeness, is the perfect creation for His purpose.

      But in the second chapter, a different picture is presented. The first man, Adam, is made a living soul formed by Yahweh Elohim as the Divine Potter, out of the soil of the ground. Thus man was made both soilish and soulish, and God takes on the role of Keeper or Preserver ( Neh.9:6). The name Yahweh (meaning "Who was, and is, and shall be") indicates the continuity of God's protection over the new vessel, and humanity will never be allowed to fall out of His hand. However, this does not mean that the vessel will not be found to be marred while remaining in the hand of God.

      In fact, the vessel which God made was soon to be marred, or ruined, in His hand. When once a thing displays a fault, it is ruined in God's sight, and has eventually to be remade.

      And so it was with humanity. In God's sight, the old humanity was eventually destroyed on the cross of Christ in order that the new humanity might be created "in righteousness and benignity of the truth" ( Eph.4:24). Thus we read, "Our old humanity was crucified together with Him" ( Rom.6:6) and, "Judging this, that if One died for the sake of all, consequently all died" ( 2 Cor.5: 14).

FIRST THE SOULISH, THEN THE SPIRITUAL

      The craft of the potter is thus the oldest in history, for it was first practiced by God Himself in the forming of humanity out of the clay, or soil, of the earth.[1] And God intended that the first vessel should become marred (ruined), for He made it soulish. It had to be first the soulish, then the spiritual, for we read in 1 Corinthians 15:45, "The first man, Adam, became a living soul; the last Adam a vivifying Spirit. But not first the spiritual, but the soulish, thereupon the spiritual."

[1] In a sense, the craft of the potter is even older than this, for the Hebrew word "itzr" ("yatsar" in Young's Concordance), translated "potter" in Jeremiah 18, also occurs in Isaiah 45:18, where it is used in relation to the coming into being of the earth itself. There we read, "For thus says Yahweh, Creator of the heavens; He is the Elohim, and Former of the earth, and its Maker. And He, He established it. He did not create it a chaos. He formed it to be indwelt." (The forming of the earth is described, in figurative language, in Job 38:4-8.)

      The same Hebrew word is also used (figuratively) in Isaiah 45:7 and Psalm 74:17, "Former of light and Creator of darkness, Maker of good and Creator of evil," and "Summer and winter, Thou dost form them."

      The fact that the soulish had to come first, and then the spiritual follow, is in conformity with scriptural practice. The primitive, or temporary, or less blest, comes first; the perfect and permanent and more blest comes afterwards. The principle is first illustrated in Genesis 1, where the evening precedes the morning in God's appraisal of the division of time which He termed a day. The first Adam had to fulfill his role in God's purpose before the last Adam appeared on the scene, just as Jacob had to come before Israel ("Upright with God"); or Saul, the people's king, had to come before David, the man after God's own heart; or Saul, the persecutor, before Paul, the apostle of Christ.

      We all know how Adam sinned and became, in consequence, subject to death. In the person of Adam, the old humanity became marred (ruined), but the concept of humanity, as being God's means of reconciling the universe to Himself, was not abandoned. On the contrary, God sent His own Son in the form of humanity, and in the likeness of sin's flesh, in order that sin itself should be crucified--dealt with to a finality--in the person of His Son. "The One not knowing sin God makes to be sin for our sakes that we may be becoming God's righteousness in Him" ( 2 Cor.5:21). (Note that here the word "offering," in light type, is not in the original, and is better omitted. Christ is indeed a sin-offering ( Heb.10:12), but here in Corinthians, the contrast is between sin and righteousness. Christ has been made to be sin for our sakes; we may be becoming God's righteousness in Him.)

"ALL SINNED AND ARE WANTING"

      The ruining of the old humanity is summarized by Paul in Romans 3:11. "Not one is just--not even one. Not one is understanding. Not one is seeking out God." This is an absolute statement. In other passages some are declared to be just, or righteous; for example, Abel, Lot, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joseph the husband of Mary, and Joseph of Arimathea, to mention a few. These are righteous because they are being measured by the standard of righteousness evident in their own times, and against the failure of their contemporaries to live up to this standard. Abel is righteous compared with Cain, Lot in contrast with the inhabitants of Sodom, Zechariah with the priesthood of his time, later shown to be corrupt by the actions of Ananias and Caiaphas. But here in Romans, not one is just, since each is being compared with the absolute righteousness of God as contained in the evangel proclaimed by Paul. "All sinned and are wanting of the glory of God" (v.23); there are no distinctions. None could keep the perfect law of God, nor of himself attain to His righteousness. The entire world becomes "subject to the just verdict of God, because, by works of law, no flesh at all shall be justified in His sight, for through law is the recognition of sin" (vs.19,20).

      Humanly speaking, we have reached an impasse comparable with that in which the erring celestials found themselves. By no means could humanity save itself. Without God's intervention there was no way out of the impasse.

JUSTIFIED GRATUITOUSLY

      But thankfully God has intervened. "Yet now, apart from law, a righteousness of God is manifest (being attested by the law and the prophets), yet a righteousness of God through Jesus Christ's faith," and this righteousness is "for all and on all who are believing."

      "Being justified gratuitously in His grace through the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus...."The clay is still in the Potter's hand, yet it can do nothing of itself to effect the result which the Potter desires. We are justified gratuitously, that is, without a cause. There is nothing within ourselves that would cause the Potter to do this. As Paul wrote elsewhere, "All is of God, Who conciliates us to Himself" ( 2 Cor.5:18).


LESSONS OF THE POTTER'S HOUSE
PART THREE

THE NEW VESSEL

IF, as we saw in our last study, the condemnation of the old humanity, because of sin, is absolute ("not one is just, not even one"), then the justification of the new humanity in Christ Jesus is equally absolute. "If any man is in Christ, there is a new creation: the primitive passed by. Lo! there has come new" ( 2 Cor.5:17). "Nothing, consequently, is now condemnation to those in Christ Jesus. Not according to flesh are they walking, but according to spirit" ( Rom.8:1). The perfection of the new humanity is guaranteed by the Divine Potter Himself. When God created humanity in His own image and likeness, He had the perfected vessel, the new humanity, in mind. Christ is the Head of the new humanity; the ecclesia is its firstfruits, and through Christ and His ecclesia is the reconciliation of all to be effected, and in the ecclesia and in Christ Jesus, God is to have the glory for the eons of the eons ( Eph.1:23; 3:21).

      The old humanity was infirm from the beginning. In its soulish nature were the factors which would lead to its being marred and consequently to its own destruction. its re-creation lies entirely in the hands, and according to the will, of the Potter.

      But the ruining of the old cannot affect the perfection of the new, since the latter is, in effect, a new creation. To bring about the new, the old had to be crushed in the Potter's hand. Or, to use another metaphor, our old humanity must be crucified together with Him if we are to put on the new ( Rom.6:6).

NOT JUDGING ONE ANOTHER</p>

      In Romans 14:10, Paul asks two very pertinent questions. He writes, "Now why are you judging your brother? Or why are you also scorning your brother?" Apparently, to judge our brother is bad enough; to scorn him is much worse. The apostle continues, "For all of us shall be presented at the dais of God, for it is written: Living am I, the Lord is saying, for to Me shall bow every knee, and every tongue shall be acclaiming God! Consequently, then, each of us shall be giving account concerning himself to God. By no means, then, should we still be judging one another, but rather decide this, not to place a stumbling block for a brother, or a snare."

      If we continue to see faults in one another, it is a sign that we are still acquainted with each other according to flesh (cf 2 Cor.5:16). We are seeing ourselves, and our brethren, as members of the old humanity instead of as members of the new. We are not judging the old to be (in God's sight) dead, crucified together with Christ, crushed in the hand of the Potter. In God's sight, we are already a new creation in Christ, for He sees us holy and flawless in Him. But in practice, we are still inhabiting these fleshly bodies of the old humanity, which presents us with problems. Yet we are exhorted, as regards our former behavior, to be putting off the old humanity and be putting on the new ( Eph.4:20-25), or to be stripping off the old with its practices and be putting on the young ( Col.3:8-11).

THE CELESTIALS LEARN THROUGH HUMANITY

      In Ephesians 3:10, we read...that now may be made known to the sovereignties and the authorities among the celestials, through the ecclesia, the multifarious wisdom of God, in accord with the purpose of the eons, which He makes in Christ Jesus, our Lord."

      To learn the ways of God, the celestials have to "go down to the Potter's house." No one finds it easy to accept instruction from, or through, those of lesser rank. The celestials must humble themselves sufficiently to be taught of God through observing His dealings with humanity. And these dealings with humanity included the putting to death of His Own Son--the One Who was the Firstborn of every creature--the One Whose Headship celestials had challenged. How completely strange are God's ways! Celestials challenged the Headship of Christ; God brought His Son down to the very lowest position in the universe, so that He was numbered among the transgressors and gibbeted on a Roman cross. Yet out of this humiliation of the Lord of glory, the way is opened for the reconciliation of all.

      The blood of Christ's cross is the means by which peace with God is restored, and the reconciliation of all creation is effected, and in this, those in heaven are included with those on earth ( Col.1:20). But it is the ecclesia which becomes the medium through which the multifarious wisdom of God is made known to the celestials, even to the sovereignties and authorities among them. The sovereignties and authorities are the highest ranks in their sphere; the ecclesia is chosen, in the main, from the lower ranks of humanity, which in itself is a lower creation, for only in such can God's grace be displayed to the uttermost.

LEARNING BY OBSERVATION AND EXPERIENCE

      There are two ways by which knowledge may be gained; one is from outside, by observation and hearing, and the other is by actual experience. The celestials are undoubtedly learning much by observing God's ways with humanity.

      Humanity itself has certainly learned by experience what it means to be estranged from God, and even God's Son, Who came in the form of humanity, but Who gave no cause whatever for estrangement from His Father, nevertheless was made to experience the terrible pangs of such a position. He, Who once said, "I and the Father are one" ( John 10:30), was to learn, in a most poignant way, what the temporary disruption of that oneness would mean.

      Christ was by no means afraid of the physical pain associated with crucifixion, nor was He frightened by the revilings of the mob, or of the judgment of the rulers. When He cried to His Father in Gethsemane, "If it is possible, let this cup pass by from Me," He was not asking to be relieved of any of these. No, what He felt to be approaching was the terrible darkness which would indicate the breaking, however temporarily, of the bond of unity between God and Himself. The darkness was unnatural. It came at noon, when normally the day would be at its brightest. The Son was carrying out His Father's will to the uttermost, and was entitled to receive the sunshine of the Father's smile. Instead, He experienced, for the one time in all eternity, the gloom of separation, and thereby learned the meaning of estrangement. He, the Firstborn, voluntarily became estranged from God; thereby opening the way for the long estrangement of others to be ended in complete reconciliation.

      Christ was God's Son, the Beloved, in Whom the Father constantly delighted. There was nothing in Christ's actions or conduct which could cause God to turn away from Him. No, it was because God laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. The One not knowing sin was made to be sin, and it was from this that God, in His absolute righteousness, turned away.

CHRIST'S OBEDIENCE UNTO DEATH

      What must the celestials have thought of all this? The One possessing the great honors of Colossians 1:15-17 was put to death on the cross. He was the Light of the world, yet God gave Him up to the powers of darkness. Satan had sought to usurp His Headship, yet God gave Him over to Satan's jurisdiction ( Luke 22: 53,54) and allowed Him to suffer ignominy and shame at the hands of Satan's followers, before being eventually crucified as a malefactor. Yet God did this for a purpose, and in the knowledge that He could rouse the stricken Saviour from the dead, and make Him the Firstborn of all who are to be subsequently roused. Indeed, because of Christ's obedience unto death, even the death of the cross, God could highly exalt Him, and give Him "the name that is above every name, that in the name of Jesus every knee should be bowing, celestial and terrestrial and subterranean, and every tongue should be acclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord, for the glory of God, the Father."

      First the emptying of Himself to take the form of humanity, and then the humbling of Himself to become obedient unto death... the celestials must have observed all this, and marvelled. This was the complete opposite of pride and usurpation, the antithesis of rebellion. And in it, they should be perceiving blessings accruing to themselves, for in "the blood of His cross," that is, in our Lord's sufferings while fulfilling all that was required of Him as the supreme Sacrifice, peace on behalf of all is made with God, and the reconciliation of all follows, those in the heavens as well as those on earth.

      In passing, we should note that Christ Himself learned much through His coming in the form of humanity--not just the meaning of estrangement, as we noted earlier, but also the meaning of obedience, as we read so revealingly in Hebrews 5:8. Christ had always been obedient to the Father's will, but obedience is not tested until it is accompanied by adversity. Christ was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. This is where His obedience was perfected, and in the experiences of Gethsemane and Golgotha, He learned the full meaning of the word.

GOD'S GRACE SHOWN TO THE ECCLESIA

      The ecclesia, which is the body of Christ, has also learned the ways of God by experience. All its members were at one time, in their nature, "children of indignation, even as the rest" ( Eph.2:3), all part of the same clay, and part of the old humanity, the vessel which became ruined in the hand of the Potter. But they have been saved in grace, owing nothing to anything that they might feel they could themselves contribute, but becoming solely and entirely His workmanship and "His achievement, being created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God makes ready beforehand, that [they] should be walking in them" ( Eph.2:10). They are being made part of that new humanity which is headed up in Christ; their bodies of humiliation will eventually be transfigured, to conform them to the body of His glory. In the oncoming eons, they will be used by God to display to the celestials the transcendent riches of that grace which is so evident in God's kindness to them in Christ Jesus, just as now they are being used by Him to make known to their leaders His multifarious wisdom.

      Surely the celestials must have marvelled when they saw the Lord Jesus, in His risen glory, arrest the chief persecutor of His followers, as he was on the way to Damascus breathing threats and murder, and transform him into a chosen vessel, a choice instrument to bear His name before both nations and kings, besides the sons of Israel ( Acts 9:15). And they must marvel, too, when they see God's choice of us, totally unworthy as we are, and yet being prepared for the reception of the highest honors. God's ways are not men's ways, nor are they the ways of any of His creatures, but He is operating all according to the counsel of His will, and in furtherance of His preconceived purpose, from which He has never deviated one iota.

      The members of the ecclesia have a prior expectancy, but not a sole expectancy. If we have been granted an insight into the purpose of God, let us understand that we shall be used by Him to make known His grace to others until ultimately it embraces all. Let us set an example by following Paul's injunction in Ephesians 4:22,23, where he writes, "put off from you, as regards your former behavior, the old humanity which is corrupting in accord with its seductive desires, yet to be rejuvenated in the spirit of your mind, and to put on the new humanity, which, in accord with God, is being created in righteousness." Thus may we be even now vessels, "utensils for honor, hallowed, and useful to the Owner, made ready for every good act" ( 2 Tim.2:21).

THE REST OF HUMANITY

      What are we to say about the rest of humanity, the vast bulk of mankind, including even those accountable for the betrayal and crucifixion of the Lord of glory? At best these are indifferent to God; at worst, they are hostile to Him. Yet the celestials will learn from these, too, for they will see the magnanimity and magnificence of the grace of God which is able and willing to save to the uttermost. And humanity itself will have a special reason for rejoicing when it hears the loud voice out of the throne saying, "Lo! the tabernacle of God is with mankind, and He will be tabernacling with them, and they will be His peoples, and God Himself will be with them. And He will be brushing away every tear from their eyes." What a delightful personal touch! "And death will be no more, nor mourning, nor clamor, nor misery; they will be no more, for the former things passed away" ( Rev.21:3,4).

      Celestials and humans will rejoice in both unison and harmony when God has made all new.


LESSONS OF THE POTTER'S HOUSE

PART FOUR
THE WORK COMPLETED

By John H Essex

IN the hands of the potter, the clay is powerless, but in his hands it can be adapted for any use that the potter may determine. And humanity in the hand of God is equally impotent, yet can be used by Him to achieve the purpose for which it was created in His image and likeness.

NONE CREATED IN VAIN

      At a first glance, so much of God's creation seems to have gone to waste. As Thomas Gray wrote in his well-known elegy,

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

      Among humanity, many have died, and have seemingly lived in vain. Of all the millions who have lived since Adam, only One has been without sin. Of all the millions of deaths since Adam, only one is of real value, and that is the death of Christ, for with His death is associated the repudiation of sin and the end of the old humanity.

      Yet, in reality, not one has died in vain, for all the universe is held within the hollow of God's hands, and all who have died will assuredly be restored, to be incorporated in that new vessel, the new humanity, which is being created in righteousness. "As, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified" ( 1 Cor.15:22). None of the clay is discarded as being of no value or concern to the Potter. Through Christ, all are to be reconciled to God, as we have already stressed several times.

FINAL THOUGHTS

      One lesson that must be learned by all is that no creature, be he celestial or human, was brought into being just for himself. All were created for God's glory and delight. "Out of Him and through Him and for Him is all" ( Rom.11:36). "Thou dost create all, and because of Thy will they were, and are, created" ( Rev.4: 11).

      When the work of the Divine Potter is completed, He will have on display a universe full of vessels in which He can find everlasting joy and satisfaction, for He will have put His all into each of them, and they will in turn rejoice in being His, without any possibility of them becoming marred again.

      To sum up, the work of the Divine Potter is perceived in His forming of humanity out of the soil of the ground. The vessel, through its being made soulish, was predesignated to become marred, or ruined, in His hand, and He will not be satisfied until He has made it anew.

      Israel, of course, is part of humanity, and the illustration given in Jeremiah 18, though related specifically to that nation, is in line with God's treatment of humanity as a whole. The principles are the same.

      We can perhaps summarize the position as follows: The celestials (or at least a large number of them) sinned, and became estranged from God. Humanity was created to be the intermediary through which they could be reconciled to Him.

      Humanity sinned, and in turn became estranged. It was unable to save itself, or even to provide a Saviour from its ranks, though eventually God would do this. In the meantime, Israel was chosen out of humanity to act as a kingdom of priests on humanity's behalf. Through Israel, and Israel alone, God was able to maintain communication with humanity, entrusting His oracles to them ( Rom.3:2).

      But Israel sinned, even while Moses was receiving the covenant, and became estranged because of her idolatry. She needed a priesthood herself to approach God with offerings on her behalf, and receive His blessings in return. The tribe of Levi was taken out of Israel to serve that nation in this capacity.

      The priesthood failed (witness Aaron's participation in the building of the golden calf), and needed to offer sacrifices for itself before it could intercede on behalf of the people. If perfection could have been found in the Levitical priesthood, there would have been no need for a different priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek ( Heb.7:11).

      All this gives evidence of the marring of the old and the need for replacement by the new. All this, too, points to the One--the One not knowing sin, the "one Mediator of God and mankind, a Man, Christ Jesus"--the Head of the new humanity, and designated in God's purpose to be Head over all. In Him all has its cohesion. Through Him all is to be reconciled to God.

      Christ Himself was crushed, though not because of any fault within Himself. It was prophesied of Him, in Isaiah 53:9, "For He does no wrong, and no deceit is in His mouth, yet Yahweh desires to crush Him." After His death and burial, He was roused by "the might of God's strength," which power is also operating in us, who were "designated beforehand according to the purpose of the One Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will." We are to be seen as "His achievement" ( Eph.l:ll; 2:10).

      It is on earth that God's purpose is, in the main, being enacted. All creation has to learn that it cannot exist of itself. All has need of God. This earth is, at present, the Potter's house, where the celestials, by studying His operations with and through humanity, can truly learn His ways. In the end, they, too, will rejoice in being part of His achievement, for His activities will extend to the ends of the universe, and He will be All in all.

THE POTTER'S HOUSE

 "Go to the potter's house!" There comes a call,
  And, like the prophet, I must needs obey.
  Upon the wheel a shapeless mass of clay
 Assumes at once a form symmetrical
 Beneath the master's fingers. Slim and tall,
  A lovely vase arises to display
  Its maker's skill, as well it seems it may;
 Till, with a suddenness, which must appall,
 The potter crushes it in one sharp blow.
   A hidden flaw has caused its swift return
 To former state. Fresh turns the wheel, and lo!
  A perfect bowl is formed. Thus I discern
 The hand of God, Who only will destroy
 To make anew for His transcendent joy.
                                                John H. Essex


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