"And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel…" Jer. 18:4
THE burden that is on my heart is that of a message to those who have failed and are conscious of their failure. They have been led step by step in the ways of truth, and it has suddenly dawned upon them that their failure before the world has reflected upon the character of God. This, to them, as to all of us, is a searching and humiliating experience. We must never forget that God's character is committed to His people; when they fail, He fails; His name is beclouded and His lustre dimmed. Men are not drawn to Him but driven from Him. The message therefore is one that very closely touches our lives in their deepest meaning and fullest responsibility. How many there are today whose inner peace has been destroyed by this consciousness. The joy they once had is gone. They know nothing of a God-controlled and Holy Ghost-unified personality. Others may sing:
"Jesus! I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art,
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart".
But that is not their experience, much as they wish it were. Over and over again I have been asked by men and women: "Can I ever get back what I have lost?" "Can failure be atoned for?" "Is God's great scheme of redemption for the waste places?" “Can a marred vessel be made again?" This is now our consideration, and I would suggest four Points:
1. We see A Vessel Made: Here with something in his hand, from to make a vessel. what he holds is there provision in for the rebuilding words: "Can the This is now our your attention to we see the potter which he is going a lump of day, but from that lump of clay he is going to make a vessel that will enhance his reputation as a potter. The vessel is to be a new creation—a thing of beauty. Notice that the vessel made is in the hand of the potter. While it is true that the vessel is a marred vessel, it is still in His hand. He did not throw it on the waste heap. It is still held and regarded as a vessel, suggesting that a major work has been accomplished and something new is now visible to the eyes of men; something never seen before, but now obvious to all.
As we turn to the New Testament we find reference again and again to man being made. Paul, in writing to the Ephesians, speaks of His creation: "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (2.:10); or again, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" (2 Cor. 5.17). This verse speaks of the work of regeneration, which must be regarded as a major work. We do well to remind ourselves that this is essential, bringing us back to the words of our Saviour, addressed to Nicodemus: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see" — far less enter — "the Kingdom of God" (John 3.3).
There is not a question in all the range of thought so vital in its issue as this one — Am I a new creature? Have I been born again? To talk of being a Christian apart from the experience of the new nature is to demonstrate an ignorance that is colossal! It was Thomas Arnold who said: "He who does not know God, the Holy Ghost, does not know God at all," and Oswald Chambers points out in one of his books, that the new life will manifest itself in "conscious repentance and unconscious holiness."
There is a great deal of talk today about 'follow-up' work, and here I do not wish to be rnisunderstood. There is a place for 'follow-up' work in the way of giving instruction to young converts, but it is my firm conviction that if a soul is truly born again of the Spirit of God and brought into saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, the question of 'follow-up' work does not present a problem. Paul sets this truth in clear light "As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word" (1 Peter 2.2). Similarly, when a soul is born again, created within that soul are aspirations after God. Just as a lamb ruins after the mother and not the mother after the lamb, the truly regenerate soul will seek after pastures where he can be fed. This is something we need to emphasize these days when there is so much unreality among those who respond to appeals made. The doctrine of 'only-believism' has, I fear, produced a harvest of sceptics!
What is the difference between an imitation rose, man-made, and the real? One lacks life and perfume; the other fills the room with its fragrance. There may be a strong resemblance, but the difference is fundamental. So I ask again, "Have you been made; and can you with confidence and conviction say: 'I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day' (2 Tim. 1:12).
2. Notice also that the Vessel Made was Marred: Some foreign substance had remained, or in process of making had got into the clay, so the work of the potter was spoiled. Among the dire tragedies recorded in the Word of God none are more arresting than records of men who have turned aside after they have known the will of God and its personal implications for their lives. A moment came in their experience when they stood at the crossroads. The voice of God said: "This is the, way, walk ye in it," but the lure of a lesser loyalty made a stronger appeal, and life's glorious possibilities were sacrificed in one tragic surrender. I shall never forget the cry of a young schoolteacher, as with team she said: "Can I ever get back what I lost?"
It is true that the marred vessel cannot be wed as He ordained it to be used. There is a sense in which it is true that
"So now tracketh wrong,
As echo follows song;
On, on, on!"
But the glory of the Gospel lies in this act, that the marred vessel can be made again.. Almighty love and power are not finally contradicted by human unfaithfulness.
Years ago, I remember hearing a Keswick speaker tell of a man who was serving a seven-year sentence in one of our penal settlements, who, while there, came to know the recovering power of the blood of Christ, and on the fly-leaf of the Bible in his cell he wrote the words:
"But the soul that comes to Jesus,
Through failure, shame or pain;
By His wondrous love and mercy,
May soar as high again".
and requested that this verse be added to the unscriptural poem entitled, The Bird with the Broken Wing.
3. We now see that the Vessel is Made Again: It is the glory of the Gospel that men who have failed can be made again, and in this connection I think of Peter so often referred to. If ever a man failed it was Peter; yet it was to Peter Jesus said, "Lovest thou Me?" (John 21. 17). What comfort this brings to my own heart; that it was to Peter who was guilty of denial and cursing, Jesus said, "Peter, do you love Me?" Jesus did not speak to Peter concerning his failure, but about the still living possibilities of his life and affection.
Rita Snowdon in her book, I Believe in the Dawn, says: "You ask me what forgiveness is? I answer, it is the wonder of being trusted again by God in the place where I disgraced Him." What a Gospel to proclaim! What a Saviour to know, that irrespective of our failures He comes to speak words of pardon and deliverance, so that the 'waste places' are built again, and 'the years that the locust hath eaten' and restored. (See 1 Sa. 58:12; 61: 4; Joel 2:25).
"Him who pardon'd erring Peter,
Never need'st thou fear;
He that came to faithless Thomas,
All thy doubts will clear.
He who let the loved disciple On His bosom rest.
Bids thee still, with love as tender,
Lean upon His breast".
Have you ever been to a pottery that manufactures delicate china? When a potter moulds or fashions a delicate vessel he first puts it in the furnace in order that the dross may be burned out. Then he puts it back into the furnace, but not before he paints a flower or a crest on it. The purpose of this second burning is to burn in the pattern. That, surely, is the double function of the Holy Spirit; first to cleanse and then to indwell us by the life of Jesus.
Now, let me say most emphatically, that this mighty work of cleansing and indwelling is absolutely necessary if the truth of God is to be translated in our lives. We make our vows and resolutions, but these will not carry us very far. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh" (John 3.6). But that which is the outcome of this indwelling is the character and life of Christ.
Let us come to God now, in the confidence that He who made us, knows us; that He against whom we have sinned is the only One who can deal adequately with our sins: believing that there is no refuge from truth but in truth itself no refuge from the truth of my sin and failure save in the ultimate truth of God's mercy and grace.
There is a very significant passage in 2 Kings 2.19, regarding the healing of the bitter waters. You will recall that the men of the city said to Elisha: "The situation of this city is pleasant, but the water is naught and the ground barren." Labour as they would, the ground would not yield, so they tell the Prophet; and he suggests a cure. If the water is to be made good, they must deal with the spring. The salt could not work any healing virtue to the stream until it came into contact with the fountain, but the moment that happened the stream became clean.
Here the salt represents the cleansing power of God, that makes possible heart purity, and surely this is what John is referring to when he speaks of the blood of Jesus cleansing from all sin. This is our need, when sin exerts itself and we know its power; when by its power we are held in bondage; when self-loathing is a symptom of its hatefulness, surely our dire need is for God to deal with the cause, and thank God, He can do it.
And so Paul prayed: "And the very God of peace sanctify, you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the corning of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 5:23). Does he not suggest here that when this experience is actual and real there is nothing to censure? I believe that our whole disposition can be so supernaturally altered, that the life also of Jesus can be made manifest through our mortal flesh. We speak of the sins of the body and the sins of the Spirit; of root and fruit; of cause and effect; of the governing principle and its production. Here is a power coming into operation that deals with both.
I have often been amazed at the argument put forward by the advocates of a limited atonement, that the redemptive work of Jesus does not effect a complete deliverance from sin here and now! But surely, if we are desirous of honouring God, the best way in which to honour Him, is to give Him full credit for the excellency of His work in redemption. Was not Jesus manifested to "destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3.8), and is He not "able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him" (Heb. 7.25)? Surely this is the Gospel we believe in and which we glory to proclaim! The hymn-writer sets it in clear light in the words:
"Love brings the glorious fullness in,
And to His saints makes known
The blessed rest from inbred sin,
Thro' faith in Christ alone".
I would, however, point out that this life can only be entered through a full and uncalculated yielding of ourselves, without our yielding being hedged round by conditions.
Is this the life you desire? If so, are you prepared to place every key in the hands of Christ? I know how possible it is to hand over every key but one, but it is that one held back which determines whether you accept the Lordship of Christ or not. Andrew Murray when addressing a meeting here in Scotland is reported to have said: "It is comparatively easy to win people to a cross, but to a cross that leaves them uncrucified." So I close by asking, are you conscious of failure? If so, will you come to the Saviour now and discover that He can make you again and organize glorious victory on the field of your defeat, and with David say:
"Do Thou with hyssop sprinkle me,
I shall be cleansed so;
Yea, wash Thou me, and then I shall
Be whiter than the snow
"Of gladness and joyfulness
Make me to hear the voice;
That so these very bones which Thou
Hast broken may rejoice".