Jeremiah tells us, “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).
From this portion of Scripture, some conclude that God determines the outcome of all. We, therefore, are left with the outcome He determines. This is fatalism in the name of God’s sovereignty. But God who is sovereign is not a fatalist. For this sovereign God, in His sovereignty, has chosen to let man play a part in his own outcome. The sovereign potter has chosen to give the human vessel responsibility—a choice that affects his or her future. How do we know this is the case? We need simply to continue in the very context of Jeremiah 18.
In the next verses of the account, God gives His own interpretation to the potter and clay illustration. It is amazing to me how often this follow-up portion is overlooked. But we must catch the power of God’s words.
God says, “O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel. At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them” (Jer. 18:6-10).
It must be noted that God says, If…then.
God, in His sovereignty, has chosen to let man play a responsible role that will affect the outcome. A faith response to God’s initiative, even if it is seeking God in response to God’s pronouncement of chastisement, accesses a blessed, reviving outcome. God prefers to revive rather than to judge! But an unbelieving response of carelessness that ignores God, even when He pronounces blessing, will miss out on blessing. Man’s response to God affects the outcome. God says so.
This is our sovereign God’s way. God stirs; faith responds; God works. Sandwiched between God’s grace to stir and His grace to revive is man’s faith. God’s way is all of grace since faith is not a work, but rather dependence on the worker—on God. When man responds to God in faith, God responds to those who respond to God.
God’s point in detailing this interpretation of the potter and the clay is in the following verse. He says to Jeremiah, “Now therefore go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good” (Jer. 18:11). Based on His own interpretation, God has promised to repent of His pronounced judgment if His people would return to Him.
The songwriter sums up a faith response:
Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Thou art the potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.
These lyrics beautifully illustrate the faith response to the Potter. It’s a matter of faith, not fate.
John Van Gelderen