The Potter's Portrait

The Potter’s Portrait

Boyd Nicholson

Scripture Reading — Jer. 18:1-6; Isa. 64:8.

God in His wondrous grace, fully knowing our inability to comprehend infinity, has painted pictures for us in His Word. By these we are enabled by the Spirit of God Himself to learn something of His supernal character and glorious works.

In the 23rd. Psalm there is pictured the Shepherd. In bold relief this masterpiece has been before the eyes of the saints these many centuries, yet it’s full depth, its mysterious shadows never fail to draw the soul to that Majestic Figure Who is the focal point of that incomparable word picture.

Many other pictures spring to mind, each with its own peculiar value. As we scan these masterpieces, there is one that might not halt our gaze, perhaps because it seems to be rather plain, a little drab, with few objects of interest in it. Stay a while, and before long we shall see a rare beauty we would have missed had we hurried by.

Three things capture our gaze: a lump of clay, an instrument, and a potter. Our eyes are soon led to the able, strong, yet gentle hands of the potter, and we see the whole scene is portrayed within the confines of the potters house.

In a moment we discern the substance of this striking picture: The clay in the potter’s house, the instrument under the potter’s hand, and the potter with a potter’s heart.

We think of the clay and notice three things characterize this lump.

Its locality: it was in the potter’s house. It was not always there. Not long before it had been part of all the clay in the miry pit. It had the same creation and the same character as the rest, and would have had the same end too, but the potter came, came right down to where the clay was, dug it up and made it his own, taking it into his house. No fragrance from it fills the potter’s house, no beauty of it ornaments that house, yet there it was separated from the clay in the pit, and brought right into the house and set nearby the potter himself. Thus we see in our picture, not just clay, but ourselves. We look to the hole of the pit from whence we have been digged. Unlovely, unworthy, and unable to do anything but remain in the mire of sin until the day the Potter came, dug us out, made us His own, and put us in His house. Let us never forget the Potter’s labours on our behalf; it might have been, not the Potter’s house, but Hell.

Having noticed the locality of the clay, we think of its availability to the potter’s hand. It is not enough to be in the house; it must be near his hand. Again we discern ourselves. It is not enough to be made comfortable; we must be available.

Our thoughts develop. Locality, availability, is that enough for the clay? No, for it may be in the house, be near the potter’s hand, but if it is not workable it is worthless. Pliability is a prime requisite if the clay is going to be made into a vessel fit for use.

Pliability can be expressed best in the words of the Lord Jesus, “Not My will, but Thine be done.” How are we made pliable? How is the clay made pliable? It is by the application of water. The constant application of the water of the Word by the Spirit of God will produce in us that desirable characteristic, pliability.

We shift our attention from the clay to the instrument on which the potter works. It makes us think of the circumstances of life that whirl around the frightened soul. We often wonder what will happen next.

This is the instrument on which the clay is placed, that by its movements, and the skill of the potter, it will appear a thing of beauty and usefulness.

This instrument is a constructive instrument. Could it be that the reader is seemingly being whirled around by circumstance; Perhaps being forced into a situation over which he has no control? It may be you are called upon to pull up well-fastened stakes and move far from friends and the environment that seems a part of your very life. The question arises, Why? The wheel of circumstance is the very instrument the Divine Potter has placed you on, that He might fashion you into a vessel for His service and satisfaction.

As we ponder this picture, we notice that all the time the clay is on the wheel, the potter’s hand in on the clay. Those hands, though gentle are strong and marked by the hard labour of digging the clay. No easy task that! Already our minds think of other hands. The hands of the Great Potter that show forever the marks of His labour and love. Trust those hands and do not fear the whirl of circumstance, for though they work, they work together for good, to them that love God.

As we look at the instrument, we see it is a constraining- instrument. The clay does not determine the movements of the wheel. No, it is the wheel that moves the clay. Thus it is with us. It seems that circumstances carry us along in spite of our efforts to reverse them. Let us submit to them peaceably and find a rest of spirit and mind that possibly we have not experienced before.

Says one, how do I know that my circumstances are the will of God for me? Remember, we are not considering the condition of the clay, but the circumstances of the clay. For the answer to this question, we look at the instrument. Did it control itself? Did the clay control it? No. It is controlled by the potter.

What does he control? Both the direction and the speed. How much more the Divine Potter controls every turn of circumstance. He controls the direction, that is the “where,” and He controls the speed, that is the “when.” Did not Job know this? “He knoweth the way I take.” Was not David confident of this? “My times are in Thy hands.” What solid comfort this is to the worried saint, confused and fearful! Take heart, you are being wrought upon the Potter’s wheel for a specific purpose, perhaps known only to the Potter Himself.

As we stand and direct our attention to the potter, we are impressed with his depth of character. The confidence with which he works proves his skill, that he is able: able to discern the great possibilities in the rude lump of clay, able to design a vessel for a great purpose and able to display the finished vessel to the praise of his glory. This one is no apprentice; he is an artificer who can begin with the shapeless clay and produce his own design as a tangible expression of his own thoughts.

How wonderful to think of our Blessed Lord able to save, able to keep, able to present us … (“us” mind you) faultless! When He does, I am persuaded that He will receive the homage and adoration He so rightly deserves.

Our eyes leave his face to look at his tools. We learn not only He is able, but He is gentle. No anvil stands by, nor do we see an axe with its destructive blade, nor is there an awl to pierce. Where are his tools? What are they? His hands! How gently he moulds the spinning clay into shape! Under tender pressure the vessel takes shape. How gentle, how tender are the Master Potter’s hands. We can all testify to that. How gentle have the Potter’s hands been upon us! Desiring no hurt, tenderly He works, that we may be usable some day.

By a careful scrutiny we discern another quality in the potter himself. He is patient. The vessel that he had planned, suddenly was marred. Perhaps as we consider this, our minds are already thinking of our own experience. The Divine Potter has wrought upon us, all seemed to be going well, when suddenly … marred. Perhaps the grit of self-will did it, perhaps, the bubble of pride. It may be that the mar was a mark of impurity. Whatever it may have been is of secondary importance. The fact is the vessel was marred. How thankful we all should be for the patience of the Potter! Instead of casting the marred vessel aside, He made it again.

Let me leave this word in your ear. Do you feel that you have missed God’s plan for your life? Do you feel that there has been so little for God? Now your little day is almost gone and you feel discouraged. Then hear this, He is patient and is both able and willing to make something even yet out of your life that will still be for His glory … if … you will just get back to the beginning again. Remember, you are nothing in yourselves but unlovely clay. Make yourselves available to Him. Be pliable in His hand, and He will make you again another vessel as seemeth good to Him.

You may be faced with the problem of a career. Remember, He is able to make you a vessel for His use. Perhaps you are older, in the whirling circumstances of life, and you wonder at His dealings with you. He is gentle and will not allow you to remain on the wheel a moment longer than is necessary for His design to be wrought into your character. It may be that the reader is in the evening of life and retrospect brings to mind much uselessness and failure.

Here is the message for you, He is patient. He can, yes, make of you, a useful vessel through which He can bless many.

We are about to turn from the picture when, as though in the distance through a little window of the potter’s house, a little patch of colour catches our eye. What can this be? It is the potter’s field, the place where the hard unyielding clay is cast, the place that later is bought “to bury strangers in,” at once a place of disuse, dishonour, and of death. The thought is solemn, we cannot play fast and loose with the will of God. There comes a time if the clay is unyielding and hard it must be cast aside into the place of uselessness.

Let us face it, it is either His will or ours, a submitting to His design or a rebelling against it. It is the Potter’s wheel or the pleasures of the world, the Potter’s hand or the world’s fist. It is to revel in the enjoyment of that full love from the Potter’s heart or languish in the potter’s field.

May it be “that He might make known of His glory on the vessels of mercy … even us, whom He hath called.”