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Lessons from the Master Potter (extended version)

Life was meant to be full of trials, tests and temptations — all intended to be the means
of building beautiful, God-like character in man.
Isaiah, Elihu and Paul all used the analogy of the potter and the clay.
Jeremiah was advised to go to the potter's house to learn how God works with men to mold them in His spiritual image.
In this article these important principles are clearly and interestingly explained.


MANY OF YOU have experienced — or are experiencing — severe trials and tests. Unfortunately, some buckle under the pressure, instead of learning the vital lessons these trials are intended to teach us.

We all want to endure and conquer trials and temptations. But in order to do so, you must understand why your Creator designed your life to be "a seemingly unending multiplicity" of PROBLEMS.


God's Great Design

Sir Winston Churchill, speaking before the U.S. Senate in Washington on December 26th, 1941, said: "He must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some GREAT PURPOSE AND DESIGN is being worked out here below of which we have the honor to be faithful servants."

What is the "great purpose and design" which God Almighty is working out "here below" on this good earth?


The Potter and the Clay

The prophet Isaiah understood man was merely a "clay model" — to be formed and fashioned by the hand of his Creator. "O Lord, thou art our father; we are the CLAY, and thou our POTTER; and we all are the work of thy hand" (Isa. 64:8). The Apostle Paul uses the same imagery or symbolism of the potter and the clay in Romans 9:21-23.

God compares Himself to the MASTER POTTER. And all mankind is likened to CLAY. "I also am formed out of the clay," said Job's friend, Elihu (Job 33:6). Yes, man is made out of clay — we are Just the clay model which God created for the specific purpose of molding into the image of His perfect character!


The Potter's Amazing Wheel

A few years ago I had the interesting experience of seeing a potter at work with a potter's wheel near Luxor, Egypt. It was truly fascinating to watch the skillful Egyptian potter at work.

He would take a lump of moist clay and put it upon his potter's wheel, which he kept turning with his foot. Within only a matter of seconds, the lump of clay would, as if by a miracle, quickly take the shape of a cup, a jug, an earthen pot, or a vessel of some sort. The old Egyptian potter kept some water within easy reach and would, from time to time, put a little more water on the lump of clay to make it more malleable.

Millenniums ago, the prophet Jeremiah was told to "go down to the potter's house" in order to learn a similar lesson (see Jer. 18:1, 2). "Then I went down," says Jeremiah, "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. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 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" (Jer. 18:3-6).

It is interesting to note that a potter has to keep the lump of clay on dead center of his potter's wheel — otherwise the lump of clay will begin to wobble, and this will cause the vessel to have an uneven or irregular shape instead of being perfectly round.

So it is with the Master Potter and us. He has to keep us on dead center of His Way, or we will begin to "wobble" and develop "spiritual irregularities" —imperfect, marred spiritual character. God must continually nudge us — or shove us — back to dead center as we continually veer to the right or to the left!

Before we can really understand the marvelous lessons to be learned from the potter-and-the-clay illustration given by Isaiah, we need to examine briefly some of the important, interesting and valuable steps in making pottery. This will enable you to see just how the great Master Potter deals with you — His "clay models."

Seven Vital Steps

For years I have known one of Britain's foremost pottery sculptors. He has, on numerous occasions, explained to me some of the fascinating aspects of his art.

There are seven important steps in pottery making. First, let us briefly examine these seven steps. Then we shall draw the crucial spiritual analogy — how God actually develops spiritual character within the lives of the "clay models" with whom He is directly dealing.

(1) The Master Potter must first SELECT the type of clay which he wants to use in making a specific piece of pottery. There are many types and colors of clays — each with its own particular advantages.

(2) The potter then lets this clay age, weather, or ferment — until it "STINKS" and is therefore ready for use.

(3) Next, the potter WEDGES — kneads, beats, treads upon or pummels — the clay to remove lumps, air bubbles, etc., and to make it more pliable.

(4) The potter is then ready to begin actually shaping and forming the clay into whatever shape or design he chosen. Throughout this process it is necessary to add WATER or oil. to keep the clay malleable.

(5) Once the potter has shaped the clay, he then puts it into a furnace (or kiln) where it is heated until it reaches its "maturing point." This initial BAKING, or FIRING in the furnace, permanently sets or hardens the vessel in its desired form so that it can never be altered.

(6) After the first firing of the clay model, it is removed from the fire, let cool, DECORATED and finally glazed over. This newly-glazed pottery is then given a second firing to bake these decorations onto the clay model. (There are often several decorations and firings before the pottery vessel reaches its ultimate perfection of beauty. The FINAL DECORATIVE WORK may include fine gold, silver or other beautiful and precious metals arrayed in artistic patterns)

(7) Finally the potter is ready to JUDGE his work. If the clay model hasn't cracked, exploded or become marred in some way during these firings, it is at last ready to be used in whatever manner the designer and creator may decide.

The Crucial Analogy

Now let us understand the spiritual application of these seven vital steps in pottery making. We will thus acquire a much deeper comprehension of exactly how the Great Master Potter deals with us moral clay models.

Remember this is God's analogy — not mine!


FIRST: God Must Choose Us

Choosing the clay.

Just as the potter chooses the type and color of clay which he will use, so God chooses the individuals which He will use.

Different kinds of clays obviously have different properties. Some are more malleable than others. Some are better for one type of work and some for another. Likewise with different human begins. The potter must decide which color and type of clay he will use — before he begins his work.

By looking at the illustration of the potter and the clay, we first learn (draw the parallel) that God must always choose us. We never choose Him — any more than the clay chooses the potter who will shape and mold it.

Christ said to His own disciples: "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you . . ." (John 15:16). He also told the disciples, "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him" (John 6:44, 65).

All right — God has chosen you. But why? Many in God's Church often ask this question: "Why has God chosen me? What have I done?" The answer is not what you have done, but what you will do; because you have been chosen for a specific purpose.


SECOND: Our Stinking Sins

Weathering the clay.

After a potter selects the clay he wishes to use, he must then let the clay weather, age, ferment, sour — and it often literally "stinks."

"Aging the clay — that is, keeping it moist in a container for several months — makes it better to work with. (Don't worry if your clay begins to smell bad — that's really a good sign.) Sometimes inoculating a fresh batch of clay with some of an old batch promotes the growth of bacteria and so helps plasticity" (The Complete Book of Pottery Making, John B. Kenny).

Also notice how Bernard Leach describes this same important aging process in A Potter's Book: "Clay is improved by long storage; it gains in plasticity, its decomposition continues, it changes color, and may even begin to STINK. I have been told of old potters who speak of such matured, or soured clay with the quiet impressiveness of epicures discussing vintage wines." The author then states: "The storage of plastic clay over long periods increases its plasticity by combining the water more intimately with the clay, and also by continuing the process of decomposition whereby the pure clay content is increased. Some clays alter their color and give off a bad smell."

It is commonly known among potters that clay which matures — which has literally come to "stink" — is more malleable than unmatured clay.

What lesson are we to draw from this?

Simply this. God cannot really begin to deal with us — cannot begin to convert (change) us and bring us to the place of true repentance — until we have come to "stink" in our own eyes!

Many scriptures show that our sins are a continuous stench in the nostrils of God. "but we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness’s are as filthy rags . . ." (Isa. 64:6-8).

Until we come to see that we have sinned grievously against the Great God of Heaven, and acknowledge that we are stinking and foul in His sight — then we can't possibly even begin to repent and approach God.

Christ summed it up: "For I am not come to call the [self] righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Matt. 9:13).


THIRD: Why Beat Clay?

Wedging the clay.

Before the clay is ready for use it must be beaten and pummeled — "bashed around a bit" — to help remove any AIR POCKETS and also to break up the HARD LUMPS in the clay. This makes the clay more plastic — and consequently more easily shaped.

What is the significance of this WEDGING of the clay?

God has to rebuke and chasten us — He has to subject us to some tough and unpleasant circumstances before we will really repent.

just as a potter cannot properly work clay which hasn't been thoroughly wedged (beaten and pummeled — to break up the hard lumps and to expel the air bubbles) so God can't properly work with us until we repent of our self-righteous hardness of heart and our wind of vanity — both of which puff us up and prevent us from yielding to God (I Cor. 5:6-8).