But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we are all the work of thy hand. Isaiah 64:8
But now, O Lord!
There is another side to our case, Thy side, the divine, the eternal, the unchangeable side, the aspect that concerns Thy faithfulness, and the glory of Thy name!
Hitherto we presented our side.
And considering all that is with us, there can be no hope.
All is dark, and there is no prospect of light, even of the faintest glimmer; all is worthy of condemnation and there is no ground of presenting any plea for pardon; all is destruction and there is no hope of salvation; all is death and why should we look for life?
For we know that Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember Thee in Thy ways. But we have sinned, and Thou art righteous and very wroth. We are all as an unclean thing, and even our righteousness, those works which we considered good, the very best of them, even our piety and our service of Thee, even our sacrifices and our prayers, are as filthy rags. Therefore we fade as a leaf, and our iniquities are like a mighty wind that carry us away. There is no help. There appears to be no way out. We must surely perish. Why should anyone still call upon Thy name, seeing there is no ground for pleading with Thee? There is none! Our supplications have died upon our lips. There is no one that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee. We cannot approach Thee. Thy face is hid from us, and we cannot find Thee. Already we are consumed because of our iniquities. . . .
Such is our side of the case. All is hopeless!
But now, O Lord!
Surely, though we have sinned and have nothing more to say, things cannot remain as they are!
For, where now is Thy covenant, where are Thy promises?
Thy holy cities are a wilderness, Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem is a desolation. Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised Thee, is burned up with fire, and all our pleasant things are laid waste. Thy covenant is trodden under foot. . . .
And that cannot be!
And though there is no hope on our side, no basis on which we may plead, we still present to Thee our supplications. For Thy name’s sake!
For Thou art our Father!
We are the clay, Thou art the Potter!
Thy work we are!
God’s sovereign grace!
Sole hope of our salvation!
Where would be our assurance and our hope, that God will surely save His people and preserve His church and glorify the portion of His inheritance, if in any measure they were the product of their own efforts, the work of their own making, the design of their own ingenuity, the choice of their own will?
Where would be the ground on which to plead for deliverance and restoration, when Jehovah is very wroth with our iniquities, when He hides His face from us because of our sins, when we must confess that we are all like a filthy rag and that even our righteousnesses are unclean?
His work are the people of God!
He is their Father!
It is He, and this has all the emphasis in the text, as is evident from the further statement that He is the Potter and we are the clay, Who brought forth His people by a conscious and deliberate, sovereignly free act of His determinate will. Nothing determined Him in the formation of His church, nothing in us, nothing in man, no goodness that influenced His choice, no work that put a claim on His favor, no faithfulness that determined His will; nothing but His own absolutely free and sovereign grace, His divine good pleasure to glorify His name, to reveal Himself, to reflect and make known the beauty of His own adorable being, to create a people that should taste the everlasting pleasures there are at His right hand. The motive is all and only in Himself. He conceived us in His eternal mind. He willed us in His divine good pleasure!
But now, Thou art our Father!
Eternally Thou hast willed us to be Thy people; and the eternal will changeth not! Oh, that Thou wouldest rend the heavens!
For not only did He conceive and will His people in His eternal good pleasure, but He also forms them in time. That there is a people of God in the world, that there was an Israel of God in the old dispensation and that there is a church of Christ in the new, is solely to be attributed to the execution of His sovereign will. He justifies them in the blood of His Son, He quickens them by the power of His grace, He calls them by His almighty Word, He sanctifies them by His own Spirit, He lays His praises on their lips, that they might proclaim the virtues of Him that called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.
Purely, solely, exclusively we are the work of His hands!
Thou art our Father!
Oh, that Thou wouldest come down!
For how should He forsake His own handiwork? Is He not our Father? And does this not imply even more than merely the fact that He sovereignly willed us and called us into being? Does not His fatherhood of His people also imply that they are formed after His own likeness? Did He not ordain His children individually so that they should be conformed to the image of His own Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren; and did He not conceive of the church as a whole in order that in manifold ways she might be the reflection of His own divine beauty? How, then, can Jerusalem ever remain a desolation? Will He, then, give His glory to another? Will He allow the beauty of His own image to be marred?
Oh, that Thou wouldest rend the heavens!
That Thou wouldest cause Thy eternity to break into our time, Thy righteousness into our unrighteousness, Thy glory into our shame, Thy salvation into our desolation!
For Thou art our Father!
And this fatherhood surely means that He loves us. For, even as there is a communion of life between God and His people, so there is a communion of love. And as this love is emphatically His love, not ours, it follows that the life-current of this love can never cease to flow. He will always love us, always want us, always seek us, till we shall be with Him forever in heavenly perfection. . . .
Surely, we have sinned!
Our iniquities testify against us!
But even so, O Lord, Thou art our Father! Thou hast willed us freely, Thou hast made us sovereignly, Thou hast loved us eternally. . . .
Be not wroth very sore, O Lord!
Wilt Thou hold Thy peace and afflict us very sore?
Canst Thou leave Jerusalem a desolation?
O, save us by Thy grace!
Sovereign divine power!
Sole hope of our ultimate deliverance!
For where would be our hope of salvation if His power were limited by the work of His hands, if His purpose could be thwarted by the will and choice of man, if by us His power were made powerless?
If our resistance really resisted Him?
There would be no hope!
For we do always resist Him! We never will His will. We ever refuse to work His work. Always we must confess: we are as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And, were His sovereign power hampered by our rebellion, this must surely be the very last we possibly could say. Were God not sovereignly the first and the last, we must surely be the last; and if we are the last, we must surely perish, for that “last” will still find us in our rebellion and iniquity. Then every plea for salvation must be choked back, every prayer for deliverance must die on our lips and there could be none that would call upon His name, that would stir himself up to take hold of the Almighty. And the very last would be inevitably: “Thou hast hid Thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.”
With us there is no righteousness, no plea, no hope.
But now, O Lord!
Thou art the Potter, we are the clay!
Unlimited sovereignty! Unhampered power there is with our God!
Such are the implications of the well-known figure the church employs here as a ground of her prayer for deliverance and final salvation. The potter hath power over the clay in a twofold sense. First of all, his is the right, the sole prerogative, to make of the clay whatever vessel it pleaseth him to design and to form. The clay has no right. Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it: what makest thou? And secondly, the potter has the might, the ability, the strength to make whatever he will. The clay does not resist him. He molds it into whatever shape he designed. Unlimited freedom and unhampered power are illustrated in the figure of the potter and the clay.
And these are indeed with God, even in relation to the children of men.
More sovereign is He, indeed, and more unlimited and free in the formation of His handiwork than the potter is with respect to the clay. For the latter does not make the clay, is to a certain extent determined in his work by the very nature of the material in which he produces his designs, is limited also in these very designs; but the sovereign power of the Almighty is absolute! Sovereign is He in His designs; freely He makes the material subservient to His purpose; and His only is the authority, the prerogative, and the power to execute His will.
Thou art the potter; we are the clay!
It is the church that is making this confession.
For truly, the figure of the potter and the clay applies with equal force to the ungodly. He is merciful to whom He will be merciful, and whom He will He hardens. Sovereign He is also to make vessels unto dishonor, fitted unto destruction. And this appeal to His divine sovereignty is the last answer to him that rebelliously would reply against the Most High. But here the church, the vessels unto honor are pleading with their God, Who formed them, appealing to His unlimited right and might and power and strength as a ground for their supplications.
Unto vessels of honor and glory He designed us, both as a church and as individual believers, fitted each one into the place He designed for us.
Shall, then, that purpose be thwarted? Is it possible that His eternal design fails to be executed? Shall Jerusalem remain a desolation, Zion and His holy cities be left a wilderness, our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised Him, be left a heap of ruins, the vessels unto honor be given over unto destruction? Shall the Most High say: “I designed you unto glory, but your iniquities made it impossible to carry out my design”? Shall He fail in His purpose to make us reflections of His glory, because we corrupt our way? Shall He cease to love, because we failed to love Him?
Surely, our iniquities testify against us.
On our side there is no hope!
But now, O Lord, we are after all the clay, Thou art the potter!
On Thy absolute sovereignty and might we plead! Even our sins cannot hamper Thee, neither make it impossible for Thee to mold us into vessels unto honor!
On this we plead, not because we would excuse our iniquities, for which we profess to be sorry, from which we long to be delivered.
But because we long for Thy salvation!
We would see Thy glory!
Oh, rend the heavens!
For Thy name’s sake, O Lord!
As far as we are concerned, Thou mightest forsake us, leave Jerusalem a desolation and Zion a wilderness!
For sin and iniquity is on our side, and nothing else.
But we are all the work of Thy hands!
In Thy work there can be nothing of our work. Thou hast loved us from before the foundation of the world. Thou hast designed us with sovereign freedom in Thy eternal counsel unto Thine own glorious inheritance, so that we should be to the praise of the glory of Thy grace in the beloved. Thou hast ordained that we should be conformed according to the image of Thy Son. Thou hast chosen us in Christ Jesus our Lord, so that we might be justified in His blood and resurrection, so that we might be delivered from all the power of sin and death by the grace of His good Spirit, so that we might be glorified in Thy everlasting kingdom, where Thy tabernacle shall be with us forever!
Thy work alone we are!
Nowhere is there a part which is ours!
And because we are solely the work of Thy hands, it is Thy name and Thy glory that is concerned in our deliverance and salvation! That glory must appear in the work of Thy hands.
Wherefore, then, should the heathen say: “Where is now their God?” Shall the powers of darkness, then, be triumphant? Shall all hell rejoice because Jerusalem is a desolation, Zion a wilderness, God’s holy house a heap of cinders, God’s handiwork unfinished? Shall the Almighty fail to reveal the glory of His name and give His honor unto another?
But now, O Lord!
We are all the work of Thy hands!
Deliver us, then! Save us, till we shall have reached the glory of Thy eternal tabernacle!
Rend the heavens and come down into our night!
And thine shall be the glory!
Alone and forever!