Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
No figures of speech set forth the sovereignty of God more clearly and more strikingly than those figures which use the terms potter, clay, and vessels. By God’s sovereignty we mean the freedom and the right of God to do what he pleases with every one of His creatures. “Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places” (Ps. 135:6). May He not do what He will with His own (Matt. 20:15)? “Hath not the potter power over the clay” (Rom. 9:21)?
We are clay. “Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast made me as the clay” (Job 10:9). Created out of the earth, the dust, the clay, all men belong to the same lump (Rom. 9:21). As to origin, as to nature, men do not differ one from another. Only as to destiny do men differ. And human destiny is determined by the Potter.
How is it that some confess “But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand” (Is. 64:8), while others are broken with a rod of iron and dashed in pieces like a potter’s vessel (Ps. 2:9)? How is it to be explained that God loved Jacob and hated Esau before they were born or had done good or evil? Why does God have mercy on some while hardening others? This cannot be explained by the willing or the working of any man (Rom. 9:16). It can be explained only by the sovereignty of God in predestination. Although this explanation is unpalatable to the proud hearts of men, this is really the only answer there is! “Hath not the potter power (authority, right) over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor?” (Rom. 9:21). Not only is this God’s right and prerogative, not only does this serve God’s purpose in revealing His wrath and power as well as the riches of His glory, but God is righteous when He makes this discrimination between men. No one may complain fatalistically that he cannot resist God’s will, and no one may charge God with unrigh—teousness with the question, “Why hast thou made me thus?” (Rom. 9:20).
The righteousness of God’s sovereignty is shown in Jeremiah 18:1-10. “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.” And the Lord goes on to explain that if they turn from their evil, He will repent of the evil He thought to do unto them, but if not, He will repent of the good wherewith He would benefit them. This same righteousness of God is shown in the prophecy ofZechariah 11 and fulfillment inMatthew 27. The prophet tells Israel to give unto him his price, what they thought of him. They weighed for his price thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord told Zechariah to cast that “goodly price” that he was prised at to the potter. Now Judas Iscariot had covenanted with the chief priests to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. When he saw that He was condemned (Matt. 27:3), he tried to return the pieces of silver, but the priests and elders piously refused to take it because it was blood money; so they bought with it the potter’s field in which to bury strangers. This all makes plain that the prophets preached Christ to the people, and it is because the people despised Christ that they are destroyed. The righteousness of God in respect to the Esaus, the Pharaohs, the false church, the raging heathen nations is perfectly vindicated. Since we are all but clay, let us “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him” (Ps. 2:12).
Since the divine Potter is our Father, we ought to look into the matter of our being vessels of honor more fully. Vessels of honor are vessels of mercy. Empty vessels in themselves, they are filled with God’s mercy in order to show forth the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus. In that consciousness we can ask humbly and reverently, “Why hast thou made me thus?” Why me, an unworthy lump of clay, and not others? Not because I willed it, or deserved it by my running (working), but of God that sheweth mercy! The child of God confesses the power of the Potter over the clay; he rejoices in the sovereignty of God; he gladly kisses the Son in faith and places his trust in such a great and good God. God ordained that Paul would spend a large part of his life in persecuting the church, but he was powerfully converted, “for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:15, 16). Yes, we are also willing to suffer for the name of God’s Son!
“But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (II Tim. 2:20, 21).