Jared Smith's Bible Doctrine

16 Bible Doctrine – Can You Expand On The Analogy Of A Potter And The Clay?

A Transcript Of The Video Study

In our previous study, I diagramed for you the teachings of Paul as it relates to the masterplan of God for the ages. The diagram is based on a single analogy used by Paul in Romans 9 and 2 Timothy 2—that of a potter and the clay. The question which now concerns us for this study—is it possible to expand on the analogy of a potter and the clay?

Yes, that is something I am happy to do for this study. I want you to know from the outset, the analogy of a potter and the clay is not a trivial comparison used by Paul. The apostle did not haphazardly select the analogy as if some other comparison would have suited his purpose all the same. In fact, I would argue the analogy of a potter and the clay is the best comparison to use when discussing the masterplan of God for the ages, and that is precisely why Paul used it.

Did you know, a potter and the clay is one of the leading figures used in the Old and New Testament scriptures to describe God’s relationship with His creatures, and in particular, with that of the human race? In an attempt to help you nurture a deeper appreciation for the analogy, I would like to highlight the several ways it is used throughout the Scriptures.

The Hebrew term (yâṣar) translated “potter” occurs 62 times in the Old Testament. It has been translated 17 times as ‘potter’, 26 times ‘form’, 5 times ‘fashion’, 4 times ‘maker’, 3 times ‘frame’, 3 times ‘make’, 2 times ‘former’, 1 time ‘earthen’ and 1 time ‘purposed’. According to Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary, the Hebrew term means, “to mould into form; to squeeze into shape; figuratively, to determine or pre-ordain.”

The term is used many times to describe the work of the Lord. In Genesis chapter 2, “the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground”, and “out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field”. In Psalm 74, the Lord God is said to have “set all the borders of the earth; He has made summer and winter.” In Psalm 95, “The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands formed the dry land.” In Psalm 139, it is the Lord that forms the fetus in the womb, as David confessed to God, “Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.” In Psalm 94, the question is put forth, “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?” In Isaiah 37, a king named Sennacherib was on the verge of laying waste to the fenced cities of the Jewish people, but he is rebuked by God for his arrogance in assuming it was he who decreed such things from his earthly throne. The Lord said to the man, “Hast thou not heard long ago, how I have done it; and of ancient times, that I have formed it? now have I brought it to pass, that thou shouldest be to lay waste defenced cities into ruinous heaps.” In other words, as a potter with the clay, so the Lord God has fashioned or decreed the events which unfold throughout the course of history. In Isaiah 45, a series of questions are put to those who disagree with the providential orderings of the Lord, and contend with their Maker—“Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands? Woe unto him that saith unto his father, What begettest thou? or to the woman, What hast thou brought forth? Thus saith the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me.” In Isaiah 43:21, the Lord declares concerning Israel—“This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise.” This, of course, refers not only to national Israel as a peculiar nation set apart from the other nations of the world, but it has particular reference to spiritual Israel, or, God’s elect people whom He has set apart for Himself as special objects of His love. He has formed them, fashioned them, purposed them to be a peculiar treasure unto Himself. (See also Is 43:1-10; 44:1-21) Henceforth, when the Spirit of God regenerates the souls of His elect people, they are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that they should walk in them. They are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, formed by God that they might show forth the praises of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light! (Eph 2:10; 4:24; 1 Pet 2:9) Yes, God is their Maker; their Former; their Fashioner; their Potter! There are few analogies which serve so well as that of a potter to describe the decree of God in His creative works and providential orderings, especially as it relates to the members of the human race. It is for this reason the Apostle Paul selected the analogy of a potter when describing God’s masterplan for the ages in Romans 9 and 2 Timothy 2.

But let us now come to the other term which describes the human race. If God is the Potter, then we are the vessels, or the clay, that are fashioned by Him. The term “vessel” is used in Luke 8:16 with reference to a container under which a candle may be hid—”No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light.” The term is used in John 19:28,29 with reference to a container into which vinegar may be held—“After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth.” As expected, a vessel is any type of container such as a cup, or a bowl or a vase.

Now, this idea of a vessel, or container, is used as a metaphor in the Word of God to describe human beings. For instance, the term is used in Jeremiah 18 with reference to the children of Israel as a nation—Jeremiah 18:1-6: ”The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. 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. 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.” The teaching is self-explanatory! By using the analogy of a potter and the clay, it clearly illustrates the nature of God’s relationship with the nation of Israel.

But now, consider how the Apostle Paul applies the analogy to God’s masterplan for the ages in Romans 9 and 2 Timothy 2. In these two texts, Paul underscores the relationship God sustains with the entire human race.

First, there is the electing love and reprobating hatred of God the Father—Romans 9:21: ”Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” As the Potter, He has power over the entire human race (the clay), of the same lump to make some people vessels unto honor (the elect) and others vessels unto dishonor (the non-elect).

Second, there is the long-suffering of God’s wrath towards the non-elect, who are now identified as vessels of wrath, fitted to destruction—Romans 9:22: “What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.”

Third, there is the riches of God’s glory made known upon the elect, who are now identified as vessels of mercy, which He afore prepared unto glory—Romans 9:23: “And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory…”

Fourth, there is the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit whereby God’s elect and redeemed people are made vessels of gold of silver, created in Christ Jesus in righteousness and true holiness—2 Timothy 2:20: “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver…” This ‘great house’ is a reference to the world at large, or, to a congregation of professing Christians, some of whom are truly born again, whereas others are only professors of Christ. Which then brings us to:

Fifth, the non-sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit wherein He does not call to Christ, nor does He apply Christ to, the non-elect. Henceforth, they are identified as vessels of wood and earth—2 Timothy 2:20: “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth.”

And then, at the end of 2 Timothy 2:20, Paul adds, “and some to honour, and some to dishonour.” Those to honor are those whom the Father has set apart as objects of special love; those to dishonor are those whom the Father has set aside as objects of less love. The vessels to honor are those whom the Father has given to Christ, and those for whom Christ therefore shed His blood to redeem to the Father, and those who are therefore made vessels of mercy prepared unto glory. The vessels to dishonor are those who are left in their sins, and are therefore made vessels of wrath fitted to destruction. And you see, it is only for the vessels to honor and those of mercy whom the Holy Spirit calls by grace to Christ, uniting their souls to Christ, whereby the life and graces of Christ flows into their souls and they are therefore enabled to exercise the fruit of the new nature, among which is saving faith in Christ and saving repentance toward God.

My dear friends, this analogy of the potter and the clay should not be depreciated as something that is merely incidental in the grand scheme of Paul’s teachings on the gospel. As I hope you can see, the analogy is fundamental to Paul’s understanding of sovereign grace. It is around this analogy that God’s masterplan for the ages is framed. That God is the potter means that He it is that has purposed, planned and procured the salvation of His elect people. That God is the potter means that He it is that has purposed, planned and procured the destruction of the non-elect. In the one, the riches of His grace is magnified; in the other, the fulness of His justice is vindicated. In them both, the Persons and work of the Godhead are glorified. And so, as I close this study, let me ask you—to which of these groups do you belong, my friend? Are you a special object of God’s love—a vessel of honor; are you a sinner for whom Christ shed His blood and made an atonement for your sins—a vessel of mercy; are you a sinner who has been born again—a vessel of gold and silver? Oh, I pray, the Lord will be pleased to make His grace in Christ Jesus known to your heart, if you be a vessel set apart unto honor!