Fire! Fire! Fire!
Delivered on Sunday Morning, June 23rd, 1861 by the
Rev. C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee."Isaiah 43:2.
EFORE we explain the metaphor of the text, it may be well for us to remark that we are not sufficiently grateful, I fear, for the preservation which God affords to us from fire. To be startled at the dead of night with the alarming cry, and to find one's self and children and goods in danger of being immediately consumed, must be no small trial. I have felt myself extreme gratitude to God that while both on the right hand and on the left the flames have raged, he has been pleased to spare to us this temple of our solemnities, this place where we delight to worship. And is it not meet that we should each and all render to him our hearty thanks for sparing our habitations preserving the roof under which we rest, enabling us to go out and to come in in perfect safety? Or, probably, I may be addressing some this morning who have had escaped from the very midst of the fires. Let such not only bless God for preservation in the past, but let them celebrate his goodness in plucking them as brands out of the burning. Let them be extremely grateful to God that while others this day are dying as a black heap of ashes who but yesterday were living men, we are still in the land of the dying unburned and unsinged. It was at least the trap of many of you, during the past week, and again last night, to witness a conflagration of awful grandeur, in which tongues of flame, mountains of fire, and pillars of smoke, made a spectacle to be gazed at with interest while it produced terrors and apprehensions that could awe the wildest mob into silence. With you and me it is a common mercy to be preserved day by day, and night by night from the devouring element. Yet when the dreadful catastrophe is within viewwhen those we know personally or by repute are sufferersand when at the same time we look on with a sense of our own present securitythen surely we ought to give more than a common expression of gratitude to God for mercies that at other times we are too apt to paste over unheeded as but the effects of a common Providence. Never was a truer sentence uttered than when one said, "These mercies are not valued until they are lost, and these preservations are not esteemed until they are withdrawn." Let us thank God while we have the mercies, lest he be provoked by our ingratitude and take forth his rod and scourge us. Then, indeed, might we cry out under the smart, and wish and desire that we had our mercies back again. Thus much I could not in my conscience withhold at a time when there are judgments around us enough to make us tremble, and mercies enough in the little circles of home to make us exceedingly grateful. Let us now take the text in its real signification. Of course the walking through the fire here is put for the severest form of trouble: You have, in the commencement of the verse, trouble described as passing through the water. This represents the overwhelming influence of trial in which the soul is sometimes so covered that it becomes like a man sinking in the waves. "When thou goest through the rivers,"those mountain torrents which with terrific force are often sufficient to carry a man away. This expresses the force of trouble, the power with which it sometimes lifts a man from the foothold of his stability, and carries him before it. "When thou passest through the rivers they shall not overflow thee." But going through the fire expresses not so much the overwhelming character and the upsetting power of trouble as the actual consuming and destructive power of trouble and temptation. The metaphor is more vivid, not to, say more terrific, than that which is employed in the first sentence, and yet vivid and awful though it be, it is certainly not too strong a figure to be used as the emblem of the tribulations, temptations and afflictions, through which the Church and people of God have been called to pass. We may apprise the richness of the promise in proportion to the astonishing character of the metaphor, and we ought to value the privilege which it confers in the precise ratio of the dreadful character of the danger against which it preserves us. "When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee."
Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown."
Through much tribulation we must inherit the kingdom. Think it no strange thing when the fiery trial shall happen to you. If you have the common afflictions of the world do not wonder. You must have them. The same thing happeneth both to the evil and to the good. You lose in business, you have reverses and disappointments, do not stagger at these in the way to heaven. You must have these, they are necessary to your spiritual health. Worse than that, you have strange temptations, you are placed in a position where you are constantly exposed to sin. It must be so. This too, is the pathway of God's people, you must have these fiery temptations, that you, being tried in the fire, may come forth as "gold seven times purified." You have mental anxieties. Neither let these seem a wonder to you. They fall to the lot of all the saints of the Most High. Moreover, you will have to endure the attacks of Satan, you must go through the valley of the shadow of death, and fight with Apollyon as Christian did, you are not to be exempted from the hardness of Christian warfare. If you will mount the hill, you must climb; if you are to win the crown, you must win it by sheer might. Think not this a strange thing. And if in doing good you meet with difficulties, let not that stagger you. It is but right and natural. I tell you again, if there be any pathway in which there be not fire, tremble, but if your lot be hard, thank God for it. If your sufferings be great, bless the Lord for them, and if the difficulties in your pathway be many, surmount them by faith, but let them not cast you down. Be of good courage, and wait on the Lord, setting this constantly in your minds that he has not promised to keep you from trouble, but to preserve you in it. It is not written, "I will save thee from the fire," but "I will save thee in the fire," not "I will quench the coals," but "they shall not burn thee," not "I will put out the furnace," but "the flames shall not kindle upon thee." Write it down and expect it to come true, that in this world thou shalt have tribulation. Only follow thy glorious leader, be it through flood or flame.
II. We will now turn to our second pointthere is AN AWFUL DANGER.
The promise of the text is based on a prophecy that follows it. As I glance my eye down the chapter, I see that it tells us how God taught his people by terrible things in the past; and how he hath terrible lessons to teach them in the future. If the judgment of Egypt, and of Ethiopia, and Seba, are behind us, we have startling destinies that rise up to view before us. There is a people to be gathered in, and we are to be the agents in gathering them. Fear not, saith the Lord, though thou walkest through the fire in fulfilling my mission. God speaks to the north, "Give up;" and to the south, "Keep not back. Bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth." But the manner of Egypt is repeated again. The monarch said, "I will not let them go." Jealousy is stirred. The fire burns: the coals thereof have a vehement flame. And they that come forth from the bondage of this world must walk through the fire, even as those that came forth from Egypt had to pass through water. The fire of prophecy is no poetic fiction, it is real fire. It will burn. If it doth not burn the believer, it is not for want of energy, it is because some supernatural restraint is laid on it, or some supernatural protection vouchsafed to the saint. My brethren, the Church has had very painful experience that persecution is a fire which does burn. How many ministers of Christ, when the day of tribulation came, forsook their flocks and fled. When King Edward the Sixth was on the throne, there were many who professed to be Protestants and preached justification by faith. When Mary returned the vicar of Bray was but a specimen of a great class, his principles being to keep his living. When again Elizabeth was upon the throne, there were plenty who found it to be profitable to profess the reformed faith. But when acts of conformity were passed afterwards by which those who had hitherto used a Christian freedom in the Church of England, were driven out, there were some who said they did not love prelacy but hated it, while others who had heretofore professed the old Puritanical doctrines, finding that their livings were to be lost thereby, held fast to this world, and let the things of the next world shift for themselves. Too many have forsaken the Church as Demas forsook Paul. Their piety would not stand the fire, they could walk with Christ in silvery slippers, but they could not go barefoot; they had no objection whatever to accompany him to his throne, but they had some slight difficulties about going with him to his cross; they would not mind bearing the weight of his glory, but the weight of the cross of tribulation was much too great for their constitutions. Persecution is a fire which does burn.
Again: I see iniquity raging on every side. Its flames are fanned by every wind of fashion. And fresh victims are being constantly drawn in. It spreads to every class. Not the palace nor the hovel are safe. Not the lofty piles that are raised for merchandise, nor the graceful edifice that is constructed for worship. Iniquity, whose contagion is fearful as fire, spreads and preys upon all things that are homely and comely, things useful and things sacred are not exempt. We must walk through the fire. We who are God's witnesses must stand in its very midst, to pour the streams of living water upon the burning fuel, and if not able to quench it, at least we must strive to prevent its spread. There are young men whose youthful lusts, inflammable as they are, have not yet ignited. They are in imminent danger. "Fire! fire!" we may well cry. We may give the alarm this morning to you, young man who are in the midst of ribald companions. I may cry "fire!" to you who are compelled to live in a house where you are perpetual tempted to evil, I may cry, "fire!" to you who are marked each day, and have to bear the sneer of the ungodly"fire!" to you who are losing your property and suffering in the flesh, for many have perished thereby. Oh! may God grant you never may! I see today before my mind's eye the blackened skeletons of hundreds of fair professions. Multitudesmultitudes have perished in the valley of temptation who once, to all human judgment, had bid fair for heaven and made a show in the flesh! How many, too, have fallen under the attacks of Satan! This is a fire that does burn. Many a man has said, "I will be a pilgrim;" but he has met Apollyon on the road and he has turned back. Many a man has put on the harness, but he has given up the battle soon,put his hand to the plough and looked back. There are more pillars of salt than one. If Lot's wife were a solitary specimen, it were well, but there have been tens of thousands who, like her, have looked back to the plains of Sodom, and like her, as they are in their spirit, have stood for ever what they were,lost souls. We ought not to look upon our dangers with contempt. They are dangers, they are trials, we ought to look upon our temptations as fires. Oh, they are fires! If you think they are not fires you are mistaken. If you enter then, in your own strength, saying "Oh I could bear them," you will find that they are real fires, which, with forked tongues, shall lick up your blood, consume it in an instant, if you have not some better guard than your own creature power.
III. I will not tarry longer here, because I want to get to the pith and marrow of the promise. "Though thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." Here is A DOUBLE INSURANCE.
Dr. Alexander, an eminent and most admirable American commentator says there appears to be some mistake in the translation here, because he thinks the two sentences are an anti-climax. "Thou shalt not be burned;" and then follows, "neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." It strikes me, however, that in the second clause we have the higher gradation of a climax. "Thou shalt not be burned," to the destruction of thy life, nor even scorched to give thee the most superficial injury, for "the flames shall not kindle upon thee." Just as when the three holy children came out of the fiery furnace; it is said, "upon their bodies the fire had no power, nor was a hair of their head singed; neither were their coats changed, nor had the smell of fire passed on them. "So the text seems to me to teach that the Christian Church under all its trials has not been consumed, but more than thatit has not lost anything by its trials. The Lord's Church has never been destroyed yet by her persecutors and her trials. They have thought they crushed her, but she lives still. They had imagined that they had taken away her life, but she sprang up more vigorous than before. I suppose there is not a nation out of which Christ's Church has ever been utterly driven. Even Spain, which seemed at last to have accomplished it by the most persevering barbarities, finds still a few believers to be a thorn in the side of her bigotry; and as for our own denomination, in the very country, where by the most frightful massacres, it was believed that the sect of Anabaptists had been utterly extinguished, our good and esteemed brother Mr. Oncken has been the means of reviving it, so that throughout all Germany, and in parts of Denmark, and Prussia, and Poland, and even Russia itself, we have sprung up into a new, vigorous, and even wonderful existence. And in Sweden where, under Lutheran government, the most persecuting edicts had been passed against us, we have been astonished to find within ten years three hundred churches suddenly spring up, for the truth has in it a living seed which is not to be destroyed.
But I have said that the Church not only does not lose her existence, but she does not lose anything at all. The Church has never lost her numbers. Persecutions have winnowed her and driven away the chaff; but not one grain of wheat has been taken away from the heap. Nay, not even in visible fellowship has the Church been decreased by persecution. She is like Israel in Egypt; the more they were afflicted the more they multiplied. Was a bishop put to death to-day? Ten young men came the next morning before the Roman proctor and offered themselves to die, having that very night been baptised for the dead bishop, having made their confession of faith that they might occupy his position. "I fill up the vacancy in the Church, and then die as he did." Was a woman strangled or tortured publicly? Twenty women appeared the next day and craved to suffer as she suffered, that they might honor Christ. Did the Church of Rome in more modern times burn one of our glorious reformersJohn Hussyet did not Martin Luther come forward as if the ashes of Huss had begotten Luther? When Wycliffe had passed away, did not the very feet of Wycliffe being persecuted help to spread his doctrines, and were there not found hundreds of young men who in every market-town in England read the Lollard's Scriptures and proclaimed the Lollard's faith? And so depend upon it, it shall ever be. Give a dog a bad name and you hang him, give a Christian a bad name and you honor him. Do but give to any Christian some ill name and before long a Christian denomination will take that name to itself, and it will become a title of honor. When George Fox was called "Quaker" it was a strange name, one to laugh at, but those men of God who followed him, called themselves Quakers too and so it lost its reproach. They called the followers of Whitfield and Wesley "Methodists," they took the title of Methodists and it became a respectful designation. When many of our Baptist forefathers, persecuted in England, went over to America to find shelter, they imagined that among the Puritans they would have a perfect rest, but Puritan liberty of conscience meant, "The right and liberty to think as they did, but no toleration to those who differed." The Puritans of New England as soon as ever a Baptist made his appearance amongst them, persecuted him with as little compunction as the Episcopalians had the Puritans. No sooner was there a Baptist, than he was hunted up and brought before his own Christian brethren. Mark you, he was brought up for fine, for imprisonment, confiscation and banishment before the very men who had themselves suffered persecution. And what was the effect of this? The effect has been that in America where we were persecuted, we are the largest body of Christians. Where the fire burnt the most furiously, there the good old Calvinistic doctrine was taught, and the Baptist became the more decidedly a Baptist than anywhere else, with the most purity and the least dross. Nor have we ever lost the firmness of our grip upon the fundamental doctrine, for which our forefathers stained the baptismal pool with blood, by all the trials and persecutions that have been laid upon us, and never shall we.
Upon the entire Church, at the last, there shall not be even the smell of fire. I see her come out of the furnace. I see her advance up the hill towards her final glory with her Lord and Master, and the angels look at her garments; they are not tattered. Nay, the fangs of her enemies have not been able to make a single rent therein. They draw near to her, they look upon her flowing ringlets, and they are not crisp with heat: they look upon her very feet, and though she has trodden the coals they are not blistered, and her eyes have not been dried up by the furiousness of the seven times heated flame. She has been made more beautiful, more fair, more glorious, by the fires, but hurt she has not been, nor can she be. Turn, then, to the individual Christian, and remember, that the promise stands alike firm and fast with each believer. Christian, if you be truly a child of God, your trials cannot destroy you, and what is better still, you can lose nothing by them. You may seem to lose for to-day, but when the account comes to be settled, you shall not be found to be a farthing the loser by all the temptations of the world, of all the attacks of Satan which you have endured. Nay, more, you shall be wondrously the gainer. Your trials having worked patience and experience, shall make you rich. Your temptations have taught you your weakness, and shown you where your strength lieth, shall make you strong.
From your first trouble, till the last enemy shall be destroyed, you shall not lose a fraction, jot, or tittle, by anything or every thing which God in his providence, or the world in its fury, of Satan in his craftiness, shall ever be able to lay upon you. Upon you, not the smell of fire shall have passed. You shall not be burned, neither shall your hosen, nor your hats, but like the men that you read of in Daniel, you shall be wholly preserved intact from the flame.
I shall close now, having spoken the general truth by making some particular applications of this precious promise. There is a brother here who during the last three or four months has had wave upon wave of affliction: everything goes against him. He is an upright, honest, indefatigable merchant, yet, let him do what he will, his substance wastes away like snow before the sun. It appears that for every ship of his the wind blows the wrong way, and where others will by the venture he loses all.
And wonders when the scene shall end."
When I spoke of walking through the fire just now, he said, "Ah! that is what I have been doing, I have been walking through it these months, to God and my own soul alone is it known how hot the furnace is." Brother, will you take home my text this morning. Perhaps God sent you here not for the sermon, but for the text. Perhaps you strolled here to-day, not being a regular attendant, on purpose that this text might comfort you. "When thou goest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned." When your troubles are all over, you shall still be left, and what is more, "neither the flame shall kindle upon you." When the winding up time comes, you shall not be any the loser. While you think you have lost substance, you shall find when you read Scripture, that you only lose shadows. Your substance was always safe, being laid up in the keeping of Christ in Heaven. You shall discover in the issue, that these trials of yours were the best things that could happen to you. The day shall come when you will say with David, "I will sing of judgment and mercy." "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I have kept thy word." Or perhaps there is some young woman here,and the case I am about to paint is a very common onealas, too common in this city. You love the Saviour my sister, but you are very poor, and you have to earn your living by that sorriest of all means. When the sun rises in the morning he sees you with that needle in your hand,
A shroud as well as a shirt."
and all day long you have scarcely time to rest for meals, and at eventime, when the fingers are worn and the eyes are heavy, you shall have need to refrain from sleep because the pittance is so small that you can scarcely live upon it. We know hundreds of that class who always constrain our pity, because they work go hard for so little wage. Peradventure your mother is dead, and your father does not care about you. He is a drunken sot, and you would be sorry to meet him perhaps in the street. You have no helper, no friends. You do not care to tell anybody, you would not like to take anything if charity should offer it to you; you feel it the hardest thing all is to be tempted as you are. There seems to you to be by the path open the road to plenty, and in some degree to delight. But you have said, "No, no," and you have loathed the temptation, and you have stoodand I have known how year after year some of you have fought with temptation, and struggled on, when sometimes you were well nigh starved; but you would not do this great wickedness against God.
My sister, I pray you take the encouragement of this text to strengthen you for the future battles. You have been going through the fires. But you are not consumed yet, and I bless God, upon your garments the smell of fire has not passed. Hold on my sister, hold on, through all the sorrow thou hast, and all the bitterness which is heavy enough to crush thy spirit; hold on, for thy Master sees thee. He will encourage and strengthen thee, and bring thee more than conqueror through it all in the end. I address, too, this morning, some youthful minds. Young men who love Christ, and as soon as they get home after attending the house of prayer, the taunting enquiry made by their fellow-workmen is"You have been to some meeting-house, I dare say." How cruel sometimes worldly young men are to Christian young men! Cruel, for when there are a dozen worldlings and only one Christian they consider it to be honorable for the dozen to set upon one. Twelve big tall fellows will sometimes think it a fine game to pass from hand to hand some little lad of fifteen, and make sport and mockery of him. There is honor, it is said, among thieves, but there seems to be no honor at all among worldlings when they get a young Christian in this way. Well, young man, you have borne with it; you have said, "I will hold my tongue and won't say a word," "though your heart was hot within you, and while you were musing the fire burned." Remember what I have often said to you, the anvil does not get broken even if you keep on striking it, but it breaks all the hammers. Do you do the same. Only hold on, and these fires shall not consume you. If the fires should burn up your piety, it would only prove that your piety was not worth having. If you cannot stand a few jokes and jeers, why, you are not builded together in that habitation of God which he hath made fire-proof. Bear up and in the end you will find that this hard lot of yours, this severe discipline, did you a deal of good, and made you a better man than you ever would have been if you had been dandled on the lap of piety, and kept from the battle. In after years your high and eminent post of usefulness may be, perhaps, owing to the severe and harsh discipline to which you were put in your younger days. "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. "Or, mayhap, I am speaking to some one who has met with opposition from his own ungodly relations. Remember how Jesus said, "I am come to send fire on the earth, and what will I, if it be already kindled? From henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, two against three and three against two." Perhaps your father has threatened you, or what is more bitter still, your husband has threatened to discard you. Now indeed you are walking through the fires. He rails at your godliness, makes a mock of everything you love, and does his best by cruelty to break your heart. My dear sister in Christ, you shall not be burned by the fire. If grace be in your heart the devil can't drive it out, much less your husband. If the Lord has called you by his grace, all the men on earth, and all the fiends in hell can reverse the calling, and you shall find in the end that you have not suffered any loss; the flame has not kindled upon you. You shall go through the fire and bless God for it. From a dying bed, or at least through the gates of Paradise you shall look back upon the dark path of the way and say it was well, it was well for me that I had to carry that cross, and that now I am permitted to wear this crown. Who is on the Lord's side this morning of this congregation? While Jehovah speaks on high in the thunder, let us speak on earth in tones of earnestness. Who is on the Lord's side among you? You that are not, be warned. "Tophet is ordained of old. He hath made it deep and large. The pile thereof is fire and much wood. The breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it." You that are on his side, set up your banners to-day. He saith, "Fear not, I am with thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." May the Lord bless the words we have spoken. Though hastily suggested to our minds, and weakly delivered to you, the Lord bless them for Christ's sake.