Refined, But Not With Silver
“Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”— Isaiah xlviii. 10.
THE Lord refines his people, but he exercises great discrimination as to the means by which he does so. A silver furnace is one of the very best for the removal of dross, and would seem to be well adapted for refining the most precious things, but it is not choice enough for the Lord’s purpose with his people. It is prepared with extreme care, and has great separating power, but the purging away of sin needs greater care and more cleansing energy than a silver refinery can supply. The greatest delicacy of skill is exhibited by the refiner, who watches over the process, and regulates the degree of heat and the length of time in which the precious metal shall lie in the crucible: this, then, might well serve as a figure of the best mode of sanctification, but evidently the figure falls short in its delicacy. The process of silver refining is, no doubt, one of the best arranged and most ably conducted of the works of man; but when the Lord sits as a refiner, he executes his work with greater wisdom and diviner art. Silver refining is but rough work compared with the Lord’s purification of his people, and therefore he says, “I have refined thee, but not with silver.” The Lord hath a furnace of his own, as it is written, “his furnace is in Jerusalem,” and in this special furnace he purifies his people by secret processes unknown to any but himself. He has a fire of his own kindling in Zion, compared with which all other flame is strange fire, and only in this peculiar fire will he in his own singular fashion consume his people’s dross and tin. His saints are more precious than silver or gold, and therefore while in one place it is written, “Thou hast tried us as silver is tried,” yet in another he declares that he has gone about it after a diviner sort, and hath refined us, “but not with silver.” No one would think of refining silver by the same rough means as they smelt iron, so neither will the Lord purify his precious ones, who are fax above silver in value, by any but the choicest methods. More subtle and yet more searching, more spiritual and yet more true, more gentle and yet more effectual are the purifying processes of heaven; there is no refiner like our refiner, and no purity like that which the Spirit works in us.
Note, then, that distinguishing and discriminating grace finds room to exercise itself even in the trials of the elect: “I have chosen thee in the furnace, yet not in the best furnace that man could make, but in a furnace of my own, which I reserve for my peculiar treasures.” There is distinguishing grace in all the trials of God’s people. Every man in the world has a measure of trial, for “we are born to trouble as the sparks fly upward”; but there is a distinction between the sorrows of the wicked and the trials of the righteous— a very grave distinction between the punishments of the ungodly and the chastisements of them that fear God. There is a furnace for each metal, but the more precious the ore the more special the refining. There is a furnace for each metal, but the more precious the ore the more special the refining. There is a furnace for all men— for kings upon their thrones, to whom sickness and bereavement come as freely as to the poor; for the rich in the midst of their wealth, from whom their substance departeth, or their power to enjoy what they have heaped together: but there is a special fire, a reserved furnace, into which neither the great ones of the earth nor the wealthy ones thereof shall ever be placed; it is kept for more precious material than the unregenerate children of men. God’s furnace in Zion is especially meant for his own people. Of each of these right royal jewels he says, “I have refined thee, not with the precious things of earth— the kings and princes, the silver ones among mortals; but I have refined thee in a different manner, and thus I make my election to be visible, even in connection with the furnace in which I refine my treasures.”
I will push the thought a little farther, dear friends, and remark that the Lord has special dealings with each one of his saints, and refines each one by a process peculiar to the individual, not heaping all his precious metals into one furnace of silver, but refining each metal by itself. You do not know my trials, I am glad you do not: neither do I know yours, nor could I wish to bear that which you may have to suffer. There is a common sympathy, for we all go into the furnace; but there is a distinction in the case of each one, for to each one the furnace differs. Some tender hearts would be utterly crushed if they were afflicted as others are. Does not even the husbandman teach us this? He does not beat out the tender cummin and fitches with the cart wheel which he turns upon the heavier grain. No; he has different modes of operating upon the different kinds of seeds. They must all be thrashed, but not all thrashed in the same way. Thou, brother, mayest be as a sheaf of the best corn. Be thou grateful; but remember thou shalt feel the sharp thrashing instrument having teeth. And thou, my brother, mayest be one of the tender seeds, the minor seeds of the Master s garner. Be thou grateful, for thou shalt feel a lighter flail than some others; but do not compliment thyself upon it, for thou mightest almost regret that gentler flail, because it proves that thou art of lighter stuff, although still true grain of the Master’s sowing.
Beloved, I would venture to go so far as to say that the lines have not fallen to any two men in precisely the same places. We rejoice as we read the life of David, because he seems to set us all forth. David is to the church of God what Shakespeare is to the world:–
“A man so various, that he seems to be
Not one, but all mankind’s epitome;”
and yet David is totally distinct from any other of the saints. There are not, and could not be, two Davids. So you and I may travel in lines almost parallel, and we may therefore know each other’s griefs, and tenderly sympathize, but there is a turning in my life which you have never reached, and there is a dark corner in your life which I have never seen. The skeleton in any one person’s house is of a different sort to that which haunts any other dwelling. No one man is the exact replica of another. In all this, divine sovereignty operates in connection with divine love and divine wisdom, purifying all the sons of Levi, giving to each one his own separate purification, according as his need may be. “I have refined thee, but not with silver. I have chosen thee.” Mark— not “you,” but “thee.” A distinct personal word is used, and is addressed to each separate saint. “I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”
Having thus sufficiently shown that distinguishing grace is to be seen even in the trials of the chosen, we will now turn to the subject of this evening, which is the sweet connection which exists between God’s election and the furnace. I have many things to say to you, and therefore I will say them as briefly as I can, asking you to jot them down upon the tablets of your memory, and enlarge upon them when you are alone.
I. And, first, between God’s election and the furnace there is this connection — that THE FURNACE WAS THE FIRST TRYSTING PLACE BETWEEN ELECTING LOVE AND OUR SOULS.
God did not choose his people in the furnace in any sense in which it can be said that he never chose them before they were there, for he chose them before the foundation of the world. Before one solitary star had begun to peer through the darkness the Lord had given over his people unto Christ to be his heritage, and their names were in his book; but the first manifestation of his electing love to anyone of us was— where? Well, I venture to say it was in the furnace. Abraham knew little of God’s love to him till the voice said, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee.” This was a grievous trial for him: the breaking up of family ties and associations was a furnace to him; and then it was that he knew that God had chosen him, for the same voice said, “And I will bless thee, and thou shalt be a blessing.” I do not think that Isaac knew much about God’s choice of him till he went up the mountain’s side, and said to his father, a Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” When he found out that the burnt sacrifice was to be himself, it was there that he, like his father knew Jehovah-Jireh, and learned the covenant. So was it with Jacob. Little did he understand the mystery of electing love till he lay down one night with the stones for his pillow, the hedges for his curtains the skies for his canopy, and no attendant but his God; and as he slept, even there at the furnace-mouth, an exile from his parents and his home, he began to understand that God had highly favoured him in his electing love. Certainly, Israel as a nation did not understand God’s election till the people were in Egypt; and then, when Goshen, the land of plenty, became a land of brickmaking and sorrow and grief, and the iron bondage entered into their souls, they cried unto God, and began to understand that secret word — “I have called my son out of Egypt.” They knew then that God had put a difference between Israel and Egypt. The more they were oppressed the more they multiplied; the more they were afflicted the more God blessed them; and they perceived that the hand of God was in this, and that he had met with them there in the furnace of affliction. Yes, if you want the trysting place of the electing God with the chosen soul, it is just there, at the back of the desert, where the bush burns with fire and yet is not consumed. Now mayest thou put off thy shoe from off thy foot, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground, while out of the bush there comes the voice— “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” God finds his people in the place of trial and distress, and there he reveals himself in his special character as their God. Did he not say to Moses, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and I have heard their cry”?
We will settle this matter by personal experience. When did you first know anything about God’s choice of you? Was it not when you were in trouble— in many cases in temporal trouble? You had prospered in the world for years, and you knew not God, but you were like the prodigal son, wasting your substance in riotous living. By-and-by things went against you, and you became poor, and sick, and sorry, and then it was that you began to think of the Father’s house, and resolved to fly to it. Then it was that electing love began to deal with you. I own that it was not so in all cases. With some of us it was very different; but I make no kind of exception to another rule, namely, that we first began to learn electing love when we were in spiritual distress. When that fine righteousness of ours turned out to be a spider’s cobweb, when that hope on which we had built so fondly began to rock and reel beneath our feet, when we found ourselves on the borders of death and at the gates of hell; it was then that free grace and dying love rang out most sweetly in our ear. We had often kicked against the doctrine of free grace before, but now we clutched at it as a hungry man at a piece of bread, which before he had despised. We saw that it was the only hope for us, and we turned to it; and, blessed be God, we found salvation. Would our proud wills have ever bent before the sceptre of sovereign grace if they had not first been melted in the furnace of soul-trouble? Should we have ever known that the Lord killeth and maketh alive if we had not ourselves been slain by the fire of his word? Had he not permitted us to lie like Nebuchadnezzar’s guards, slain at the furnace mouth, we should never have known the truth. “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” While we heard the thunder roll — “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion”— we bowed our heads meekly, accepted the grace which was in Christ Jesus, and at the furnace mouth, for the first time in our lives, we understood this text, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”
II. We will now pass on to a second remark, which prows out of this. It is very clear that THE FURNACE OF AFFLICTION DOES NOT CHANGE THE ELECTION OF GOD. If he chose us in it, then his choice stands good while we are in it and when we are out of it. If the very first knowledge we had of his electing love found us at the gates of despair, we can never be worse than we were then, nor can his love see less to rest upon. If he loved us at our worst, when we were dead in sin, and quickened us, much more, then, now that we are quickened and forgiven, he will continue still to love us. Yet have I known a great many fears cross the mind of God’s anxious people when the smoke of the furnace has brought tears into their eyes. So let me declare a plain word— no amount of trouble, no degree of pain, no possibility of grief can change the mind of God towards his people.
The furnace may alter the believer’s circumstances, but not his acceptance with God. You were a fine gentleman once, you had a large house and grounds, but now you have to be satisfied with a small room and scant fare. You were a fine well-built young fellow once, but now you are a grey old man. Everybody bade you good morrow once; nobody knows you now. Forsaken by flatterers and forgotten by friends, you might sit down and weep, were it not that the only Being worth caring for loves you now as much as ever, and selects tins as a season for declaring his love towards you. Ah, your Lord did not love you for your coat, nor for your house, nor for your health and beauty, for he “taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man.” He loved you of old for reasons known only to his own sacred heart, and he loves you now the same as ever. O dear soul, do not be at all discouraged because thou art going down the hill into deep adversities, for his love will go with thee. The Lord’s love does not rise and fall like the thermometer according to the temperature of the surrounding air. Oh no, but it abideth the same to his people, whatever their condition.
The furnace very often alters our friends. They know us before we go into the furnace, we are so fresh and fair they are glad to know us; but we come out so wrinkled and scorched that they are ready to run away from us. Like Job, we have to mourn that our familiar acquaintances forget us. Ay, but God does not thus change He is not “a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent.” “I am God,” saith he, “I change not.” Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, and his friendship never turns to hate or to forgetfulness. Blessed be his name, he hath known my soul in adversity, and made the valley of Achor to be a door of hope to me, and therefore I must and will speak well of his name.
Yes, and the furnace changes us very wonderfully. Do you think some of you would know yourselves of twenty years ago if you were to meet yourselves in the street? I hardly think you would. You have undergone a marked change; have you not? Aches and pains of body have altered you terribly. Your juvenile elasticity of spirit has altogether vanished, and your outward appearance is very much the worse for wear. Ah, you have altered, but your God has not. What a mercy it is that though eternal ages roll over his immutability, they cannot effect the shadow of a turning. He standeth fast like the great mountains, and we, like the clouds that melt upon the mountain’s brow, do come and go, for we are, and are not— the mists of an hour. He is the same, and of his years there is no end, and this is our consolation while we sing with Moses, “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.”
I want you to believe very firmly in the fixity of the divine choice, so that when you next enter the furnace you may have no doubt about eternal faithfulness. When you lie sick by the week or by the month together, or when you are driven away from home, or plunged in poverty, or bereaved of friends, do not say in your heart, “God has forgotten to be gracious. He hath cast me away from his heart.” It cannot be, for the bonds of divine love cannot be snapped. To prevent its being supposable that the Lord casts away his people, because they are in adverse circumstances, the text says the very contrary— “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”
III. So now we hasten onward to notice another truth. Thirdly, THE FURNACE IS THE VERY ENSIGN OF ELECTION.
The escutcheon — the coat of arms— of election is the furnace. You know that it was so in the old covenant which God made with Abraham. He gave him a type when the victim was divided. When a deep sleep fell upon the patriarch there passed before him a smoking furnace and a burning lamp,— two signs that always mark the people of God. There is a lamp to light them, but there is also a smoking furnace to try them. “No cross, no crown,” was true of old as it is true now. It is the escutcheon of the covenant. If you think of our great Master’s dying will and testament, what is its prominent codicil? “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” You may be quite sure that if you belong to Jesus “in the world ye shall have tribulation.” Do you want to erase that sentence from the will? Then, you must give up the whole deed of gift; you must give up the sweet blessing as well as that which looks like a bitter warning. The child of God must feel the smarting rod. Sooner or later, in some form or other, the Lord sets his mark upon his people, and his mark is the furnace mark. Some of you youngsters have not received it yet. You will have it. Before you get to heaven you are sure to have it. As the king sets a broad arrow on all his stores, so does the King of kings set his mark on all his people. You must, I say, pass under the rod of the covenant, it is the ensign of God’s love. Do you not see that thus he show's his love to his own? You do not think of giving a flogging to a boy who is none of yours. A stranger may do as he likes, but if it is your own boy who is caught in mischief, you will not spare the rod. If you are a child of the devil, you may go and sin as you please, and may even prosper all the more in worldly things; but if you are one of God’s children, you will be scourged as sure as you transgress. Has he not himself said, “You only have I known of ail the nations of the earth, therefore I will punish you for your iniquities.”
That the Lord refines us shows his value of us. A man does not build an elaborate furnace and then cast into it odd stones and heaps of useless slag. You would say, “What are you wasting all your fuel for?” and he could not give you a rational answer. But if you see ingenious contrivances, lavish use of fuel, and the application of refining apparatus, and the person who is using them says, “This is silver, or this is gold;” you know at once that the ore is worth the fuel, and will repay the labour and expense. So, dear friends, if we are precious in the sight of the Lord, he will bring us through the fire; rest assured of that. If he regards us as mere refuse he may let us rest in quiet, but for precious ore there are many torturing processes in store. A man does not take his knife and go through the wood and prune all the dog roses, and the blackberries, and the hawthorns; he does not care enough about them. But if he be a gardener, see how he purges the vines and cuts the fruit trees. My gardener cut my roses back so very much that I thought no flowers could ever come, but when I saw the luxuriant roses I owned that he and his knife knew more than I. Good roses must be cut back; and God’s saints must be afflicted. God’s people will pay for pruning, but wild vines will not. So it is a type and mark of the love which God has for them that he chooses them in the furnace of affliction.
And it is a mark, in another way, that when God afflicts his children it shows that he is not going to let them have their portion in this life. It was a deed characteristic of Martin Luther when a great man called to see him, and having spent some few hours with him, gave him, I think, a hundred crowns. Martin said, “I must get rid of this; I will not have my portion in this life, I must give this to the poor at once.” He used to talk in this fashion— God gives his dogs plenty. See how rich is the Pope, and the Grand Turk: they can have any quantity of gold and silver, but I am not his dog, and I am not going to be fed so. He is not going to put me off with gold and silver. I am looking for my heritage in the world to come. Now, my brethren, the Lord does not try many of you in that manner. He keeps you on short commons, embitters your bread, and mingles wormwood with your cup. Why is this? Why, because you are not to have your portion here. You once half thought you might have two heavens, but you were deceived. The other day you began feathering your nest, but a sharp thorn has been put into it of late. You are one of the Lord’s birds, and he wants you to be much on the wing, and little in the nest, therefore does he make it uneasy for you. This is not your rest, make it as comfortable as you may. Though godliness hath the promise of the life that now is, yet this is not our rest; and woe unto us if we try to make it so. All the trees in this forest are marked with the axe, and they are all to come down: you may build up there, Sir Crow, as fine a nest as you desire, but it must come down. Build your nests, my brethren, on the everlasting rocks where God’s eagles make their eyrie, high above the reach of time and change, in the eternal purpose and everlasting love of God; for your portion is not for the present, neither can you be satisfied with the world, try as you will. Enough upon this point: it is plain that the furnace is one of the ensigns of the election of grace.
IV. Fourthly, THE FURNACE IS THE WORKSHOP OF ELECTING LOVE.
What are we elected to, if God has chosen us? Why, he has chosen us unto holiness. There is no man in this world chosen to go to heaven apart from being made fit to go there. We are chosen to he made the children of God, chosen to be made like Christ. Well, now, in the hand of God, the blessed Spirit, the furnace often becomes very helpful to this end, for it consumes much of our dross. Do you ask me what sort of dross does a man lose in the furnace? I answer, affliction helps to remove many a superfluity of naughtiness, but there is one which I will tell you of at once, and that is mushroom faith, and wild-fire joy. We have a great store of the fictitious and unreal, especially when we begin. Then we are mighty big Christians, and are likely to surpass all that have gone before us. I do not know whether we have not reached the higher life, but certainly we are quite near it, for we are very rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing. It is wonderful what fine saints we are until we are tried, and then our beauty consumes away like a moth. The Lord puts us into the furnace three or four days, and we wonder where one-half of us has gone. He keeps us there another week or two, and we shrivel in a most satisfactory manner. What have we lost? Any grace? No, brother, no man ever lost any grace in the furnace yet. What have we lost? Well, we have lost what we thought was grace: we have lost spiritual gas. We have parted with vast accumulations of self-conceit, self-confidence, and self-esteem, and instead of glorying in ourselves we begin to cry for mercy out of the very dust. I have known a child of God so big that he could hardly get inside the door of any ordinary meetinghouse, and by the time that the Lord had given him a twist or two he was glad enough to creep into a mousehole, so long as he might be somewhere near the people of God. Sanctified affliction is a wonderfully diminishing process, and that is the way we grow: we grow by becoming less and less in our own esteem; and the Lord uses the furnace on purpose to this end— to take away fictitious grace. Some of our young friends on a sudden descend into the pit of despair, and we are very grieved for them; but it is the best thing that can happen to them, for when they find their feet again they will have learnt how to walk in a much more careful and godly manner than they did before. So you see that electing love uses the furnace to consume our dross.
The Lord uses the furnace also to prepare the soul for a more complete fashioning. The metal must be melted before it can be poured into the mould, and affliction is used by the Holy Ghost to melt the heart, to make it tender and pliable, and to fit it to receive the fashion and take the shape of the sacred mould into which heavenly wisdom delivers it.
Besides, affliction has much to do in loosening a Christian from this world, and this is a great and needful part of his education, seeing that he is not to be here long, and yet is as apt to cling to earth as if he would dwell here eternally. He is soon to be up and away to his estates on the hill tops, yet he clings to this poor earth, and would hug it yet more if it were not that the Lord makes it bitter to him. One said of old, “My soul is even as a weaned child.” A great many might far more truly say, “My soul is even as a weaning child— very fretty and very wilful, but not at all ready to give up its childish delights.” A blessed thing it is when there has been enough furnace-work to make a man say, “I have done with the world. Now all my thoughts rise towards the world to come, for there my treasure is laid up.”
My time flies so rapidly that I cannot stop long on any one branch of this very fruitful topic. There is no doubt that electing love does use the furnace as its workshop, and that there the vessels of mercy are made to receive many a line of beauty and mark of grace.
V. But now, fifthly, THE FURNACE IS A GREAT SCHOOL WHEREIN WE LEARN ELECTION ITSELF.
First, in the furnace we learn the graciousness of election. When a child of God in the time of trouble sees the corruption of his heart— the little hell, the perfect Sodom which reeks within his nature— he begins to say, “How can the Lord ever love me? If he has loved me, his affection must be traced to grace, free grace, sovereign grace, boundless grace, and nothing but grace.” Now, that is a great thing to learn.
There, too, we learn the holiness of election, for while we lie suffering, a voice says, “God will not spare thee, because there is still sin in thee: he will cleanse thee from every false way.” Then we see what a holy thing God’s election is; how clean they must be who are to stand in his presence; how he would have his favourites loathe every sin; how God sees it better that his children should always smart than that they should sometimes sin. He will sooner make them bleed at every pore, than he will allow their hearts to go after their idols. What a holy thing election is, when it involves rebukes and chastisements in order to our perfecting.
Then, too, in the furnace we see what a loving thing election is, for never is God so loving to his people consciously as when they are in the flames of trouble. How tenderly he presses them to his bosom in their hour of grief The mother always loves her child; but let that child be ill, let it pine away, let it become weaker and weaker, and you will see the mother’s heart. She loves that child better than the others, because it needs more love. And when the Lord allows his dear children to grow poor, or to become distressed in mind or in body, then he lets out his heart to them; then will he show them his love in such choice and delicate ways as perhaps they never knew before.
It is at such times that God’s people know the power of electing love. “Ah,” cries the instructed believer, “I can see now how the decree of God preserves my soul alive. I am in the furnace, and if he had not kept me, the vehement heat would long ago have utterly consumed me.” If you want to see what the power of God can do for a believer you must stand where Nebuchadnezzar stood, and look into the red mouth of the furnace. Those who threw in the holy children themselves perished by reason of the vehemence of the flames; so that there was no fancy about the fire, it was real and killing flame. Look steadily in— your eye can bear the gaze. You see three men walking. They were cast in bound, but they are walking loose. Three, did I say? There are four. There is a mystic stranger with them— one who wears a crown, brighter than all the crowns of earth— but who is he? “The fourth is like unto the Son of God.” Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego had never seen the Son of God so near them as when they trod the glowing coals. Is it not written, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction”? When thou goest through the fire thou shalt not be burned. The Lord’s choice of thee shall be shown by his bearing thee company.
Ay, beloved, and it is at such times that the sweetness of God’s electing love comes home to the Christian heart, for he joys and rejoices in his tribulation while he is conscious of the love of God. I would not change my estate— no, not in the furnace— with the bravest worldling that lives. When everything else is gone, if electing love remains, I am rich to all the intents of bliss; let me be sure of almighty love, and all the rest is not worth a thought.
So, beloved, you learn election in the furnace; and, though I do not desire any believer the slightest harm, but wish him every blessing, yet as to some of my Christian brethren who never go very far into the deep things of God, and are very cloudy about the doctrines of grace, and cannot, indeed, say “grace” without somehow stuttering “free will,” I would to God that they had a little touch of the furnace for their eternal good. A scorch or two might do them good, and they might, perhaps, be better able to speak to the praise of the glory of that infinite eternal grace which chose the saints of old, and will not cast them away.
VI. Now, lastly, by the furnace SOME OF THE HIGHER ENDS OF A YET MORE SPECIAL ELECTION ARE OFTEN REVEALED, for there is not only an election of grace, but there is an election from among the elect to the highest position and to the noblest service. Jesus Christ had many choice disciples, but it is written, “I have chosen you twelve.” Out of the twelve there were three— you know their names; and out of the three there was one, elect out of the elect— that loving, tender John, who leaned upon his Master’s bosom.
The furnace has much to do with this, as a rule, since it usually attends and promotes the higher states of grace, and the wider ranges of usefulness. First with the preacher this truth is seen; affliction makes him eminent. I do not think that the preacher will long feed God’s saints if he does not read in that volume which Luther said was one of the three best books in his library, namely, affliction. That book is printed in the black letter, but it has some wonderful illuminations in it, and he who would teach the people must often weep over its chapters. Men never bake bread so well as when the oven is well heated, nor do we prepare sermons so well as when the fire burns around us. When we have been in heaviness ourselves we are able to talk experimentally to the tried children of God. When the Lord means to train any one of his servants for eminent usefulness in the building up of his people, he passes him through the fire: edification comes of tribulation. So is it with the Christian hero, he could never lead the host if he had not been chastened of the Lord in secret places. Men who have stood in the front of the armies of God have been trained by adversity. Martin Luther— grand, brave man— have you ever read his private biography? He was a man so tempted and so tried, and so frequently the victim of depression of spirits and dire despondency, that he was often ready to die in despair. There were times when he did not know whether he had any part or lot in the glad tidings which lie loved so well. Though he went on thundering out the gospel for other people, he sometimes could get no comfort himself. Those awful conflicts of his with the devil were the means of confirming his spirit in his public controversies. How should he be afraid of the Pope, when he had faced the devil himself? He could not fear to go to Worms because of the devils on the housetops of which he spoke, for he had faced all the infernal legions in his own house and had overcome them. Look at Calvin, again, that mightiest master in Israel, clear, upright, and profound; he suffered daily under a list of diseases, any one of which would have made a constant invalid of a less courageous man; and, although always early in the morning at the cathedral, delivering his famous expositions which have enriched the Church of God, yet he always bore about with him a body full of anguish. Nor could England find a Wycliffe, nor Scotland a Knox, nor Switzerland a Zwingle, except it be where the refiner sits at the furnace door. It must be so. No sword is fit for our Lord’s handling till it has been full oft annealed.
Well, as it is with the preachers and heroes, so it will be with us if we would rise. I would have you greatly aspire in holy things. Labour after a perfectly consecrated life. Abjure all selfishness, and live for the salvation of souls, and the glory of God: but remember that you will not reach it except by many a trial. Do you aspire to be Christly? I trust you do. But you never will be like Jesus if you never bear a cross. If your life is one of ease, can you be like to him who had not where to lay his head? If you never know a self-denial, if you never have a reproach heaped upon you; if no man ever calls you devil, or mad, if everything goes swimmingly with you, how can you know fellowship with the despised and rejected of men? God’s true people are opposed by the current of the times, even as their Master was. Oh, yes, it will cost you many a sorrow, many a tear, if you are to follow your Master fully; but do not therefore, hesitate. Do you want to be heavenly? I know some that are already in a measure so. I could indicate some members of this church whose speech is savoured with eternity and glory: they cannot speak half-a-dozen sentences but their speech betrayeth them that they have been with Jesus. Mark well this fact — they are tried people; they are mostly sick people of whom I would dare to say that they are heavenly. We ought all to be so; but oh, my brethren, we are very little what we should be till we are put upon the anvil, and the Lord uses the hammer upon us. If he is doing that now with any of you, and you have crosses to bear, do not repine, but let the soft whisper of the text sustain you— “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” There are tokens of consumption about you, dear sister: I see that hectic flush, but do not dread the future, for the Lord saith, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” You have struggled hard, my brother, to rise out of your situation; but as often as you have striven you have fallen back again with broken wing to your somewhat hard lot. Do not be despondent, but abide in your calling with contentment, since the Lord hath said, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” Young man, you have been to college, and you were near taking your degree; but your health is failing you, and you will never become a renowned scholar, as you hoped. Do not distress yourself because your part will be passive rather than active, for the Lord says, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” Merchant, your firm is going to pieces, you will be poor; but have faith in God. It is the Lord’s will that you should go struggling through the rest of your life; but he says, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” Mother, you have lost three or four little ones, and there is another sickening, and you say, “I cannot bear it.” Yes, you will bear it, for the Lord says, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” And art thou here, Hannah? Art thou here to-night, thou woman of a sorrowful spirit? Is thine adversary bitter of spirit toward thee? Are there those about thee that grieve thee and make thee fret? Weep no more, for the Lord loves thee when no one else does, and he says, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” Some of you are like ferns; you never flourish except in the damp and in the shade. Too much sunlight would not be good for you. Some plants need a marsh and a fog to develope them, and perhaps you are such. Perhaps your Master knows that if he put you where you would like to be it would be deadly to you and therefore he writes, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”
Now, I take my leave of you all by a morsel of personal experience. My Lord met me to-night, and said, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction,” and I endeavoured to reply to him, “My Lord, inasmuch as thou dost graciously condescend to say ‘I have chosen thee,’ I leave the rest of the sentence entirely to thy will, and ask not whether it be in the furnace or out of it. Choose me, and then choose everything for me. If thou choosest the furnace I would choose the furnace too.” Remember the good woman who, when they said to her, because she was very ill, “Would you rather live or die?” replied, “I would rather God’s will were done.” “Oh,” said they, “but if God would let it be just as you wish, which should it be?” She replied, “If the Lord were to leave it to my will, I would beg him to be so good as to let it be his will, and not mine.” O, beloved, pray “Not as I will” Grief is almost ended when self is slain. Sorrow well nigh ceases to be sorrow when you take the sting of self out of it.
The Lord be with you, for Christ’s sake. Amen.