Chapter Six Metaphors.

“… we went through fire and through water; but Thou brotightest us into a wealthy place” (Psalm 66:12).

These two metaphors are often employed by the Holy Spirit to describe chastening—fire and water.

Job saw himself in a furnace when he wrote, “But He knoweth the way that I take: when He has tried me I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). David wrote, “For Thou, O God, hast proved us; Thou hast tried us as silver is tried” (Psalm 66:10).

Job sees himself as gold in the furnace. David sees the children of God as silver in the refiner’s fire. Both metals are linked together by Malachi in explaining the Divine chastening of the nation of Israel. He says, “And He shall sit as a refiner, and purifier of silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge, them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering of righteousness” (Malachi 3:3).

Let us learn five lessons from this refining and purging:

(1) The Metals Are Precious.

They are among the most precious in the earth, and are used in Scripture to express preciousness again and again. They were the currency of the day—the means used to purchase what most men prized. The fact that they are designated “corruptible” (1 Peter 1:18) when viewed in relation to the precious blood of Christ does not lessen their value in the world of commerce, even while they cast into grand relief the supreme value of the blood of Immanuel. It must remain in solitary grandeur when considered with other precious things.

If gold and silver are precious to the refiner, much more is the saint to God. The redemption of his soul cost Him His only well-beloved Son. That Son as a merchantman sold “all that he had” to pay redemption’s price. Were we worthless objects we would never know the heat of the Refiner’s fire, nor the touch of His skilful hand. This should comfort every tried and suffering saint.

(2) The Dross Alone Is Burned.

The saint who has seen himself in the holy presence of God knows something of the dross of his heart.

Paul explains what this dross is in the believer; he calls it by its proper name—“flesh.” To Paul it was “this body of death.” (Romans 7:24 margin). It dogs our footsteps all along the Christian pathway. Many a saint with sincere exasperation has cried out with the apostle, “O! wretched man that I am. Who shall deliver me from this body of death?”

Chastening is a means to this end in the Heavenly Father’s hand. True, the emancipation of its clinging influence will not be realized until the Coming of Christ, but its dross may be burned in the fire of affliction even now in the school of life’s experiences.

There is the dross of arrogance, pride, conceit, inflated opinion, love of praise, a secret fondness to be noticed, love of supremacy, self-will, stubbornness, unteachable spirit, a head-strong disposition, a peevish, fretful spirit, a disposition that loves to be coaxed and humored, jealousy, stirrings of anger, impatience, love of money, selfishness, etc. Which of us do not know experimentally what has been just written? All of them grieve the Holy Spirit Who indwells us. We must be refined; we must be purged. We all must needs pass through the fire, but let us comfort our heart in remembering it is not upon our persons the Heavenly Refiner has designs; rather, it is the dross of clinging, sinful tendencies.

Daniel’s three Hebrew companions were cast into a furnace of seven-fold heat by the order of the Babylonian despot, Nebuchadnezzar. They were fully clothed and securely bound. To the surprise of the haughty monarch, when later he gazed into the furnace, he discovered they were loose, walking in the midst of the furnace. Not even a hair of their heads was singed! The fire did something, however; it burned off their bands! It set them free! What an illustration of the truth we have been considering. Often have the bonds of dross been lost in the furnace of affliction, and the saint emerges, freed from selfish bonds that tied him, even as a Christian.

(3) The Fire Is Gauged.

Since the precious metal must not be impaired in the refining process the careful refiner watches closely to see that heat, sufficient to burn the dross and leave the metal perfect, is applied.

How many a poor, tried saint has exclaimed, “I’ve more than I can bear!” One must not criticize, but, such a statement is far from the truth.

God assures us in our trials there is “a way to; escape, that ye may be able to bear” (1 Corinthians 10:13). We have also noticed His precious promise of sufficient grace.

Saints have passed through fierce trials and afflictions, the contemplation of which causes us to shrink back in mortal fear; yet, looking back upon these painful experiences they raise their “Ebenezer” (Hither by Thy help we are come!) Grace was theirs to bear.

When the two martyrs, Ridley and Latimer, were burned in England many years ago for the truth of God, God demonstrated in a touching manner that His grace was sufficient. While they were languishing in gaol, awaiting execution a candle was allowed to burn in their cell. One of the dear men, is reported, to have lightly touched the flame with his finger. Immediately he drew back in pain, to exclaim to his fellow-sufferer, “I cannot face the stake and the fire!” But, the other answered, “Courage, brother; God does not ask of you to burn your finger, so, no grace is needlessly supplied. Grace will be given when ‘tis needed.” It is recorded they died in triumph with praises upon their lips.

We have already noticed that the number ten is the number of testing, and have alluded to the “ten days” of Smyrna’s affliction. Their tribulation was not to be indefinite; it would terminate. If Satan launches it God will close it.

Abraham’s fierce trial was singular, as we have seen; but then, Abraham was a singular man. He was “the father of the faithful.” Only of the “father” did God ask such a demand.

(4) The Refiner Sits By the Fire.

He does not throw the precious metal into the flames, and forget that it is there; no, he remains to guard and care.

Perhaps the thought that God had left them was in the minds of Paul and Silas when cast into the dungeon in Philippi. Maybe that was one reason that we read “they prayed.” But, if it was, praying soon gave place to praising, for they were to know their wretched dungeon as the very ante-chamber of Heaven. God surely was there!

Years later Paul is in another dungeon, and knows his life of service for Christ on earth is terminating. Through the changing vicissitudes of his life he watched the friendship and loyalty of many of the saints wane and fail him; but, there is a note of triumph in his last letter to Timothy: “Notwithstanding, the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me.” (2 Timothy 4:17).

The only text in the whole Bible that means the same, read backward, is, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Thee forsake, nor thee leave, never will I). Hebrews 13:5. One translation is, “I will never let go thy hand.”

One day by the bedside of a dying saint in Alberta, Canada, I read the words of the 23rd Psalm. Within three hours of reading with him he passed into the presence of the Lord. As the words were quietly repeated, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me” the dying saint stirred a little, and softly murmured, “Precious experience!” Two days later as his remains were laid to rest one of the mourners was heard to remark, “That was a funeral with the sting of death removed.”

Beloved saint, can we fear while He is ever near?

(5) He Watches For His Image.

How does the refiner know there has been sufficient heat? One gold refiner, when asked this, simply replied, “When he sees his own reflection.” Once he sees this the furnace has served its purpose.

“Let us make man in our image” expresses the heart of God and man. (Genesis 1:26). That image was terribly defaced by sin, so that it is only in the man, redeemed from sin by the blood of Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, in whom the image and likeness of God may be seen. This is God’s great, eternal purpose for His spiritual family. “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). This conformity is even now a process in the life of the believer. “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Chastening, as we have noticed, is a means to this end.

I think it may be safely stated that the developed Christ-life cannot be produced apart from suffering. Paul writes, “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death” (Philippians 3:10). To the Corinthians he wrote, “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:10, 11).

Note the expressions: “the life of Jesus” and “the dying of the Lord Jesus.” It is not the life of the Lord Jesus and the dying of Jesus. His death would have been valueless had He been merely Jesus; but, since He is the Lord Jesus all the value of the Godhead is in that precious death. Again, it is not the life of the Lord Jesus the saint produces; saints are only human, but that perfect life of that perfect human Being called Jesus may be manifest in the energy of the indwelling Spirit of God. What a life it was! All those perfect traits—lowliness, compassion, sympathy, trust, sincerity—connoted in the precious name of Jesus may be seen in the believer’s life. They were linked with suffering in His life; only by suffering can they be perfectly developed in our lives.

“I shall come forth as fine gold,” cried Job. Surely we can conclude this consideration of fire as a metaphor of chastening by remarking, suffering can make the Christian “fine gold.” And in a “fine gold” Christian we will discern plainly the image and likeness of the Heavenly Goldsmith and Refiner.

WATER. For our consideration of water as a metaphor we will look at a passage in Ezekiel 47 and note five things:

(1) The Waters Flow From the Altar.

The altar suggests Calvary, and Calvary spells love. We saw in our chapter on Indications that chastening is a mark of Divine affection. It is in love God smites —the love that gave for us its greatest expression on Golgotha’s dark brow. As the troubled waters of affliction swirl around our little bark may we see them breaking out from that eternal fount of “Love Divine, all love excelling.”

(2) The Waters Are Measured.

In the furnace the heat was gauged, so here the waters are measured. The hand that holds “the measuring line” is the hand that measured the waters of creation. How perfectly in creation’s long history have the oceans, seas, rivers, lakes, streams and rivulets been measured! If this perfection in measure is flawlessly seen in creation which cost the Creator a word, how much more may we expect to see perfection in our measure of waters of chastening—in us, who cost Him His greatest treasure!

(3) We Pass Through the Waters.

We do not remain there. Earth is the scene of our waters of chastening, but the last passage shall land us on Heaven’s eternal shore. In that blessed eternal state, “there shall be no more sea!” Blessed words that follow, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Revelation 21:1, 4).

“Let us pass over unto the other side” (Mark 4:35). The Savior and His disciples launched their little boat on Galilee that memorable night when there arose a storm that threatened to sink the ship and its valuable cargo. The disciples were filled with fear, forgetting that the Master had decreed they should pass over unto the other side. Had they remembered they would not have asked the question, “Carest Thou not that we perish?” They were bound to come out of the storm and leave the waters. So must we, dear saint, pass through our stormy waters. And blessed thought: while we are passing through the Savior and Master is with us.

(4) The Waters Flow Eastward.

This suggests a new day. The sun arises in the east. The night of suffering will pass and a new day will dawn.

Jacob passed through a night of experience when God wrestled with him at Jabbok (Genesis 32). But, when the night had passed the sacred record is, “The sun rose upon Jacob.” A new day had dawned upon a new man, for we read “he halted upon his thigh.” He was a different Jacob; his name had been changed to Israel. He who had been known as the “supplanter” becomes “a prince with God.”

Jabbok means “emptying.” At our Jabbok brooks God empties us, but emptied of self we may be filled with the Spirit and know new days of blessing we never knew before.

(5) The River Brings Fruit Wherever It Flows.

It is a millennial scene and is a beautiful description of the land of Palestine with the Dead Sea being “healed” by this wondrous river the prophet describes. Then shall the wonderful prophecy from Isaiah’s pen be fulfilled, and the desert “blossom as a rose.”

Not only does the saint who has been afflicted, (and in his affliction become exercised), bring the blessing of God upon his own soul; but, others with whom he comes in contact share his blessing too.

It is Thy hand, my God!
My sorrow comes from Thee:
I bow beneath Thy chast’ning rod;
’Tis love that bruises me.

I would not murmur, Lord,
Before Thee I am dumb;
Lest I should breathe one murmuring word,
To Thee for help I come.

My God—Thy name is Love,
A Father’s hand is Thine;
With tearful eyes I look above,
And cry, “Thy will is mine!’’

I know Thy will is right,
Though it may seem severe;
Thy path is still unsullied light,
Though dark it oft appear.

Jesus for me hath died;
Thy Son Thou didst not spare:
His pierced hands, His bleeding side,
Thy love for me declare.

Here my poor heart can rest;
My God, it cleaves to Thee:
Thy will is love, Thine end is blest;
All work for good to me.

J. G. D.