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by Arthur W. Pink

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1932, 1933 | Main Index


Studies in the Scriptures

by Arthur W. Pink

July, 1933

Furnace Conduct

“Wherefore glorify ye the LORD in the fires” (Isa. 24:15). The context presents a fearfully solemn picture. It describes a time when the judgments of God are abroad: when He causes the earth to mourn, and the world to languish; when His curse devours, and maketh desolate; when all classes are alike made to smart from His rod. The merry-hearted do sigh, the joy of the harp ceaseth, the new wine mourneth; yea, we are told “all joy is darkened, the mirth of the land is gone” (Isa. 24:11). Then it is that this remarkable word is given to God's people: “Wherefore glorify ye the LORD in the fires.” It is true that conditions on earth today are not nearly so dreadful as those described in the first part of Isaiah 24, yet they are of such a character as to make this exhortation a timely one for many.

“Wherefore glorify ye the LORD in the fires.” These are the words of a godly remnant who had been preserved in the midst of desolation. How few they were in number may be seen from verse 13: they are likened unto the handful of berries still on the boughs after the olive tree has been shaken, and unto the odd grapes remaining on the vine after the vintage. Thank God there always has been a faithful remnant preserved by Him in the most evil times, for He will not leave Himself without a witness on the earth. This little remnant is here seen triumphing, for it is said, “They shall lift up their voice, they shall sing for the majesty of the LORD, they shall cry aloud from the sea” (v. 14), that is, from amid the nations in a state of tumult.

Those who comprised this little remnant are here seen calling upon one another to delight themselves in the Lord, to rejoice amid their afflictions. Instead of giving vent to complainings and repinings, their word is “Wherefore glorify ye the LORD in the fires.” It is easy to be thankful and happy in times of peace and plenty, but it is contrary to flesh and blood to sing songs in the furnace: yet this is what the saints are here enjoined to do! No matter what may be their circumstances, how scant their portion, how trying their lot, Christians ought to glorify the Lord in them. For what purpose does He leave us here upon earth, but to honour Him, to witness for Him, to make manifest unto others the sufficiency of His grace?

“Wherefore glorify ye the LORD in the fires.” We shall not here attempt a strict exegesis of this verse, rather would we endeavour to make a practical application of it unto ourselves in these difficult days. At all times, in all cases, it is both the privilege and the duty of the Christian to “glorify” the Lord. He must not succumb to fear, but seek the Holy Spirit's strengthening of his faith. He is not to be the “victim of circumstances,” but obtain grace to rise above and be victor over them. He is not to give way to abject despair like the poor worldling, but make it evident to those about him that the Lord is “a very present help in trouble” (Psa. 46:1). “Wherefore glorify ye the LORD in the fires.” But how are we to do so?

1. By honest self-judgment: by which we mean, a frank acknowledgment that we fully deserve the chastening rod of God which is now upon us, owning with David, “I know, O LORD, that Thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me” (Psa. 119:75). God will not suffer His people to sin without rebuke (see Psa. 89:30-32), and He is “glorified” when they candidly own His righteousness in correcting them. The cause of all affliction is sin, and therefore God's justice must be acknowledged in His visitation upon it. He is grossly insulted if we say, “I know not why God should deal with me so hardly; I have been guilty of nothing which calls for such severe treatment”—that is the language either of rebellion or self-righteousness. Rather say with Micah, “I will bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against him” (7:9).

If we are to “glorify the LORD in the fires” we must not only affirm the general truth that all His disciplinary dealings under providence are “right,” but particular application must be made thereof: “in faithfulness Thou hast afflicted me.” We must not only own the faithfulness of God when we are at ease, but under the sharpest chastisement. God's judgments do not come upon us at random: “for this cause many are weak and sickly” (1 Cor. 11:30). Say, then, with Nehemiah, “Thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for Thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly” (9:33). Yea, own with Ezra, “Thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve” (9:13). It is much for the honour of God that we have good thoughts of Him when under the rod, and that we vindicate Him in all His ways with us.

2. By not murmuring. Why should we grumble when we justly suffer what we do? “Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?” (Lam. 3:39). If we are now reaping as we sowed, then there is none to blame but our foolish and wicked selves for sowing what we did. Therefore, to put it on the lowest ground, we act irrationally when we sulk and growl under God's rod. Of Hannah we read that “she was in bitterness of soul,” yes, but observe what follows, “and prayed unto the LORD” (1 Sam 1:10). Instead of allowing her trouble to drive her from the Lord, it cast her back the more upon Him. To murmur is only to tempt the Lord to smite us yet more sharply! What did the children of Israel gain by their murmurings in the wilderness? Nothing; only they were made to smart for it.

Certainly we do not “glorify the LORD in the fires” by chafing and repining against His disciplinary dealings with us. O to say with David, “I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress” (Psa. 17:3). We are kept from uttering much that is grievously dishonouring to God when we rigorously muzzle our mouths. For a Christian to murmur against God's providential dealings is for him to deny His justice, impugn His wisdom, and call into question His love—sins of the deepest dye are these! Remember that things might be much worse: God has not cast us into the everlasting burnings—then why resemble, in any degree, those who gnash their teeth against Him? Let us not forget the Word declares, “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain” (James 1:26).

3. By not fainting. This is the other extreme which a suffering saint needs to guard against. When God's grace subdues our hearts from rising up in rebellion against the One who is righteously smiting us, there is ever a real danger of our spirits sinking into a state of despondency; therefore does our loving Father say, “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him” (Heb. 12:5). Certainly the Lord is not glorified by us in the fires if we give way to a spirit of gloomy despair. Rather are we to diligently seek the supernatural aid of the Holy Spirit that we may heed that exhortation, “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD” (Psa. 27:14).

It is a great support to the Christian's heart to remember that the chastening rod is wielded by love (Heb. 12:6), and that God is as much our Father when He frowns as when He smiles, when He whips as when He embraces. God's strokes do not make void His promises, nor do they retract His pardon. Tribulation and trouble are no proofs of God's disfavour, but tokens of His faithfulness; therefore instead of doubting His goodness we should return thanks for His discipline. The “all things” of Romans 8:28 as surely include the cloud and shadows, as the showers and sunshine; yea the immediate context treats directly of sufferings and sorrows! Then doubt not God's mercy, repine not at His providences, faint not under His rod; all will be well at the last.

4. By exercising faith. God's purpose in leading Israel through that “great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought,” was that He might “humble” them, “prove” them, and do them “good” at their latter end” (Deut. 8:15, 16). God has promised to support His people under their trials (Deut. 33:27), to bring them safely through their afflictions (Isa. 41:10), to turn all things to their advantage (Rom. 8:28), and to “perfect” that which concerneth them (Psa. 138:8). Then say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (13:15). God disposes all things for the eternal welfare of His people. Do you answer, “But I am greatly afraid that I have provoked the Lord to leave me to myself”; even so, that word still stands good, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9).

We greatly glorify the Lord in the fires when we seek and obtain from the Holy Spirit that strengthening of faith which enables us to trust God “with all our hearts” and lean not unto our own understandings (Prov. 3:5). Faith may be likened unto a lifebelt; it is of little or no value unless it supports its possessor in the deep and dark waters. Faith does not make us impervious unto the chilliness of the waters, or, to change the figure, it does not make the furnace any cooler or more pleasant; but it does enable its favoured possessor to say with Job, “When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (23:10). “The God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you” (1 Peter 5:10).

5. By perfect endurance. “Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience” (James 5:10). The final words of that verse mean far more than the prophets meekly tolerated their sufferings; they signify that they also continued steadily in the path of duty. Now that so many are out of secular employment, they have more time for reading, meditation, and prayer, and unless they are giving themselves regularly unto these spiritual exercises, they are lamentably failing to heed that exhortation, “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16). No matter how dark the outlook may appear to carnal reason, the Christian ought to ever say, “But I will hope continually, and will yet praise Thee more and more” (Psa. 71:14).

“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him” (James 1:12). To “endure” trials or temptations is to bear them patiently, and with constancy go through all difficulties in the way of duty. The word “tried” here signifies approved as in Romans 14:18, 1 Corinthians 11:19: there must be testings to make evident the integrity of our profession and to make manifest the genuiness of our graces. Thus there is a needs-be for the furnace (cf. 1 Peter 1:7). Then let us seek grace to heed that word “In your patience possess ye your souls” (Luke 21:19).

6. By thanksgiving and praise. “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20). Be thankful things are not worse. Be thankful that if the Lord be our shepherd we shall not “want” (Psa. 23:1). Be thankful that our trials are only for a comparatively brief moment, whereas the sufferings of the wicked will last for all eternity. “We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope:” (Rom. 5:3, 4). But what is there in “tribulations” which can afford ground for “glorifying”? This: they furnish an opportunity for faith, hope, love, to be exercised. They supply occasion for God to manifest His unchanging faithfulness. They bring spiritual blessing to the soul.

We recently received a letter which touchingly illustrated this 6th point. While on the foreign field a missionary's wife was taken ill, and ordered back. On arriving home she was operated upon, to find a terrible cancer in an advanced stage, the doctors pronouncing “No hope.” Her stricken husband wrote, “This was a terrible announcement to me at first, but the Lord has given grace to bear it, and I trust that I shall be able to sincerely say—not that I put up with His will, but that I rejoice in it”!

7. By cheerfulness. God is greatly glorified when His people preserve a bright countenance before the world, and by their demeanour give evidence that they have a source of peace and joy which others are strangers to: this is something which speaks much more forcibly than any sermons we preach with our lips! “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Yes, we may honour or dishonour God by the very expressions on our faces! Ponder the principle enunciated in Matthew 7:17, 18: “Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” “They looked unto Him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed” (Psa. 34:5).—A.W.P.

1932, 1933 | Main Index

 

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