William Nicholson, 1862
"He will be like a refiner's fire! He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver!" Malachi 3:2-3
In the context, Malachi predicts the coming of the Messiah, which, to the pious Jews, was an object of great desire. But, at that time, the majority of the Jews were wicked, or formalists and hypocrites. To them the prophet intimates that Messiah's appearance would involve a test or trial which very few would be able to stand. "But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?" verse 2. Who shall stand the test of his doctrines, the trying dispensation which shall attend the setting-up of his kingdom? No hypocrite can endure his doctrines, or stand before his tribunal.
The bestowal of his grace, the allotments of his providence — are designed to promote purity, and to this the carnal mind is opposed. Persecutions, for Christ's sake, test men.
1. A Refiner must be distinguished by ability and skill suitable to his calling.
Jesus Christ possesses pre-eminent qualifications for refining and purifying a people unto himself. His knowledge, wisdom, skill, and searching penetration — are infinite. He understands the nature of the materials he has to purify — what degrees of refining heat they require to render them pure. He has himself been subjected to the refining process. He knows how to feel for others. Hence, his sympathy is unbounded. All that he did and suffered, is designed to refine. "He gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." Titus 2:14
2. Gold or silver, previous to the refining process, is full of dross. In its natural condition it is mixed with earth and other matter, which must be separated.
Christ delivers his people from this present evil world. He calls them from its condemnation, its practices, its defilement, and from the love of it — to the service of God. Their hearts are full of corruption, full of evil — but he refines them. He purges away their dross, and says of them, "This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise."
That there is dross in the soul, see Job 25:4; Matthew 15:19.
As gold and silver sometimes become tarnished, by neglect and carelessness — so God's people become unwatchful, partly lose their zeal, and neglect the means of grace; they accumulate dross, and it is necessary to submit them to the furnace to quicken and refine them.
3. A Refiner has his Furnace, to the heat of which he subjects the precious metals, for the great purpose of purification.
So Christ has his Furnace, his "fiery trial, which is to try them." 1 Peter 4:12. To purge his people from the dross of sin, as seen sometimes . . .
by their worldly conformity,
by their declining love,
by their lethargy in his cause,
by inefficacy in spiritual warfare
— he puts them into the furnace of affliction, to wean their hearts from earth, to teach them its vanity, and cause them to seek a more enduring substance. "The refining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tries the hearts." Proverbs 17:3. "Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have chosen you in the furnace of affliction!" Isaiah 48:10. "This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold!" Zechariah 13:9
Various afflictions, sometimes very severe and inscrutable, and nearly overwhelming, constitute the fire of that furnace in which the people of God are tried.
4. A Refiner melts the gold and silver, and makes it very soft, and thus renders it fit for his purpose.
Christ melts and softens his people by the furnace of affliction, and by his Spirit. The heart was hard, refractory, and unwilling before. Now it is soft, yielding, and obedient. "See, I will refine and test them, for what else can I do because of the sin of my people?" Jeremiah 9:7. Or what way else can I adopt to make them pliable? "God makes my heart soft." Job 23:16.
5. A Refiner, to expedite and to perfect his work, sometimes heats the furnace more intensely.
Christ, if he sees that the heat of ordinary afflictions and trials will not purify and refine the soul of a believer — adds greater afflictions, puts them into a very hot fire, greater trials, according to his own wisdom. "All kinds of trials." See 1 Peter 1:6, 7; 4:12.
6. When the metal has been sufficiently subjected to the heat, all the dross appears on the surface, which the refiner carefully removes.
The furnace of affliction brings to the mind of the believer, a deep sense of his imperfections and sins, etc. He is deeply humbled, he confesses to God through Christ. His sins are taken away. He is delivered in a good degree from pride, worldly-mindedness, etc. He rises from his bed of sickness, endued with renewed affections, more holy desires, and resolves to devote himself to the glory of Christ.
It is by this furnace of affliction that the graces are matured, and that the soul is conformed to the suffering Redeemer. "We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." Romans 5:3-4. "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance!" James 1:2-3. "God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it!" Hebrews 12:10-11
Tried faith, tried patience, and tried love, are highly esteemed; they are infinitely more valuable than tried gold. This is the fruit of all God's chastisements — to take away "the dross and tin of sin." "I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir." Isaiah 13:12
7. A Refiner refines gold several times successively, designing to make it very pure. We read of "silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times." Psalm 12:6
So the afflictions of God's people often follow one another. If one will not do — then another, and another, will be sent to refine his servant. Hence God speaks of purifying his people seven times, Job 5:19.
8. Refiners of silver sit with their eyes steadily fixed on the furnace, that they may watch the process. The process is never complete and perfect, until the Refiner sees his own image in the melted mass.
Just so, Christ sits by the furnace as the great Refiner. All is under his wise and compassionate management. "When you pass through the fire, I will be with you." He sits there to temper the heat according to the infirmities and weakness of his children. He sits there to comfort them, and to carry on the process — until he discerns in their souls, in their tempers, and in their practice — the reflection of his own image. He will maintain and carry on this refining process, until his people shall enter Heaven, when they shall be "perfect and entire, lacking nothing." The Church triumphant will bear his image and reflect his glory. They "shall be like him," "without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing!"
A few ladies in Dublin were reading the above passage; when one of the ladies gave as her opinion, that the fuller's soap, and the refiner of silver, were only the same image, intended to convey the same view of the sanctifying influences of the grace of Christ.
No, said another, they are not just the same image; there is something remarkable in the expression in the third verse: "He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." They all said, that possibly it might be so. This lady was going into the town, and she promised to see a silversmith — and report back to them what he said on the subject. She went, without telling him the object of her errand, and begged to know the process of refining silver; which he fully described to her.
"Do you sit, sir," said she, "while you are refining?" "Oh! yes, madam, I must sit, with my eye steadily fixed on the furnace, since if the silver remains too long, it is sure to be injured." She at once saw the beauty and the comfort too of the expression: "He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." Christ sees it needful to put his children into the furnace, but he is seated by the side of it. His eye is steadily intent on the work of purifying; and his wisdom and his love, are both engaged to do all in the best manner for them.
The lady was returning to tell her friends what she had heard; just as she turned from the shop door the silversmith called her back, and said that he had forgotten to mention one thing; and that was that he only knew that the process of purifying was complete, by seeing his own image in the silver!
When Christ sees his image in his people, his work of purifying is accomplished.
9. A Refiner in refining gold and silver wastes his fuel.
Christ sometimes in the refining of his Church, wastes the wicked who are his fuel, and by whose instrumentality he frequently tries them. The fire of God's wrath seizes upon them, as in the case of Pharaoh, while they are persecuting his people.
10. Real gold receives no injury from fire, though it may decrease as to bulk, when put into the furnace. But it is only the separation of the dross that lessens the size. Pure gold is so fixed, that an ounce of it set in the furnace for two months, did not lose a single grain.
And sincere Christians will abide the day of his coming, when he shall sit as a Refiner, in a day of distress and tribulation. And though the Church thereby shall be made less in bulk and quantity, the formal and drossy part exceeding in number the precious metal — yet in quality it will shine forth more gloriously, and be more acceptable to God.
1. Thank God for his refining process! It may be grievous, but afterwards it yields the peaceable fruits of righteousness. It works out a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!
2. Are we pure gold, and not dross, or counterfeits? The Furnace of trial will make a clear discrimination of us. "Every man's work shall be tried so as by fire." 1 Corinthians 3:13.
3. What an awful thing to be found mere dross — to be castaways!