Zec_13:9. I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, it is my people; and they shall say, The Lord is my God.
AFFLICTION is the lot of mankind in general, and more especially of those who fear the Lord, who are all, in their measure, “predestinated to he conformed to the image of Christ,” as well in sufferings as in glory. In the context we are told what Christ would have to endure when once he should become incarnate; “Awake, O my sword, against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts; smite the shepherd.” It is true, that Christ was to make satisfaction for sin by his sufferings and death; and in that view there is no occasion for us to “drink of his cup:” but it is true also that “he learned obedience, and was made perfect, by the things which he suffered;” and these ends are no less necessary to be accomplished in us; nor can they be effected in any better way. On this account God has determined to “bring the third part through the fire;” that so he may fit them for the fuller enjoyment of himself, both in this world and the world to come.
The text informs us how God deals with his people,
In respect of trials—
he people of God are but a small remnant—
[Perhaps the text may refer to that period when the Christian Church was to be delivered from the destruction which was coming on the Jewish nation. At that time they were very numerous in Jud
a, and might, in general terms, be represented as a “third part.” But in every age and place they have been comparatively a “little flock,” or, as the Apostle calls them, “a remnant according to the election of grace.” Even in one of the most distinguished Churches in the apostolic age we read that there were “but few who had kept their garments undefiled:” and, if those who bear the Christian name at this day were tried by the standard of God’s word, the number of true disciples would be found very disproportioned to the collective body.]
But, whether few or many, they are all “brought to God through the fire”—
[It is no uncommon thing for persons to receive their first serious impressions by means of some afflictive dispensation: many must say with David, “Before I was afflicted I went astray.” But, in whatever way they are converted to God, they seldom continue long in his service without experiencing some temporal or spiritual affliction. God, who is a wise physician, knows what is most conducive to the health of our souls. He sees that there is much “folly bound up in our hearts, and that nothing but the rod of correction can effectually drive it out.” He sees it necessary “to try us, as gold, and to purify us as silver,” that we may both manifest what we are, and become what we should be. If we be only superficial Christians, who, like “the stony-ground hearers, have no root in ourselves,” we shall “be offended as soon as tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word:” but if we be “Israelites indeed,” the trial of our faith, which is much more precious than gold, which, though it stand the trial of fire, yet perisheth at last, will be found to praise, and honour, and glory in the day of his appearing [Note: 1Pe_4:12; 1Pe_1:6-7.].” Besides, the very best have much amiss within them, which escapes their notice, till “God counsels them in the night season” of affliction, and discovers to them the hidden abominations of their hearts. On this account especially the saints have testified with one consent that they have found it “good to be afflicted;” and have seen reason to bless God more for their heaviest trials, than for their richest comforts.]
That their trials, however, are not unmixed, will appear by considering how God deals with them,
In respect of enjoyments—
If the Christian has much “bitterness of heart,” with which others are unacquainted, so has he also much “joy, with which a stranger intermeddleth not.” He enjoys,
Communion with God—
[Before he was converted he knew nothing of fellowship with a reconciled God and Father. He performed perhaps many outward acts of worship, but never prayed from his inmost soul. He felt not the greatness of his wants; he knew not the excellency of spiritual attainments: he was not persuaded of the efficacy of prayer: no wonder therefore that he never cried to God in earnest, and consequently, that he never obtained an answer to his prayer. Not even Paul himself, notwithstanding all his zeal, had ever prayed aright, till Christ appeared to him in his way to Damascus [Note: Act_9:11.]. But the true Christian is enabled to “pour out his soul before God:” and to him is that promise fulfilled: “Before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear [Note: Isa_65:24.].” Often does he go to God weak, weary, or disconsolate, and return from a throne of grace strengthened with might, and filled with peace and joy.
Nor is this happy state a little promoted by his trials. When he is long at ease, he is too apt to relax his exertions, and to rest in a cold and carnal frame: but afflictions drive him to his God, and necessitate him to wrestle in prayer till he obtains the desired aid [Note: Gen_32:24-26.].]
Confidence before God—
[God is unspeakably gracious to the soul that seeks him. He will not only answer the prayers of his people, but will “shed abroad his love in their hearts,” and give them such tokens of acceptance with him, as, in effect, to say to them, “Thou art mine.” He will “seal them with the Holy Spirit of promise,” and set his mark upon them in such a manner, that they themselves may know their relation to him. Moreover, by these manifestations of his favour he will embolden them to claim him as their God. Like the Church of old they shall make their boast of him; “My beloved is mine, and I am his,” “This God is my God for ever and ever [Note: Son_2:16. Psa_48:14.].”
This assurance too, no less than their fellowship with God, is advanced by means of afflictive dispensations. Their tribulation makes them apply to God for patience; the acquisition of patience gives them an experience of his truth and faithfulness; and this experience begets a lively hope [Note: Rom_5:3-4.], yea, oftentimes an unshaken confidence in God, which is as “an anchor of their souls both sure and steadfast.”]
Those who are but little conversant with trials—
[Doubtless it is a mercy to be free from troubles, because “they are not joyous at the present, but grievous.” But what do you find to have been the effect of this exemption? Have you not, like Jeshurun, “waxed fat and kicked?” “When you have eaten and been filled, have you not forgotten the Lord your God [Note: Deu_8:10-14; Deu_32:15.]?” Do you not find that your corruptions are unmortified? Are you not conscious that you have never yet experienced that exalted state of communion with God, and of confidence before him, which it is both your privilege and your duty to enjoy? Guard then against these pernicious effects of ease; for the prosperity of fools, as we are told, will destroy them [Note: Pro_1:32.]. Let the attainment of a holy and heavenly frame be desired by you far more than any temporal comfort. In a little time all present things, whether pleasing or painful, will come to an end: and then they only will be found happy, who sought an interest in Christ, and “had the Lord for their God [Note: Psa_144:15.].”]
Those who are “tossed with tempests and not comforted”—
[Though God brings his dearest children into the fire, he does not leave them there; he engages to bring them “through” it. While they are yet in it, he will be with them, that they may not be burned [Note: Isa_43:2.]: yea, “he will sit by them as a refiner and purifier of silver,” to watch the process which he has ordained for their good [Note: Mal_3:3.]. He knows what heat is requisite for the accomplishment of his gracious purposes; and, when their dross is purged out, he will bring them forth as “vessels of honour meet for their Master’s use [Note: Job_23:10.].” Be patient then under your trials, knowing from whom they proceed, and for what blessed ends he has appointed them: and be rather solicitous to have your troubles sanctified than removed. Only let them drive you to a throne of grace, and not, as they too often do, discourage you from drawing nigh to God. Let them make you more earnest in seeking an assured confidence in his love, and an increasing meetness for his glory. Then shall you in due time be numbered with those blessed spirits, “who came out of great tribulation, and made their robes white in the blood of the Lamb.” Nor need you fear but that the “eternal weight of glory” which you shall possess, shall abundantly compensate “the light and momentary afflictions” which you endured in the way to it.]