The Lord's Furnace
Isaiah 31:9
And he shall pass over to his strong hold for fear, and his princes shall be afraid of the ensign, said the LORD, whose fire is in Zion…

This very remarkable designation of God stands ere as a kind of seal set upon the preceding prophecy. It is the reason why that shall certainly be fulfilled. And what precedes is mainly a promise of a deliverance for Israel, which was to be a destruction for Israel's enemies. We shall not understand these great words if we regard them as only a revelation of destructive and terrible power. It is the very beauty and completeness of this emblem that it has a double aspect and is to less rich in joy and blessing than pregnant with warning and terror.

I. IN THE CHURCH GOD IS PRESENT AS A GREAT RESERVOIR OF FERVID LOVE. Every language has taken fire as the symbol of love and emotion. He dwells in His Church, a storehouse of blazing love, heated seventy times seven hotter than any creatural love, and pouring out its ardours for the quickening and gladdening of all who walk in the light of that fire and thaw their coldness at its blaze. Then, how comes it that so many Christian Churches are ice-houses instead of furnaces? If God's blazing furnace is in Jerusalem, it should send the thermometer up in all the houses of the city. But what a strange contradiction it is for men to be in God's Church, the very focus and centre of His burning love, and themselves to be almost down below zero in their temperature! A fiery furnace with its doors hung with icicles is no greater a contradiction and anomaly than a Christian Church or a single soul which professes to have been touched by the infinite lovingkindness of God, and yet lives as cold and unmoved as we do. There is no religion worth calling so which has not warmth in it. We hear a great deal about the danger of an "emotional Christianity." Agreed, if by that they mean a Christianity which has no foundation for its emotion in principle and intelligence; but not agreed, if they mean to recommend a Christianity which professes to accept truths that might kindle a soul beneath the ribs of death and make the dumb sing, and yet is never moved one hair's-breadth from its quiet phlegmaticism. If there is no fire, what is there? Cold is death. We want no flimsy, transitory, noisy, ignorant, hysterical agitation. Smoke is not fire. If the temperature were higher, and the fire more wisely fed, there would not be any. But we do want a more obvious and powerful effect of our solemn, glorious, and heart-melting beliefs on the affections and emotions of professing Christians, and that they may be more mightily moved by love to heroisms of service and enthusiasms of consecration which shall in some measure answer to the glowing heat of that fire of God which flames in Zion.

II. GOD'S REVELATION OF HIMSELF, AND PRESENCE IN HIS CHURCH, ARE AN INSTRUMENT OF CLEANSING. Fire purifies. In our great cities now there are "disinfecting ovens," where infected articles are taken, and exposed to a high temperature which kills the germs of disease, so that tainted things come out sweet and clean. That is what God's furnace in Zion is meant to do for us. The true way of purifying is by fire. To purify by water, as John the Baptist saw and said, is but a poor cold way of getting outward cleanliness. Water cleanses the surface, and becomes dirty in the process. Fire cleanses within and throughout, and is not tainted thereby. The Hebrew captives were flung into the fiery furnace; what did it burn? Only their bonds. They themselves lived, and rejoiced, in the intense heat. So, if we have any real possession of that Divine flame, it will burn off our wrists the bands and chains of our old vices, and we shall stand pure and clear, emancipated by the fire which will burn up only our sins, and be for our true selves as our native home, where we walk at liberty and expatiate in the genial warmth.

III. GOD, IN HIS GREAT REVELATION OF HIMSELF BY WHICH HE DWELLS IN HIS CHURCH, IS A POWER OF TRANSFORMATION. Fire turns all which it seizes into fire. And so God, coming to us in His "Spirit of burning," turns us into His own likeness, and makes us possessors of some spark of Himself.

IV. This figure teaches that THE SAME DIVINE FIRE MAY BECOME DESTRUCTIVE. The emblem of fire suggests a double operation, and the very felicity of it as an emblem is that it has these two sides, and with equal naturalness may stand for a power which quickens and for one which destroys. The difference in the effects springs not from differences in the cause, but in the objects on which the fire plays. We may make the furnace of God our blessedness and the reservoir of a far more joyful and noble life than ever we could have lived in our coldness; or we may make it terror and destruction.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And he shall pass over to his strong hold for fear, and his princes shall be afraid of the ensign, saith the LORD, whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem.

WEB: His rock will pass away by reason of terror, and his princes will be afraid of the banner," says Yahweh, whose fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem.

The Fiery Ordeal of the Church
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