And He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.
The sons of Levi were the authorised instructors of the Hebrew people. By fidelity to their special work they fostered, by unfaithfulness they repressed the higher life of the Hebrews. They became, therefore, the sure gauge of spiritual vigour among their countrymen, or of their spiritual decay. Malachi speaks of the purification of silver and gold, the two most precious metals of the earth, one or other supplying a standard of value among all nations. Nor are these metals inapt symbols of the Church of Christ. She has been the gold and silver of the earth. The world is largely indebted to the Church. Whence does the Church derive her value? From her relation to Christ. The first Church was gathered in loving fealty to Christ. The disciples were His representatives. The bodily presence of their Master and Lord was visible through them. The world can never be converted by the world: Christ has given that great work to His Church. All the fitness of His disciples for their grave and responsible duties is derived from Him. Whatever defectiveness may appear, either in primitive or later Churches, the past nineteen centuries reveal the immense indebtedness of the world to the Church. How frequently has it proved the ark of the nations, saving in its sacred barque the seeds of future learning and civilisation. The material, social, intellectual and moral indebtedness of the world to the Church is too large to be seen by any eye but that of Omniscience. But as the eye glances over many periods of the Church's history, how painfully abundant the evidence that the gold has become dim, and the most fine gold changed. The early Christian Church soon showed a proneness to adulterate the pure truth of the Gospel. See the influence of Mosaism and Gnosticism. How vast and varied the corruptions which later ages reveal! There were the Allegorists, the Sacerdotalists, the Schoolmen, the Ascetics and Mystics. There have been many strange perversions of truth later than these. Popery has faced the light of modern civilisation, not to be extinguished, as our fathers thought, but to snatch a new lease of life. Nor are the followers of Romanism without powerful auxiliaries in our own country. Confine our attention to the more obvious evidences of the need of purification, chiefly in individual men. Among these may be placed narrow and defective views of Divine truth. The Bible is more praised than read. Doctrines and rites, alien to the Spirit of Christ's Gospel, have sprung up within the visible Church. Men have denied Christ in the name of Christ. Their words are the words of the Master, but their spirit has been the spirit of unbelief. There is proof of the need of purification in the superstitious clinging to that which is old, merely because it is old; the vain reverence for a dead past. A painful evidence of corruption is seen in imperfect obedience to the truth. Is it not a fact, beyond all dispute, that deficiency of truth, and deficiency in fidelity to it, have both proved serious hindrances to the spread of Christ's kingdom on the earth? How, then, shall men be purified from these? and by whom? The process of refining originates and is directed by Christ Himself. By His permission times of sore trial came upon the Church universal, or upon some branch of it; and the record of such times is full of instruction and warning to men of other and less eventful days. Beneath the eye of Christ each separate soul is cleansed. All power is His. He can wisely adopt the means that, in His judgment, may be individually demanded in separating the gold from the dross. The process of purifying the precious metals demands undivided attention and protracted patience. Christ "sits as the refiner and purifier of silver." He never relinquishes His fixed and steady gaze upon the soul from which He seeks to remove the earthly dross. The refiner of gold has certain tests by which he discovers the progress of his work. At the beginning of real change, a deep orange colour spreads itself over the molten mass in the cupel. At the next instant, a flickering wave passes rapidly over the surface; and with increasing heat, the fiery mass becomes still, and the colour pale and faint. Now, attention is deepened. Expectation is on tiptoe. In another second the supreme moment may come. As the refiner's eye is steadily fixed upon the burning metal, its surface suddenly becomes as a burnished mirror, and flashes back his pictured face. Thus, also, does Christ watch unweariedly. The process of change is very tardy, very reluctant. The purpose for which this purification is sought demands a closing word. Before the precious metals were put into the cupel, they were full of earthly impurities; were unmalleable, inductile, comparatively useless. Being now purged from all dross, they become the standard and representatives of a nation's wealth. They are fashioned into coins bearing the king's image. They are wrought into vessels fitted for the king's use. Thus it is also with individual members of the Church of Christ. Before our purification, we were but ill-adapted to serve our Divine Lord. The attempt to render this service was marred by our lack of holiness. After our purification, we are made "vessels unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master's use, prepared unto every good work." There is no duty, however humble, which we are not the better fitted to discharge. There is no service, however noble, which we shall not the more acceptably perform. What love is shown by Christ to His people in all this patient watching and working for the removal of the dross of sin. Be patient, therefore, in your particular trial, of whatever sort it is.
The state of the Jewish community in the days of Malachi was very similar to what it was when our Lord appeared on the earth. A proud and self-righteous pharisaism had supplanted all true spirituality of worship, and attention even to the outward forms of piety had become little better than a name. Manifestly such a state of things could not last, for unless some spiritual revolution took place, religion could not go on much longer breathing an atmosphere of universal degeneracy. Malachi tells the people of a coming Reformer. But what is the character of this reformer to be? Will he be mild, gentle, indulgent; or will he go with just severity to the root of all existing evils, and when he begins, will he make an end of abuse and wrong? The prophet does not hesitate to clothe the coming One with attributes of surpassing glory and awfulness, and to represent Him as wielding prerogatives of the most scathing power. The figure in the text refers to the process of refining gold. As the agency of fire separates, the dross from the precious metal, by disintegrating the particles of which the mass is composed; so Christ, not only in His capacity as the final Judge, but more especially in His character as the present embodiment of truth, and as the administrator of the Gospel kingdom, is subjecting the world to a searching fiery test. Malachi deals with the relation of the truth of Christ, and Christ Himself, to four aspects of human affairs.
I. THE NATION. The difference between a nation defiled by error and sin, and a nation purged by truth, is just this — the one is cursed and repulsive; the other is blessed and delightsome. In every case where nations have attempted to rob God of His prerogative of government, the action of the refiner's fire has revealed the weakness of their corruptible systems.
II. THE CHURCH. When Christ refines the Church, He tests her government, her doctrine, and her discipline. As to government; He is not indifferent to the way in which His kingdom is administered. Order must here be reconciled with liberty. Christ is most jealous of His truth. To say that false doctrine does not necessarily bring with it moral corruption, is to say that the Christian's understanding is useless as an element of mind. But is it so? As to discipline, there is no Church that has not spots in her feasts of charity.
III. SOCIETY. In the unrefined condition of society one man is preying upon another, every man seeking his own pleasure and indulging his own passions, without the slightest regard to the welfare of the community. But when society is refined, men "speak often one to another." They take an interest in one another. It is not then every man for himself, but every man considering what is best for all the rest. No one who gravely considers the characteristics of our time will deny that society stands much in need of purification.
IV. THE SOUL. The unrefined soul is addressed in Malachi 4:2. But the address to the renewed soul is given in Malachi 4:2. Our text goes deeper than nations, churches, or society: it deals with the soul, its motives, opinions, desires. There are two classes of souls in the world: those which will lose everything in the fire, even themselves; and those which will lose something, but retain unimpaired the pure gold of faith, and they themselves be saved.
Malachi's is the last prophet-voice of the Old Testament times. Nothing is known concerning the man Malachi. He is only a name. Our interest lies entirely in his message. The various aspects under which Messiah is presented to us by the prophets bear direct relation to the immediate needs of the people who are told about Him. Moses gives us Messiah the Leader, who should permanently take his place. Isaiah gives us Messiah as Sufferer, Conqueror, Comforter, matching the condition of Israel as suffering and exiled. Daniel gives us Messiah the Prince, matching the condition of the people as anticipating the restoration of their kingdom. Malachi gives us Messiah the Refiner, matching the condition of the people, as in a state of moral and religious degradation. It is well for us thus to be reminded of the many-sidedness of Christ's adaptation to human needs. He is the precise Christ needled in every age. And men are earnestly seeking, in this our time, to find those sides and aspects of Christ and of Christianity which precisely adapt to modern, social, and intellectual confusions. Whenever and wherever Christ comes, He comes as the refiner and purifier.
I. MAN IS ALWAYS GATHERING DROSS. Metals are always found mingled with some sort of earthly matter that must be burned or cleansed away. Everything man has to do with gradually tarnishes, or collects the dust, or rusts, or corrupts. We are always at work checking some gathering evil, or cleansing something that has become foul. Whatever human scene you examine you will surely find this tendency to deteriorate. Take the sphere of man's thinking. It is constantly observed that the followers of all great philosophers, and teachers, and thought-leaders, always complicate and deteriorate the systems. They bring in the dirt and the dross. Take the sphere of man's thinking. All the world over, and all the ages through, you may see man recalled to pure principles, and soon losing them again under the accumulating and debasing dross of ceremonies and superstitions. Take the sphere of man's social relations Self-interest has always proved to be the dross that gathers on and spoils the most perfect social schemes man has ever devised. Take the sphere of man's personal life. The noblest ideals are unattained, for the dross of self-indulgence soon gathers, and in middle life men are content with low attainments. Read human history, as epitomised for us in the Bible, and see how the dross is always collecting and defiling. Try the Christian ages. The river of Christianity scarcely began to flow before corruptions mingled with it. Our apostolical epistles tell of errors and heresies and immoralities even prevailing and defiling in their day, and the next centuries are a painful record of ever-increasing degradations. This would be but a depressing side of truth, if it had to stand quite alone. There is, however, an answering truth.
II. GOD IS ALWAYS SEEKING TO REFINE THE DROSS AWAY. This is the meaning of God in history. Precisely what He has always been doing is this — putting things straight; clearing away evils; redeeming men from their follies and sins. He raises up the Reformer, who will clear the gathered dross away, and liberate the pure truth. He brings forth social leaders who can bravely resist the hurrying tyranny. Everywhere, if men show us hastening corruption, we will show them God staying the corrupting process. Refining, purifying, straining, washing, means no less than this, God intends to present us at last faultless: and therefore He must sit as the refiner and purifier, and get the dross away. This is prominently illustrated in the mission of Christ as Messiah. Egyptian paintings give us the refiner seated on his low stool, steadily maintaining the fires with his blow-pipe, and all the while intently watching the silver in the melting-pot, as it grows clearer in the heat. They give us the fuller, trampling the befouled garments, pounding them with his stout rod, and adding the strong lye, the "sope" that shall draw out all the stains. It is the figure of God, manifested in Christ, and working His work of grace through Christ. Christ was the refiner of His own age. The whip of small cords which drove the dross out of the temple courts is typical of the work of His whole life. He is the refiner of every age. Christ has stern hard work to do for His people. Trying for Him. Trying for them. But most blessed. I have seen the man working, stripped to the waist, pouring forth streams of perspiration, at the great iron furnaces; and I have not known which to sympathise with most, the man who, with his long rod, was skilfully moving the iron mass in the great flames, getting it free from all dross, and pure metal for the workers; or that mass of iron itself, burning in the flames, anti turned, now this way and now that, until every part has been fully subjected to the fierce flame. It is hard for us to suffer, but if we saw things aright, should we not think it even harder for Christ to make us suffer?
In the preceding verse, Christ is a refiner's fire, but in this He is the refiner sitting and watching the metal in the fire. His position suggests —
I. THAT HIS PEOPLE NEED REFINING. The dross of sin cleaves to the holiest. Nothing cleaves so closely. Christ sees dross where we do not. We are not always willing that it should be purged away when we do see it. The furnace is necessary.
II. THAT HIS PEOPLE ARE BEING REFINED. They find life a fiery ordeal. They often suffer more than sinners. The heat is often very penetrating; sometimes very hard to bear with patience. They do not always recognise the purpose of suffering. The process goes on even when the results are not perceived. A refiner's furnace is the truest simile of life.
III. THAT HIS PEOPLE ARE VALUABLE IN HIS EYES. He watches them in the furnace. He waits for their perfection. They are silver, not common earth. Often despised by the world, they are highly esteemed by Him. The refiner only watches precious metals in the fire. "Reprobate silver" may be consumed, but every particle of pure metal is preserved. Christ's people are precious to Him.
IV. THAT HIS PEOPLE WILL HAVE THEIR FIERY TRIALS TEMPERED TO THEIR SPIRITUAL REQUIREMENTS. He aims to make them spiritually perfect. He tempers the fire that He may separate "the sin that He hates from the soul that He loves." He seeks not to give carnal enjoyment, but purity. He, sitting to watch, manifests solicitude, patience, expectancy, and care.
V. THAT IN THE END HIS PEOPLE WILL BE FULLY PURIFIED. His purpose shall he accomplished in them. We often see the purification going on. The refiner uses the silver he purifies. Perfect purity will bring perfect blessedness. Learn —
1. To trust more perfectly the watchful care of your Refiner under your trials.
2. To estimate your trials by the amount of purifying they accomplish.
3. To co-operate with the refiner in His efforts to purify you.
All the inventions of two thousand years have not relieved the watcher at the furnace door from the same anxieties and cares that rested ninon the alchemist of Israel over his rude fireplace. What a beautiful figure the illustration furnishes of the plans and providences of God in Christ Jesus. The world's great crucible is ever before Him; the fire of His judgment ever burning beneath; the confused alloy of humanity seething and bubbling within; the solvent and separator of His truth cast ever and anon into the mass; the absorbent of the great unknown ready to receive the refuse; the purified matter growing brighter and brighter; but through all times and in all methods, the same watchful oversight, the same touch of the practised hand, the same unfailing Godlike patience, directing and ensuring final success. God who sent His only Son into the world, that He might gather out of the world a peculiar people for Himself, did, by the sending of His Son, set in action certain laws and orders that separated the evil from the good, and that refined and purified the good; but God over all, and God watching all, and God guiding all things, with untiring love and patience, kept those laws and principles to their purposes, subjecting generation after generation of men to the test of their action, regulating the nature and extent of those tests, taking the purified mass out of the fire before it should be consumed, and acting always upon the coming of that critical moment, when He could see His own image in the mass under trial; sitting and watching, as holding the great results in His own hands. There is a further side to the illustration. A very beautiful phenomenon known as the fulguration of the metal, attends the removal of the impurities from the silver. During the earlier stages of the process, the film of oxide of lead, which has constantly remained over the melted surface of the mass, is removed as rapidly as can be, and the colour of the metal is dark; but when the silver is almost clear of impurities, the film of litharge upon its surface grows finer and finer, and a succession of beautiful rings, of iridescent tints, form, one after another, until at last the film of oxide suddenly melts away and disappears, and the brilliant surface of the silver flashes forth in all its purity and glory. Under the old methods, the watcher did not disturb the crucible until that last change came, — until he could see his own image on the glowing surface. Then his work was done, and his purpose fulfilled. Think of the Lord Jesus under this figure, and then read history again. There is the mass of humanity in the cupel (shallow crucible) of God's law, and here, in this age, the dark film of sin is over the whole surface
, and there, in that age, a ray of light breaks forth, and lights up history's pages, and another, and another, until a continent is encircled; and in these last days the heavy film is breaking, and the whole world is lighting up, because the end is drawing near; and in the very last time the Son of Man shall put forth His power on the earth, and shall call together His elect from the uttermost parts of the earth, and then the darkness shall suddenly all break away, and the true light shine forth, and the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth, and God's loving, patient watching shall be over, and Christ shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied. Men grow weary under the test, and think the world has suffered enough; but still God waits and watches for the true signs of purity, and sends His trials and judgments, and throws in His solvents and absorbents, and looks for His own image. When that appears, then the end cometh.
Everything used in the erection of the Jewish temple was to be flawless and perfect. So it was with the gifts to be presented. The temple was the earthly picture of heaven. Those who enter there have come out of great tribulation, and been made white in the blood of the Lamb. Thus Malachi prophesies: "He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." The purification of character is not an exceptional experience. Christian melting is a common necessity. We are all made perfect through suffering. There is a work to be done in us which involves pain and trial. We are not only sculptors working on a building, we are sculptures with living hearts and quivering nerves, to whom the furnace of trial is a needful thing.
I. THE DIVINE HAND WHICH ARRANGES THE FURNACE. Fire is an element eve. which we have little control. Over the tribulation of which it is here the symbol, we have less control. We cannot set in order the moral procedure which issues in refined and energised character. Directly men begin to choose their discipline they become foolish and vain ascetics. At times we have all wished that there were no griefs and trials here. The furnace needs ordering for us all. It is much to know that our Father's hand is at work in all the events of our history.
II. THE DIVINE EYE THAT WATCHES THE FURNACE. "He sits." A refiner of silver was asked, "Do you sit?" "Yes," he replied, "I must keep my eye steadily fixed on the furnace, for if the silver remains too long under the intense heat it is sure to be damaged." A beautiful illustration, completed when the silversmith added, "I only know the exact instant when the purifying process is complete, by seeing my own countenance in the silver." Only when God sees His own image in the children is He satisfied. Therefore the Father "sits." We see not the Invisible Face behind the furnace, and we may be forgiven if we wonder at all the mysteries of pain and grief.
III. THE DIVINE END IN ORDERING THE FURNACE. The beautiful Bible words have become hardened coins of traditional usage. "Sanctification" is one of the words that have become conventionalised; it has been narrowed to a cheerless type of goodness. Diversity of character gives room for manliness in spiritual life. Experience does not alter the groundwork of human nature. But in all cases tribulation works patience, and patience experience, and experience hope. The end which our Father has in any special trial is often hidden from us. What furnace should we ever have chosen for our selves? The end will explain it all. All is to the praise of the glory of His grace, and never let us forget that His grace involves our good, and His glory our happiness too.
IV. THE DIVINE GRACE THAT SUSTAINS US IN THE FURNACE. In most cases the furnace is gradually heated. There are beginnings of sorrow and gradations of trial, so that God gradually tempers our nature to the heat of the fire. Christian life is silver. It is not wood and hay and stubble to be burned; it is silver to be purified.
The process of refining is in the text made to illustrate the work of Christ upon the heart of man.
I. THE PROCESS. One important truth is assumed, the inherent preciousness of man. Many things are too worthless to pay for refining. When God undertakes to refine or purify man, it is because of his intrinsic dignity and worth. The Scriptures nowhere allow you to suppose that they treat man as an insignificant creature. And man still bears about him in dimness and defacement the image of God. Our Saviour takes great pains to impress us with the intrinsic and indestructible grandeur of man. No word ever escapes His lips which tend to lower him in your esteem. He sets His seal upon the infinite worth of man by taking his nature. Has not sin made a great difference, and reduced, if not destroyed, the worth of man? Yes, sin has made a great difference in his character, and in the part he has played in the world, but it has made no difference in the intrinsic majesty and grandeur of his being. He is still man. He has not fallen into lower rank of creatureship, nor can he. If he could cease to be man, his shame and misery would instantly leave him. Unworthy you are, but not worthless. If you were worthless, he would not sit as a refiner and purifier of silver. He sees the dross, and He sees the metal, and He does not cast away the metal because of the dross, but He seeks to cast the dross out of the metal. "He shall purify." Here we see the great aim and purpose of the Gospel. So far as man's own life and character are concerned, there is no other or higher end that the Gospel can contemplate than this — our purification, In this the Gospel stands out above and distinct from all other religious. Most of the religions of the world have made men impure, and many of them have enjoined and required impurity as an essential condition of salvation. The whole scheme of the Gospel is pervaded by the idea of purity. Our religion is one which has for its supreme aim our perfect holiness. Among the agencies, through means of which this purity is to be accomplished, one is that of trial — trial as if by fire. One of the purposes of affliction is to purify. To come out of the fire no better than we went into it, shows a tenacity of evil in us which may well make us alarmed. It is an unspeakable joy for the Christian to know that, as he must be tried in the fire, he is to be tried under the eye and hand and heart of his Saviour. A process over which He presides will be conducted with infinite wisdom. He knows the nature of the evil which has to be separated. He alone knows the kind of trials to send. There is no uniformity in the process of purification by which Christ tests and refines His followers. Uniformity is the resource of routine and ignorance or despotism. The discipline of a home is a better illustration of the spirit in which Christ acts toward us than any other. In the family the children can be looked at and treated in the light of their individual peculiarities and needs. Each one of Christ's disciples is taken in hand by Himself, and treated for what he is; and the Saviour makes no mistakes, He sends no affliction without reason. It comes at its best time, in the best way, tarries only so long as it is needed, and until its purpose is accomplished. Bodily affliction is not the only fire which Christ kindles for the sanctification of His followers. His fires, and acids, and cleansing agencies are innumerable.
II. ITS PURPOSE. Sufferings have a purpose as well as a cause. The purpose of affliction, as stated here, is, that its subjects "may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness." As a rule, great service can only come out of great suffering. The men of power and influence have been annealed in a furnace of trial of some sort. Shrink not then from the fire, unless you would shrink from the service too. Many a saint on earth is at this hour just purified, and ready to be removed to the world where God keeps all His treasures.
In this character, sitting, purifying, Christ RECOGNISES THE WORTH OF REGENERATE SOULS. He created them by His power. He redeemed them by His love. His work is to them even more valuable. As He burns up the dross of depravity, the souls become more precious in His sight.
II. HE EMPLOYS PAINFUL INSTRUMENTALITIES. Purifies by fire. The fire of truth. The fire of the Spirit. The fire of trial; of personal and relative afflictions, the fire of persecution. As nothing can purify the gold and the silver but fire, so nothing but the Spirit of truth and the Spirit of providence can purge the human soul of all the dross of sin.
III. HE IS PERMANENTLY ENGAGED. "He shall sit as a refiner and purifier."
IV. HE AIMS AT THE ENTIRE CONSECRATION TO GOD. "That they may offer unto God an offering of righteousness." The great work of every man is that of a priest. Man has to "offer to the Lord," his faculties, his being, all he has and is, and to do all this in "righteousness."
We may take these figures as exhibiting the plain and manifest features of our Lord's mission to earth. Still He is among us as fullers' soap, and as a refiner's fire, to cleanse and to purify us all. Here is a great, continuous office of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherever He comes, He is always "like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap." Christ came expressly to establish sanctification, and seal a covenant, of which the very spirit was cleansing and purification by His blood, which cleanseth from all sin. And Christ came also to give those purifying graces without which no effectual cleansing can be carried on or maintained. It is in all the graces, and motives, and desires, which the Holy Spirit generates, fosters, and matures in our too often half-reluctant hearts, that the great Fuller and Refiner of the Word carries out the purpose, the great mission of cleansing and refining for the perfecting of which He once graced the earth, and the nature of man, by His Incarnate Presence. What is the machinery by which the Holy Refiner makes His power known? This refining is to be sought for, and realised if we would have any usefulness, any ultimate profit, in it. The Refiner is ever present, doing the refining work Himself. But He is as the refiner's fire. In the furnace of some kind of affliction He refines us — "Purging away the dross, taking away all the tin." Trial is the refining agent. The trial may bear relation not only to the outward, but also to the inner life. Whether then Christ sit among us as a Fuller to cleanse, and as a Refiner to purify, is a question which concerns us all.
last sentences from Malachi's scroll are the specifications for the Kingdom of Christ. The perfected outline of this character and kingdom, and the preparation needed for the return of the Lord, is the theme of our chapter.
I. THE COMPLETED PICTURE OF THE COMING MESSIAH. Isaiah brings before us the Man of Sorrows. From Isaiah onwards the lineaments seem to change, and the tints to deepen. We become familiar with a martial step and warlike notes.
II. THE CHURCH IS TO BE PURIFIED AND REVIVED. This is a service which Christ will constantly render and require of His Church, — their cleansing. It is, as it were, a permanent employment. He is watching the crucibles and the scales, like the silversmith at his bench. This is the answer to a question of the day, "Is God doing the best He can for this world?" Controversy, the shaking and sifting of small and great, of good and bad, may have its wholesome results when presided over by the magisterial and gracious presence of Christ.
III. SOCIETY IS TO BE JUDGED AND TRANSFORMED. "And I will come near you to judgment." When the Lord comes into His temple He appears also as a swift witness against the iniquities of society. He is a swift witness against evil-doers.
IV. SPECIFICATIONS ARE MADE TO THE CHURCH, SOCIETY, AND THE INDIVIDUAL, IN REGARD TO THEIR SHORTCOMINGS. Men do not wish to be definite in their faith, or confine themselves to commended and well-tested helps to a Divine life. But even an imperfect comprehension of a great character yields more than an accurate inventory of an insignificant Person or thing. Much is said about religion not meeting the needs of men, but the truth is overlooked that men do not comply with the conditions of Divine help.
These words were spoken by Malachi respecting Christ and John the Baptist. My present design is to notice the characteristics of a genuine appearance of Christ among the people to revive His work. Before Christ personally appeared among the Jews, He sent His messenger to prepare the way. When Christ could appear to revive His work, He still sends a messenger to prepare His way. Somebody will be stirred up to call the attention of the people to the real condition of things, and the necessity for a reformation among them. When this has been done, the Lord will suddenly come to His temple. There is first the seeking after the Lord, then a calling upon His name in earnest supplications for Him to revive His work, and then His coming. The Lord's temple is His true Church on earth, of which the temple at Jerusalem was only a type. What did Christ do when He first appeared among men? Whenever He comes to revive His work in a place, there is sure to be great need for it. Much is wrong, and there is need for reformation. When Christ comes there will be a tremendous searching among the people. He began by upturning the foundations of their hopes; all their self-righteous expectations. He brought to bear upon them a searching ministry. He must try the metal to see what dross is in it; he must see what chaff there is in the wheat, and then fan it away. In such processes, certain classes of persons are peculiarly affected. Christ took in hand chiefly the Pharisees, the leaders of the Church, and in a most unsparing manner searched and tried them; reproved their errors, contradicted them, and turned their false teaching completely upside down. So now Christ does with all churches and all people. Whatever errors and misconceptions they may be labouring under, He must set Himself to correct. If He find them with superficial views of the spirituality of God's law, He must correct them. If they have superficial views of the depravity of the human heart, they must be corrected. He must cast light on all dark places, search the nooks and corners, and dispel all errors by the powerful light of truth. He begins by trying the ministers. He needs to try them, that they may be instrumental in trying others. He will search out the carnal professors of religion. These are divided into various classes. Sometimes there are ambitious Persons in the Church. They wish to be highly influential. Such persons are often searched out in such a manner as greatly to expose and mortify them. Some are spiritually proud, or have had a worldly pride; and they will all be searched out. When Christ comes to revive His work, He will bring iniquity to light by searching, preaching, and the power of the Holy Ghost. He will not only do this with the Church; He will also try the congregation who are not professors of religion; and will bring a terrible searching to bear upon them. If religion is to be revived, sin must be put away. If sin is to be put away, there must be a conviction of sin; and if there is to be a conviction of sin, searching must be applied.
The passage points to Christ.
I. HE IS GLORIOUS. This appears —
1. From the fact that a Divine messenger was sent to prepare the way for Him.
2. From the description that is here given of Him; He revolutionises the thoughts, the emotions, the aims, the habits of mankind.
II. HE IS AWE-INSPIRING. Unrenewed men will stand aghast and tremble in the presence of this Reformer. He would subject their principles to the fiery test of His heart-searching truth.
III. HE IS THOROUGH. "A refiner's fire." "Fullers' soap." In Christ's reformation, everything that is wrong, that is impure, is worked out of the human soul.
IV. HE IS PERSISTENT. "He shall sit," etc. He is intent upon the work, and makes no slight or passing business of it.
V. HE IS SUCCESSFUL. He will constitute for men one day a "holy priesthood," a priesthood that will render to the Almighty offerings that are holy and acceptable to him.
Sermons by Contrib. to, Tracts for the Times. "
We do well to remember with awe the day when Christ will come to be our Judge; and yet these words may be understood of His coming near a man, or near His Church, in any way. God never reveals Himself as closely approaching sinners, without putting them to proof and trial, more or less resembling that by which metals are tried in the fire. Those who, even in the day of His humiliation, knew or felt Him to be the Son of God, and themselves sinners, trembled before Him, and would fain have got away from His presence. They could not "abide the day of His coming." That the prophet meant this kind of continued presence, and not simply Christ's final coming, is probable for two reasons —
1. That he connects this purifying presence of our Lord with the sending of His message to prepare the way before Him.
2. That he speaks of Him not as a destroyer, but as a refiner, especially of the priests. This seems to tell us of some unspeakable mercy of His, to temper, as it were, the natural effects of His purity coming in contact with us sinners, so as that He may be in us, and with us, a fire not to consume, but to refine. The God of Purity abides in man's nature, and it is not destroyed, but purified. The first coming of our Lord to His new temple should be connected with some great purification, which was to take place in His Church, the consequence of which would be, that He would be fully reconciled to His fallen people. Notice the ceremony connected with the purification of the mother of Jesus. She brought two turtle-doves; one for a burnt offering, as an acknowledgment of what sinners deserve at the hands of the Almighty; and she acknowledged that her only hope of purification lay in her presenting a pure offering. Note that other Israelitish mothers offered in acknowledgment and expiation of the sin which they had communicated to the infant newly born; but this holy mother needed not to make any such confession. Her offspring was pure and untainted, and had no occasion to be expiated. The offering of the Blessed Virgin differed infinitely from all others, in the worth of the first-born, whom she presented to her God.
It is necessary to think of civilisation in two lights — the one as the condition of the individual, the other as a power to influence others standing apart from its condition. What mankind needs is, not simply an ideal picture of an elevated human life, but also an agency that will rapidly cast men into the likeness of this ideal picture. Individuals may have nearly reached the ideal manhood, but their virtues have been unable to multiply themselves infinitely in the outer world. History is dotted over with names of such piety as marked Aurelius, Cato, and Xenophon. In seeking for a desirable civilisation, it is necessary for us to find a culture that will overflow, a civilisation that possesses the aggressive power and genius, that will open out, fanlike, and pass from one to many, incapable of rest as to labour, and as to its aspirations and conquests. Give attention then to Christian character as a civilisation. Man is civilised when all his faculties of mind and heart are active within their spheres, not falling short of nature's law, nor going beyond it. Under "faculties" must be included conscience, and all the tender sentiments of friendship, love, sympathy, and religion, for, without these, a character may possess greatness in many respects, but not that perfect blending which seems to give us the perfect manhood. Edmund Burke says — "The spirit of civilisation is composed of two parts, the. spirit, of a gentleman, and the spirit of religion." This is only another way of informing us, that civilisation is a life lived in the presence of man and of God. Paul describes the perfect gentleman in 1 Corinthians 13
. In living up to such a picture we should all make a grand approach to a civilised life. It has long been a custom of philosophic minds to pass in silence any lessons of civilisation upon the pages of Scripture, and patiently to seek, and deeply to love everything in Aristotle or Plato. Permit me to assume that the truly Christian character is a highly civilised character. Hence our second proposition, that Christianity possesses in a large measure the power to influence those standing afar off. In order to produce a universal manhood, we must find a truth that overflows, a philosophy the opposite of egotism, a philosophy deeply altruistic. A religion in which one good man becomes ten good men is the only one that will offer society hope. Now the grand attribute of Christ and His method is this — living for others. If there is one sentence which, more than others, may express the genius of this Christ, it is this: His was a goodness that rolled outward, a love whose rays, like those of the sun, darted away from itself. In the world of morals, Christianity is a love which from one heart moves outward and contemplates nothing less than shining upon each face that is seen, or shall be seen walking the paths in this vale. No Christ-like soul will consent to walk along through life, or to heaven, without wishing to drag all society with it to the sublime destiny. Above all other systems Christianity is an aggressive civilisation. Let us now defend Christianity against some parts of its history. It does not argue against a sentiment that men have erred as to what path it should follow. Christ has stood so near the people, that they have wreathed the cross with their infirmities at the very hour when they crowded round it to find their salvation. And it is this nearness to the human heart which has made Christianity drench with blood fields over which infidelity would have whispered "peace," for religion has always been an active, powerful sentiment, and hence its errors have been as active as its truths. As love in a wrong path, or itself wronged, may become an agony and a cruelty, but in its full light and wisdom opens out into a paradise, so Christianity escaping from errors of doctrine and practice, .will .either become the world's civilisation, or else we must bow in sorrow and declare the generations to come to be utterly without hope. Here, then, is a reform adequate in its truths and in its motives. What detains it from its great mission? It waits simply for man. It waits for the Church to escape from the letter which killeth to the spirit which giveth life. It waits for the Christian throng to enter, not their sanctuary only, but the world.
The following description of silver refining is given by Napier: — "When the alloy is melted upon a cuppel and the air blown upon it, the surface of the melted metals has a deep orange-colour with a kind of flickering wave constantly passing over the surface, caused by the combining of the oxygen with the impurity; and these being blown off as the process proceeds, the heal is increased, because the nearer purity the more heat is necessary to keep it in fusion; and in a little the colour of the fused metal becomes lighter, the impurities only forming reddish striae which continue to pass over the surface. At this stage the refiner watches the operation, either standing or sitting, with the greatest earnestness, until all the orange colour and shading disappears, and the metal has the appearance of a highly-polished mirror, reflecting every object around it, even the refiner, as he looks upon the mass of metal, may see himself as in a looking-glass, and thus he can form a very correct judgment respecting the purity of the metal If he is satisfied the fire is drawn, and the metal removed from the furnace; but if not considered pure more lead is added and the process is repeated." All this is illustrative of the dealings of God with the Christian, who, being put into the furnace of affliction, is often kept there for a considerable time, the heat meanwhile increasing daily; but no sooner is the end answered, and the drop of sin removed, than he is taken out of the furnace reflecting the image of his Lord.
I stood in the foundry-yard. Great piles of iron, all ready for melting, were gathered there. I noticed one heap of columns, broken, bent, split, shattered. I went into the foundry. They were "tapping" the furnace, and the molten metal flowed out in one stream of fire, sending up a sputter of sparks, whiter than the stars. A row of men, on whose swarthy faces fell the strange glare of the fire, stood a little way from the furnace to catch the iron in ladles, and carry it off to be run in the moulds. I knew these broken columns would some day be cast into the furnace, softened, melted, to run out in a stream of fire, and be moulded again in tall, shapely pillars. In no other way could they be of use. They must be melted over. That very afternoon I saw a mother all bent and broken by affliction. She had parted with an only child. Just the Sabbath before had the earth been broken for that child's grave. I pitied that mother. How keenly her Saviour felt for her. And yet, perhaps, the only way to reach some elements in that mother's character, and change them, was through affliction. The character was not worthless; far from it. It only needed melting over. O, the pain of that furnace of suffering, its smart, its agony! But in just this way is character sometimes made over, its qualities shaped into the strong, stately pillars sustaining the interests of the Redeemer's kingdom.
The word translated "soap" does not signify the article which is now called by that name; soap was not known in the days of Malachi. It means rather what we call "lye " It was water impregnated with alkali drawn from the ashes of the vegetable known as salt-wort. " He shall sit "is not merely" pictorial, "to make the figure more striking." It is the position which the refiner must occupy, because the process of purification is often protracted, and must always be watched with unbroken attention. Recently a few ladies in Dublin, who are accustomed to meet and read the Scriptures, and converse upon topics suggested, were reading this third chapter of Malachi, when one of them observed, "There is something remarkable in the expression in the third verse: ' He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." "They agreed that possibly it might be so, and one of the ladies promised to call on a silversmith, and report to them what he said on the subject. She went accordingly, and, without telling the object of her errand, begged to know from him the process of refining silver, which he described to her. "But, sir," she said, "do you sit while the process of refining is going on?" "Oh yes, madam," replied the silversmith; "I must sit with my eye steadily fixed on the furnace, for if the time necessary for refining be exceeded in the slightest degree the silver is sure to be injured." At once she saw the beauty and the comfort, too, of the expression, "He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." Christ sees it is needful to put His children into the furnace, but He is seated by the side of it, His eye is steadily on the work of purifying, and His wisdom and love are both engaged in the best manner for them. Their trials do not come at random; the very hairs of their head are all numbered. As the lady was leaving the shop the silversmith called her back, and said he had still further to mention that he only knew the process of purifying was complete by seeing his own image reflected in the silver. Beautiful figure! When Christ sees His own image in His people His work of purifying is accomplished. Then He instantly removes the crucible from the fire.
As a matter of fact, suffering is the condition in which every human life is lived to a greater or less degree. It embraces every portion of our nature, in pain of body, in perplexity of mind, in great sorrow of heart, in conflict of will, in restlessness of conscience, in desolation of spirit. Life always seems to me to be like our Lord's life in this — it is a drawing nearer, nearer, nearer to Calvary, a more and more living to conditions of suffering. And that which is an experience with us is a universal, experience; we see it in every page that tells the story of the past. We see it wherever we look round upon human life to-day. We cannot help it; our own nature instinctively revolts against it. In the degree in which we can see how the mystery of suffering can be reconciled with the wisdom and the power and the love of God, in that degree we shall be helped to be enduring for ourselves, and to be trustful about others. Suffering is not of God; it is contrary to the ideal will of God. Tennyson says, "Man thinks he was not made to die." Man was no more made to suffer than he was made to die. Suffering is the necessary result of the violation of law; that is, suffering is of sin; and that it is by man's resistance to the loving guidance of God in the laws of life that He has set for him, that all suffering has come into the world. We are right to hate it; we are right to feel in the position of absolute antagonism to it. We are right to do all we can to work it out of human life. It is not of God, and although it is not of God, we are obliged to admit this fact, that God foreknew how man would use the liberty wherewith He dowered him, that He foreknew human sin, and that therefore He foreknew all the suffering that follows from human sin, and yet foreknowing this He created man. How is this reconciled with His love? Well, the answer which we are going to consider in detail is this: Because God foreknew how out of suffering He could work gracious purposes to men. Now, the first of these purposes is this: suffering rightly borne purifies the character, and sets it free from sin. "He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." It is to this corrective aspect of suffering that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews turns our attention in the 12th chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Let us look at the text itself in its first application. Malachi is the last of the prophets. His prophecy synchronises with the later days of the reign of Nehemiah. You remember what the story is that is told us of the religious position of Judah and Israel in Jerusalem towards the end of Nehemiah's reign. He had come first of all from Babylon, and had rebuilt Jerusalem, and had re-organised its religious and its social life; then he had gone back again to the court of his king, and an interval of some years intervenes. During this time Israel falls into a position of religious decay. It is quite true that she no longer reverts to idolatry as before she had gone through the stern discipline of the Babylonish Captivity. The temple services are maintained with regularity, but there is gross carelessness in the ministries. The lame and the blind are brought near to God, as if they were worthy offerings to be laid upon His altar. Side by side with this careless, irreverent worship we see worldliness. The sons of Israel are joining themselves in marriage alliances with the Gentile heathen around; and then, of course, with this worldliness there is a great deal of licentiousness of conduct, and the saddest feature about the whole thing is this — that lies beneath the religious declension of the people — the corruption of the priesthood. The national life is stained by that which is immoral in the conduct of the priests in their daily life. And one thing is necessary, if the national life is to be purified, if the worship which is to rise from the Church of Israel is to be acceptable with God there must be purification of the nation, and the necessary preliminary to that is the purification of the priesthood. God says it shall come, and it shall come of suffering! Now, the symbolism is quite clear, is it not? We see before us some refining furnace; the fire is burning, and there is cast into that furnace ore mingled with dross and precious metal. Under the action of the fire the dross is separated from the metal. The refiner is watching the process of purification as it goes on. At length the separation is complete. Here, then, is given to us the picture of our life. As a matter of fact, we are in that fire; we have seen it. Its flames are involving every portion of our being. But why? Well, the answer that is given is this: for the purification of our nature. It is true, by the action of suffering that purification is wrought. Just see how true this is in instances with which we are familiar in the Bible. Recall to mind, for instance, the story of the conversion of the woman who was a sinner. In her time of indifference and thoughtlessness she is in the grip of her sin. Then she is brought to the sorrow, the exquisite suffering of contrition. Or take, again, another instance just as simple. Look at that thief as he hangs at the side of our Lord upon the Cross. He is in a position of absolute cleaving to his sin, and the words that he casts in the teeth of the Redeemer are words of reproach. But as he hangs there upon the Cross, and draws nigh to the unseen world, he is prepared to receive the ministry of Him who is on the Cross as the Refiner and Purifier of silver, and he, too, through the pain of his body, through what he is suffering materially in mind and heart and will, is turned to the Christ, and he who dies as the outcast of men is the first accepted penitent to enter Paradise with Christ. And just as we see that it is through suffering continually that men are first of all turned to God in initial conversion, so it is in life. Of course, the real convert in the moment of his initial conversion turns from his sin to God; but what the sin is from which he has to turn is only gradually made clear to him as he goes through life, and not until we are wholly conformed to the will of God in every detail of life and character is the work of conversion complete, because until this is so we have something from which to turn unto our God. Take two simple instances. There is John as he comes before us naturally in the New Testament: Boanerges, the Son of Thunder, said, "Lord, wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them even as Elias did?" Here we see him a Christian man but with undisciplined zeal; he has not zeal tempered with charity. Look again at him when he has reached extreme old age, and when he lies on his couch at Ephesus, with Christians gathered round him; and this is the burden of his teaching, "Little children, love one another." Thus we see the fiery zeal of the youth turned into the ripened tenderness of the dying saint. Take another instance. Look at Simon Peter, what a strangely human character his is. At first a man carried away by his enthusiasms. What a strange mixture there is in his character. Who shall separate that strength from that weakness? Well, it is done. You pass on, and you look at St. Peter in his own epistles, and there you see quiet, firm strength without any bluster. He has acquired spiritual stability. How? In the discipline of life. And so it is always. God casts us into the furnace of affliction in order that He may deal with us just as that one is dealt with — separates in us that which is displeasing to Himself from that which is true to our true human nature, and He purifies us. We are not surprised, therefore, when people say to us we are simply actors in our religious life. It is not true. If it were true that all life was unified, that man was either wholly of the world or wholly of God, then the criticism would be true. But when a new higher nature is awakened within me, and becomes within me a real yearning, yet the lower nature co-exists with it. How different a person I am in one house to what I am in another. What a different person I am when I am kneeling before God — it may be in His sanctuary — lifted up to the worship of the Eucharist, and what I am when I find myself, well, in my own home, it may be an hour afterwards. And yet I am not a hypocrite in either case. The only thing is that there is brought clearly out before my eyes the co-existence in my character of contradictory forces. There is dross and there is gold. What do I want? To be my true, better self, which, God knows, I long to be, and which I am not sustainedly. What do I want? Why, plainly, the setting free of my higher self from all the power of this lower self. I want to have the dross purged out of my character, I want to be purified within. And so this truth comes before us: God has a loving purpose in consigning me to this great world, to the conditions of life in which we live. It is the essential condition, as far as we see, for the working out of us what is bad and what is mean, and for the development within us of what is grand and beautiful and true. Only, we must remember this, if this is the purpose of suffering, it is not always an attained purpose. Certain characters very often deteriorate under the discipline of suffering. But there is just one essential condition for the metal which is cast into the furnace: if it is to be separated from the dross a current of air must be always breathing over the living flame; if not, the effect would be this, that instead of fire separating the metal from the ore it would cause them to recombine, and under conditions of greater fixity, so that it would be more difficult than it was before to purify it. Is not this a wonderful parable? It is only when suffering is borne in God, only when suffering is borne through the action within us of the Holy Spirit, the true wind of God, that it is a purifying force within us. And so the first essential condition of our being purified by suffering is this, that we give ourselves to God up to the measure in which it is possible for us, in the submission to His will, to endure suffering. Here, as ever, we are face to face with that mystery of will. The issue in your character and mine of suffering conditions under which we live our lives depends entirely on the posture of the will. If we refuse to give up our wills to God our characters will deteriorate and not be purified or beautified. And the second thing is this, is it not? Giving ourselves thus up to God, if we are called on to live this life of suffering it ought to be a life in which we have keen realisation of the conditions under which we suffer in the thought of the Holy Spirit. Devotion to the Holy Ghost is of great importance in every aspect of our Christian life, but it is of emphatic importance in connection with our life of endurance of God's discipline. If we try to meet it with fixity of resolution, with solidarity of purpose, we shall fail, but if we throw ourselves upon God to enable us by His Spirit to endure the suffering which He lays upon us, in simple abandonment to the aid of the Holy Ghost, we shall be able patiently to endure. Lastly, remember this. All the time the process of the refining of the silver is going on the Refiner is watching. So it is here. We suffer under His watching eye; we suffer for the realisation of the dear Lord's loving purpose. He knows what we suffer. He has a heart that can understand. He does give me more than pity, He can give me sympathy, He bears with me so patiently, He comforts me so tenderly; in my rebellions He can forgive me so continuously. Yes, Lord, yes; I can bear these fiery burdens. Within the very flames I will look up and see Thy loving eye fixed on me, so that Thou knowest where I am, so that Thou feelest for me, so that Thou givest me effectual help.
An offering in righteousness
This offering was presented to God after the purification of His people had taken place. An offering in righteousness.
I. MUST HAVE NOTHING UNRIGHTEOUS ASSOCIATED WITH IT. God hates robbery for burnt-offering. Righteous getting must precede righteous giving. Trade morality is more acceptable in God's sight than spurious temple munificence.
II. MUST BE PRESENTED UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF RIGHT EMOTIONS. God regards the impulses that stir the offerer more than the offering. It is for the offerer's sake that He requires an offering. In presenting our offerings rightly, we need —
1. The promptings of love.
2. The inspiration of gratitude.
3. The ardour of consecration.
III. MUST BE OFFERED IN A RIGHT WAY. God has made known the right way of approach to Himself.
1. The offering must be presented with sincerity. Insincerity is unrighteous. The offering must be made to God, and not to win the favour, admiration, or interest of men.
2. The offering must be presented with humility. Self-righteousness is unrighteousness.
3. The offering must be presented with faith in God's revelation of Himself in Christ.
IV. MUST BE PROPORTIONATE TO OUR POSSESSIONS. For the rich to give as the poor is unrighteous. Our possessions test us. Our willing offerings to God often manifest the righteousness or unrighteousness of our characters as nothing else does. God gives to us that we may have the joy of giving to Him.
V. WILL BE ACCEPTABLE TO GOD.
1. The righteous offerings of His people are in accordance with His own righteous nature.
2. They manifest the effects of His grace upon their hearts.
3. They tend to spread the knowledge of His benevolence in the earth.
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