In the Fiery Furnace
June 14th, 1970 @ 10:50 AM
IN THE FIERY FURNACE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-14-70 10:50 a.m.
On the radio, on television you are rejoicing with the folks, and the people, and the congregation, and the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Well, I studied, and studied, and studied and prepared, and prepared, and prepared on this sermon, and I studied so long and prepared so diligently that I could not begin to encompass it in one message, so it has got to be two. The sermon this morning, the half of it this morning – and I am sorry I cannot put it all together because the climax is the second half, the sermon this morning is entitled In the Fiery Furnace. And the sermon next Sunday morning, which will conclude the message, will be entitled The Mysterious Presence, The Glorious Person. Now we are preaching through the Book of Daniel, and these two messages will conclude the series on the third chapter.
In The Fiery Furnace; the background of it is familiar to us all. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, made a giant image and covered it with solid gold. And he said, at the sound of music, everybody, his counselors, his governors, his sheriffs, his people, everybody was to bow down and worship the golden image [Daniel 3:3-6]. So at the sound of the trumpet, and of the sackbut, and the harp, and the dulcimer, and the psaltery, why, they all bowed down, that is, all but three; three Hebrew captives named Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego. And they brought word to the king and said, "Everybody bows down at the sound of the music but these three." And king Nebuchadnezzar sent for them, incredulous, could not believe his ears, and said, "Is it true, is it true that you do not bow down and worship my golden image?" [Daniel 3:7-15]. And they answered, "We are not careful to answer thee in this manner. We do not even have to think. We are ready to answer you on the spot. No! We will not bow down" [Daniel 3:16-18].
Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed; it was registered in his face. And he commanded the incinerator where they burn the dead to be heated seven times hotter and to bind those three Hebrew captives and throw them in the furious fire. And as the king watched, those three Hebrew slaves were not only walking loose in the fire, but there was a fourth one who looked like the Son of God. And the astonished king called them forth. And when they came forth and stood before the princes, and the governors, and the captains, and the king’s counselors, they saw these men upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was a hair of their heads singed, nor was the smell of fire passed on their clothing [Daniel 3:19-27]. Now, I submit in anybody’s language and in anybody’s history: that is an unusual thing. But that’s God, and He is always doing unusual things! And we’re going to preach about it this morning.
This is a book of prophecy. Jesus said: "Daniel the prophet" [Mark 13:14]. So what I read here is a revelation, it is a harbinger; God is saying something about the future. It’s the same kind of a thing as the apostle John when he wrote his Gospel. Not only were the words of Jesus a revelation, but what Jesus did was no less an unfolding of the truth of God, and that’s why John calls what Jesus did "signs," sÃ©meion, signs [John 20:30]. That is, they had a deep spiritual import and meaning. So it is with the Book of Daniel. Not only the words that you read here in the book, but what happens. The deeds, the circumstances, these events are also harbingers and revelations of the future.
All right, here’s one: those three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace unconsumed is a harbinger, and a picture, and a prophecy of Israel in the days of the great tribulation, when they shall be thrown into the fury of the fire and shall be unconsumed. In the forty-third chapter of Isaiah, the Lord says He is going to gather them from the north, and the south, and the east, and the west, and "when they walk through the fire, they shall not be burned; and the flame shall not kindle on them" [Isaiah 43:2].
Then the prophet Zechariah, he says, in that awesome time of trouble and fury and judgment, two-thirds of Israel will be destroyed. "But 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: then shall they call on My name, and I will hear them: and I will say, It is My people: and they will say, The Lord Jehovah is my God" [Zechariah 13:9].
It’s the same identical type of a thing as when Moses saw the bush burning unconsumed on the back side of the desert [Exodus 3:2]. It is a picture of Israel through the ages, and that’s what is intended here. Israel is indestructible, and unconsumable, and imperishable! God says so. As the one hundred twenty-first Psalms avows: "He that keepeth Israel will neither slumber nor sleep" [Psalm 121:4]. Israel is indestructible, and Jesus said he will be here when He comes back to earth again [Matthew 24:34].
Do you notice in the story here, when that furnace is heated seven times hotter with pitch, and bitumen, and tar, and sulfur, that the men who threw those Hebrew children into the fire themselves were consumed? [Daniel 3:22]. That’s God’s picture, not only by word, but by event. For the event is as much a prophecy as the word itself. The men who threw the three into the furnace were consumed by the fire. God said to Abraham: "This generation of thy seed, I will bless them that bless thy seed. And I will curse them that curse thy seed" [Genesis 12:2-3].
Well, I don’t have to be astute or even smart to see that written large on the pages of the Bible and of secular history. When Hitler proposed to destroy Israel, Hitler himself and his Reich were destroyed ignominiously and ingloriously. And Egypt today – now Israel may be suffering, and they are because of this awesome confrontation in the Middle East, but don’t you forget that Egypt is suffering more! Egypt has lost the revenue of the Suez Canal. She hasn’t gotten a dime from that for years. And Egypt is under the iron thumb of communist Russia. The hegemony of Egypt has passed out of Nassar’s hands and out of Egyptian hands, and the men in the Kremlin use Egypt like you use pawns on a chessboard. How would you like to have a nation like that? And rulers over you like that? And not only that, but Egypt has lost the millions, and millions, and uncounted millions of revenue from tourists. And Egypt is descending into abject and unspeakable poverty!
You see, these are parables; and they are harbingers; and they are revelations; and they are prophecies. Now, not only is this a parable of promise and revelation concerning Israel, but it is for all of God’s children – for us who believe in the Lord.
All right, now let’s begin with the sermon. First of all, for us who trust in Christ, and who believe in God, and who are the children of the Almighty, for us there is an inevitable and an inexorable trial by fire. It comes. It inevitably, inexorably comes!
When James and John came up to Jesus and said, "We would like to sit on Your right hand and on Your left hand," Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are saying. You do not know what you are asking. Can you be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And can you drink of the cup that I drink?" And nonchalantly, almost indifferently, they said: "We can" [Mark 10:35-39].
They didn’t realize what they were saying. The day came when James had his head cut off by Herod Agrippa I [Acts 12:1-2]. And the day came when John was exposed to death by privation and starvation on a lonely, rocky island just south of the Aegean Sea [Revelation 1:9]. If you are a child of God, you will be thrust into the fiery furnace, so get ready. It is the usual place where the child of God is on trial. And if you’re not in the fiery furnace, it is the exception and not the rule. This is the way the children of God live.
The last part of the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews: that is the roll call of the heroes of faith. Listen:
They were tortured, not accepting deliverance, they had trials, and mockings, and scourgings, moreover bonds and imprisonment:
They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were tempted, they were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented.
They lived in dens, and dives, and caves of the earth.
These are the heroes of faith. Jesus said: "In the world ye shall have tribulation" [John 16:33]. In the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, Paul says to the churches of Galatia, "By much tribulation shall ye enter into the kingdom of God" [Acts 14:22].
Pilgrims Progress is a story of the trial and tribulations of a Christian falling in the "sloughs of despond and despair," "the castles of doubt" and "the giants of unbelief." This is the life of the Christian; he faces trial by fire. And being a Christian, the Book says it is heated seven times hotter than it is wont to be heated [Daniel 3:19]. Because you’re a Christian, you will be tried seven times more than were you not a Christian. On every hand you’ll find it, and you’ll see it, and you’ll meet it. Like the sands of the sea, innumerable; like the waves on the crest of the bosom of the deep, innumerable; like the drops of rain from the sky, innumerable; like the leaves on the forest, innumerable, so are the innumerable trials of the child of God!
One: Satan afflicts us. Satan afflicts us; he tries us and torments us. He did Job [Job 1:9-22, 2:3-8]. He even took Job’s wife and used her when she said to her husband, "Now, give up your faith. Look what it does for you or hasn’t done for you. Now," she said, "curse God and commit suicide" [Job 2:9].
He tried Jesus. And after the story of the temptation [Mark 4:1-12] – you look at that – and it says quote, "and Satan left Him for a season," end quote [Mark 4:13]. He doesn’t stop. Satan afflicts us. And in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelation and the tenth verse, it says, "The accuser of the brethren, who accused them day and night, is cast down at the consummation of the age" [Revelation 12:10]. The accuser of the brethren, Satan, afflicts us and torments us and tries us, and we’re in the fire!
What Satan does: he plants his own evil seeds in our hearts and then boasts as though we had planted them ourselves and they were of our own natural drawing. He lays his black whelps of blasphemy on our doorstep and then publishes to the world that they are our own blood offspring. He fits the bait for the fish and the trap for the bird. And then he boasts and points his finger at you and says, "You, you hypocrite, do you remember so-and-so? And do you remember so-and-so?" And he accuses the brethren day and night.
And not only does Satan afflict us, the world afflicts us. Paul wrote: "Yea, and he that shall live godly in the world shall suffer persecution" [2 Timothy 3:12]. Man’s inhumanity to man has never been more violently or villainously illustrated than in religion! As the saints have been burned at the stake, the fagot has been set to the fire, they have been beheaded, rotted in dungeons, imprisoned, oppressed, galling remembrances throughout Christendom – the world afflicting the saints. And the world’s no friend to grace, and you’ll find it if you try to live for Christ in the world.
Not only does Satan afflict us, and not only does the world afflict us, but God afflicts us. God tries us. Here in the twelfth chapter in the Book of Hebrews it says: "For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth, And if ye be without chastenment, then are you illegitimate" [Hebrews 12:6-8]. I don’t use the word that’s here in the Bible. But would you like for me to? "No," he says, "no!" So I’ll just use the word: "then are ye illegitimates and not sons."
Now everyone of you go home, that’s what you want to do – it’s verse 8 in the twelfth chapter – you go home and read it; first thing you’ll want to do. I tell you, God doesn’t mince words! He tells it straight! God afflicts us. God tries us. The path of bereavement, and trial, and heartache, and tears is beat down by the children of God; it’s a path they all know. If you are a child of God, get ready for the furnace. You’re going to be plunged in it.
Now, what is the purpose in the promulgated, provocative, promoted, and permissive will of God that His children should be plunged into the fire? There are lots of reasons. To the child of God, the fire will not hurt him; it is for his health and not his hurt. As the moth, and as the rust, and as the canker does not hurt him, neither does the fire touch him.
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace all-sufficient shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
[from "How Firm a Foundation"; John Keene]
What is the purpose in the permissive will of God and in the prevenient will of God that we are tried in the furnace? Why? All right, here’s one: we are tried in order that we might be fitted for service. God tests us. When you read about the wars of the medieval ages, they were fought with spears, and lances, and swords. And when a knight went forth to battle, the first thing he would do would be to take his sword and to bend it over his knee. Bend it over his knee! Why? In order that he might see if it would break. Is it brittle or is it fit in the day of confrontation and battle? The testing, that’s what God does with His children: He tries us; He tests us that we might be fit for the conflict. There is no exaltation without that conflict. There is no conqueror without a battle, without a war. And there is no ultimate experience of testimony to God until we have tried the faithfulness of the Almighty. That’s one reason why God lets us face the fury of the flaming fire in the furnace: that He might prepare us for service.
Second: the reason God permits the fury of the fire to rage against His children is that we might be purified. When a goldsmith puts things in the crucible, he doesn’t put dross, he puts gold just because it’s gold. When a silversmith sits before the burning fire, he puts silver in the crucible just because it is silver.
I was in Bangkok one time, and I walked through a factory that had two thousand girls grinding precious stones. And I looked at them, and looked at them, and looked at them – rows and rows of them – those beautiful gems. They were grinding them on a wheel that was covered with diamond dust. They weren’t grinding pebbles or cheap stones, they were jewels who were mined in Thailand. You don’t pick specks out of rotten apples. And when God tries you and throws you in the furnace, it’s because God sees in you pure gold, pure silver, a gem to shine in His crown, and He purifies you. That’s what the fire does. Oh, if I had an hour, I’d like to illustrate that! The graces of God are always seen best, they glitter the most gloriously in the light of the fire of the furnace.
If you’re evil spoken of, I tell you, when God says you’re not to speak back again; ah, that’s a trial! Ooh, how you want to talk back: they cuss you, you cuss them; they hate you, you hate them; they do bad about you, you do bad about them; they plunge a knife in you, you plunge a knife in them. But you see, in that trial the graces of the Christian shine in the light of the furnace.
Some of us are volative, oh dear! Ooh, it’s so easy for some of us to get mad and angry. One time, there was a little old pipsqueak who came up to a pastor, and he said, "I just don’t understand you. You are so volative and get angry so easy." And the pastor said, "Listen here you milquetoast, I control more anger in one hour than you do in a lifetime!"
There are some people who are just dead. They don’t get mad. They don’t get out of humor. They don’t! They’re just smooth, go along and all. Well, that’s all right and all, but, I tell you, some of the rest of you have got stuff that burns like sulfur on the inside, like brimstone, and it takes the grace of God to control it. But the graces of God shine best in the light of the furnace. Well, we can’t stay there; we’ve got to go on.
The purposes of God in the fire, why the Lord permits it and why He promotes it – the purpose of God in the fire, third: in order that the Lord might separate the believer from the pretender. It is easy to talk: "I will not bow down before that golden image, and I will defy Nebuchadnezzar the king" [Daniel 3:18]. But when it comes to facing the fiery furnace, that’s something else. That separates the chaff from the wheat. The cynic says of your profession, with a sarcastic sneer, "It’s fluff, and it’s foam, and it’s stuff." And the sinner says, "It’s not genuine, it’s not real." And even the saints want to see the depth of it. If you make any profession of faith in Christ, it’s going to be tried. And that’s the purpose of the trial, to separate the pretender from the true professor.
Did you know, when I studied for this sermon this week, I read where a saint of God and a great man of the Lord, he said, and I read it, he said, "The tearing down of the scaffold has ruined the altar. And we die for want of the headman’s block." That was just his way of saying that the ease with which people name the name of God today, has filled the church with cheap, tawdry pretenders who don’t mean it, don’t believe it, and, in the fire, they don’t act it! He’s saying nothing could be better for us than a first-class persecution.
Now, going back here to the Bible: did you know in the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians, it says it is needful, it is necessary, that "there be heresies among you" [1 Corinthians 11:19]. Dear me, think of that! Paul is saying it is necessary; it is needful, for there to be heresies among you. Oh, that’s so terrible to me! When a man stands up and he says, "I don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God," to me that’s terrible! When a man stands up and he says, "I don’t believe Jesus is the Christ," that’s terrible to me! Heresies among you: they’re awful to me.
The division of the body of Christ and the tearing asunder of the household of the faithful – heresies are terrible to me, and yet, Paul writes in the eleventh chapter of the first Corinthian letter: it is needful, it is necessary, that "there be heresies among you." And then he tells why: "In order that those who are approved and acceptable of God may be manifest unto you" [1 Corinthians 11:19]. Isn’t that something? When you have heresies arise, it isn’t long until you easily find out those that are true to the Word and true to Jesus. It just divides them, like an abyss between them. That’s why God puts us in the fire.
All right, another reason why God permits us to be thrown into the fiery furnace: in order that our bonds and our bands may be loosed. The bands of sin and the fetters of mortality are all snapped, and they’re all burned in the fire. I’m going to name some of them in just a moment that I have. Did you know it is so easy – don’t tell me you’re an exception – it is so easy to get to the place in your life where you quit leaning on God and depending upon God, and you start depending upon yourself? "I can do it!" Oh dear, the fire sure does destroy a man’s self-confidence and self-dependence. It really does.
I went through one of those fires when I was a young preacher. I listened to those marvelous testimonies of conversion and salvation, those great experiences where they saw a light from heaven, or an angel, or a ball of fire. And I had no experience like that, and I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t saved. I hadn’t been redeemed. I wasn’t born again. I wasn’t a Christian. And can you imagine the civil war in my soul as a young preacher out in the country, preaching to my little churches on Sunday, and then every night in the week, getting down by the side of the bed and saying, "O God, I’m not saved. I’m not born again. I’m not a real Christian. Lord, I haven’t seen any fire. I haven’t seen any light. I haven’t seen any angel from heaven."
Oh, what a tragic experience! Well, I want you to know it cured me. I learned to believe that a man was saved not by looking at an angel, or a light, or seeing a ball of fire break over his head, but I learned to see that a man was saved by trusting the finished work and the promises of Christ; just the Lord and nothing else. Nothing else! Nothing else!
And that’s exactly what happened to those three slaves: they were thrown into the fiery furnace, bound! [Daniel 3:21]. They couldn’t help themselves. They had no recourse except to God. And that’s the way a man is saved; because you are never rich enough to buy it; and you’re never good enough to deserve it; and you can’t merit it; you can’t work for it. It has to be something God does for us! [Ephesians 2:8-9]. And that’s what the trial by fire does. You get to where you look with contempt upon yourself and your righteousnesses, which God says are as filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6], and all of the efforts to save yourself, and to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, and to find yourself equal for the exigencies and providences of life – you get to where you just throw it all away, and not depending on yourself, you just start looking to God. "Lord, You must help me and You must save me. And I’m not sufficient, Lord, and I’m not equal, and I cast myself, unworthy as I am, upon the mercies of God." And that does it. That’s the way to be saved. It’s trust in God; it’s looking to God, away from yourself [2 Timothy 1:12]. However your abilities and defenses may be, it’s looking to God, and that’s what the fiery furnace does for you. It snaps those personal bindings that bind you to yourself and your sufficiencies; it just snaps them all, burns them all, and frees you in the liberty of Christ. And you’re not living in yourself anymore and in your strength, you’re living in the life and the strength of Christ.
Another thing: burning those bonds. Oh, how a man is liberated when God liberates him; when He burns those bonds that bind him to, oh, how many things in the earth! For example, when Martin Luther was excommunicated, he broke those bonds that tied him to the Roman prelate and went forth as the champion of salvation by grace. The fiery furnace burned the bonds and liberated Martin Luther. Same way with Balthazar Hubmaier and Felix Manz, our great Baptist progenitors: under oppression, God touched their tongues and they spoke like flames of fire. And those trials burned those bonds and snapped those cords asunder that tie us down here to this earth. It just happens that way.
There was a fine businessman, and he and his wife had one little boy – just one little boy. And the little fellow died! That businessman never thought about God, never thought about heaven; never thought about anything but business. And the little boy died! And every night, he would go into his library, and he would get down a big, black Book that looked like that, and he’d open it and he’d pore through those pages and read that Book. And every once in a while, he’d take out his pencil and he’d underscore, and then, reading and reading, he’d take out that pencil, and he’d underscore it. And upon a day when he was at the office, his wife, just curious to know what he was underscoring, took the Book down from the shelf and opened the Bible, and here’s what she found: wherever God’s Word said anything about heaven, he’d underscored it. The trial had broken the bond that held him to the earth and he began to look heavenward, and God-ward, and Christ-ward, and upward. That’s what the trial does for you. It lifts you toward glory.
Well, now may I conclude? Do you notice it says here in this third chapter that when those three young men were called out and they stood before the princes, and the governors, and the captains, and the kings, and the counselors, it says that there was not a hair of their head singed, and it says there was no smell of the fire that had passed upon them [Daniel 3:27]. What do you think of that? That’s the way God does. When God does a thing, He does it completely and perfectly. When God proposes, He also disposes. When God begins, He also finishes. When God does it, it’s done perfectly, as Paul says of us: "He that hath begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of redemption, until the day of Jesus Christ" [Philippians 1:6]. That’s the Lord! When He does something, He does it completely; not even a smell of fire on their clothes and not a hair of their head singed!
Ah, just think of that, what the Lord does! Never halfway! He never, the Lord Jesus never touched a sick man and somewhat ameliorated his condition, helped him a little bit. He never cast out some devils and then left other demons in the man’s soul to torment him and persecute him. He never just healed one blind eye and left the other one blind. He never unstopped one ear and left the other one deaf. What He did, He did completely and perfectly!
When the angel came down from heaven and slapped Peter on the side and awakened him, when the next day he was going to be beheaded by Herod Agrippa, it says and he loosed all the chains, and stocks, and bonds of Simon Peter, but he also opened the iron door and led him out free [Acts 12:7-10]. That’s the Lord! And when the earthquake came from God’s hand and shook that Philippian jail, the Book says that everyone’s bonds were loosed [Acts 16:26]. All of them! That’s the Lord.
And that’s what God is going to do with us. He has started with us, and however sorry we may think the material is in His hands, and however wretched and unworthy we may feel in His sight, God is going to do a glorious finished work. Someday, without spot and without blemish, He is going to present us sons of God and joint heirs of Jesus Christ in the presence of the glorious Majesty: "Be of good cheer, little children; it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom" [Luke 12:32]. He is not going to let us down. He is going to see us through. That’s the Lord. His work is complete and perfect [John 19:30].
Well, let’s sing our song now. And while we sing our song, a couple you to put your life with us in there dear church; a family you to come, to worship, to serve God by our sides; a one somebody you to take Jesus as your Savior, to give your heart to the Lord; come, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Make the decision now in your heart. Do it now! And in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. Into that aisle and down to the front, or down one of these stairwells and here by the pastor, "Here I am pastor, we’re coming this morning." And God bless you in the way as you come, as we stand, as we sing.
IN THE FIERY FURNACE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Daniel is a book of prophecy
I. Inescapable fire of trial, suffering awaits the believer, be ready
A. Satan afflicts us
B. The world afflicts us
C. God tries us
II. Purpose for God’s tests are for our health and not our hurt
A. Tried to be fit for service
B. Refined for purification
C. Separation of the believer from the pretender
D. Bonds and fetters of sin loosened
III. Complete deliverance of God
How the critics fair in the fiery furnace
I. Alleged historical errors – Belshazzar
II. Book of history
A. Canon of Hebrew Bible
C. 1 Maccabees
E. Qumran, Dead Sea Scrolls
F. The actual course of human history
G. Wars of Daniel 9:26