In the Fiery Furnace
June 14th, 1970 @ 8:15 AM
IN THE FIERY FURNACE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-14-70 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled In the Fiery Furnace. In these present, immediate days, we are preaching through the Book of Daniel. And these two sermons that are to be delivered today and next Sunday are the sermons that conclude our preaching from the third chapter of the Book of Daniel. I wish I could have placed both sermons in this hour, preaching them together because they are actually one sermon. But I had to break it in two because of the length of it. I would be preaching here about an hour or so if I tried to deliver the whole message. That is a disappointment to me, not to be able to do it, because the climax of the sermon is next Sunday. The title of the sermon this Sunday is In the Fiery Furnace, and then the title to the sermon next Sunday is The Mysterious Presence, the Glorious Person.
The king of Babylon has said to all of his governors, and rulers, and sheriffs, and counselors, and people that at the sound of music when the orchestra begins to play, all of his subjects are to bow down and worship before a huge image covered with solid gold. And when the sound of music is heard, everybody bows down [Daniel 3:1-7]. That’s the world: what somebody does, they all do—fashion, form.
They all bowed down, except three, these three Hebrew captives, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego. And they brought word to the king, saying, they all bow down but these three [Daniel 3:8-12]. And the king couldn’t believe his ears, so he called for the three, and they stood before him, and he asked, “Is it true?” [Daniel 3:13-14]. And they said, “We are not careful to answer thee” [Daniel 3:16]. We don’t even have to consider it. We don’t need to have any kind of consultation, we are ready to answer right now, on the spot. We will not bow down! [Daniel 3:17-18].
Now, the picking up of the story for the morning. “Then the king, Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed” [Daniel 3:19]. It was written in his face. And he said, “That incinerator, where we burn the dead—make it seven times hotter! Pour in tar, and pitch, and bitumen, and sulfur, and make it fierce. And bind these three slaves hand and feet, and throw them in!” [Daniel 3:20]. And so fierce was the raging fire that when the men threw in those three Hebrew captives, the flame burned to death those who were throwing in the three Hebrew children [Daniel 3:22]. And as the king looked—and this is the sermon next Sunday—he saw them loose and walking, and a fourth One, the mysterious presence [Daniel 3:25]. And when Nebuchadnezzar saw it in awe, he called for those three boys to come forth out of the midst of the fire [Daniel 3:26]. And the princes, and the governors, and the captains, and the counselors looked upon them; no hair was singed, nor was the smell of fire on their clothing [Daniel 3:27]. Isn’t that something? Because when you’re talking about God, you’re talking about something.
Now this is a book of prophecy—the prophet Daniel, as the Lord called him—so everything we find in the book is first prophecy, it’s a revelation, it’s an unfolding of what is to come.
Like John says, the apostle John, says of Jesus. Not only were His words parables of God’s revelation, but His deeds were semeia, they were “signs” [John 20:30]. John never uses the word “miracle.” He uses the word “sign,” for Jesus not only was revealing the truth of God in what He said with His lips, but He also was revealing the great revelations of God in what He did. And John says they were signs.
Well, these are signs; they are revelations. Now, first: this fiery furnace ordeal is a picture of Israel, God’s chosen people in the days of the great tribulation, or as the prophet calls it, “the time of Jacob’s trouble” [Jeremiah 30:7], when they are thrown into the fiery furnace. But the revelation is that God shall preserve them, as He says in the forty-third chapter of Isaiah, when He gathers them from the east and from the west, and the north and the south. “When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned: neither shall the flame kindle upon thee” [Isaiah 43:2].
And in the thirteenth chapter of the prophet Zechariah, God says that two-thirds of them shall be destroyed, but the third that is left, the remnant that is left, shall pass through the fire and will be refined as silver is refined, and be tried 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 13:8-9].
As Moses looked at the bush unconsumed [Exodus 3:2], so this is a parable of Israel in the great tribulation when they shall be thrown in the fiery furnace and God shall preserve them [Isaiah 43:2]. It is also a parable and a sign and a revelation of the preservation of Israel, God’s people, through the ages.
The one hundred twenty-first Psalm says, “He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” [Psalm 123:4]. God says Israel is indestructible. However their enemies may persecute them or rage against them, Israel is indestructible and imperishable.
Isn’t it an unusual thing here that the men who threw the three Hebrew children into the fire and into the furnace were themselves consumed [Daniel 3:22]. That’s what God has unerringly avowed: “I will bless them that bless thee. I will curse them that curse thee” [Genesis 12:3]. And when Hitler sought to destroy the people of God, Hitler himself was destroyed. And don’t you think any other thing than that!
The one who is most hurt in the Middle East this minute is Egypt herself. She has lost the revenue of the Suez Canal. She has lost the hegemony of her own country. She is now under the iron thumb of Russia—Russia tells her what to do. And she has lost uncounted millions and millions of needed Western currency in the loss of her tourist trade. And Egypt is suffering. God says that!
And all we have to do to find wisdom for the future and how to conduct our national life and our personal life is to look up to God. He doesn’t hide His hand, nor does He fail to reveal His will and purpose. It is written large here on the pages of the Book, and all I have to do is open it and read for myself. And reading it, I can know the course of history, the destiny of civilizations, both what God has decreed in heaven and what comes to pass down here in earth.
Now, not only is this a sign and a revelation for Israel, but it is a parable of promise for all of the children of God. And that’s the sermon for us today, In the Fiery Furnace.
Inevitably and inexorably all of God’s children shall be tried by fire [1 Peter 1:7]. We shall. God says so, and God reveals it to us. So get ready to face the fury of the flaming fire—you, if you are a child of God, you shall be plunged into it. When James and John came to the Lord Jesus and said, “Grant that we may sit on Your right hand and on Your left hand,” Jesus asked them, “Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? And are ye able to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” And they said, “We are” [Mark 10:35-39]. But they had no idea of what they were facing.
Well, James was killed with the sword of Herod Agrippa, the First [Acts 12:1-2], as you know, and John was placed on a lonely rocky island to die of exposure and privation [Revelation 1:9]. “Are you able?” And they said, “We are able” [Mark 10:38-39]. All of God’s children shall be thrust in the trying fires.
In the roll call of the heroes of God’s faithful, it says in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, not excepting deliverance, they were tortured:
They had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, of 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 wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
These are God’s people! And you will not escape. Jesus said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” [John 16:33]. And in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, Paul, speaking to those Galatians, says that by much tribulation do we enter into the kingdom of God [Acts 14:22].
That is the whole story of Pilgrim’s Progress. It is the most joyous life in the world, the life of the Christian, but it is the most filled with tribulation and conflict. The sloughs of Despair and Despond; a giant, Doubt, and the castles of imprisonment; Pilgrim’s Progress— and that is our life as Christians. If you are a Christian, you will be tried by fire and those are innumerable trials, as there are endless, innumerable waves of the sea, and sands on the shore, and drops of rain, and leaves in the forests, so are numbered the trials of the Christian.
Satan tries us, and Satan afflicts us as he did Job [Job 1:13-19, 2:7]—even used his wife: “Curse God” [Job 2:9], she said, “and commit suicide.” That’s Satan. As he tried Jesus, even those three great temptations [Luke 4:3-12]; the Scriptures said, “And Satan left Him,” quote, just “for a season,” quote [Luke 4:13].
And the trials of the Christian are not just as we read them in Job and just as we see them in the life of Jesus, but the trial of the Christian by the hand of Satan is by day and night; God said so. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, in the tenth verse it says, the accuser of the brethren, who accused them day and night, is cast down at this great consummation of the age [Revelation 12:10].
What Satan does is, he plants his seeds of blasphemy, his black, dark seeds of blasphemy in our hearts, and then makes as though they were our own growth and planting. He lays his black whelps at our own door and then makes as though they were our own blood offspring. And constantly day and night, he points and says, you hypocrite. Don’t you remember when, and thus and so? Don’t you remember so and so? And don’t you remember so and so? You! And he never stops, never stops. He never ceases. That’s Satan, who afflicts the children of God. He knows how to fit the bait for the fish, and how to fit the trap for the bird, and we’re in his hands day and night. Satan afflicts the children of God.
And the world afflicts the children of God. If you are a true Christian, you live in a fiery furnace. They see to it that you are tried. And I haven’t time to speak of some of the cruel inhumanities of human beings to the people of the Lord, by the fire, and by the fagot, and by the sword, and by the dungeon where they have rotted. And not only that, but God tries the saints:
For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth,
and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.
And if ye be without chastisement,
then are ye illegitimates, and not sons.
[Hebrews 12:6, 8]
The fathers in the flesh chasten us, and the Father in heaven chastens us. God tries us. I repeat my avowal. “If you are a child of God, get ready for the fiery furnace.”
But I have another avowal: “There is purpose in the promoted and permissive will of God as we face the fury of the flames.” God has a purpose in it. God has a reason for it. When Satan is allowed to torment us and afflict us, as he did Job, or as he did Jesus, or as he does you, and when the world pressures you to bow down and conform and God permits it, and when the Lord Himself chastens us and tries us and throws us in the midst of the flaming fury, He has a purpose in it.
When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
[“How Firm a Foundation”; John Rippon, 1787]
It is help and not hurt that God purposes for us. What are these purposes of trial by which God allows us to be afflicted and tormented? One: we are tested for service, tried for conflict.
Did you all ever read in history how a warrior will take a sword before he goes out into the battle, and he’ll bend it over his knee. They all did that. What was the purpose of the test, of the trial? Because, before the warrior entered into conflict and battle, he wanted to know that it wasn’t brittle, that it wouldn’t break in the midst of the fury of the raging confrontation. That’s exactly what God does with us. He tests us and tries us, that we might be fitted for service. There is no exaltation without trial and confrontation, and there are no conquerors without battle! And there are no soldiers of Jesus who don’t march in His name and in His cause. The purpose of trial is to test us and to fit us for service.
Second, the reason God permits trial, plunging God’s people in the fiery furnace, second: the reason is that we might be refined and purified. When a goldsmith puts something in the crucible, he doesn’t put dross. He puts gold. When a silversmith puts something in the furnace, he doesn’t put junk, he puts silver because it is silver. And that’s what God does with us. He doesn’t spend His time picking specks out of rotten apples. They’re rotten, and He lets them go. But these that belong to God, the Lord tries them and purifies them, and tests them, that we might shine for Jesus. The graces of the Christian faith, all of them are seen better in the reflected light. They glitter more beautifully in the glory of the light of a fiery furnace.
When I am evil spoken of, I must learn to speak well in return. And if I am slapped on one cheek, I must learn to turn the other cheek. And when I am blasphemed, and persecuted, and evilly mistreated—most of us don’t have a whole lot, but you fall into some if you’re a Christian—I must learn to be gracious, and humble, and lovable, and Christian, for those graces shine in the fire of the furnace. It’s to refine us and to purify us, and to get rid of the dross in our life. Are you easily volatile? I am, to my great sorrow. The best thing in the world by which I can learn to control that volatility, or anger, or temper, or whatever word you’d like to call it, is to be tested in it. And I learn to be Christian by biting my tongue, and I’m biting my lip, and I don’t say the word I’d like to say, but I’d sure like to say it; that’s the purpose of the trial.
Third: the reason God allows us—in His permissive will and sometimes His promoted prevenient will—sometimes the reason God does it is that He might separate the saints from the sinners, that He might separate the wheat from the chaff.
Ah, the pretensions and the professions of religion—it’s easy to say, “I won’t bow down.” And it’s easy to defy Nebuchadnezzar by talk, but wait for the fiery furnace, that separates the pretenders from the real children of the Lord [Daniel 3:16-18].
The cynic says, “Look at him.” and he sneeringly, sarcastically belittles your faith. And even the sinner questions your religion; he doesn’t think it’s real. And even the saints look at you, wondering just how deep is your commitment. The fiery furnace answers in no uncertain terms. It is a great separation.
You know what I read this week in preparing this sermon? I read [that] a man said, “The tearing down of the scaffold has ruined the altar, and we die for the want of the chopping block, the beheading block.” His discussion was that in the fires of persecution, those who are pretenders are separated from those who are really committed to God. Well, he has a truth. He has a truth. In the eleventh chapter of the Book of the first Corinthian letter, Paul says it is necessary that there be heresies among you [1 Corinthians 11:19]. My soul, he says it is necessary that there be heresies among us! To me, that is the most awesome thing in the world. People arise and say, “I don’t believe in the Bible”; ah, to me it’s terrible! Or people rise and say, ‘We don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God; He is just a man like any other man.” To me, that’s terrible.
And a thousand other things they say, heresies among us. Paul says, that’s necessary, in order that, the apostle says, the real children of God who believe in the Lord and who follow the Lord can be manifest among you, and the rest of them are pointed out [1 Corinthians 11:19]. They’re heretical, they’re not real. They’re not genuine. That’s the purpose of trial and test, to separate us, the chaff from the wheat.
Again, and we must hasten, the purpose of God in allowing trial in your life, plunging you into the fiery furnace, is that our bands and our bonds may be broken. The fetters of sin are snapped, and the bonds of mortality are broken, and God’s soul is liberated. Ah, what a glory! What a glory. In the fiery furnace, our bonds are broken.
Look at you. Here’s an experience that I had, I went through for years and years. Did you know, when I was a young preacher—and it was because of the great, marvelous testimonies, experiences of other people—did you know, when I was a young preacher, I came to the conclusion I hadn’t been saved? I hadn’t been born again, I hadn’t been converted. I have no marvelous experience to relate: I hadn’t seen an angel or a light from heaven, or a ball of fire. And so I got on my knees, and day and night, I prayed God would show me a light from heaven, or let a ball of fire fall over my head, and send me an angel so I’d know I was saved. Now brother, that’s being in the furnace. On the Sunday morning get up and preach at my little country church, and every night during the week, kneel down by the bed and pray God, that I have some great experience. Well, the fiery furnace cured me. I learned not to depend upon flames and feelings, and emotions, and experiences, but I learned to depend upon the Word of God, just trust in Jesus. And I learned another thing: I have found out that for the most part, these great, enormous experiences that people tell do more harm than good because they make you think, “Man, I’ve got to have an experience like that or I’m not saved!”
Look at these three Hebrew children. They were bound and thrown into the fire! [Daniel 3:21]. That is, they were helpless. They couldn’t help themselves. They couldn’t save themselves. They were bound, and they were cast upon the resources of God [Daniel 3:16-18]. And that’s the way we’re saved. I can’t be good enough, I can’t be rich enough, I can’t be moral enough, I can’t be pure enough, I can’t serve well enough. Lord, bound, I’m just cast upon God’ resourcefulness and God’s goodness. That’s what the trial does for you. You learn to lose your self-confidence and your pride. I don’t care what pride it is, if its experience, or feeling, or emotion, or tell, or whatever, you learn to lose it all and just depend upon Jesus [2 Timothy 1:12], just like you ought to be, depending on the Lord. How do I know I’m saved? Jesus said in the Book, if I’d trust Him, He would see me through [John 11:25]. And that’s the way I’m saved, trust in Jesus [Acts 16:31].
Purposes of God in our trial: another, loosing our bonds. Ah, how God fills our souls with expression and with witness and with testimony, when we are tried! When Martin Luther is excommunicated, he was free! No longer is he under the pall of the bonds of a cleric. He’s free. That’s what trial does for you. Balthazar Hubmaier and Felix Manz, our great Baptist forefathers, under persecution, how God blessed their witness and their tongues!
What does trial do? It snaps the bonds that bind us to this earth. We soar into the heavens. Grief does that, and bereavement does that, and tears do that. Like this fine businessman whose little boy died, their only little boy. The little boy died. Ah, what a blow, what a sorrow, what a bereavement! His only little boy died. In the library in his home, night after night his wife would watch him read the Bible. And ever once in a while, he’d take out a pen, and he’d underscore—he’d read, and as he read, he’d underscore. And while he was away at work, his wife went into the library and got down his Bible, and turned through the pages to see what it was he was underscoring. And what it was was this: wherever in the Bible God said something about heaven, that fine businessman underscored it. You see, the bonds that bound him to earth had been broken, snapped, and he was looking up now to heaven. That’s what trial does for you. That’s what bereavement does for you. That’s what sorrow does for you. God has a purpose in it.
Now let me conclude in just a minute. It says here in the Book that when they were brought out and stood before the king, the princes, the governors, the captains, the counselors, those three slaves standing there, upon their bodies the fire had no power, nor was a hair of their heads singed, nor were their coats changed, nor was the smell of fire passed upon them [Daniel 3:27]. That’s God. What He does, He does perfectly and triumphantly. As Paul would say, “He who hath begun a good work in you will complete it unto the day of redemption” [Philippians 1:6]. There are no half-way miracles with God. He does it all. He doesn’t begin and not finish. He sees us through; that’s the Lord. There’s not an instance in the New Testament where it says Jesus touched a sick man and improved him somewhat. There’s not an instance in the New Testament where it says the Lord God just opened one eye of the blind, or unstopped one ear of the deaf, or cleansed just one leg of the leper. When God does it, He does it all.
In the story of Simon Peter in prison, God not only undid his shackles and his chains, but He opened the iron door and set him free [Acts 12:5-10]. And when the Lord God shook that prison at Philippi with an earthquake, everybody’s bands were loosed [Acts 16:25-26]. That’s God. He makes a full end of what He has begun. And He is going to make a full consummation of this world and of us [Philippians 1:6].
We may be sorry looking critters now, and poor examples now, and sorry specimen now, but you wait until God gets through with us; without fault, without blemish, presented in the presence of His glory, sons of God [Ephesians 5:27; Jude 1:24], fellow heirs with Jesus Christ [Romans 8:16-17], we who are going to inherit the ends of the earth [Matthew 5:12].
My brother, cheer up. It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom [Luke 12:32]. He says so, and someday, we’ll see it perfectly come to pass.
All right Lee Roy, let’s sing us a song. Let’s sing us a song. And the song we’re going to sing is one our old forefathers used to sing without any book, “How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!”
And while we sing that song, you, to give your heart to Jesus, to put your life in the fellowship of the church, as God shall say the word and open the door, come. A family you, a couple you, or just you, do it now, make the decision now. Then come when you stand and God speed you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.