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The Refiner’s Fire And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness (Malachi 3:3). Let’s take notice of the first two verses in the chapter to see the context in which this is written: "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap." This is clearly speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ. Who were the sons of Levi? The Pharisees and the scribes, the Levites, those who served as the leaders of the church. The Lord Jesus Christ would come as the light, and He would reveal what is in the inner portals of the heart. Righteousness (verse 3) is a right attitude toward our fellow man. Those who served as the leaders of the people had slipped into legalism. The prophet is saying that the Lord Jesus would come to purge out the corruption of the heart and bring them to understand the spirit of the law. The Word of God clearly teaches us how God uses the failures of those who seemingly are the most godly, the leaders of the church, to refine and purify their hearts to produce godliness in them. But you and I must also examine our hearts. How much Phariseeism is in us that the Lord is going to purge out? We are so capable of identifying the mote in our brother’s eye and overlooking that beam of self-righteousness in our own eye. This was the problem with Job, was it not? Job was a self-righteous man. Of Job the Lord said to Satan in Job 1:8: "And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?" Does this mean that he was righteous in the eyes of the Lord, or was he righteous in the eyes of Job? This verse is synonymous with Jesus’ rebuke of the self-righteous Pharisees in Mark 2:17b: "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." He was referring to those who were righteous in their own eyes, who had never learned to see the sin of their own hearts, who have never learned to see the Pharisee that dwells in our hearts. Each of us must learn to understand this. When Christ said He did not come to call the righteous (Luke 5:32), He was talking to self-righteous Pharisees. Job boasted of his own righteousness in Job 29:14-17: "I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem. I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out. And I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth." When the Lord sat "as a refiner and purifier of silver" and purified Job to purge him "as gold and silver," Job offered "unto the LORD an offering in righteousness" as we see in Job 40:3-5: "Then Job answered the LORD, and said, Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further." The Lord revealed the Pharisee in Job and purged it out, and the Lord will do this with you and me. In our lifetimes we will learn what it is for that Pharisee to be purged out of our hearts. When the Lord revealed Himself to Job, and when Job learned to see who he truly was in the eyes of the Lord, he saw the wretchedness of his own heart and that he was vile. Then Job came forth as gold and silver as the dross was burned off. Can you and I abide the Lord’s coming? No. When the Lord Jesus Christ comes to work the work of grace in our hearts, we will be refined even as Job was refined. We cannot abide His coming. The Pharisee in us is going to be purged out. Through Job’s failure, his own righteousness was removed through the refining process, and his heart produced true godliness. We read in Job 42:5-6: "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Now he had remorse over his Pharisaical attitude, all of the things he was doing in a legalistic way. Yet his heart was not right with the Lord, and the Lord came to purify it. God used the failures of David to refine and purify his heart to produce godliness in him. It was of David that Samuel told King Saul in 1 Samuel 13:14: "But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee." Saul’s heart departed from the Lord. David, the man after God’s own heart, could not stand in his own strength. After David’s failure to stand when he was tempted, falling into adultery and murder, see the godly repentance that flowed from his breast in Psalm 51:1-4: "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest." David saw exactly what Job saw. This is the fruit of the refiner’s fire. Our hearts are brought to where we see the guilt of our sins. We can then come before the Lord as guilty sinners. Now see the godly spirit these fires of the furnace produced in David in Psalm 51:9-13: "Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee." Now David understood. Now David could teach transgressors the way of the Lord. He could teach them: If you think you stand, beware lest you fall. If you think you are able to stand, if you think you have righteousness before God in your own self, be careful. You will fall in presumption and pride. The process the Lord uses is to allow us to fall. Through failure we learn who we are. We learn that we must lean on the everlasting arms of the Father. We cannot lean on our own strength. That brings us into a godly spirit before the Lord. See how Jesus cautioned Peter when he became so strong in himself in Luke 22:31-32: "And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." The Lord was admonishing Peter the same way He did David. David responded as we see in Psalm 51:12-13: "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee." The Lord told Peter: When you become as a little child, when you have become solely dependent on me so that you are unable to stand or walk or do anything in your own strength, when you are converted, then strengthen your brothers. Sometimes it seems like we are going to fail, but is that all bad? It is good if we fall into those everlasting arms of the Lord and humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God that He might exalt us in due time. God says: "Cast your burden upon me for I care for you." That is what the Lord is looking for. That is the righteousness or godliness He is looking for. See how Peter’s failures were used as a refiner’s fire to produce godliness in him. We read in Matthew 26:74-75: "Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly." See the godly spirit it brought him to. The Lord Jesus turned and looked on him, and that look of love melted his heart, and it reminded him of what Christ had told him. As Peter wept so bitterly over his sins, think how he could say with David in Psalm 51:11-13: "Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee." That is godliness. That is righteousness. This is what our text is speaking about—"that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness"—with a right attitude toward our fellow man, with a right attitude toward God. It is after our hearts have been purified through our failures that we are able to teach transgressors about the Pharisee, the Jacob, the Peter and the David that dwells within our hearts. Then we are able to confess before our fellow man how we have to be so aware of the Pharisee that is in our hearts. That we have to be so cognizant of the Jacob that is in our hearts, that we are so deceitful. Our hearts are desperately wicked and deceitful above all things, as we read in Jeremiah 17:9. We have to also be cautioned about the Peter in our hearts, about standing in our own strength. We have to be able to caution our fellow man about the David that is in our hearts—about a heart of lust and the lustful eye. We have to recognize these failures in our hearts, and now we can become witnesses for the Lord. Now we can strengthen the brethren— after we have been converted. We can show them how the Lord comes with His furnace and fuller’s soap to purify us. Then you can teach transgressors the way of following Jesus in the way of the cross, and sinners shall be converted unto God. Then you will understand Galatians 6:1-3: "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself." After we have learn to recognize in our own hearts that Pharisee, that Peter, that David, that Jacob, that Job, then we can strengthen the brethren, then we can go to such a one in meekness, remembering what the Lord has done to spare us when we failed. Now I can talk to that man about his failures, because I can speak from experience. I can speak of my own failures. Now, he will hear me. I am not being critical. I am not being judgmental. I am coming down to his level. I am cautioning him. "I see something in you my brother that makes my heart tremble because I know the weakness of my own heart." We can strengthen the brethren and be witnesses of the Lord by having understood these failures of our own and by sharing with them what the Lord has done for us. As we learn to see our own failings in walking in the true image of Christ, our hearts yearn to have Christ formed in us that we may truly enter the kingdom of Christ, to truly enter the service of God, that we may take up our cross and follow Him, that we, by walking in the way of the cross, can now strengthen our brethren in the way of crucifying the old self, that old nature, that old man in us. And when we can take up our cross and crucify that old man of sin in our hearts, then we can walk in the way of serving the Lord. We read in Matthew 6:33: "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." Now the uppermost desire of our hearts is to serve the Lord. We ask: What is it that is most needed in the way of serving the Lord? That does not mean that we become heaven-seekers but that we become God-seekers. It means to seek what we need to serve the Lord. Seeking His righteousness means that we seek to have a right attitude toward our neighbor. This verse refers to the first and second tables of the law. To seek the kingdom of God is to seek godliness, which is loving God with our heart, soul and mind. What can we do that is pleasing to the Lord? "His righteousness" is the second table of the law. That is, what is there that I must do in the way of walking in the way of the cross to love my neighbor as myself? Then all the necessities of this life will be added to us. To see God the Father’s process in producing godliness, we need to look at Hebrews 5:8: "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered." I don’t know a way in which we can really understand God’s purpose unless we see it in Christ. I can tell you what the Lord did to Job, and I can tell you what the Lord did to David, and I can tell you what the Lord did to Peter, and I can tell you what the Lord did to me, but until we understand the Father’s process in producing godliness in the Lord Jesus Christ, we don’t understand godliness. Do you know why? Because He had no sin. He had no Pharisee in Him. He had no Jacob, nor David, nor Peter within Him. He was spotless. He was perfect. We need to seek first the kingdom of God. In other words, we must seek first obedience to the Lord, with a godly fear, with a holy reverence for the will of God. That must be the uppermost thoughts of our hearts. We must remember that all the powers of Satan that came against Job were mustered against the Son of God in Gethsemane. Every hellish malice of Satan that came against Job, where Job failed, came against the Lord Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. He did not fail. All the power of lust that came to David on the rooftop came against Jesus in the Garden. All the powers of hell were turned loose against Jesus to the point where He sweat drops of blood. But He learned obedience by the things He suffered. All the forces of hell that brought Peter to curse and swear and deny he ever knew Jesus, came against Jesus in that hour. We have to understand what Jesus endured in the Garden when all the powers of hell and Satan were totally turned loose against Him to see if He would fail in the last hour. And yet He learned obedience by the things He suffered. We read in Hebrews 4:15: "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." The high priest was the one who placed the offering on the altar, the one who made the atonement. All the railings of man, all of the accusations of Satan and hell were poured out against Him in one hour with all the power of Satan. Yet, He did not sin. Now we begin to understand the preciousness of Christ, how He stood in all these temptations on our behalf. We must come boldly to the throne of grace because His righteousness is imputed to us. But this does not give us a license to sin. It gives us a pardon when we understand the remorse over our sin. When we have failed, we need to learn what Peter did (when Jesus turned, and Peter wept bitterly), we need to understand what Job did (where he learned to say, I abhor myself. I repent in dust and ashes.). David mourned over his sin. When we come to that we see the preciousness of what Jesus did on behalf of His church. Jesus resisted unto His own life’s blood against sin as we read in Hebrews 12:3-4: "For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin." The Lord allowed Satan to come against Him to the point that they shed His blood. Satan hung on Jesus’ heels and tried to drag Him off the cross and into hell. The heel of the Lord Jesus Christ was bruised. Satan tried to get Him to disobey. We consider what Christ suffered for His church so we won’t get weary in well doing. He resisted unto blood, striving against sin. We haven’t resisted to that point. As we go through the refiner’s fire, the Lord purifies us "as gold and silver, that [we] may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness." The Lord has a purpose for bringing us through these fires. What is in the refiner’s fire? The refiner’s fire includes a cup of pain. Hear what our lovely Saviour said as He went before us in Matthew 26:39: "And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." See the cup of pain that He drank. He shrunk in His flesh from the pain that was coming upon Him. Our Saviour had that hour before Him from eternity. It did not catch Him unaware. Yet hear the compassionate pleading love in His voice when "He cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?" Jesus was not to have the support of His friends in the flesh as He faced that hour. He had to tread the winepress alone. We see this in Isaiah 63:2-3: "Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat? I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me." The Lord Jesus Christ could not receive strength from one person. Have you ever noticed that when the Lord brings us through a trial, and when we come to the climax of the trial, He will remove all human strength? He will remove every person from that trial who was trying to help you. You must rest 100 percent on the Lord. The Lord Jesus Christ had to have every friend removed. He had to face this trial alone. He could not put any confidence in any flesh. His heart totally rested on His Father. He could not have the comfort or support of one person. As Job was being served his cup of pain, he said in Job 16:20: "My friends scorn me: but mine eye poureth out tears unto God." Not only were his friends removed but they turned against him. See the Lord’s purpose in this. See the process He uses to make us dependent on Him. When He brings us through the furnace He takes away every support of the flesh. David understood this cup of pain as we see in Psalm 6:6-7: "I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears. Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies." David, too, had to come to the point where it was between him and the Lord. He was not allowed to have even one of his closest friends to be at his side. He had to go into that final hour alone. God’s dear family must also follow their Saviour through an hour of confusion. Sometimes it seems like confusion rules in our lives. It seems as if there is no answer to anything anymore. We have no answers. All we can say is, "Lord, help me." Have you ever come to the point where you were so confused you didn’t have an answer anymore? You come to the point where you are at your wit’s end and you have nothing left to say. Look what we see in John 12:27-28: "Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." Can you imagine the King of kings, the Son of the God of heaven, in this situation? The Lord will bring us to the point where our only request is "Lord, glorify your name." See how the Lord brought the Son of His love to this point. The Lord glorified His name in seeing His justice satisfied. In Philippians 2:9-10 we see Him glorifying His name again: "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth." The Father is glorified in glorifying His Son for such obedience. I don’t tell the Lord what I need anymore. I have only one request left: Lord, glorify your name. The hardest part of faith is that last half hour, when the Lord brings it to a climax, when the Lord brings deliverance, which is sometimes so complete and miraculous, and we put no trust in the flesh, knowing the deliverance is from the Lord. You don’t have an answer left, then the Lord comes. We see this in Matthew 26:38: "Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me." The Lord teaches us a lot about prayer here and what happens when we come into a trial. In his hour of confusion David said in Psalm 143:3: "For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead. Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is desolate." Job said in Job 9:11: "Lo, he goeth by me, and I see him not: he passeth on also, but I perceive him not." In his night of confusion David said in Psalm 51:10-11: "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me." He was down to where he could see there was only one way he could have salvation, and that was from the Lord. This refiner’s fire also includes an hour of isolation. Have we ever had that, where we feel forsaken by every human being, and then it seems that we have been forsaken by the Lord? Hear what our lovely Saviour said when He was isolated in Matthew 27:45-46: "Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" The Lord Jesus Christ was made to be sin for us, and the Lord is holy. He cannot look upon sin or the sinner. Jesus came to take the penalty for sin, and He was forsaken by His Father. He was made to be sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. Do you understand that sometimes we must feel that we are forsaken? We have to learn to see the sinfulness of sin. We have to learn why the Lord looks and turns His back. It is because of sin. Now He can only look upon it in that finished work of Christ. Job said in Job 23:8-10: "Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold." If you ever talk to a Christian who says he has never been forsaken by the Lord, that he has never felt the Lord withdraw Himself, then he is very shallow. He has never really understood the refiner’s fire. Because when the Lord comes, and when the fire is in its maximum heat, we will be like Job. We can go forward, but He is not there. We can go backward, but we cannot perceive Him. He withdraws from us even as He withdrew from His own Son—that He might teach us the sinfulness of sin. David’s hour of isolation brought him to cry out in Psalm 31:12-13: "I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel. For I have heard the slander of many: fear was on every side: while they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life." David felt so forsaken. If he had had the immediate presence of God, he would have had no fear. David understood isolation. The Lord Jesus Christ understood. And if you and I understand the refining process of the Lord, we will understand what it is when the Lord withdraws Himself and leaves us to struggle against the powers of sin. Then we can understand what it means to be delivered. We can understand the delivering power of the Holy Spirit, when He puts away the power of sin. Have you never been on your knees and found that it seemed the heavens were brass, and your prayers did not get beyond the ceiling, and it seemed that the Lord did not hear? We read in 2 Chronicles 32:31: "Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to enquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart." The Lord knew what was in his heart, but Hezekiah did not. The Lord left him and allowed him to fall. The Lord taught Hezekiah the pride of his heart by withdrawing from him, not only His immediate presence, but He withdrew His restraining grace. See how this brought Hezekiah to cry before the Lord in Isaiah 38:14-16: "Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove: mine eyes fail with looking upward: O LORD, I am oppressed; undertake for me. What shall I say? he hath both spoken unto me, and himself hath done it: I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul. O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit: so wilt thou recover me, and make me to live." Hezekiah understood the withdrawing of the Lord. He understood that he had fallen and that the Lord had taken away His restraining grace and he understood that the Lord had taken away the smile of His face. He saw the Lord’s hand in this and that the Lord had brought him to this point. He saw that men live by these purgings in the furnace of affliction. His faith had not forsaken him. The Lord had prayed for him that his faith not fail, but he could not lay his hand out and touch the Lord. The Lord loves to hear the kind of prayer that Hezekiah prayed, when it comes from a truly humble and contrite heart. The Lord will not despise a humble and contrite heart. Our text says, "And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness." The sons of Levi are the Pharisees. The Lord will take the Pharisee right out of the center of our hearts. That ugly monster I will be consumed in that furnace. The Lord will take the Jacob, the Job, the Peter, the David out of us, and will instill Jesus Christ in us. See the fruit of this chastening in Hebrews 12:11-15: "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled." We will not be Pharisees anymore. We will not have judgmental spirits. We will lift up the hands that hang down. We will start serving the Lord in the second table of the law, loving our neighbors as ourselves. We are to make straight paths, to walk according to the Word of God. By our walk of life, by our example, the lame, those who are spiritually struggling, won’t be offended by seeing us filled with bitterness. Let the lame be healed by observing our walk of life, our attitudes toward our neighbor. We are told to follow holiness, putting God first in our lives as the first table of the law commands, and peace with all men, the second table of the law. Upon these two commands hang all the law and the gospel. Without following peace with all men and holiness, in other words without following the first and second tables of the law of love, no man will see the Lord. That’s how important it is. The Lord brings us to this point by the furnace of affliction. The most abominable thing to the Lord is when our hearts are filled with bitterness. Many think that all we need is the blood of Christ to justify us so we can go to heaven. No one will be justified by the blood of Christ until they understand what it means to follow peace with all men and holiness. That work of sanctification, that work of the furnace, comes ahead of you and me experiencing justification. And if we never experience those two, and we claim justification, we are deceiving ourselves. These peaceable fruits of righteousness are the grace of God. It is by grace that we receive these. It is by the purging of the furnace. If we see one who seems to fail of the grace of God, we must go back to Galatians 6:1, and those who are spiritual should restore him. A little leaven leavens the whole lump, and if you have one person who is bitter, he can spread bitterness in the whole crowd.