Mr. Minderhoud is a teacher in Covenant Christian High School and a member in Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan.

For thou, O God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried.

Psalm 66:10The physical, material parts of creation undergo radical transformations when exposed to fire or extreme heat. Impure gold is dull in appearance but is transformed by a process involving intense heat, making it shimmer and shine with great brilliance. A strip of magnesium metal is gray and shiny, but when exposed to intense heat it transforms into a white, powdery ash. A lush, thriving forest is blackened and seemingly stripped bare when struck by forest fire, only to grow anew. Steel loses its characteristic ability to provide support and bear weight when exposed to great heat. Recall a proposed reason for the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers—intense heat from burning jet fuel weakened the strength of the steel beams so they could no longer support the weight of the building! Many physical and chemical changes occur to substances when they are subjected to intense heat.

The radical transformations that occur in matter when it is exposed to great heat are especially exemplified in the steel-making process. Intense heat is used in the steel industry for the purpose of refining and shaping steel. Steel, which is mostly iron atoms mixed with a small percentage of other atoms, is placed within a heat-resistant container called a crucible. The steel that is in the crucible is placed in a furnace and exposed to intensely hot flames. As steel is heated within the furnace, the atoms of the steel move more and more rapidly till finally they no longer remain in the orderly positions they once did as a solid. Now, with atoms in a disorderly arrangement, the steel exhibits properties characteristic of substances in the liquid state. In the presence of great heat (approximately 1600o C; 2900o F) the steel melts. The liquefied steel is poured into casts to make particular shapes to be used as instruments, tools, or other raw materials.

In addition to melting the steel, heat is used in other ways to alter the properties of steel. If the steel is heated and then cooled quickly (called tempering), the atoms within become arranged in such a way that it makes the steel tougher, harder, and less liable to crack—often used in cutting tools or in gears in heavy machinery. If the steel is heated and then cooled slowly (called annealing), the steel will be softer and more bendable—often used in making iron railings, nails, or sheets. In this situation the steel is softer and more flexible because as the heated atoms cool slowly they have more time to arrange themselves in a special arrangement that actually allows the metal to be more flexible than it was originally. Thus, we see how an artificer can use heat to manipulate steel or other metals as the need requires. One purpose for a metal may require great heat and a lengthy time in the furnace, and another purpose for a metal may require little heat and less time in the furnace. Therefore, we see the role that intense heat plays in the molding, shaping, and refining of metals in order to fit them for the artificer’s desired purpose.

As fire is important to specific, radical transformations of matter in the creation, particularly in the refining of metals, so, too, it is an important picture that God gives us of the “fiery trials” that He places upon us. God places each of us, His beloved children, within a “crucible” to expose us to various afflictions or “fiery trials.” These trials may differ in degree of intensity as well as duration. Just as the degree of heat a metal is subjected to is determined by what the artificer wants to do with the metal that is placed in the fire, so, too, God’s crucible heats us according as we have need. Each child of God has his own particular and specific impurities and weaknesses that God purges from him. God, like the artificer, applies to His beloved children particular and unique afflictions to purify them and prepare them for their unique place in this life and the life to come. For some of us it is very sore afflictions; for others it is “lesser” afflictions. It may be afflictions for a lifetime or for a moment. Yet, in each case the goal is the same for all of us—we flee from sin and are drawn closer to God that the glory of Christ might shine in us more fully. A radical change must take place within us, requiring the intense heat of fiery trials so that we may be laid bare, stripped of our own selfish dependence, in order to seek all we need outside of ourselves and to rely onGod alone. “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 might offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness” (Mal. 3:3).

Scripture uses the analogy of the purification of silver and gold by heat or fire to picture how God purifies us, His people. Gold or silver is purified or refined by being placed within a furnace in which great heat (up to 1100o C; 2000o F) is applied to the compounds. Mixed with the gold or silver are other minerals and impurities. The extreme heat makes the gold or silver turn into its liquid form. The other minerals and impurities will often combine with oxygen molecules in the air (oxidation), forming compounds that float on the top of the molten gold or silver, called dross. The dross is skimmed off the top, leaving a relatively pure sample of gold or silver. The gold or silver that remains is now more valuable because, free from impurities, its true beauty and unique properties are brought out.

And so, we are spiritually purified. “Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction” (Is. 48:10). We, as children of God, have Christ within us, and only because of that can we abide the fire. We have the beauty of the new man within us. But yet, there is within us an old man of sin from which evil deeds arise that must be crucified and destroyed. Although God has in principle purged us of sin in Christ by His work on the cross, nevertheless, in this life we are always affected by our old man of sin from which “spring daily sins of infirmity, and hence spots adhere to the best works of the saints” (Canons V, 2). Thus, God’s work of salvation includes a daily conversion—a daily mortification of the old, “and the daily renewing of our lives, till we shall finally be presented without spot or wrinkle among the assembly of the elect in life eternal” (Baptism Form).

God uses His crucible, His furnace of affliction, to burn away all that would impede us in our devotion to Him. Many are the earthly cares and desires that distract us from our calling to seek first the kingdom of God, to dwell in communion with Him, and to trust in Him alone. In love, our heavenly Father brings cancer upon us. We are humbled for we see our frailty. We learn to recognize that our only help is in God, not in our health or physicians, but in God alone. In love, our heavenly Father brings material losses upon us: our job is terminated, our income is limited because of economic conditions, our home burns to the ground, our crops are destroyed, or our nation is ravaged by crime or war. These afflictions teach us to trust in God, not in our riches, not in our resources, not in our intellectual ability or work ethic, but in God alone. In love, God brings upon us difficulties in the home: sick children or the death of a loved one. All these “fiery trials” strengthen our faith in our heavenly Father, who loves us dearly.

Though often times we may rebel against such trials, for their immensity can weigh heavily upon us, we must see in these trials the purpose for which God has designed them. “But he (chastens us) for our profit, that we might be partakers of holiness. 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” (Heb. 12:10-11). The trial of our faith has a purpose or goal—that we might be complete, stronger in the faith, bearing righteous fruit. When we are placed in God’s crucible we are purified—the old man is more put off and the new man in Christ shines forth more clearly. As we read in I Peter 1:5-7, we are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”

When we, by the grace of God, are able to view our troubles as necessary for our salvation, then we even see them as a cause for joy. We take comfort knowing that God does not afflict His people without reason, though we may not always be able to see it. For our faith, which is far more precious than gold, must too be tried with fire—the fire of affliction. Gold is submitted to the fire in order to separate it from its dross, and again in order to determine its purity. Likewise, God’s purpose in the “trying” of our faith is twofold. In the first place, it works to purge sin from us, for we are placed within God’s crucible that through affliction we may be rid of any unbelief and the dross of our faith may be taken away. Over a whole lifetime of being placed within God’s crucible through many afflictions, we only begin to glimmer and shine. We have but a small beginning of the new obedience in this life. Secondly, the purpose of trials is to give the child of God a sense of approval, a guarantee, that He which has begun a good work in us will accomplish and complete it. Our faith has been proved; it is genuine and shall endure till Christ appears again. God is the author of our salvation—justification, sanctification, glorification—from beginning to end. It is solely God’s work and His work shall endure. It alone can withstand and pass through the fire. Through the intense “fiery trials” the new man within us is preserved and endures, while the old man perishes and is consumed. Thus, we carry on boldly, for though ultimately everything in this life leads to the destruction of our external man and death, we look upon Christ in order to see glory and praise in our troubles. And that glory will be fully seen at the “appearing of Christ.”

“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (James 1:12). Rev. Herman Veldman explained the passage of James in this way:

“James does not refer here to the trial of our faith, but to the results of that trial. Our becoming approved refers to that condition of the Christian wherein his true spiritual character is revealed as purged from all foreign elements. Silver and gold are tried, approved by fire in the sense that they are purged of all impurities, so that their beauty and true character may shine the more brilliantly. So also the Christian is approved. Many foreign elements cleave to the Christian’s conscious walk and manifestation. The approved Christian is he who, when cast into the furnace of affliction, is being purified, so that the imperishable character of his faith shines the more gloriously, as purged from all carnal and sinful elements” (SB, Volume 23, p. 189).

We must see afflictions in this positive light. God by His grace upholds us within His crucible so that we may become more beautiful, reflecting the beauty of Christ within us, and be brought into closer communion with our Father. May God give us patience in the “fiery trials” that He sends us, in order that we might see the loving hand of our Father molding us, making us “perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:4).