9. And 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: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.
9. Et ducam (vel, venire faciam) tertiam partem per ignem; et conflabo eos sicuti conflatur argentum: et examinabo eos sicuti probatur aurum: ipse invocabit nomen meum, et ego respondebo ei; et dixi, (vel, dicam,) populos meus est; et ipse dicet, Iehova Deus meus.
Zechariah proceeds further here, that when God shall cut off two parts of the people, he will yet save the third for this end -- that it might be proved by various kinds of trials, and be made to bear many afflictions. With regard to the two parts, the Lord did not afflict them in order to turn them to repentance, but resolved wholly to destroy them. The third part then is reserved for salvation; and yet it is necessary even for them to be cleansed through many afflictions.
Very useful is this doctrine; for we hence first conclude that many, not only from the world, are led into perdition, but also from the bosom of the Church: for when three hundred shall profess to worship God, one hundred only, says Zechariah, will be saved. There are always among the people many hypocrites; nay, the grains lie hid in the midst of much chaff and refuse; it is therefore necessary to devote to ruin and eternal death a larger number than those who shall be saved. Let us then not envy the ungodly, though their prosperity may disturb us and cause us to grieve. (Psalm 37:2.) We think them happy; for while God spares and supports them, they deride us and triumph over our miseries. But under this circumstance, the Holy Spirit exhorts us to bear patiently our afflictions; for though for a time the happiness of the ungodly may goad us, yet God himself declares that they are fattened in order to be presently slain, when they shall have gathered much fatness. This is one thing.
Then it is in the second place added, that after the greater part, both of the world and of the Church, (at least such as profess to belong to it,) shall be destroyed, we cannot be retained in our position, except God often chastises us. Let us then remember what Paul says, that we are chastised by the Lord, that we may not perish with the world; and the metaphors which the Prophet adopts here are to the same purpose; for he says, I will lead them through the fire. He speaks here of the faithful whom God has chosen into salvation, and whom he has reserved that they might continue safe: yet he says, that they shall be saved through fire, that is, hard trials. But he sets forth this still more clearly, He will prove them, he says, as silver and gold The stubble and the chaff, as John the Baptist teaches us, are indeed cast into the fire, (Matthew 3:12,) but without any benefit; for the fire consumes the refuse and the chaff, and whatever is corruptible. But when the gold and the silver are put in the fire and are purified, it is done that greater purity may be produced, and also that what is precious in these metals may become more apparent: for when the silver is drawn out of the mine, it differs not much from what is earthy. The same is the case with gold. But the furnace so purifies the gold and silver from their dross, that they attain their value and excellency. Hence Zechariah says, that when God casts his faithful people into the fire, he does this according to his paternal purpose in order to burn out their dross, and thus they become gold and silver who were before filthy and abominable, and in whom much dross abounded. We see then that the elect of God, even those who may be rightly counted his children, are here distinguished from the reprobate, however they may profess God's name and worship.
Now this passage is not inconsistent with that in Isaiah,
|I have not purified thee as silver and gold, for thou hast been wholly consumed.|
Though God tries his elect by the fire of afflictions, he yet observes moderation; for they would wholly faint were he to purify them to the quick. It is however necessary to pass through this trial of which the Prophet now speaks: and thus the state of the Church is here described -- that it ought to be always and continually cleansed, for we are altogether unclean; and then, after God has washed us by his Spirit, still many spots of uncleanness remain in us; besides, we contract other pollutions, for it cannot be but that much contagion is derived from those vices by which we are on every side surrounded.
He now adds, He will call on my name, and I will answer him With this consideration God mitigates what was in itself hard and grievous. It is hard to see so many dreadful evils, when God treads under foot the greater part of the world, and when his vengeance bursts forth on the Church itself, so that his severity on every side fills us with fear. But this also is added -- that we are daily to feel the fire, as though God meant to burn us, while yet he does not consume us. Hence the Prophet shows how these miseries are to be sweetened to us, and how sorrow becomes not too grievous; for we are tried by the cross and the scourges and chastisements of God in order that we may call on his name. Hearing follows calling; and nothing can be more desirable than this. The Prophet then proves from the happy effect, that there is no reason for the faithful to murmur against God, or impatiently to bear their evils, because being purified they can now really flee to him.
Were any to ask, whether God can by his Spirit only draw the elect to true religion? If so, why is this fire of affliction and hard trial necessary? The answer is, that he speaks not here of what God can do, nor ought we to dispute on the subject, but be satisfied with what he has appointed. It is his will then, that his own people should pass through the fire and be tried by various afflictions, for this purpose -- that they may sincerely call on his name. We must at the same time learn that it is the true preparation by which the Lord brings back the elect to himself, and forms in them a sincere concern for religion, when he tries them by the cross and by various chastisements; for prosperity is like mildew or the rust. We cannot then look to God with clear eyes, except our eyes be cleansed. But this cleansing, as I have said, is what God has appointed as the means by which he has resolved to render his Church submissive. It is therefore necessary that we should be subject, from first to last, to the scourges of God, in order that we may from the heart call on him; for our hearts are enfeebled by prosperity, so that we cannot make the effort to pray. But this consolation is ever to be applied to ease our sorrows, when our flesh leads us either to perverseness or to despair; let this remedy occur to us, that though chastisement is hard while it is felt, it ought yet to be estimated by what it produces, as the Apostle also reminds us in Hebrews 12:11. Let us especially know that the name of God is then seriously invoked, when we are subdued, and all ferocity, and all the indulgence of the flesh, are corrected in us: for we are like untamed heifers, as Jeremiah says, when God indulges us. (Jeremiah 31:18.) Hence the discipline of the cross is necessary, so that earnest prayer may become vigorous in us.
He shows at last how God may be invoked, for we are taught that he will be kind and propitious to us, whenever called upon. It would not indeed be enough for us to groan under the burden of afflictions, and to be thus awakened to prayer, except God himself allured us and gave us hope of favor. Hence the Prophet adds, I will say, My people they are; and they will say, Jehovah our God is he. The Prophet in short means, that unless the promises of God shine on us, and invite us to prayer, no sincere prayer can ever be drawn from us. How so? Because we first come to God by faith alone, and this opens the gate to us, and all prayers not founded on faith are rejected; and further, we know that men naturally dread the presence of God, and will do so until he gives them a taste of his goodness and love. Hence what Zechariah says here is especially worthy of notice, -- that God's word precedes, so that we may follow with confidence, and be able to enter through the gate opened to prayer, for except he first says, |ye are my people,| we cannot claim the privilege of entering into his presence and say, |thou art our God.| For who has bound God to us, that he should be a God to us? even he himself; for he has bound himself to us when he promised that we shall be his people. There is then, as I have said, no right beginning to prayer until we are taught that God is ready to hear our prayers, as it is said in Psalm 65:2, |Thou God hearest prayers, and all flesh shall come to thee.|