Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he arose in haste and spoke, saying, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (Daniel 3:24-25, N.K.J.V.)
George Matheson, the great Scottish preacher, gleaned an interesting thought from this passage. Rather than focusing upon the fourth man’s miraculous protection of the three Hebrew boys in the fire, Matheson honed in on those words “walking in the midst of the fire.” He said:
When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the furnace, the fire did not stop them from moving, for they were seen “walking around.” Actually, the fire was one of the streets they traveled to their destination. The comfort we have from Christ’s revealed truth is not that it teaches us freedom from sorrow, but that it teaches us freedom through sorrow.
What gave Matheson’s take on the passage even more depth was the fact that he himself was blind. He wasn’t born blind, but his eyesight began deteriorating only a few months after his birth, and by the time he was eighteen years old it was so bad that he needed assistance to complete his schoolwork. He spent the decades of his ministry in physical darkness, using memorization to recite not only his sermons but also the hymns and scripture readings for each service. Despite his physical impairment, he still managed to become one of Scotland’s most famous and accomplished pastors.
Actually, Matheson’s friends claimed that his blindness was his own type of fire, one that burned off some of his ropes in regards to spiritual insight and discernment. As Warren Wiersbe, in his book, Living With the Giants, says of Matheson:
He was not deceived or distracted by the surface things of life. He had the ability to penetrate deeper even though he could not see. A presbyterian council heard him preach once and responded: “The Council all feel that God has closed your eyes only to open other eyes, which have made you one of the guides of men.”
Surely it was Matheson’s unique take that allowed him to note how even our times of fire, when they are given over fully to the Lord, can produce a freedom for us that can’t be gained any other way. Like Nebuchadnezzar’s fire burning those ropes off Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the fires that you and I must sometimes endure can free us from our worries and doubts. Think about the perspective those three Hebrew youths had after their experience in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace. Whenever some sort of trouble arose for any one of them over the course of the rest of his life, he could truthfully say, “Well, the Lord kept me safe in the fiery furnace, and what I’m going through now isn’t nearly as bad as that.” What inner peace and confidence that must have given each one of them!
This is the type of thing that George Matheson called “freedom through (by way of, because of) sorrow.” And it’s a freedom that you and I can gain as well if we will put our trust in the Lord when the flames are roaring all around us. You see, the truth is, there are lessons that can only be learned in the fire, and the child of God who has learned them there is indeed much better off than the one who hasn’t. Therefore, if you are currently having to endure one of life’s engulfing fires, just stick with Jesus through it and let Him use the heat to burn some ropes of bondage off you and create a special kind of freedom that you will be able to enjoy the rest of your days.