In reading the account of the three Hebrew captives the impression generally received seems to be that nothing about them was touched by the fire. There was one thing, however, upon which the fire did seem to have some effect. The record says, "These three men, . . . fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace," and later the king exclaimed, "Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God." They went in bound; they came out free. In this we have a beautiful and suggestive lesson.
There was great stress brought to bear upon these three champions for the true worship of the one and only God. Self-preservation and loyalty to their king seemed to demand obedience. To accomplish these might they not bow their bodies in seeming compliance, and thus appease the malice and jealousy of their foes, while they still worshiped God with their hearts? They, however, spurned all these suggestions of compromise so plausibly deceptive, and stood firm in their allegiance to Truth and in their reliance on God's power and readiness to deliver them; and, even if their faith were not strong enough to assure them of this, they would still stand by their convictions of right. All this is revealed in their dignified and uncompromising reply to the king: "O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." "Then," continues the narrative, "was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury."
Firmness in our adherence to Principle will always arouse the opposition and bitter hatred of personal sense, because such an attitude robs this sense of its power, overthrows its self-constituted authority. When the stand for right is taken, so-called mortal mind endeavors to bind Truth's brave champion with fear, doubt, and anxiety, and then to cast him into the furnace of ingratitude, betrayal, ostracism, hatred, and persecution. But these experiences only serve to turn him away from human hopes, mortal pleasures, and personal dependence, to the saving and sustaining power of Spirit. Then he finds and walks with the "Son of God,"—the divine idea. He also finds that his bonds of fear are removed, and he emerges from the furnace stronger and better than when he entered it.
A wonderful sense of dominion was attained by these three Hebrews through their unwavering fidelity to their highest sense of right. It enabled them to overrule the power of the fiercest of all material elements and thereby prove that a right attitude of thought, viz., the spiritual, cannot be hindered or thwarted by any claim of mortal, material power. Thus is our sense of God's presence and power enhanced by every trial, and the belief in danger and suffering proven to be false. In reality there is no danger or calamity at all, for right in the place where such a condition is supposed to exist is the presence and power of God. If we are honestly striving to be loyal to God, we may step forward without apprehension or alarm, confident that nothing but good can possibly result therefrom; then with Paul we may say, "We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us."
The promise in Isaiah is very precious: "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee;" but we do not fully appreciate its comfort and beauty until we have encountered some extreme condition of mortal consciousness and discovered its powerlessness to do us harm, and thus learned more of the power of divine Love to save and protect us, discerned more of the might and majesty of Truth, comprehended more of the allness of God—infinite good—and the nothingness of evil. What can harm those who are trusting implicitly in divine Truth and Love,—omnipotence? Jesus said, "Nothing shall by any means hurt you."
Whatever the fetters by which we seem bound to a false sense of things, they are sure to be consumed, for to all that is inimical to the true consciousness "our God is a consuming fire." Strange to say, however, the burning of the bonds is sometimes a very unwelcome process. Why? Because of our love for the bonds. In "Miscellaneous Writings" (p. 18) this interpretation is given to the First Commandment, "Thou shalt love Spirit only, not its opposite," an interpretation which is clearly corroborated by the following and kindred Scriptural passages: "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve;" "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind;" "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world;" "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth."
We are all ready to deplore the materiality which seems to impede our progress spiritward, yet how often we are unwilling to let go the material in order that we may more firmly grasp the spiritual. On the other hand, we may not know what the bonds are which seem to retard our advancement, and anxiety is occasionally expressed lest the ability to discern the hindrance be lacking, but there is no danger on that score if we are faithful in living up to our highest sense of right, for this of itself will, through experience, so augment what understanding we do have that the error is sure to be uncovered and destroyed. But who is willing earnestly to pray the prayer of the psalmist? "Search me, O God. and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me." Nevertheless "there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known."
In our advance to more spiritual planes of thought we are not infrequently surprised on discovering the extent to which we have depended on personal influence and material evidence. As these are separated from us we are apt to feel that something is being lost or destroyed, while the fact is that we are gaining a higher sense of freedom, even "the glorious liberty of the children of God;" a truer sense of substance, "the substance of things hoped for;" and a holier sense of friendship, that of which Jesus spoke to his followers, "I have called you friends."
"For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."