I spoke at a family camp at Crystal Creek Christian Camp over the weekend. If you’ve ever been there, you know the blessing it is to fellowship with God’s people around the word in such beautiful surroundings.

In one of my sessions, I spoke about the night Jacob encountered God in an all-night wrestling match. As the sun rose the following morning, Jacob walked away with what he had fought for… but he walked with a limp.

The message could be summed up in the well known words of A.W. Tozer: “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” May you benefit in reading those words in their fuller context.

It was the enraptured Rutherford who could shout in the midst of serious and painful trials, “Praise God for the hammer, the file and the furnace.”

The hammer is a useful tool, but the nail, if it had feeling and intelligence, could present another side of the story. For the nail knows the hammer only as an opponent, a brutal, merciless enemy who lives to pound it into submission, to beat it down out of sight and clinch it into place. That is the nail’s view of the hammer, and it is accurate except for one thing: The nail forgets that both it and the hammer are servants of the same workman. Let the nail but remember that the hammer is held by the workman and all resentment toward it will disappear. The carpenter decides whose head will be beaten next and what hammer shall be used in the beating. That is his sovereign right. When the nail has surrendered to the will of the workman and has gotten a little glimpse of his benign plans for its future it will yield to the hammer without complaint.

The file is more painful still, for its business is to bite into the soft metal, scraping and eating away the edges till it has shaped the metal to its will. Yet the file has, in truth, no real will in the matter, but serves another master as the metal also does. It is the master and not the file that decides how much shall be eaten away, what shape the metal shall take, and how long the painful filing shall continue. Let the metal accept the will of the master and it will not try to dictate when or how it shall be filed.

As for the furnace, it is the worst of all. Ruthless and savage, it leaps at every combustible thing that enters it and never relaxes its fury till it has reduced it all to shapeless ashes. All that refuses to burn is melted to a mass of helpless matter, without will or purpose of its own. When everything is melted that will melt and all is burned that will burn, then and not till then the furnace calms down and rests from its destructive fury.

With all this known to him, how could Rutherford find it in his heart to praise God for the hammer, the file and the furnace? The answer is simply that he loved the Master of the hammer, he adored the Workman who wielded the file, he worshipped the Lord who heated the furnace for the everlasting blessing of His children. He had felt the hammer till its rough beatings no longer hurt; he had endured the file till he had come actually to enjoy its bitings; he had walked with God in the furnace so long that it had become as his natural habitat. That does not overstate the facts. His letters reveal as much.

Such doctrine as this does not find much sympathy among Christians in these soft and carnal days. We tend to think of Christianity as a painless system by which we can escape the penalty of past sins and attain to heaven at last. The flaming desire to be rid of every unholy thing and to put on the likeness of Christ at any cost is not often found among us. We expect to enter the everlasting kingdom of our Father and to sit down around the table with sages, saints and martyrs; and through the grace of God, maybe we shall; yes, maybe we shall. But for the most of us it could prove at first an embarrassing experience. Ours might be the silence of the untried soldier in the presence of the battle-hardened heroes who have fought the fight and won the victory and who have scars to prove that they were present when the battle was joined.

The devil, things and people being what they are, it is necessary for God to use the hammer, the file and the furnace in His holy work of preparing a saint for true sainthood. It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.

Without doubt we of this generation have become too soft to scale great spiritual heights. Salvation has come to mean deliverance from unpleasant things. Our hymns and sermons create for us a religion of consolation and pleasantness. We overlook the pace of the thorns, the cross and the blood. We ignore the function of the hammer and the file.

Strange as it may sound, it is yet true that much of the suffering we are called upon to endure on the highway of holiness is an inward suffering for which scarcely an external cause can be found. For our journey is an inward journey, and our real foes are invisible to the eyes of men. Attacks of darkness, of despondency, of acute self-depreciation may be endured without any change in our outward circumstances. Only the enemy and God and the hard-pressed Christian know what has taken place. The inward suffering has been great and a mighty work of purification has been accomplished, but the heart [knows] its own sorrow and no one else can share it. God has cleansed His child in the only way He can, circumstance being what they are. Thank God for the furnace.

—Glorify his name! Root of the Righteous, Ch. 39

Grace to you.

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About Jason Harris

Dr Jason Harris is a writer, pastor, and academic. He has authored multiple books, articles, and papers including his book Theological Meditations on the Gospel. Jason has a PhD from James Cook University as well as degrees in theology, music, accounting, and research. Jason has lived in Cairns, Australia since 2007 and serves as pastor at CrossPoint Church. You can contact Jason at jason@jasonharris.com.au.


  1. Matt 4 October, 2011 at 1:40 pm - Reply

    Good post.

    I think we hurt ourselves more by our poor decision making and the results of those decisions end up as circumstances that God uses to get our attention.

    Of course this opens the whole can of worms regarding whether something I did caused me to get sick. Clearly not the case when Jesus was asked by the disciples why the man was blind from birth. Response was he hadn’t sinned nor had his parents. Makes you think tho.

    Anyway greetings from SA. :)

  2. Jason Harris 4 October, 2011 at 10:09 pm - Reply

    Good thought, Matt. Sometimes we’re the “hammer” God is using to “beat us into shape”…

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Joy 4 October, 2011 at 11:51 pm - Reply

    This is a beautiful description of what it means to REALLY trust our God. Trust His love, His goodness and His sovereignty.

  4. Kez 5 October, 2011 at 2:39 am - Reply

    Um…so I have a small question… how do you know when you should be you should be just enduring difficulty and when you need to be doing something about getting away from the difficulty?

    Do we just assume everything bad that happens to us is God’s hammer at work in our lives? How can we tell when bad things are happening in our lives if they are God trying to get us to take action and move out of the situation or if He wants us to endure the furnace and stay put?

    Are there specific circumstances that are givens for enduring or (for want of a better word) escaping difficulties in life? Should we approach each trial or trouble as if it were the hammer of God and go from there? Or does it all rely on individual guidance for individual circumstances?

    …sorry…kinda more than a small question… =P

  5. Jason Harris 5 October, 2011 at 10:16 am - Reply

    Good question Kez.

    Suffering is ubiquitous in the Christian life. It will happen. Often.

    The key is to be suffering in the right ways and for the right things. Christians are not supposed to be sadomasochists. Nor is monasticism or self-flagellation biblical. In other words, if there’s a fire, get out! If someone is being a jerk and you can avoid being around them, do. If you can get medical help, by all means, get it. If you can afford to find another job, put out your resume. If you can pursue legal protection, pursue it.

    This is the biblical pattern, though I think it’s simply a matter of good sense. David dodged the spear and hid in caves. Jesus carefully avoided the murderous plots of the Jews until “his time had come.” Paul appealed to Roman law to get out of prison and appealed to Caesar for a legal hearing.

    There is no virtue in suffering per se. The virtue is in suffering joyfully when you can’t get out of the fire; when you can’t get away from the jerk; when medical science has done all it can and the suffering continues; when there is no other way to make a living; when the law will not protect you.

    But ultimately, whether you stay in the fire or get out, the fire will cause suffering. If you hang around the jerk, you will suffer, but in escaping the jerk, you will suffer as well. Medical procedures/treatments can be extremely painful and leave lasting suffering. Finding new work involves losing opportunities, tenure, benefits, friendships, etc. Appealing to the law is not likely to eliminate suffering either. It can, in fact, lead to great suffering.

    So the ethic presented here is not glorifying suffering for the sake of suffering, or as inherently virtuous. Rather, it is glorifying the sovereign goodness of God in sometimes allowing us to suffer in spite of our good sense and wise responses to the difficulties of life. It is magnifying the skill of the “workman” in masterfully accomplishing his gracious work through every means which he chooses to use. It is reminding us that God is God and we are not. That God is wise enough to work all things for our joy and for his glory, and that those two things are not in contradiction, but are rather in perfect harmony because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

    Peter makes this point explicit when he says to slaves in 1 Peter 2:19-20 “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” Here are situations in which the law did not effectively protect slaves from unjust masters. Peter is not endorsing slavery in any way, shape, or form. What he is saying is that while this social condition exists, slaves are to endure this unjust suffering in a way that demonstrates trust in the sovereign goodness of God.

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