"Is not my word like fire," declares the LORD?” (Jer. 23:29)
There is a sense in which hell is properly described to be below us. Of course this is not to be understood literally in a geographical sense, but in metaphorical terms: spiritual analogy. However, hellfire should not in every sense be thought of as being below us, for no man can ascend to heaven without first going, in some sense, through hell. Listen to the Scriptures describe heaven by saying: "the city was pure gold" (Rev. 21:18), and this is the case only because it is itself located within the eye of a refining furnace. For if heaven is always wherever God is, how can it be anywhere but amidst the fire? Listen to the Scriptures saying: “God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). And again Scripture says “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” (Zec. 13:9).
Christ, who is Himself, from head to toe, a golden image of the Father (cf. Col. 1:15), stands in the midst of the furnace, calling all mankind to enter and be with Him, that we may say alongside Job: "when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:10). Nebuchadnezzar, who is himself an image not of pure gold, but of all they who are a golden head alone and crushed wherever they are not pure gold, that the superfluidity of pride may be brought to naught and caused to grovel on the ground like an ox (cf. Dan. 4:33). The Word of God is Himself the "stone cut without hands" (Dan. 2:45), which is essentially to say a divine hammer, and crushes the stony heart, which functions as the spiritual legs and foundation of men (cf. Jer. 23:29), that they may become purified and gold, that is to say “hearts of flesh” (Eze. 36:26) circumcised for the Lord (cf. Deut. 10:16; Lev. 26:41; Jer. 4:4; 6:10; 9:26, Eze. 44:7–9). As Solomon said, “The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the LORD trieth the hearts” (Pro. 17:3). The divine fire of the Word, therefore, refining the souls of mankind “as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (Psa. 12:6), is the purging and transmutation of all ontological impurities into the gold of divinity. Christ is in this way both the blacksmith and the alchemist. As the apostle Peter says, “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.”
The Lord will one day say to all of us what He said to the three in the furnace: “Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction…well done, my good and faithful servant” (Isa. 48:10, Matt. 25:21). May Christ transmute the lead of our sin within us into the gold of His Virtue.