For our God is a consuming fire.
the kingdom of Christ," "the kingdom of heaven." We also read, "The kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost." And again, "The Law," i.e. the Jewish economy, "was given by Moses; grace and truth," i.e. Christianity, "came by Jesus Christ." "Grace and truth," "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost," are immutable and eternal; these are the elements which constitute the "kingdom which cannot be moved." Christian Churches may pass away; but Christianity ever abides and ever grows. Christian denominations and sects may die; but the Church of Christ ever lives and advances towards its position of supreme and world-wide sovereignty. Again, "grace and truth," "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost," as realized by the individual Christian, are not constant and permanent. Our consciousness of these things may vary and fluctuate; but the things themselves cannot be moved. The presence of the sun in the heavens may be veiled from us; but the sun is there, calm and luminous as ever. Clouds may hide every star from our view, and present to us a canopy of pitchy blackness; but the stars are not lost - beyond and above the clouds they pursue their appointed courses. So the consciousness of the kingdom within us may be disturbed and suspended and lost fur a time; but the kingdom is not lost, or suspended, or disturbed. If we have received Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, we have "received a kingdom which cannot be moved." Let us now fix our attention upon some of the chief teachings of the text.
I. CHRISTIANITY IS A SOVEREIGN POWER. It is "a kingdom;" "the kingdom of God;" "the kingdom of Christ;" "the kingdom of heaven;" the "kingdom which cannot be moved." Jesus claims supreme authority over the heart and life of all men, and over all institutions and societies. He claims to be the King of men. Have we received Christianity as a ruling power in our lives? Some accept it only for purposes of study and speculation; others only by manifesting towards it a little respect and interest; others admit it to a limited measure of control over them. But none of these has received the "kingdom which cannot be moved." He who has not welcomed the Lord Jesus as his King has not truly welcomed him at all. Personal Christianity is a sovereign power and person in the soul, ruling the thoughts and words, the desires and feelings, the purposes and actions of our being - ruling, in a word, our whole life. Have we so received Christ?
II. CHRISTIANITY AS A SOVEREIGN POWER IS UNCHANGEABLE AND EVERLASTING. "A kingdom which cannot be moved." We have seen that this kingdom is "grace and truth," "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost." These are immutable and abiding things; They are essential to the being and character of God, and he is unchangeable and eternal. And these things as possessed by his people are derived from him. Ephemeral is the seeming reign of falsehood and wrong; eternal is the reign of truth and righteousness - the kingdom of God. Amid change and decay, amid revolution and dissolution, here is an abiding thing, a sovereign and eternal thing. Have we received the "grace and truth," the "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost"? Then we have received the immovable kingdom, the kingdom which rests upon the eternal and unchangeable God.
1. Mark the blessedness of the true Christian. Amid all the painful uncertainties and changes of this life, he possesses the unalterable and the certain. He has a portion and an inheritance which shall nut be taken away from him. He will carry his wealth with him into eternity, and it will increase forever. "Grace and truth," "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost," are incorporated with his very being, and will never pass away from him. The blessed and permanent "kingdom of God is within" him.
2. Here is the basis of an argument for the immediate acceptance of Christianity, or rather, of the Christ. Christianity is not to give place to any other remedial dispensation. The patriarchal form of religion passed away, and the Mosaic system followed; that in its turn passed away with the advent and growth of Christianity, which will never be removed until the end of time. God will not speak to us with any voice more attractive, persuasive, or convincing than that by which he now addresses us. "See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not," etc. (vers. 25 - 27). Accept at once the blessings and obligations of this kingdom. - W.J.
Our God is a consuming fire.I. THE FACT. It is doubly certified. Science and revelation attest it with concordant voices. The testimony of Nature, as interpreted by science, affirms the working upon a prodigious scale of a law of destruction, ever since life first appeared upon the globe. The scientific formula of this law is in the familiar phrase, "the survival of the fittest." For countless ages there has been going on throughout the domain of physical life, a relentless extirpation of the weak by the strong, of the sickly by the healthy, of the ill-conditioned by the welt-conditioned. The gradual development of improved forms of life has been secured by the constant destruction of inferior and deteriorated forms. There is no statement of the Bible to which science, in studying the development of nature, more thoroughly asserts than to this: "Our God is a consuming fire." But when we pass up from the lower forms of life in which we see this inexorable rooting up and weeding out of the less vigorous and healthy, we find in humanity a life which is capable of improvement by a different method. God introduces a higher method when He introduces a higher subject that is capable of it. The chief difference between man and the highest of the creatures below him is in the teachableness of man. Hence the difference of method in the improvement of the lower and the higher types of life. In the lower, improvement by elimination of the unfit; the unimprovable perish. But in the higher, education of the unfit; the improvable are saved. The method which, in the lower, results in the survival of the fittest, is superseded in the higher by a method of fitting to survive. But now we have to observe that, wherever this higher method is resisted, the lower method still holds sway. See how sins against the body are punished still by fiery inflammations, hectic consumptions, burning ulcers, fierce disorders of nerve and brain, in which the drunkard, the debauchee, the glutton, and other transgressors of the laws of physical health are, as it were, consumed from among the living. See, also, how national or social sins against humanity, righteousness, purity, or any of the laws of social health, are punished by social cancers, which burn out social patriotism, eat away the social conscience, consume the nerves of national life, devour the youth in the heats of vice, kindle the conflagrations of war, and shrivel UP the glory of empire. The same thing is shown, and with special significance, by the familiar phenomena of remorse.
II. OUR PERSONAL RELATION TO THE FACT. We shall best approach the truth by entering into sympathy with the sentiment apparent in the text. There is no tone of dismay in it. It is inexpressibly solemn, but with no sign of shrinking as from an object of dread. It is uttered with the profoundest awe, but without the slightest sign of alarm, and seems to speak as from under a safe shelter in the blazing throne itself. The whole thought is coloured by the dominating word of sympathy and affection — "our." So might the dear child of some strict guardian of the law say: "My father is terribly just." It is spoken out of a heart that is at one with God in the peace of a filial endeavour to think His thought and to live His truth — a heart for which the fire of God has no terror, because no evil which belongs to that fire is guiltily held back from it. It is spoken out of a heart in which is even now progressing that purifying work which was ascribed in prophecy to Jesus (Matthew 3:11). Thus, when we have seen a little child put forth its hand to some forbidden object, we have seen that hand drop nerveless, and the whole frame recoil in confusion, as the mother's glance of mild reproof shot through the windows of the tempted soul — "a consuming fire" to the impulse of transgression. So is the thought of "our God" to a loving child of God. As his irregular desires and selfish impulses melt away in his awakened consciousness of the Father's presence, he finds there is grace and salvation in his wholesome experience that to his sin "our God is a consuming fire."
(J. M. Whiton, D. D.)
Homilist.1. Fire is the most powerful agent in the world. It supplies heat, which is the source of life and existence in all nature. It destroys all vegetable substances, and resolves them into their original elements. It purifies all corruption, and removes all impurities.
2. But fire cannot destroy or injure the valuables of the mineral kingdom. Gold and silver are purified by its influence, their impurities are destroyed, but they themselves are uninjured. The excrescences are removed, but the substance remains.
3. This image is introduced to represent the influence of God's Spirit. What does it consume? Not the precious gold or the valued stones, but the more worthless substances — hay, straw, stubble, &c.
I. ALL MEN MUST PASS THROUGH THE FIRES. That is, they must be subject to the scrutiny of God's righteous judgment. This is as a refiner's furnace.
II. THE RIGHTEOUS, BEING AS PURE GOLD, SHALL COME OUT OF THIS FIRE BEAUTIFUL AND UNINJURED. The dross of their characters shall be removed, their corruption shall be destroyed, and their hopes, confidence, and prospects enlarged.
III. THE WICKED, BEING LIKE THE CHAFF, SHALL BE CONSUMED IN THE FURNACE. Their hopes — being as a spider's web — shall be carried away.
IV. OUR GOD IS A CONSUMING FIRE.
1. TO His people this is a welcome thought; for He shall consume all that is hateful and repulsive to them.
2. To the sinful it is a thought of terror; for He shall destroy all that upon which they trust, and leave them helpless, desolate, lost.
(Homilist.)luminary in noonday brightness, the glory of the setting sun, the moon in her beauty walking through the palaces of the heavens, the countless stars shining in the glories of the nightly firmament, what more striking images of God, if man must employ such!
1. In the first place, there is the idea of purity, which belongs as an essential quality to the element itself. It is not possible to conceive of a flame as impure. And such flame is incorruptible too. Water and air, both also symbols of purity, may be tainted and befouled. But the flame, when still flame, compels whatever it may touch, and changes it into itself, into its own purity and freedom from defilement. Fire is the final, the only perfect purgation, because it is itself the only absolutely pure element. Who can tell the purity of God whose symbol is a flame? No word of ours can add to that simple idea.
2. Fire is a defence, a means of protection, and to symbolise the strong refuges of God's people is thus often used. The fire descending and consuming the offering was a gracious and encouraging sign of acceptance and favour. The chariots and horsemen of fire proved to be the defence and guard of the man of God. The pillar of fire that the people saw rising above the encampment at night and towering into the heaven, was their cheer, their protection in the wandering of the wilderness. What comfort does the bivouacing party not take in the fire that is kindled among the tents; and as it throws its strange and fantastic illumination upon the scene around, how the forest darkness is illumined or the solitude of the plain cheered by a sort of companionship of light! when the travellers in lonely places, where only the stealthy footfall of the beast of prey upon the crisp leaves, or the crackling boughs and branches fallen from the overhanging trees, breaks the solemn silence, light up their fires and make a line of blazing points around their halting-place, they know that they can sleep securely, and their beasts of burden are safe from the sudden spring of the tiger, the cruel teeth of the hungry lion. So is our God the comfort and the defence of His people. In the lonely ways of life He lights their path, and casts a gleam of comfort upon their desolate spirits. The world were very cold and very dark without our God. The vast spaces of the universe would stretch around us into illimitable distance, and nothing could issue thence to press upon our souls but the forces of death and destruction, ruin and despair. But let the soul feel that God is there, and then the whole is enlightened by a Father's presence, and every force in nature becomes a ministry of love. What a refuge and a defence is God with His people! Around us prowl the enemies of the soul. The roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, is near, but we are centred within the love of God, and he dares not rush upon that consuming fire within which we are safe.
3. But the energy of fire is not only repellent; it also is communicative. Air may wear down a substance presented to it and reduce it to dust, water may dissolve and change the form of that upon which it acts; but fire seizes an object, separates its particles, kindles them to burning, and then compels them to burn up in the flame of its own consuming. Fire kindles, fire sets on fire. These symbols of the Divine Being suggest this comunicableness of the Divine nature and activity which is the very basis of our religious, our Divine life. That old legend of Prometheus, told by Apollodorus, how he made the first man and woman out of clay, and animated them by the fire which he stole from heaven, is only the grotesque and paganised version of the deep truth of the life of God within the soul of man that the Scriptures reveal and illustrate. It is fire that gives life. It is the burning rays of the sun that vitalise and inspire all the dead matter of the earth, and cover this world with the beauty and movement, the varied forms and colours and activities of plant and flower, bird and beast. Man's life is but fire, and we get it from the central fire of the universe. And so of the higher life, the life of faith, of love, of holy character. This is gained from God. He who finds Jesus Christ, there finds God; and God in Christ, and by the Holy Spirit, who comes through Christ, kindles the flame of a Divine life within his heart.
4. The passage from this thought to that of the purifying power of fire is not difficult or forced. Some have seen only this in the word. We think that would be too much. To limit the extent of the application so as not to see this, however, would be as completely to miss its significance. When the new life began, how much of earth mingled with its heavenly constituents! There was selfishness, and greed, and passion, and sloth. There was pride, and envy, and hard-heartedness, and love of the world. There was slackness and doubting, and infidelity and neglect. There was ingratitude and insensibility, blindness to the show of God's face, and deafness to the sound of God's voice. But slowly the burning flame of the Divine nature has purged the evil. "A consuming fire! " A deeper, darker mystery still lies behind it all. Did the exhortation suggest us grace and piety, it also, in language unmistakable, bids us entertain a becoming and a godly fear. We have no desire to hide, we dare not hide, the solemn and the awful truth. That Divine nature, a burning fire, is a refuge, a defence, a quickening, purifying force; but be not deceived, it is also a destroying element. Material fire is purging to one thing when it is destructive of another. The fine gold it refines; the dross, the baser substance, it consumes, it destroys. And that Divine life which cleanses and renews, and purifies the faithful, the penitent, the obedient, becomes a burning indignation, a ceaseless and consuming fire against the soul that renders not its due honour and makes not its life its own.
(L. D. Bevan, D. D.)I. WE WILL ENDEAVOUR TO GIVE YOU DISTINCT NOTIONS OF THAT WHICH THE SCRIPTURE CALLS THE WRATH, THE ANGER, THE VENGEANCE OF GOD. Recollect that when the Scripture speaks of the perfections and operations of God it borroweth images from the affections and actions of men. Things that cannot be known to us by themselves can be understood only by analogy. Divine things are of this kind. From this remark follows a precaution — that is, that we must carefully lay aside every part of the emblem that agreeth only to men from whom it is borrowed, and apply only that part to the Deity which is compatible with the eminence of His perfections.
II. Observe THAT THOSE EMBLEMS OF WRATH AND VENGEANCE UNDER WHICH GOD IS REPRESENTED TO US HAVE ONE PART THAT CANNOT BE ATTRIBUTED TO HIM, because it is not compatible with the eminence of His perfections, and another that must be applied to Him because it is.
1. It is a consequence of the frailty or of the depravity of men that their anger inclines them to hate those whom they ought to love, and in whose happiness they ought to interest themselves as far as they can without violating the laws of equity. Such a hatred cannot be attributed to God; He loves all His intelligent creatures.
2. It is a consequence of human frailty or depravity that men's wrath makes them taste a barbarous pleasure in tormenting those who are the objects of it, and in feasting, as it were, on their miseries. This is incompatible with the eminence of the perfections of God.
3. It is a consequence of the frailty or of the depravity of men that their anger disorders their bodies and impairs their minds. See, the eyes sparkle, the mouth foams, the animal spirits are in a flame; these obscure the faculties of the mind, and prevent the weighing of those reasons that plead for the guilty offender; anger prejudgeth him, and, in spite of many powerful pleas in his favour, his ruin is resolved. All these are incompatible with the eminence of the perfections of God. God is a spirit; He is not subject to revolutions of sense; reasons of punishing a sinner never divert His attention from motives of pardoning the man or of moderating his pain.
4. It is a consequence of the frailty and depravity of men that their anger makes them usurp a right which belongs to God. God useth His own right when He punisheth sin.
5. It is a consequence of the frailty and depravity of men that time doth not abate their resentment, and that the only reason which prevents the rendering of evil for evil is a want of opportunity; as soon as an opportunity offers they eagerly embrace it. This is incompatible with the eminence of the perfections of God; He hath at all times the means of punishing the guilty.
6. It is a consequence of the frailty and depravity of men that their anger puts them upon considering and punishing a pardonable frailty as an atrocious crime. This is incompatible with the eminence of the Divine perfections. If we imagine that God acts so in any cases, it is because we have false notions of sins, and think that a pardonable frailty which is an atrocious crime.
III. We are to conciliate WHAT THE SCRIPTURE SAITH OF THE GOODNESS OF GOD WITH WHAT IT SAITH OF HIS ANGER OR VENGEANCE; and as the two subjects never appear more irreconciliable than when, having used all our endeavours to terrify people who defer their conversion till a dying illness, we actually take pains to comfort those who have deferred it till that time, we will endeavour to harmonise the goodness and justice of God in that particular point of view.
1. First, let us endeavour, in a general view, to reconcile the goodness of God with His justice by laying down a few principles.(1) To speak properly, there are not several perfections in God; but there is one single excellence, inclusive of every other, that ariseth from all His perfections, but of which it is not possible that we can either form any complete ideas or easily express by any name: in general, it may be called order, or love of order.(2) Although God hath only a general excellence, yet it is necessary for us to divide it into several particular excellencies in order to the obtaining of some knowledge of an object, the immensity of which will not allow us to comprehend it at once.(3) The general excellence of God being thus divided into parts, each part becomes what we call a perfection, or an attribute, of God, as vengeance or justice and goodness; but each particular attribute will be still mistaken unless we subdivide it again into other and still more contracted spheres. Thus, when God sendeth rain and fruitful seasons, we call the blessing simply bounty. When He delivereth us out of our afflictions we call it compassion. When He pardoneth our sins we call it mercy. But as all these particular excellencies proceed from that general attribute which we call goodness, so that attribute itself proceedeth, as well as His justice, from an excellence more general still. which we have denominated order or love of order.(4) Perfections that proceed from the same perfection, or, rather, which are the same perfections applied to different subjects, cannot be contrary to each other. Strictly speaking, God is no more just than good, no more good than just. His goodness is restrained by His justice, His justice by His goodness.(5) God is as amiable and adorable when He exerciseth His justice as when He exerciseth His goodness. That which makes me adore God, believe His word, hope in His promises, and love Him above all things, is the eminence of His perfections.
2. Let us now apply this general harmony of the goodness and severity of God to the removing of a seeming inconsistency in the conduct of your preachers and casuists, who first use every effort to alarm and terrify your minds with the idea of a death-bed repentance, and afterward take equal pains to comfort you when ye have deferred your repentance to that time, and when your case appears desperate. Why do we not despair of a man who delays his conversion till the approach of death? Because that order, which constitutes the eminence of the Divine perfections, doth not allow that a sincere conversion, a conversion that reforms the sin and renews the sinner, should be rejected by God. Now we cannot absolutely deny the possibility of a sincere death-bed conversion for the following reasons.(1) Because it is not absolutely impossible that a violent fit of sickness or an apprehension of death should make deeper impressions on the mind than either sermons, or exhortations, or books of devotion could ever produce.(2) Because we are neither so fully acquainted with other people's hearts, nor indeed with our own, as to determine whether sin have so entirely depraved all the faculties of the soul that it is past remedy; or whether it have arrived at that precise degree of corruption to which the eminence of the Divine perfections doth not allow a display of that efficacy which is promised to those who desire the grace of conversion.(3) Because we find in the Holy Scriptures that some have obtained mercy after they had committed the very crimes, the remembrance of which, we have said, ought not to drive any to despair.(4) Because we still see people who, having lived thirty, yea, fifty, years in sin, have been converted in a time of sickness, and who, being restored to health, give full proof of the reality of their conversion.(5) Because God worketh miracles in religion as well as in nature; and because no man hath a sufficient knowledge of the nature of God's perfections to enable him to affirm that a miracle cannot or ought not to be wrought in behalf of such a sinner.(6) Because we cannot find that your pastors have any authority from their Bibles to say to a penitent sinner at any time, There is no more hope for thee; thou hast exhausted the mercy of God.
3. It is true God's thoughts are not our thoughts; and it is possible that the approach of death may make deeper impressions on you than either sermons or pious books have made: but yet our God is a consuming fire. What a time is a dying illness for the receiving of such impressions! Ah! what obstacles! What a world of obstacles oppose such extravagant hopes and justify the efforts of those who endeavor to destroy them! Here is business that must be settled; a will which must be made; a number of articles that must be discussed; there are friends who must be embraced. There the illness increaseth, pains multiply, agonies convulse, the whole soul, full of intolerable sensations, loseth the power of seeing and hearing, thinking and reflecting. It is true God's thoughts are not our thoughts; and we have neither a sufficient knowledge of other people's hearts, nor of our own, to affirm with certainty when their faculties are entirely contaminated: but yet our God is a consuming fire. We know men to whom the truth is become unintelligible, in consequence of the disguise in which they have taken the pains to clothe it, and who have accustomed themselves to palliate vice till they are become incapable of perceiving its turpitude. God's thoughts are not our thoughts, it is true; and we have seen some examples of people who have proved, since their recovery, that they were truly converted in sickness, and on whose account we presume that others may possibly be converted by the same means: but yet our God is a consuming fire. How rare are these examples! Doth this require proof? Must we demonstrate it? Ye are our proofs; ye yourselves are our demonstrations. It is true God's thoughts are not our thoughts; and God worketh miracles in religion as well as in nature: but yet our God is a consuming fire. Who can assure himself that, having abused common grace, he shall obtain extraordinary assistances? It is true God's thoughts are not our thoughts: and there is nothing in the Holy Scriptures which inpowers us to shut the gates of heaven against a dying penitent; we have no authority to tell you that there is no more hope for you, but that ye are lost without remedy: but yet our God is a consuming fire. There are hundreds of passages in our Bibles which authorise us — what am I saying? there are hundreds of passages that command us — not to conceal anything from the criminal; there are hundreds of passages which empower and enjoin us to warn you, you who are fifty years of age, you who are sixty, you who are fourscore, that still to put off the work of your conversion is a madness, an excess of inflexibility and indolence, which all the flames of hell can never expiate.
Homilist.I. Fire is UNIVERSAL, and God's love is everywhere — the life of all the living, the beauty of all the beautiful, the blessedness of all the blest.
II. Fire INFLICTS PAIN. And a flash of Divine love on a guilty conscience enkindles a hell.
III. Fire CREATES STORMS. And all the moral tempests in the universe have their origin in Divine love.
IV. Fire is PERPETUALLY ACTIVE. SO is Divine love — creating, sustaining, and directing all things.
V. Fire has a DEVOURING CAPABILITY. Divine love burns up falsehoods, wrongs, and all the ten thousand forms of sins.
VI. Fire has the POWER TO CHANGE ALL THINGS INTO ITS OWN NATURE. So Divine love will turn all human souls into love one day. Evil cannot remain evil for ever before it.
(W. Jones, D. D.)
I. OUR GOD IS A CONSUMING FIRE; AND THERE IS TERROR IN THE SYMBOL. But the terror is reserved for those who unceasingly and persistently violate His laws and despise His love. Sin is no light matter. In this world even it is fearfully avenged. Walk through certain wards in our hospitals, and tell me if anything could exceed the horror, the agony, or the penalty which is being inflicted on those who have flagrantly violated the laws of nature. And so far as we can see the physical penalties which follow upon wrong-doing are not unto life and restoration, but unto death and destruction. It is necessary that these sufferings should be veiled from the eye of man, but surely they must be taken into account, when we estimate God's treatment of sin. And if such pain, keen as fire, consumes those who violate physical law, surely we must admit that there is a still more awful doom for those who violate the laws of God's love and grace and pleading mercy.
II. OUR GOD IS A CONSUMING FIRE; AND THERE IS COMFORT AND BLESSING IN THE THOUGHT. When we yield to God's love, and open our hearts to Him, He enters into us, and becomes within us a consuming fire, not to ourselves, but to the evil within us. So that, in a very deep and blessed sense, we may be said to dwell with the devouring fire, and to walk amid the eternal burnings.
1. Fire is warmth. We talk of ardent desire, warm emotion, enthusiasm's glow and fire; and when we speak of God being within us as fire, we mean that He will produce in us a strong and constant affection to Himself. 2.. Fire is light. We are dark enough in our natural state, but when God comes into the tabernacle of our being, the shekinah begins to glow in the most holy place; and pours its waves of glory throughout the whole being, so that the face is suffused with a holy glow, and there is an evident elasticity and buoyancy of spirits which no world-joy can produce or even imitate.
3. Fire is purity. "How long, think you, would it take a workman with hammer and chisel to get the ore from the rocks in which it lies so closely embedded? But if they are flung into the great cylinder, and the fires fanned to torrid heat, and the draught roars through the burning mass, at nightfall the glowing stream of pure and fluid metal, from which all dross and rubbish are parted, flows into the waiting mould." This is a parable of what God will do for us. Nay, more, He will burn up the wood, hay, and stubble, the grit and dross, the selfishness and evil of our nature, so that at last only the gold and silver and precious stones shall remain. The bonds that fetter us will be consumed, but not a hair of our heads shall fall to the ground.
(M. B. Meyer, B. A.)
(S. H. Kellogg, D. D.)
(A. J. Parry.)
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