Luke 12:49

Our Lord's life deepened and enlarged as it proceeded, like a great and fertilizing river. And as conflict became more frequent and severe, and as the last scenes drew on, his own feeling was quickened, his spirit was aflame with a more ardent and intense emotion. We look at the subject of spiritual strenuousness -

I. IN VIEW OF OUR LORD'S PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. In these two verses we find him passing through some moments of very intense feeling; he was powerfully affected by two considerations.

1. A compassionate desire on behalf of the world. He came to the world to kindle a great fire which should be a light to illumine, a heat to cleanse, a flame to consume. Such would be the Divine truth of which he came to be the Author, especially as it was made operative by the Divine Spirit whose coming should be so intimately associated with and should immediately follow his life work (see Luke 3:16; Acts 2:3). As he looked upon the gross and sad darkness which that light was so much needed to dissipate, upon the errors that heat was so much required to purify, upon the corruption that flame was so essential to extinguish, his holy and loving spirit yearned with a profound and vehement desire for the hour to come when these heavenly forces should be prepared and be freed to do their sacred and blessed work.

2. A human lounging to pass through the trial that awaited him. "But" - there was not only an interval of time to elapse, there was a period of solemn struggle to be gone through, before that fire would be kindled. There was a baptism of sorrow and of conflict for himself to undergo, and how was he "straitened" in spirit until that was accomplished! Here was the feeling of a son of man, but it was the feeling of the noblest of the children of men. He did not desire that it should be postponed; he longed for it to come that it might be passed through, that the battle might be fought, that the anguish might be borne. Truly this is none other than a holy human spirit with whom we have to do; one like unto ourselves, in the depth of whose nature were these very hopes and fears, these same longings and yearnings which, in the face of a dread future, stir our own souls with strongest agitations. How solemn, how great, how fearful, must that future have been which so profoundly and powerfully affected his calm and reverent spirit!

II. IN VIEW OF OUR OWN SPIRITUAL STRUGGLES. We cannot do anything of very great account unless we know something of that spiritual strenuousness of which our Lord knew so much.

1. We should show this in our concern for the condition of the world. How much are we affected by the savagery, by the barbarism, by the idolatry, by the vice, by the godlessness, by the selfishness, which prevail on the right hand and on the left? How eagerly and earnestly do we desire that the enlightenment and the purification of Christian truth should be carried into the midst of it? Does our desire rise to a holy, Christ-like ardor? Does it manifest itself in becoming generosity, in appropriate service and sacrifice?

2. We may show this in our anxiety to pass through the trial-hour that awaits us. Whether it be the hour of approaching service, or sorrow, or persecution, or death, we may, like our Master, be straitened until it be come and gone. Let us see that, like him, we

(1) await it in calm trustfulness of spirit; and

(2) prepare for it by faithful witness and close communion with God in the hours that lead up to it. - C.

I am come to send fire on the earth.
1. There may be dissension betwixt the good and the good; and hereof is the devil the author. It is the enemy that sows those tares. Christ came not to send this fire, yet He wisely tempers it to our good.

2. There may be dissension betwixt the wicked and the wicked; and hereof also is Satan author. He sets his own together by the ears, like cocks of the game, to make him sport. Hereupon he raised these great heathen wars, that in them millions of souls might go down to people his lower kingdom, Hereupon he draws ruffian into the field against ruffian, and then laughs at their vainly spilt blood. All the contentions, quarrels, whereby one evil neighbour vexeth another, all slanders, scoldings, reproaches, calumnies, are his own damned fires.

3. There is a dissension between the wicked and godly; nor yet is Christ the proper and immediate cause of this. For "if it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men" (Romans 12:18).

4. There is an enmity betwixt grace and wickedness, a continual combat between sanctity and sin; and this is the fire Christ came to send.He is to some a living stone, whereupon they are built to life; to others a stone of offence, whereat they stumble to death.

I. The FIRE is discord, debate, contention, anger, and hatred against the godly.(1) Debate is like fire; for as that of all elements, so this of all passions, is most violent.(2) Contention is like fire, for both burn as long as there is any exhaustible matter to contend with. Only herein it transcends fire — for fire begets not matter, but consumes it; debate begets matter, hut not consumes it.(3) As a little spark grows to a great flame, so a small debate often proves a great rent.(4) As fire is proverbially said to be an ill master but a good servant, so anger, where it is a lord of rule, is a lord of misrule; but where it is subdued to reason, or rather sanctified by grace, it is a good servant. That anger is holy that is zealous for the glory of God.

II. The FUEL whereon this fire works is the good profession of the godly. LESSON

1. That we have need of patience, seeing we know that the law of our profession binds us to a warfare; and it is decreed upon that "all that will live godly in Christ shall suffer persecution." When fire, which was the god of the Chaldeans, had devoured all the other wooden deities, Canopis set upon him a caldron full of water, whose bottom was full of holes artificially stopped with wax; which, when it felt the heat of that furious idol, melted and gave way to the water to fall down upon it, and quench it. The water of our patience must only extinguish this fire; nothing but our tears, moderation, and sufferance can abate it. But this patience hath no further latitude than our proper respect; for in the cause of the Lord we must be jealous and zealous.

2. That we must not shrink from our profession, though we know it to be the fuel that maintains this fire.

3. That we think not much of the troublous fires that are thus sent to wait upon the gospel.

4. That we esteem not the worse of our profession, but the better. It is no small comfort that God thinks thee worthy to suffer for His name. This was the apostles' joy, not that they were worthy, but "that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ " (Acts 5:41).

5. Seeing the fuel is our integrity — and this they specially strike at — let us more constantly hold together, confirming the communion of saints, which they would dissolve.

(T. Adams.)

We must look for a Scriptural use of "fire" which shall have some bearing upon the subject of division and discord as caused by the gospel. We find such a use in the very idea of kindling. If the gospel was a mere tame and spiritless influence, a mere soothing and stroking down of human faults and passions, a mere palliative and balsam for the wounds and sufferings, for the wrongs and woes of fallen nature, it would have differed in many other respects from the thing which Jesus Christ brought us from heaven; but certainly and most evidently in this, that it would have caused no strifes and no contentions, no violences and no discords. It is because the gospel is first and above all else a "fire," enkindled and sparkling, pervading and transforming the whole body and substance of the being to which it is effectually applied, that it brings with it this irritating, this provoking, this exasperating influence upon every bystanding and surrounding being which repudiate, and "we will have none of it." It needs but a little reflection to make all hearts echo the statement. There are those in this day who tell us that the real gospel is a mere enforcement or suggestion, or, if you will, revelation of charity. We ask what is meant by "charity," and we find that it is a sort of easy. going tolerance for all creeds and all religions, a good-natured "live and let live" for all the philosophies, and all the philanthropies, and all the superstitions, and all the idolatries which have entered into the heart of man, as the truth and the whole of truth, the duty and the whole of duty, whether toward God or toward man. Now at present we are only concerned to say so much as this, that if the gospel had thus entered the world, if this had been the idea of it as Christ and the apostles preached it, it would have raised no hostility; it could not possibly have had the history which we know Christianity has had, as flinging abroad upon the earth "division" or a "sword"; and for this simple reason that it would not have had in it one single characteristic of "fire." Men would have been perfectly willing under Nero or Domitian to let Christians alone, if they would only have glided about among their contemporaries as men whispering peace and safety, hinting at a new divinity, one among many, each having some claim, and none having an exclusive claim to the belief and faith of mankind; a new divinity to occupy one niche of a crowded and world-wide pantheon — "Jesus and the resurrection." Athens would have let this alone; Rome would have let this alone; human nature would have made room for this, because it would have put oil or water in the place of fire; because it would have been a mere religion of negatives and platitudes, stirred by no storm and brightened by no ray. "I came to cast fire upon the earth," and although fire has many beautiful and many comforting aspects, this is in virtue of a quality which makes it also, and before all else, penetrating and exploring, consuming and purifying, a power, first, formidable and destructive; then, secondly, an influence brightening and warming, cheering and comforting. It is thus with the sign, it is thus, also, with the thing signified.

I. THE GOSPEL A FIRE IN THE HEART. The gospel, entering a heart, begins with kindling. There is much in that heart. We speak not only of hearts which the Lord suddenly opened at Philippi or Corinth to listen to the preaching of a new faith, when all round and all antecedent had been Jewish or Pagan; we speak of hearts to which gospel sounds, whether of word or of worship, are but too familiar, and we say that, even in these, if a new reality is ever by the grace of God given to the gospel, there is much fuel ready for the burning, much as to which the gospel would be nugatory if it did not burn up — probably many known sins, certainly a multitude of frivolities and vanities, which to let alone would be to say "peace" where there is none; which to let alone would be to live the life in the sleep of death, but which to assail is to bring a " sword" between soul and spirit, to proclaim war to the knife against many inveterate habits, and to cause a revolution in the most cherished tenacities of the being; and it is just in proportion as this first office of fire is faithfully and effectively done that any other can be safe or even true. Thoroughness in yielding ourselves to the purifying, is the condition alike of the illuminating and the warming, and the comforting. It is just where the fire is not allowed to consume that it refuses to burn brightly for companionship or for cheering.

II. THE GOSPEL A FIRE IN THE WORLD. This, which is the real struggle of the gospel in the heart, is also its real struggle in the world. If the gospel would begin and end with comforting, it would be welcomed everywhere; if it would settle down as a mere pleasant guest in the chamber and at the social table, making all easy all round, saying or sounding as if it said, "Live as you list and all shall be peace at the last," nothing could be more popular; then it would have the promise, in commonest parlance, of two worlds — the life that is and the life that shall be. It is this uncompromising character, this call for decision and for a whole heart, this demand for a life wholly given, in purpose and affections to the Lord who bought it, which makes the gospel a "sword" for such as will not have it for a "fire"; and yet, brethren, it is just this uncompromising character which makes it a power, and which makes it a charm, and which makes it a gospel. Oh, we could any of us construct a religion which should cry "peace" when there is none; we could any of us make a gospel, using a few phrases and elements of the real one, which should be accommodating, and which should be complimentary, and which should be plausible, and which, therefore, should be fashionable; and which, just in the same degree, would leave every sore festering, and every woe desolating, and every vice and crime destroying, of the old Adam and of the fallen and of the sin-spoilt man. But what should we have done, when we had done all this to perfection? We should not have evoked one grand heroism such as lies at the bottom even of the ruined humanity; we should not have evoked one echo from the slumbering temple of the God-made man; we should have done nothing whatever towards the actual want, and the real hunger, and the one despair of the soul, which feels that its true wretchedness is separation from God, and that its true cure would be the getting back home. "I am come to send fire on the earth." So Jesus speaks; and we, who have one breath of God in us, feel that "fire" is the element wanting. We want the water of cleansing, and we want the wind of scourging, and we want the earthquake of demolishing; and oh, what we want above all, is the "fire" which does all these things, and which yet adds to them all the grace of transforming, and the grace of kindling, and the grace of inspiring, and the grace of enabling, and the grace of the new life. It is the "fire" which has made Christianity great; it is not the mere washing with the water of a new innocence; it is not the light of the lamp of information even as to the mysteries of grace and redemption: it is the enkindling of Christian souls with the fire of love, and the fire of zeal, and the fire of an out-spoken boldness, and the fire of even an impatient and intolerant hatred of misery and wickedness. It is this which has done great things in the earth in the name of Christ and God; it is this which has demolished idols; it is this which has at last toppled down slavery; it is this which has made missionaries strong, and martyrs brave, and churches militant; it is this which has provoked indeed the rage of the world and devil; but it has also shown enemies, open and secret, that "greater is He that is with us than he that is in the world." "I am come to send fire upon the earth, and what would I, but that it were already kindled?" It is kindled now. Ages and generations have lived in the blaze of that fire, and Christ, who knows what is in man, loves that "fire" better than the tame sluggishness, the lifeless torpor, the false peace which prevails everywhere where that "fire" comes not. "Already kindled!" Is it kindled round us? Is it kindled in us? Are we a stagnant, torpid, lifeless multitude? or, are we of the kindled, inspired, living, and life-breathing few? For few still are they in whom this Spirit of God is, not for selfish comfort, but for inspired power. Let us hazard some little, let us encounter some little, that we may please Him who said — "Oh, that it were already kindled," because He loved the "fire " rather than the chill, because He loved the enthusiasm rather than the half-heartedness.

(Dean Vaughan.)

1. A fire which warms what is cold.

2. Purifies what is impure.

3. Consumes what is evil.

(Van Oosterzee.)

1. How we are to wish for it.

2. How we are to fear it.

3. How we are to endure it.


For the Christian a threefold baptism is necessary.

1. The water baptism of sprinkling.

2. The spiritual baptism of renewal.

3. The fire baptism of trial.

(Van Oosterzee.)

1. A surprising phenomenon, if we look at —

(1)The King (Psalm 72.).

(2)The fundamental law of the kingdom of God (John 13:35).

2. An explicable phenomenon if we direct our eye to

(1)The severity of the gospel.

(2)The sinfulness of the human heart.

3. A momentous phenomenon. This strife is a proof of the high significance, and means for the establishment, the purification, and the victory of Christianity.

(Van Oosterzee.)

I. Let us consider THE DESIGN OF OUR LORD'S ADVENT, AS HERE ANNOUNCED BY HIMSELF. Indeed, each peculiar aspect in which our Lord's work is viewed by Him is a characteristic variety, which tends both to enlarge and rectify our views on the subject. When He contemplates His work in relation to the fallen condition of our race, His announcement of His design is this — "I am come to seek and to save the lost." When He views it in relation to the redemption He was to accomplish, He speaks of it as being "a ransom price for many." When He views it in its relation to God, His exclamation to the Father is "I have come to glorify Thee on the earth." When He viewed it in regard to Himself, His representation was, that He had come into this far country "to get Himself a kingdom." And when He viewed it in relation to the world at large, He announced Himself as the Light of the world — as "a light to lighten the Gentiles" — as "the Bread that came down from heaven, of which if a man eat he will never die " — as having living Water to bestow, of which "whosoever drinketh shall never thirst" as Him who had come "not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." In all these representations the same great idea is either expressed or shadowed forth-namely, that the mystery of our Lord's incarnation and life and passion had no other design, nothing less than the undoing of all that sin had produced in our world — that out of that dark and formless chaos into which the whole spiritual creation here had been thrown, He might produce a new order of things, where for man there should be purity, dignity, and joy; and for God, the re-establishment in glory and in majesty of His full authority over the heart and the conscience of man. The announcement of our Lord's passion and work given in the passage before us, belongs to the last of the classes above enumerated; those, namely, in which its general bearings on the ignorant, the guilty creatures of our race, is proclaimed. In the Old Testament prophecy, the advent of the Messiah had been described as an event which should result in the purging away from the Church of God of all filth, "by the spirit of burning"; in the utterance of the prophetic voice it had been foretold of the Messiah, that He "should sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, to purify the sons of Levi, and purge them like gold and silver, that they should offer unto God an offering in righteousness." In these passages the idea of purification and refinement is most distinctly brought before us by the symbolic language in which the design of the Messiah's mission is described; and it is in reference apparently to the same idea, applying to Himself this description of the Messiah, that our Lord uses the words now before us. By some interpreters, indeed, their application has been restricted to those dissensions and fiery controversies which the religion of Christ has, through the hostility of mankind, been instrumental in producing in our world. And to this they have been led by the allusion our Lord Himself makes to these dissensions in subsequent verses of this chapter. But this interpretation can hardly be admitted, for these dissensions and controversies are not necessary, far less essential, parts of our Lord's work, but clearly the results springing out of the evil state of man's heart, and it cannot be to the collateral and accidental results of the circumstances among which He comes, that our Lord alludes " I am come to send fire on the earth." It does appear a very weak and impotent interpretation of such an assertion to represent it as meaning nothing more than the quarrels among men, which may be its result. By the fire here spoken of, which our Lord had said He came to send on the earth, is to be understood that purifying, remodelling, renovating power which He came to diffuse through the mass of our race. He came not merely to deliver a message, and to do by it an appointed work, but by means of that message and in consequence of that work, to set the world on fire. He came to revolutionize the world by infusing into it a new element of spiritual life and activity. In short, to melt and fuse the whole fabric of earthly relations, that out of its elemental parts His plastic hand may construct a more perfect form of being, and thereby cover this earth which God has made with a race of beings worthier of Him who made them, and of that fair and fertile world which He has given them to inhabit. This great change which our Lord had come to commence finds its basis in His sacrificial work; and the means by which it is to be carried forward are the promulgation of the mighty truths connected with that work. So long as sin remains, evil, and gloom, and sorrow, must overhang our earth: but let sin be removed, and the removal of the cause will be followed by the cessation of all the evils the presence of that cause has occasioned and perpetuated. Now the only way in which sin can be removed from the conscience of the man by whom it has been committed, is by his being fully forgiven all the guilt of sin, and perfectly cleansed of all the pollution of sin, by God. But will God, can God, thus purify the sinner? The answer comes to us from the cross of Christ. The fire which consumed the sacrifice upon that mystic altar was fiercer than the fire of Tophet; but it was a fire that cleanses, that brings renovation and purity to a world of polluted and perishing sinners. As it was necessary that this fire should be kindled first on the altar of atonement, so it is only as our torch is irradiated on that altar, that we can spread the sacred flame through the world. The only means by which we can hope to ransom and purify our fallen race, is by making known to each individual of it the great facts and doctrines connected with the sacrificial work of Christ. All other means will prove inefficient. Thus is this doctrine adapted to the great objects for which it was designed. The religion of Jesus Christ has been sent forth by its great Author, as a mighty fire, to purify and remodel the world. In accomplishing this great work, Christianity begins with individuals, and by successive conquests over the corruptions and guilt of individual souls, advances to the salvation of multitudes, and the renovation of the race. The "fire" which Christ sent into the world is to enwrap the whole world in its purifying blaze; but then it i§ to do so only by being kindled in heart after heart, and warming and sanctifying home after home. And wherever this sacred fire is experienced, it will stretch forth its lambent flame to fasten on new objects, and accomplish new transformations. It comes not like the lightning, appearing suddenly in the east, and darting instantaneously to the west. It comes with a slow, steady, and advancing flame. At first its light falls amidst the corruptions of some solitary path; but gradually it extends its light, and heat, and purifying influence, until, passing into a mighty conflagration, it encircles whole countries and continents. As she advances to the accomplishment of her purpose, and attainment of her triumph, she must, of necessity, come into collision with much that men have been accustomed to value and to revere. Many of the forms of social life, many of the bulwarks of earthly policy, many of the institutions of human intercourse, are the mere offspring of sensual taste and habits, or, at the best, mere artificial contrivances for the effecting of a compromise between the good and the evil that are strangely mixed up in the tissue of our mortal life. Every advance Christianity makes in our world must be connected with conflict. Not a single bosom is surrendered to her occupancy without a struggle.

II. I have now to direct your attention for a little to OUR KORD'S EXPRESSION OF ARDENT DESIRE FOR THE COMMENCEMENT OF THAT WORK WHICH HE THUS CAME INTO THE WORLD ACCOMPLISH: "I am come to send fire on the earth: I would that it were already kindled!" If you examine the chronology of the gospel history, you will find that the discourses of which my text forms a part were delivered by our Lord within a very short time — three or four weeks, at the very utmost, of His crucifixion. As He uttered these words, then, He had His sufferings full in view, and was in the immediate prospect of entering upon those scenes of unparalleled agony through which He passed to the accomplishment of His work. With the feelings that then occupied His bosom these words are in full harmony. The considerations which thus induced our Saviour so ardently to desire the accomplishment of His work are to be sought, doubtless, in the consequences that were to result from the accomplishment of that work; and though these can never be present to our minds with the force that occupied His, yet it may be permitted to us without presumption to institute an inquiry into these considerations, and the effect it may be supposed they would have in causing Him thus to long for their realization. Allow me, then, to refer to a few of the consequences of the kindling of that fire the Saviour came to send upon the earth.

1. And first, the diffusion of Christianity stands closely connected with the promotion of the Divine glory in the world. In consequence of the prevalence of sin, the glory of God, as manifested in this portion of His universe, has been fearfully obscured.

2. In the diffusion of Christianity, our Lord traced the fulfilment of His own gracious purpose to men, and the success of His own work in their behalf; and this prospect naturally prompted the desire expressed in the words before us. When our Lord became incarnate, and entered on the work of His humiliation, it was in order that by means of that work He might bring to pass the design and purpose which had eternally occupied the Infinite mind. Is it to succeed, or is it to fail? He anticipated the joy of the angels, as they witnessed sinner after sinner converted unto God. He foretasted — a foretaste peculiar to Himself — the joy of bringing many sons unto glory. And as all these prospects in bright manifestation and in firm assurance pressed on His view, who can wonder that His bosom should have thrilled with ardent desire, and His cry should have been with regard to that fire, by which these results were to be secured — "I would that it were already kindled"?

3. Our Lord saw in the extension of Christianity, a vast increase to the purity and moral goodness of the world; and this filled His mind with delight and intense desire that the work were already begun. To a mind possessing any degree of intellectual vigour, and not altogether destitute of right moral feeling, the state of a thinking, accountable, and immortal being like man, lying under the polluting, degrading, destroying power of sin, cannot fail to raise emotions of the deepest pain. And knowing that in that purifying fire He had come to send on the earth was to be found the only real and effectual remedy for this sad state of things, who can wonder that His sacred bosom should have expanded with an ardent desire which gave itself vent in the exclamation — "I would that it were already kindled!"

4. The bearing of His religion on the happiness of mankind must also have actuated the Saviour in desiring its speedy and steady diffusion. When we cast our eye over the condition of our race, we behold man universally engaged in the eager pursuit of happiness, often baffled in the pursuit, and constrained in disappointment of spirit to exclaim — "Who will show us any good?" But in the gospel of Jesus Christ there is a panacea for man's ills, and an antidote for man's sorrows. Wherever it spreads, the people that "sat in darkness see a great light," and upon them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, a light shines.

5. The force of these considerations is greatly enhanced by the fact, that the triumphs of Christianity are progressive, and that her conquests are perpetual. "All nations shall be blessed in Christ, and all nations shall call Him blessed." Nor shall this continual extension of territory in any degree endanger the stability of the kingdom itself. With many earthly empires the shouts of their victorious arms have passed into the knell of their approaching doom. Rome fell through the vastness of her dominions, and the very multitude of her conquests. Spain fell from her proud pre-eminence among the nations of Europe, from the time that her chivalry gained for her new empires on the other side of the Atlantic. And Britain, invincible within her own sea-bound shores, has ere now found the same defeat in consequence of the wide extent of her foreign possessions. But no such contingencies threaten the empire of Christ. However vast, or however far it spreads, the eye of Omniscience watches over it, and the arm of Omnipotence secures its safety. It is emphatically and absolutely "an everlasting kingdom." All things else with which man has to do are destined to decay. Amidst the ruins of earthly kingdoms, amidst the dissolution of the terrestrial system, amidst the wild crash of worlds it shall remain unshaken and unharmed; "the Lord thy God, the Lord thy lawgiver, the Lord thy judge, He will save thee!" How glorious the prospect thus expanded before us! What a gush of exhilarating and triumphant emotion is it calculated to excite in every renewed and holy mind! With what feelings of unutterable delight must it have been associated in the mind of the Redeemer, who could view it in all its vastness, and appreciate it in all its glory! and with what earnestness must He have entertained the desire that the fire by whose sacred flame all this was to be effected were already kindled! Oh, my hearers, let us see to it that the fire burns in our own bosoms, and that there it is carrying forward its salutary work. God forbid that we who are seeking the spread of the gospel throughout the world, should either be destitute of its power, or but slightly influenced by its spirit. The times in which we live, demand that we should be men of earnestness, energy, and perseverance. Those, sirs, are not times for the mere idleness of religious profession, for the more refinements and enjoyments of Christian association.

(W. L. Alexander, D. D.)

Upon a close examination of the text, and a comparison with the following verses, there can be no doubt whatever, that the sending fire upon earth, indicates nothing less than what it at the first glance appears to import, namely, the production of great and violent contention and animosity. When the religion of a crucified Saviour was originally made known to the world, greatly varied: even within a single family circle, was the reception which it met with. Some, when they had heard the word, received it with joy, and cried out, with the Ethiopian, "See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" While others, only observing of the preacher of Jesus and the Resurrection, "He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods," persisted in their ancient course, and loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. Placed in such circumstances, it was almost impossible for the Christian members of a household, with whatever circumspection and caution they might walk, to avoid giving offence. Though they kept silence, and refrained even from good words, their conduct was a tacit reproach to their connections. When they refused to offer the drink-offerings of those dumb idols, or to make mention of their name with their lips, they sufficiently declared their opinion of those that did it, as of men labouring under gross delusion. Now we may observe how sensitive to the slightest apparent contempt of their opinions the spiritually ignorant and superstitious are. Again, the Christians could not, on any terms, partake of the pleasures which their unconverted friends chiefly esteemed; many of them were unclean, and many of them were cruel, teeming with all abomination and pollution. They were compelled, therefore, to stand aloof in their festivities, and as children of light, to have no communion with the works of darkness. This must, according to all experience and observation of the characteristics of weak and vicious men, have contributed in no small degree to engender a spirit of bitterness. The slave of vice cannot bear the eye that looks mournfully on his evil indulgences. Finally, Christianity incapacitated the professor from attaining to many worldly honours and emoluments, and hence another struggle while a parent's ill-judging affection endeavoured to impose upon a child conformity to existing iniquities, that his prospects in this life might not be blighted, and the other as resolutely persisted in the determination to witness a good confession before men, lest his prospects in eternity should suffer a much more fatal blight. How soon such contentions might call into action the most malignant passions of the heart, may be judged from examples nearer to our own times, in which a rational resistance to unreasonable, though originally kind desires, has stirred up the most inveterate hostility. But in all this we only see the natural consequences of a pure and undefiled religion coming in contact with the evil passions of man's unconverted heart. There was nothing hostile to the peace of the world in Christianity itself, and it became the innocent cause of much disquietude and tumult, merely because man would not suffer man to enjoy liberty of conscience.

(W. H. Marriott, M. A.)

How often we have found the air on a summer's day hot, oppressive, and stagnant, Not a breath of wind stirs the leaves which hang parched or weltering in the burning rays of the sun. The very birds are silent, as though unable to breathe. Suddenly the thunder peals, and the great rain-drops patter upon the ground. Then the storm bursts forth in all its fury. Flash succeeds flash with startling rapidity, the thunder rocks the very buildings in which we are sheltered, and the rain descends in a fierce deluge. At length the storm ceases, and then what a change has passed over the scene! Before, there was a peace; but it was the peace of inanimation and death; now there is a peace, but it is the peace of blessed life. The air is cool and fresh, the trees assume their verdant hues, the flowers give forth their sweetest fragrance, the birds make the groves echo again with their glad melody; in a word, all nature is peaceful with a deep exuberant vitality. And so with the gospel; it arouses men from their deadly lethargy, producing sorrow, distress, and anguish; but after this there comes a peace, even "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding."

(O. Spenceley.)

I remember, some years ago, when I was at Shields, I went into a glass-house; and, standing very attentive, I saw several masses of burning glass of various forms. The workman took a piece of glass and put it into one furnace, then he put it into a second, and then into a third. I said to him, "Why do you put it through so many fires?" He answered, "Oh, sir, the first was not hot enough, nor the second; therefore we put it into a third, and that will make it transparent."

(G. Whitefield.)

Fire is the life and the light of the world, and, as a symbol, deserves to be studied. Its power has never been ascertained. Every effort made to subdue it is attended with the consciousness of its unconquerable nature. It melts iron, burns marble, changes granite into dust, feeds on wood, evaporates water; and yet, when properly used and ministered unto, it is the health and life of the world. Such is the gospel. Receive it into the soul, and it changes the miser into the benefactor, the slothful into the diligent, and the lukewarm into the fiery apostle who, like Jeremiah, finds a fire in his bones which will consume if it finds not vent.

1. The purpose is avowed — "I am come to send fire." Not to bring, but "send."

2. This fire is sent. It is here, and is yet to be more manifest.

3. The outlook is one of endeavour. Christ is organizing for victory.

4. The urgent need of the Church to receive this fire.

5. Instead of being alarmed when the gospel produces excitement, we are to look for it.

6. Christ longs to have the fire kindled.

7. Behind every fervent prayer is the unreached desire of Christ.

8. The plan is fixed, the fire is to be kindled in the individual heart.

(J. D. Fulton, D. D.)


1. To present an atonement to the Divine government for the sin of man.

2. To overthrow the rebellious power which had usurped the dominion of this world.

3. The redemption of innumerable multitudes of our race from the consequences of their apostasy.

4. The formal assumption and complete discharge of His mediatorial characters.


1. We cannot conceal the fact that Christianity may affect political systems.

2. It is further admitted that Christianity must produce a variety of innovations.

3. Very unnatural divisions in society have apparently been fomented by Christianity.

4. Christianity must be viewed in connection with those persecutions which it has experienced.

5. Christianity has drawn forth some acts, on the part of its adversaries, which have more effectually exposed the depravity of human nature than any other occasion could have admitted.

6. The religion of Jesus Christ has very frequently been perverted to designs most estranged from its character, and abhorrent to its spirit.

7. The augmentation of moral responsibility has necessarily attended the establishment of Christianity.


1. Here, then, we find an apology for our warmest zeal and firmest courage, in extending Christianity. We but imbibe the spirit and follow the steps of our Exemplar.

2. And here, too, we learn that this unconquerable temper, this inexpressible ardour, is of the first importance in every department of missions. Nothing half-hearted should be betrayed in our institutions at home, or efforts abroad.

3. In this spirit of unshrinking courage, and unabating ardour, let us proceed. We carry the commission of Him who "came to send fire on the earth." We may blow the flame, we may spread the conflagration; what will he, if it be already kindled? All must yield to the gospel of Christ or be consumed by its progress.

(R. W. Hamilton, D. D.)


1. It begins with a revelation, contained in the Bible. Bending over the page, we are struck with the extraordinary doctrines herein revealed. As we believe the doctrine of Divine love, we feel it to be a truth which sets the soul on fire with joy, gratitude, and love.

2. I have commenced the history of the gospel with the book; but, remember, the gospel does not long remain a mere writing; it is no sooner thoroughly read and grasped than the reader becomes, according to his ability, a preacher. We will suppose when a preacher whom God has truly called to the work proclaims thin gospel, you will see for a second time that it is a thing of fire. Observe the man! If God hath sent him, he is little regardful of the graces of oratory; he counts it sheer folly that the servants of God should be the apes of Demosthenes and Cicero; he learns in another school how to deliver his Master's message. He comes forward in all sincerity, not in the wisdom of words, but with great plainness of speech, and tells to the sons of men the great message from the skies. The one thing of all others he abhors, is to deliver that message with bated breath, with measured cadence, and sentences that chill and freeze as they fall from ice-bound lips. I would not utter too sweeping a sentence, but I will venture to say that no man who preaches the gospel without zeal is sent of God to preach at all.

3. In tracing this history of the gospel, I would have you observe the effect of the preaching of such a one as I have described. While he is delivering the truth of a crucified Saviour, and bidding men repent of sin and believe in Christ, while he is pleading and exhorting with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, do you see the fire flakes descend in showers from on high! One of them has dropped just yonder and fallen into a heart that had been cold and hard before; observe how it melts all that was hard and iron-like, and the tears begin to flow from channels long dried up.

4. Opposition is aroused next. There is no good doing if the devil does not howl.


1. First, fire and the gospel are notable for ethereal purity.

2. The gospel is like fire, again, because of its cheering and comforting influence. He that hath received it finds that the cold of this world no longer pinches him; he may be poor, but the gospel's fire takes away the chilliness of poverty; he may be sick, but the gospel gives his soul to rejoice even in the body's decay; he may be slandered and neglected, but the gospel honours him in the sight of God. The gospel, where it is fully received into the heart, becomes a Divine source of matchless consolation. Fire, in addition to its warmth, gives light. The flaming beacon guides the mariner or warns him of the rock: the gospel becomes to us our guide through all the darkness of this mortal life; and if we cannot look into the future, nor know what shall happen to us on the morrow, yet by the light of the gospel we can see our way in the present path of duty, ay, and see our end in future immortality and blessedness. Life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

3. A third likeness between the gospel and fire is its testing qualities. No test like fire. That piece of jewelry may seem to be gold; the colour is an exact imitation; you could scarcely tell but what it was the genuine metal. Ay, but the melting pot will prove all; put it into the crucible, and you will soon see. Thus in this world there are a thousand things that glitter, things which draw admirers, that are advocated in the name of philanthropy and philosophy, and I know not what beside; but it is wonderful how different the schemes of politicians and the devices of wise men appear when they are once put into the fining pot of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

4. A further parallel between the gospel and the fire lies in their essential aggressiveness.

5. Our religion is like fire, again, because of its tremendous energy and its rapid advance. Who shall be able to estimate the force of fire? Our forefathers standing on this side the river, as they gazed many years ago upon the old city of London wrapped in flame, must have wondered with great astonishment as they saw cottage and palace, church and hall, monument and cathedral, all succumbing to the tongue of flame, tit must be a wonderful sight, if one could safely see it, to behold a prairie rolling along its great sheets of flame, or to gaze upon Vesuvius when it is spouting away at its utmost force. When you deal with fire, you cannot calculate; you are among the imponderables and the immeasurables. I wish we thought of that when we are speaking of religion. You cannot calculate concerning its spread. How many years would it take to convert the world? asks somebody. Sir, it need not take ten minutes, if God so willed it; because as fire, beyond all reckoning, will sometimes, when circumstances are congenial, suddenly break out and spread, so will truth. Truth is not a mechanism — and does not depend upon engineering. God may, when He wills it, bring all human minds into such a condition that one single text such as this, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," may set all hearts on a blaze. Vainly do we reckon the missionary costs so much, and only so many can therefore be sent. Ay, but God works most by weakest means full often, and sometimes achieves by his poorest saints works which He will not perform by those who have every visible appliance.

6. Once more, the gospel resembles fire in this, that it will ultimately prevail.

III. Lastly, if the gospel be thus like fire, LET US CATCH THE FLAME.

1. If this fire shall really burn within us, we shall become from this very moment fearless of all opposition. That retired friend will lose the strings which bind his tongue; he will feel that he must speak as God shall bid him; or if he cannot speak, he will act with all his might in some other way to spread abroad the savour of Immanuel's name. That coward who hid his head, and would not own his profession, when the fire burns, will feel that he had rather court opposition than avoid it.

2. If we catch this flame we shall, after having defied all opposition, weary utterly of the mere proprieties of religion which at this present time crush down like a nightmare the mass of the religious world.

3. If we shall catch this fire, we shall not only become dissatisfied with mere proprieties, but we shall all of us become instant in prayer. Day and night our soul will go up with cries and moanings to God, " O God, how long, how long, how long? Wilt Thou not avenge Thine own elect? Will not Thy gospel prevail? Why are Thy chariots so long in coming? Why doth not Christ reign? Why is not the truth triumphant? Why dost Thou suffer idolatry to rule and priestcraft to reign? Make haste, O God, grasp Thy two-edged sword and smite, and let error die and let truth win the victory!" It is thus we shall be always pleading if this fire burns in our spirits.

4. This will lead us to eager service. Having this fire in us, we shall be trying to do all we can for Christ.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

I. Here we have one of those statements of Christ which have been and still is made use of by superficial, ill-disposed unbelievers, IN ORDER TO BRING HIM AND HIS RELIGION INTO DISCREDIT. If all His many statements, declarations, and utterances, which inculcate love and good-will to mankind, leave them cold and indifferent; those which speak of the destructive tendency of His religion inflame them with hatred and malice towards Him, and the object of His life and work. As soon as they hear that Christ Himself said, "I am come to send fire on the earth," and again, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth, I am come not to send peace, but the sword," their anger is uncontrollable. With an air of righteous indignation, they exclaim, "All this Christ's followers have faithfully carried out to the detriment of mankind." To justify their assertion, they refer us to the persecution and bloodshed instigated and perpetrated by those who bore His name, and strenuously maintain that all was done in His name and by His authority. These implacable enemies of Christ and His religion do not shrink from making Christ Himself responsible for all the cruel and barbarous deeds wrought at one time or other by professing Christians. They have indeed the testimony of history on their side, where all such cruelties and inhumanities have been recorded and transmitted to posterity. But we have a right to demand of those who sit in judgment over others, not to be so unjust as to make Christ and His religion responsible for them. We shall, no doubt, at once be told to read our text, for in it Christ expressly says that He came to send fire on the earth; and we shall be asked to read further on, where He says that He did not come to send peace on earth, but the sword. Of course Christ speaks of fire and the sword, but by no means in the sense His enemies or mistaken friends would have it. In the ordinary life fire need not be a destructive element, nor the sword a weapon with which to kill others; for fire has also many very useful qualities, it imparts heat and light, and the sword is wielded to defend and uphold justice. That Christ employs these figuratively, and as such representing forcibly great and important spiritual truths, there is not a shadow of doubt. The fire He means is no other than His holy love, kindling within man a sacred flame of devotion for everything good, true, and just; and the sword He speaks of is no other than the Spirit of God, who wields the mighty word of God.

II. CHRISTIANITY IS FIRST OF ALL A DESTRUCTIVE POWER BEFORE IT CAN BE THAT WHICH IT IS IN REALITY AND TRUTH, VIZ., A DIVINE POWER TO RENEW AND SANCTIFY MAN. It would not have been a Divine power for the spiritual good of man had it not such a twofold tendency and effect; for as man has become despoiled by sin, God's holy love manifested in Christ has first of all to destroy this pernicious element in him before it can effectually accomplish its Divine mission for him. The fire Christ kindles in the heart of fallen, sinful man is meant to consume all ungodliness and unholiness, all the idols that may be enshrined there; and if our own will and consent allow this work to be effected, the sacred fire of love, of devotion to God and our fellow-men, will be kindled in the purified and sanctified temple of our heart. If Christ's love is, however, obstinately resisted, the unholy fire will remain burning within man, never to be extinguished. Christ's fire, however, destroys, in order to rebuild within us a glorious temple crowned with the inscription, "Holiness unto the Lord."

III. If Christianity were only a destructive power, we could have gladly dispensed with it, for there are enough of such powers and agents at work in nature and society, in the individual and among nations. THE PRIME OBJECT OF CHRISTIANITY IS, FORTUNATELY FOR THE HUMAN RACE, NOT TO DESTROY MAN'S LIFE, BUT TO SAVE IT; not to separate man from man, but to unite all men closely and intimately by one bond of love as brothers of one common Father in heaven. Christianity, as a new life-giving power, only destroys that which hinders man's growth in holiness, godliness, and righteousness, thus retarding his spiritual development and progress heavenwards. The holy fire burning on the altar of a believing Christian's heart not only consumes all impurity in him, but kindles a sacred flame of love and devotion in him towards God and the true well-being of his fellow-man.

(A. Furst, D. D.)

This fire which our Lord came to send was a Divine enthusiasm inspired by His Spirit for the glory of God, for the highest good of man — an enthusiasm enwrapping like flame the faculties of soul and body, transfiguring weak and commonplace natures by the purifying and invigorating energy of a supernatural force. "I can do all things," said St. Paul, "through Christ that strengtheneth me." This enthusiasm has, undoubtedly, many other outlets, many other effects. The missionary spirit is one of its chief, its noblest manifestations — the spirit which burns to carry the name and kingdom of Christ wherever there are souls to be saved and blest. What, then, let us ask, are the elements which go to make up the missionary spirit? Or, rather, what are the convictions by which the sacred flame is kept alive within the soul? There are, I apprehend, three main elements, three ruling and inspiring convictions, at the root of missionary enthusiasm.

1. Of these, the first is a deep sense of the certainty and importance of the truths of the gospel. The apostles were the first missionaries, and we see in their writings how deeply they felt both the importance and the certainty of their message. St. Paul speaks of "preaching among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." St. Paul prays that the Ephesians may have the eyes of their understanding so enlightened as to "know what is the hope of their glory, and what the riches of their calling and their inheritance among the saints." St. Paul's language has sometimes been spoken of as hyperbolical and inflated, but only so because the great living facts which were so present to the apostle's soul are hidden from the soul of the speaker. If, my brethren, it be indeed true that the everlasting Son of God left the glory which He had with the Father before the world was, and took our poor nature upon Him, and had a human mother, and lived on this earth for thirty-three years, and then died in pain and shame to rise from death, to rise from the grave in which He was laid, to return, still robed in the nature in which He had died and risen, to the glories of His heavenly home — if this be a fact, it is trivial to speak of it as "an important fact." It distances in point of importance everything else that has occurred in human history. What in the world are all the triumphs, all the failures, all the humiliations, all the recoveries, of which human history speaks, in comparison with this? What heart have we to dwell on them when we have really stood face to face in spirit with- the incarnation and the passion of the Son of God? This is what men like Xavier or Martin have felt; and this sense of the overwhelming importance of the facts of redemption has not, in the cases of these eminent missionaries, been weakened by any suspicion whatever, created by a sceptical atmosphere of thought around them, about the truth of the facts. The apostles had had no doubts about the facts. "I know whom I have believed," cries St. Paul. "We have not followed cunningly devised fables," protests St. Peter. "We were eye-witnesses of His majesty." "That which we have seen and heard," says St. John, "declare we unto you, for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and declare unto you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested unto us." In the mind of the apostles the truths of the Christian revelation centred, every one of them, in the living person of Christ — God and man; and an utter devotion to His person, based on a profound conviction of the reality in detail and as a whole of those truths, was at the root of that spirit of enterprising charity which went forth to convert the world. In the heart of those first missionaries, as so constantly since, the crucified Son of God whispered daily, hourly, that He might keep alive within them the sacred flame: "Behold what I have borne for thee! What hast thou done for Me?"

2. And the second conviction which goes to make up missionary enthusiasm is a sense of the need which man has of revealed truth. The apostles were possessed by this element also of that sacred flame which Christ came to send upon the earth. The apostles did not invest contemporary heathenism with that halo of false beauty which has been more or less fashionable in Christendom ever since the renaissance. They saw in heathendom the kingdom of darkness. Its material civilization, its splendid literature, its vast organizations civil and military, its social and political traditions, were nothing to them or less than nothing. "We know," said St. John — "we know that we are of the truth, and the whole .world lieth in wickedness. All that is of the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world, and the world passeth away and the lust thereof." The highest civilization, so termed, was in St. Paul's eyes just as much in need of the gospel as the rudest types of savage life. He had as much to do for the cultivated heathens who listened to him on the Areopagus of Athens as for the wild heathens of the Mediterranean islands, who after their rude fashion showed him no little kindness when he was saved from his shipwreck, for he saw everywhere error and sin-error which obscured the real nature of God and the true destiny and the highest interest of man — and sin which made man God's enemy, the antagonist of God's uncreated nature as the perfect being. The conviction that those who were not in Christ were lost — lost unless they could be brought to Him to be illuminated, to be gifted with a new nature, to be washed, to be sanctified, to be justified before the presence of the All-holy — this was the second element of conviction which urged the apostles onwards through the world to convert it — which urged them on even to martyrdom.

3. And the third conviction that goes to make up the missionary spirit is a belief in the capacity of every man for the highest good — for salvation through Christ. Intellectual dulness, want of imagination, want of what people have taken to calling lately "sweetness and light," want of moral fervour and quickness — these are not barriers. Doubtless some minds, some natures — I would rather say some souls — present more points of contact with the gospel than do others. Some, I admit, present very few indeed; but no child of Adam is so constituted as to be incapable of receiving the truth which is necessary to his highest good; and the true missionary knows that if he can only get deep enough beneath the surface, beneath the crust of habit formed by sensuality, by indifference, by prejudice, he will at length find a home for truth — he will at length find that which will respond to it in the secret spring of the soul. Nelson used to tell young midshipmen who were entering the navy that they ought to look forward, every one of them, as a matter of course, to commanding the channel fleet, or at least to commanding a line-of-battle ship. And this faith in general capacity for success is still more necessary in the Christian missionary. He looks upon every child of man as bearing within him capacities for the highest greatness — capacities which have only to be roused and developed by the assured grace of God. Now, this faith in humanity — in what it may be made by grace — is assailed in our days on the ground that character and circumstances are, after all, too imperious to be set aside — that they, as a matter of fact, make us what we are — that it is folly to think of overruling them by any doctrine or secret influence that can be brought to bear. And this is not a new idea. The learned physician Galen, who wrote in the third century of the Christian era, and who as a heathen was strongly prejudiced against the Church of Christ, remarks with reference to the education of children, "The cultivator can never succeed in making the thorn bear grapes, for the nature of the thorn is, from the first, incapable of such improvement." And then he goes on to say that if the vines which are capable of bearing such fruit be neglected they will either produce bad fruit or none at all. Here Galen marks out what, in his opinion, could really be done with human nature — certainly we must remark, within very narrow limits indeed — and what, in his opinion, it is folly to attempt. , an eminent Christian writer of the period, in his treatise on the human soul, admits that the bad tree will bring forth no fruit if it be not grafted, and that the good tree will produce bad fruit unless it be cultivated. So much for nature, but then Tertullian proceeds, "And the stones will become the children of Abraham if they be formed to the faith of Abraham, and the generation of vipers will bring forth fruits meet for repentance if they expel the poison of malignity. "For such," he says, "is the power of Divine grace which, indeed is more powerful than nature." The heathen probably expressed a general opinion among his friends when he said it was literally impossible to improve a man who had grown old in vice before his conversion. , who was afterwards Bishop of Carthage and a martyr for Christ, had taken, he tells us, exactly the Fame view of the impossibility of changing natural habit. How he learnt the power of God's grace he tells us in a most remarkable passage of one of his extant letters. "Receive," he says to his correspondent, "that which must be experienced before it can be understood. When I lay in the darkness, in the depths of the night, when I was tossed hither and thither by the billows of the world, and wandered about with an uncertain and fluctuating course, I deemed it a matter of extreme difficulty that any one could be born again — could lay aside what he was before, while his corporal nature remained what it was. How, said I, can there be so great a transformation as that a man should all at once lay aside what is innate from his very organization, or, through habit, has become a second nature? How should a man learn frugality who has been accustomed to luxuries? How should he who has been clad in gold and purple con. descend to simple attire.-the man who has been surrounded with public honours take to privacy, or another exchange admiring troops of dependents for voluntary solitude? The allurements of sense, I said to myself, are surely very tenacious. Intemperance, pride, anger, ambition, lust — these must, when once indulged, they must perforce, retain their hold. So I said to myself, for I was, in truth, entangled yet in the errors of my former life, and did not believe that I could be freed from them; and so I complied with the vices that still cleaved to me, and in despair of amendment submitted to my evil inclinations as if they were part of my nature. But when the stain of my former life had been washed out by the laver of regeneration, a pure and serene light was poured into my reconciled heart. When the second birth received from heaven through the Spirit had changed me into a new man, things formerly doubtful were confirmed in a wonderful manner. What had been closed before became open before my eyes; what had been dark was now illuminated; power was given to do what had seemed difficult; the impossible had become possible. I can see now that my former life, being of fleshly origin and spent in sin, was a life of earth. The life which the Holy One has kindled in me is a life from God." This testimony has been re-echoed since by thousands and thousands of Christians and, therefore, the barriers of habit enshrined within venerable traditions which the Christian missionary encounters to-day in China or in India, however serious they may be as practical obstacles, are not really insurmountable. By and by the gospel leaven will surely begin to ferment, and then these vast, ancient, complicated societies will heave and break till they open a way to the influences of the gospel, if not so swiftly, yet as surely, as do the uncultivated New Zealanders and Polynesians. To doubt this is to lose faith, if not in the gospel, at least in humanity — in the capacity of every being for coming to the highest truth, for coming to God in Christ.

(Canon Liddon.)

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