Our God is a consuming Fire
Fire Is A Beneficent Agent
How shallow is the common view of “fire” as only or chiefly a penal agent. Fire, in Scripture, is the element of…
“Transformation”…2 Pet. 3:10
And never ever of preservation alive for purposes of anguish.
And the popular view selects precisely this latter use, never found in Scripture, and represents it as the sole end of God’s fiery judgments! If we take either the teaching of Scripture or of nature, we see that the dominant conception of fire is of a beneficent agent. Nature tells us that fire is a necessary condition of life; its mission is to sustain life; and to purify, even when it dissolves.
Extinguish the stores of fire in the universe, and you extinguish all being; universal death reigns. Most strikingly is this connection of fire and life shown in the facts of nutrition. For we actually burn in order to live; our food is the fuel; our bodies are furnaces; our nutrition is a process of combustion; we are, in fact, “aflame to the very tips of our fingers.” And so it is that round the fireside of life and work gather: when we think of home we speak of the family hearth.
Fire Is The Sign Of God’s Being
And what Nature teaches, Scripture enforces in no doubtful tone. It is significant to find the Great Source of life constantly associated with fire in the Bible.
Fire is the sign, not of God’s wrath, but of His being.
When God comes to Ezekiel there is a “fire unfolding itself” (Ezek. 1:4, 27) and “the appearance of fire.” (Ezek. 8:2)
Christ’s eyes are a flame of “fire” (Rev. 1:14).
The seven lamps of “fire” are the seven Spirits of God (Rev. 4:5). So a fiery stream is said “to go before God,” His throne is fiery flame, its wheels are burning fire (Daniel 7:9,10). His eyes are lamps of fire (Dan. 10:6); He is a wall of fire (Zeph. 2:5). At His touch the mountains smoke (Psl. 104:32). And God’s ministers are a flame of fire (Psl. 104:4…Heb. 1:7). It is not meant to deny that the Divine Fire chastises and destroys.
Purification, Not Ruin Is The Final Outcome
It is meant that purification, not ruin, is the final outcome of that fire from above, which consumes–call it, if you please, a paradox–in order that it may save. For if God is Love, then by what but by love can His fires be kindled? They are, in fact, the very flame of love; and so we have the key to the words, “Thy God is a consuming Fire,” and “Thy God is a merciful God” (Deut. 4:24-31). So God devours the earth with fire, in order that finally all may call upon the name of the Lord (Zeph. 3:8,9)–words full of significance.
So Isaiah tells us of God’s cleansing the daughters of Zion by the spirit of burning (Isa. 4:4)–suggestive words. And, so again, “By fire will the Lord plead with all flesh.” (Isa. 66:16) And Christ coming to save, comes to purify by “fire.” (Mal. 3:2).
Fire A Sign Of Favourable Response?
Let us note, also, how often “fire” is the sign of a favourable answer from God; when God appears to Moses at the Bush it is in “fire:” God answers Gideon by “fire;” and David by “fire.” (1 Chron. 21:26) Again, when He answers Elijah on Carmel, it is by “fire;” and in “fire” Elijah himself ascends to God. So God sends to Elisha, for aid, chariots and horses of “fire.” So when the Psalmist calls, God answers by “fire.” (Psl. 18:6-8)
And by the pillar of “fire” God gave His law. And in “fire” the great gift of the Holy Ghost descends at Pentecost."
Fire Is The Portion Of All
These words bring us to the New Testament. There we find that “fire,” like judgment, so far from being the sinner’s portion ONLY, is the portion of all. Like God’s judgment again, it is not future merely, but present; it is “already kindled,” always kindled: its object is not torment, but cleansing. The proof comes from the lips of our Lord Himself. “I am come to send fire on the earth,” for it is certain that He came as a Saviour. Thus, coming to save, Christ comes with fire, nay, with fire already kindled. He comes to baptize with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.
Therefore, it is that Christ teaches in solemn passage (usually misunderstood, Mark 9:43) that everyone shall be salted with fire. And so the “fire is to try every man’s work.” He whose work fails is saved (mark the word saved), not damned “so as by fire,” by consuming what is evil, saves and refines.
The antient tradition that represents Christ as saying, “He that is near Me is near fire,” expresses a vital truth. So Malachi, describes Christ as being in His saving work “like a refiner’s fire.” And so, echoing Deut 4:24-31, we are told that “our God is a consuming Fire,” i.e., God in His closest relation to us; God is Love; God is Spirit: but “Our God is a consuming Fire”–a consuming Fire, “by which the whole material substance of sin is destroyed.”
When, then, we read (Psl. 18:12) that “coals of fire” go before God, we think of the deeds of love which are “coals of fire” to our enemies. (Rom. 12:20) Thus, we who teach hope for all men, do not shrink from but accept, in their fullest meaning, these mysterious “fires” of gehenna, of which Christ speaks (kindled for purification), as in a special sense the sinner’s doom in the coming ages. But taught by the clearest statements of Scripture (confirmed as they are by many analogies of Nature), we see in these “fires” not a denial of, but a mode of fulfilling, the promise–
"Behold, I make all things new."
Are our broadest hopes broad enough? Shall there be a nook or abyss, in all the universe of God, finally unlightened by the Cross? Shall there be a sin, or sorrow, or pain unhealed? Is the very universe, is creation in all its extent, a field wide enough for the Son of God?