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CHAP. XIII. accepted as such, why is the latter part to be taken
as rigidly literal ? If the wine and the cup and the drinking be emblematic, why not the fire and brimstone? How, too, can the suffering of Dives in the parable be interpreted as torture by material flame, seeing that he was at that time a disembodied spirit in Hades, the body having just before been buried, and being at that very moment in the grave ? Why, also, is fire to be literally understood when used in connection with future punishment, and to be regarded as figurative only when applied to the baptism of the Spirit, to the angels, to persecution, to afflictive trials, and to God Himself?
Dismissing, then, the notion of actual material flame as forming any element of future punishment, but taking it as emblematic of the nature and effects of that punishment, we must now, by an examination of the several uses of fire as a figure in Holy Scripture, endeavour to ascertain what are the ideas it is intended to express, and so what we may be warranted in understanding it to mean when applied to future punishment. And the great use which is made of the emblem of fire, is to represent the divine energy in its transforming, cleansing, and vitalizing power. It is under this symbol, or at least in association with it, that God has been pleased again and again to make Himself known and to set forth his attributes. From the frequency of these manifestations it has come to pass that all the world over fire has been taken to represent the divine energy. There is an underlying truth in both the ancient and modern worship of light and
Judg. vi. 21.
fire, founded as that worship is upon the notion that the swift power and bright blaze of fire are fitting emblems of divine attributes. In Scripture this symbol is ever recurring. When the covenant was made between God and Abraham, upon which all subsequent revelation reposed, the divine pre- Gen. xv. 17, 18. sence was represented by a smoking furnace and a lamp of fire that passed between the divided pieces of the sacrifice. On certain signal occasions, Lev. it. 24. Jehovah manifested Himself as the God of his people, and his acceptance of their sacrifice, by the 1 Kings xviii. 38. descent of fire from heaven. It was in a bush, 1 Chron. xxi. 26. burning but not consumed, that the Lord appeared Exod. iii. 2. unto Moses, and revealed to him his great name, the 'I Am,' and appointed him to be the leader of his oppressed people. The pledge to the Israelites Exod. xiji. 21. and sacramental seal, so to speak, of God's presence and protection was a pillar, which in the fervid light of the day seemed a column of wavering smoke, but which, when the darkness fell, glowed at the heart and blazed across the camp, a fiery guard. "Who among us shall dwell with the de- Isa. xxxiii. 14,15. vouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings ?' asks the Prophet; a passage much misunderstood and most erroneously quoted in support of the notion of endless torment by literal fire; whereas the answer given to this question, corresponding as it does exactly to the answer given to the Psalmist's question, 'Lord who shall Pf. av. abide in thy tabernacle, who shall dwell on thy holy hill ?' indicates a totally opposite interpretation. The answer to the question in Isaiah is, 'He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he
Matt. iii. 11.
Luke xii, 49.
CHAP. XIII. that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh
his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil.' The answer to the question in the Psalm is, 'He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart,' etc. A very similar question and answer occur in Psalm xxiv. Compare these two questions and answers, and the conclusion seems evident enough that by the everlasting burnings,' Isaiah intended a symbolic representation of God. Adopting the same figure, John the Baptist thus describes the higher baptism of the Messiah: 'He shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire. In allusion, as I cannot but think, to this, and yearning for the fulfilment of his work, our Lord exclaimed, 'I am come to send fire on the earth ; oh, that it were already kindled.' On the great Day of Pentecost tongues like as of fire symbolized the power from on high sent down upon the apostles, and the seer in Patmos beheld burning before the throne the sevenfold lamps of fire, which are the seven spirits of God.
Thus continuously is the symbol of fire employed to represent the divine nature and energy. And throughout, be it observed, the general aspect presented is not a wrathful one but a benignant one. More especially is fire used to set forth the operation of the divine energy in the way of purification. Of all elements fire is the most effective and searching to cleanse and purify. By this metals are purged of their dross; by this the foulest abominations are overcome. Therefore is fire so appropriate a figure
Acts ii. 3.
Rev. iv. 5.
of the sanctifying influence of the Holy Ghost. CHAP. XIII. Therefore, because under the operation of the Spirit trials and afflictions exercise a sanctifying influence, are they called 'fiery trials. Hence, to describe 1 Pet. iv. 12. that severe mortifying process, that 'much tribula- Acts ziv. 22. tion,' through which in one form or other the members of the kingdom must pass, it was solemnly declared by our Lord, 'that every one shall be salted with fire (salted, observe, not destroyed), Mark ix. 49. as every sacrifice is salted with salt. Therefore, because of its cleansing and searching power, is Jer. xxiii. 29. God's Word compared to fire. . Therefore, too, both to express what God is in Himself as intensely holy, and what He is to his people in making them holy, does the Apostle, in exhurting the members of the kingdom to serve God acceptably with reverence and fear, give this as a reason for their so doing, ‘for our God is a Heb. xii. 28, 29. consuming fire.
But here, perhaps, it may be asked, Has not fire a terrible as well as a benignant aspect, is it not a power to devour and to destroy? Exactly so, and because it has this power is it so effective to purify. Did it not consume it could not cleanse. Where the washing of water would utterly fail, the baptism of fire is all effectual. It is not by ablution, but by fire, that the dross is separated from the gold. Therefore it is, because of this its potency to cleanse, that fire is used as the emblem of divine visitations of judgment, the design whereof is, as we have seen, not vengeance but correction. Thus, in the day of Israel's restoration the Lord will wash away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and will purge the
Isa, iv. 4.
Mol. iii. 3.
CHAP. XIII. blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof, by 'the
spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning. Thus, too, will the Lord in the day of his coming sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteous
So also, referring to this testing property of
fire and its power to separate off the dross from the 1 Cor. iii. 13–15. pure metal, St. Paul represents the searching trial
of each man's work in the day of the Lord as a trial by fire, which shall burn up that which is worthless, how beit, the man himself shall be saved, ' yet so as through fire.'
If this, then, be the predominating use in Holy Scripture of the emblem of fire, to represent the divine energy in its melting, cleansing, transforming power; if fire, because of its consuming property, be all the more forcible a symbol of a purifying process, why are we at once to divorce it from this notion when used as an emblem of future punishment, and to regard it as figurative of either vindictive torment or of utter annihilation ? For my own part, looking to the character and design of Christ's kingdom, having regard to the nature and purport of God's judgments generally, observing the true distinctive meaning of the term kólaois, considering the prevailing scriptural use of the emblem of fire, I cannot but think that because future punishment is set forth under this symbol, it will be a rectifying and purifying process, by which the dross and filth of sin shall be destroyed, and through which the subjects of it shall become chastened and purified.