Gods Judgments Like Fire

Many phenomena are feared because not understood. The savage thinks thunder the voice of an angry deity, when it is the rolling of God's chariots as they carry health and life throught the air. Because fire is sometimes the author of apparent calamity, its beneficent character is lost sight of. It is the right hand of civilization. Its chief office is not destruction, but service. In fact, it destroys nothing. It decomposes substances, releasing constituents from existing relations, but all the elements remain intact, undiminished. Every particle in a substance burned exists still, and is ready to be taken up again in new forms.

If we burn a stick of wood, and carefully preserve the smoke and the ashes, we shall find that they weigh a little more than the wood weighed— just as much more as the oxygen weighed that combined with the flame in the process of combustion. The ultimate particles are all preserved, not one disturbed or changed from its original form and size, and they are released by fire that they may go out into the great laboratory of nature, to be again employed in new forms of utility and beauty. Science declares that the ultimate particles of which all substances are composed are like microscopical bricks; they never lose form or identity, but, let loose from any combination by fire, or otherwise, they are ready to be again taken up in other forms. Destruction is a mere incident in the biographuy of fire—a preliminary process; fire is the great emblem of purity.

When, therefore, we read in the Scripture that God's processes of dealing with his children resemble fire, or that he is a fire, we must remember these characteristics, and interpret the allusion in the light of scientific facts. If fire never destroys an atom of the material universe; if fire is only a process by which God is reconstructing his universe, why should men imagine that God's moral fires are other than healthful and beneficial in the moral world?

It need not be claimed that the authors of the Scriptures were familiar with these facts, but we shall find that they so far perceived the office of fire as to use it accurately. Thus:

"For thou, oh God, hast proved us; thou hast tried us as silver is tried; we went through fire and through water, but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place."—Ps. 66:10-12.

Silver is tried that its impurities may be purged away. The hotter the furnace, the more certain is the precious ore to be purified. Again:

"Who may abide the day of his coming, and who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap.

And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness."— Mal. 3:2,3.

God's consuming fire refines, purifies, and purges aways the dross of sin. Hence says the apostle:

"Every man's work shall be made manifest for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire."—1 Cor. 3:13-15.

The exacting love of God, demanding purity, can do no less than destroy all that is opposed to the purity and happiness of its object.

Thus "everlasting fire," the "furnace of fire," "consuming fire," "unquenchable fire," and all the forms in which fire figures in the Bible as an emblem of God's dealings with men, denote the severe but kindly and disciplinary character of God's judgments. There is always a beneficent purpose in all God's dealings with men. Divine love is seeking and securing by severe processes, sometimes as though by fire, the welfare of those towards whom the flame burns.

"The holy flame forever burneth,

From heaven it came, to heaven returneth."

When Universalists say, "God is Love," and others reply, "Yes, but he is also a consuming fire," our reply should be, "No, he is Love and a consuming fire," The two terms are not contradictory but synonymous. Nothing precious will perish or permanently suffer from the consuming fire of God. Sin, error, evil, will perish; but the soul will come forth from the conflagration purified as silver is purified, perfectly reflecting its Maker's image as it never can until the impurities of time are consumed, and it returns to that purity it had when it came from the hand of that being in whose image every human soul is created.

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