« AnteriorContinuar »
OUR LORD'S USE OF THE TERM "FIRE;
The term " fire" both in science and in Scripture denotes that destructive energy of nature by which she disintegrates and resolves into their component elements material substances and forms. All agencies of destruction, such as the sword, famine and plague, are sometimes put under one category and spoken of as "consuming fire." Even when pain or mental anguish are compared to fire, the idea of the destructive character of such experiences is always present. For they exhaust the vital energy and consume life.
Fire is thus the agent of death. Death is the burning out of life. Whether the combustion be swift and sudden, or under some slow form of disease, or the gradual decay of the life-powers, in either case it is the same in essence. The bodily form is broken down, and the elements that compose it dissolved. Anger, ambition, vice, lust, burn up the organism and hasten on the work of death.
The underlying idea of "fire," then, is that it is the agent of destruction. Even if there be a recreation in a purer form of the thing destroyed, still dissolution precedes the purgation.
This idea of the destructive energy of fire is uppermost in every instance of our Lord's use of the term. He was announced as having come to purge the threshing floor of the Jewish nation and of the world, and to burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. Every tree which did not bear good fruit was to be hewn down and cast into the fire. His " spirit of judgment and of burning " was to go forth like flame into the midst of all human institutions, social, national, ecclesiastical, and all that was unworthy was to be given up to destruction. Individuals were to be subjected to the same trial. The baptism with the Holy Ghost and with fire, referred to in the same connection, was of the same order. For the Holy Spirit enters into a man's being, not only to consume his evil propensities, but ultimately to destroy the old man himself, in order to the re-creation of the man in Christ. The outward man must perish in order that the inward man may be renewed.
This thought must therefore govern our Lord's frequent use of the terms "hell fire," "furnace of fire," "eternal fire." These do not describe a gulf of material flame. They represent that pit of death into which the destructive forces of sin thrust the bodies and souls of men. The lawless forces of evil are at work now upon those who yield to their dominion. The fires of hell are already kindled in the bodies and souls of many around us. And if unchecked they will not only consign the body to the grave, but torment the unclothed soul until it also is destroyed in hell. (Luke xvi, 24; Matt, x, 28.)
But, as already intimated, the fire that thus terminates in hell may be converted by the presence of the Holy Spirit in a man to a salutary purgation. Where there is a surrender of the old man with his affections and lusts to this spirit of judgment and of burning which searches out all the evils of the life, exposing and destroying them, out of this bath of fire the soul rises into new life. It is evidently with this thought in mind that Jesus repeatedly urged His disciples (Mark ix, 43-49) to cut off an offending hand, to pluck out a lustful eye, for it was profitable to consent thus to the destruction of one of our members rather than that the whole body should go into hell where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. We must either judge ourselves, and willingly surrender to destruction the evils that have been wrought into the fabric of our lives or the whole fabric must be irresistibly destroyed. For, adds He, "Every one must be salted with fire; salt is good." These warning words, which are main pillars in the dogma of endless torment, were not spoken to the multitude, but in a private instruction to disciples who had been contending who should be greatest. They show that disciples are the ones who are regarded as in danger of hell-fire. For our God, not God out of Christ as the text is constantly misquoted and misapplied, is a consuming fire. Everyone must be salted with this fire. The whole Christian life is a voluntary surrender of the old nature, the carnal man, to this process of destruction. If men do not do this willingly, the fire of God's anger against sin must hereafter do the work.
This then was the fire which Jesus came to send upon the earth, and which was already kindled,—a fire that should consume all evil out of human society, and that should make an end of the natural man as incapable of eternal life and unworthy of the kingdom of God. In one notable passage He speaks of this eternal fire as prepared for the devil and his angels. The devil and his angels are the spiritual forces of evil that lie behind and energize the destructive forces of nature. It would be easy to show by Scripture reference that they have power not only over the sinful desires of the mind, but over diseases of body and of mind and over death. The final result of redemption is to be a new heavens and earth wherein dwelleth righteousness and in which there shall be no more curse. The devil and his angels are to be destroyed out of the system which they derange and pollute. The fire, then, prepared for them suggests that final purgation of the cosmos which shall issue in its renovation. Men who will not now rise above this present order and breakaway from their bondage to the world must go down with the system into their pit of destruction. This fire, however, while it must destroy out of the system the devil and his angels and make an end of them, is not necessarily the final end of the men cast into it. We have repeatedly shown that beyond this pit of destruction mankind have been ransomed to another life through resurrection. It is not a future risen body, but this present embodiment in manhood which Jesus constantly refers to as in danger of destruction. By surrender to Christ the soul of it may now be saved and so the whole man be saved—passing now from death unto life. By the refusal of Him, its destruction goes on without arrest in both body and soul until the being made as a man in God's image is lost, vanishing as a naked spirit into the outer darkness. But even these realms of death are not beyond the power of Christ's resurrection. "All shall be made alive; but every man in his own order."
It is most important that we should thus fix the place of the consuming fire of which Jesus speaks. It was in His mind a present impending danger. He did not then speak of the bridge across the gulf to be made by His resurrection, because the light of this great hope could not break upon the world until after He was risen from the dead. But we shall misconceive the meaning of this great event and misrepresent the gospel and the character and ways of our Redeeming God, unless we locate this fire of His wrath where it properly belongs, in that pit of death and destruction which lies just across the confines of this present life; the doors into which indeed lie open all around us, and into whose caverns we can look, as the scenes of wretchedness and vice which this world presents pass before us. The hell from which we need to be saved yawns just beneath our feet. Its fires are kindled in our own breasts and burn along the fevered channels of our daily lives. We therefore need immediate salvation through Him who died to save us from our sins. And although His grace and power shall some day recover all from death, yet resurrection must proceed according to the great law of life, "to every seed his own body," and "they that have done ill," can only come forth still under judgment and exposed to the hazards of the second death.
A prevalent assumption of both plain and learned Christians in our day is that the term Gehenna describes a punishment later and more severe than that which "Hades" denotes. Leaving out now the question of severity, what ground is there for this common view that the hades condition is prior to that destruction which is visited upon the wicked in gehenna? An examination of the New Testament passages in which the words are used reveals the fact that "hades" uniformly refers to a penal condition after death, and that "gehenna," instead of being the more