The Consuming Fire

Wherefore, we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, for our God is a consuming fire.

— Hebrews 12:28-29

If this be hard to understand, it as the simple, absolute truth is hard to understand. It may be centuries of ages before a man comes to see a truth—ages of strife, of effort, of aspiration. But when once he does see it, it is so plain that he wonders he could have lived without seeing it. That he did not understand it sooner was simply and only that he did not see it. To see a truth, to know what it is, to understand it, and to love it, are all one. There is many a motion towards it, many a misery for want of it, many a cry of the conscience against the neglect of it, many a dim longing for it as an unknown need before at length the eyes come awake, and darkness of the dreamful night yields to the light of the sun of truth. But once beheld it is forever.

For this vision of truth God has been working for ages of ages. For this simple condition, this apex of life, upon which a man wonders like a child that he cannot make other men see as he sees, the whole labor of God’s science, history, poetry, was evolving truth upon truth in lovely vision, in torturing law; and for this will the patience of God labors while there is yet a human soul whose eyes have not been opened, whose child-heart has not yet been born in him. For this one condition of humanity, this simple beholding, has all the outthinking of God flowed in forms innumerable from the foundation of the world; and for this, too, has the divine destruction been going forth; that his life might be our life, that in us, too, might dwell that same consuming fire which is essential love.



Commentary: The Hound of Heaven

by Dave Roney

“For this vision of truth God has been working for ages of ages.”

Bonhoeffer once said that no one can understand “In the beginning” because no one was there in the beginning to see or understand it.  In somewhat like manner, I cannot understand truly the words of MacDonald, taken from the reading for January 11th, which say that “God has been working for ages of ages” for His vision of Truth.  The best I can do is to think of the “ages of ages” in a personal sense, taking my life as the grid for comprehension; and in my life God has worked, is still working, over many long years to accomplish all His will.  Through turbulent early youth, through debauch, through atheism and alcoholism, through ecclesiastic legalism, through lack as well as excess, through grievous wounds, illness, youth and present decline, through many other things and in sundry ways God has always been working on me, in me, and now perhaps also through me, using sin as well as virtue, working in my intellect, my emotions, my body, my heart, through every conceivable aspect of me over my entire life and being, steadily, inexorably, by both drawing and prodding, in every way at all times in every circumstance and situation, bringing to birth in me the likeness of Christ Jesus, His “vision of the Truth.” 


There are “ages of ages” of which my existence is only a small part; it is in the practical sense of understanding “ages of ages” as the “years upon years” of my own life, that I can glimpse the greater and broader element of time which is here set before us.  I understand that even as God has been working in my life for years upon years to bring to fruition in me His vision of Truth, so also He has been doing it for all those generations preceding mine and those which will follow after me, and doing it as well, now, in you, and in all our contemporaries, doing it in space and time and matter throughout all which He has created, working from “In the beginning” without pause, for His “vision of the Truth.” 


Let us now consider what means this “working” which God is for “ages of ages” doing; it is His relentless, dauntless, visceral pursuit, the Divine doggedness of the Loving God Who will not be stopped, discouraged, frustrated, Whose Will wills that the will of every creature shall in the end become one with His Will, accomplishing His end through the beautiful and harmless force of Love alone.  For satisfaction of this pursuit He has humbled Himself, has paid the supreme and inestimable Price, has gone to every length, endured any and all humiliation, has sacrificed Himself entirely to redeem and restore His creation and all contained within it.  The magnitude of what God has done, is and will continue to do, by this “working” transcends what the mind and heart of man is able to even imagine.  And the poet, realizing the intrepid nature of God's pursuit writes:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways”
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

From:The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson (1859-1907)