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

 

Let us look at the utterance of the apostle which is crowned with this lovely terror: “Our God is a consuming fire.”  Let us have grace to serve the Consuming Fire, our God, with divine fear; not with the fear that cringes and craves, but with the bowing down of all thoughts, all delights, all lives before him who is the life of them all, and will have them all pure. The kingdom he has given us cannot be moved, because it has nothing weak in it: it is of the eternal world. We, therefore, must worship him with a fear pure as the kingdom is unshakeable.  He will shake heaven and earth, that only the unshakeable may remain; he is a consuming fire, that only which cannot be consumed may stand forth eternal. It is the nature of God, so terribly pure that it destroys all that is not pure as fire, which demands like purity in our worship. It is not that the fire will burn us if we do not worship thus; but that the fire will burn us until we worship thus; yea, will go on burning within us after all that is foreign to it has yielded to its force, no longer with pain and consuming, but as the highest consciousness of life, the presence of God.  Yea, the fear of God will cause a man to flee, not from God, but from himself; not from God, but to him, the Father of himself, in terror lest he should do him or his brother wrong.  And the first words which follow for the setting forth of that grace whereby we may serve God acceptably are these: “Let brotherly love continue.”  To love our brother is to worship the Consuming Fire.

Commentary

by James House

We can and should give glory to God for being such a Father to us as to truly care that we have every impurity removed from our souls.  God's work and service is continually toward our betterment. This process is necessarily one of intensity, with God's love for us finding expression as a fire that consumes all that is not godly.  As an aid to us, to watch over and strengthen us, to repair us, and to inspire us with hope and ability of surviving the process - he has given Jesus Christ.

And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver
(Malachi 3:3)

For several years a short story by an unknown author has been popularly shared among Christian circles about a woman who visited a silversmith to see how the process of refining silver was performed. Among her various observations, there are two key things that she learned. First, that the refiner "must sit and watch the furnace constantly, for, if the time necessary for refining is exceeded in the slightest degree, the silver will be injured.".  Second, the refiner knows the process of removing base metals is complete when he can see his own image reflected within the purified silver.   Though likely apocryphal, the story does provide us with some useful imagery when pondering the topic of our refinement.

Nearly a century and a half ago, George MacDonald wrote with similar imagery about the joy of being refined as silver, in A Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul:

Lord, in my silver is much metal base,
Else should my being by this time have shown
Thee thy own self therein. Therefore do I
Wake in the furnace. I know thou sittest by,
Refining—look, keep looking in to try
Thy silver; master, look and see thy face,
Else here I lie for ever, blank as any stone.

But when in the dim silver thou dost look,
I do behold thy face, though blurred and faint
Oh joy! no flaw in me thy grace will brook,
But still refine: slow shall the silver pass
From bright to brighter, till, sans spot or taint,
Love, well content, shall see no speck of brass,
And I his perfect face shall hold as in a glass.

As we yield to the refining process, and take advantage of the Grace of our Savior, the process accelerates.  George MacDonald reminds us:

"The man here that doeth most service, that aideth others the most to the obtaining of their honest desires, is the man who standeth highest with the Lord of the place, and his reward and honour is, to be enabled to the spending of himself yet more for the good of his fellows."

"The doer of right grows better and humbler, and comes nearer to God's heart as nearer to his likeness"

"The right will produce more right and be its own reward—in the end a reward altogether infinite, for God will meet it with what is deeper than all right, namely, perfect love."