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

Imagination cannot mislead us into too much horror of being without God. For that is living death. But with this divine difference: that the outer darkness is but the most dreadful form of the consuming fire—the fire without light—the darkness visible, the black flame. God hath withdrawn himself, but not lost his hold. His face is turned away, but his hand is laid upon him still. His heart has ceased to beat into the man’s heart, but he keeps him alive by his fire. And that fire will go on searching and burning in him, as in the highest saint who is not yet pure as God is pure.

But at length, O God, wilt thou not cast Death and hell into the lake of Fire—even into Thine own consuming self? Then indeed wilt thou be all in all. For then our poor brothers and sisters shall have been burnt clean and brought home. For if their moans would turn heaven for us into hell, shall a man be more merciful than God? Shall, of all his glories,  God’s mercy alone not be infinite? Shall a brother love a brother more than the Father loves a son? Would Christ not die yet again to save one brother more?

As for us, now will we come to thee, our Consuming Fire. And thou wilt not burn us more than we can bear. But thou wilt burn us. And although thou seem to slay us, yet will we trust in thee, even for that which thou hast not spoken, if at length we may attain unto the blessedness of those who have not seen and yet have believed. 

Commentary

THE BLACK FLAME
(2018)
by Dave Roney
“...and a fury of Fire that will Consume” (Hebrews 10:27)

Moses approached a bush which was burning but was not consumed.  It is to me a picture of the work which God is about in the lives of His children.  Fire of any type, all fires, consume something; I know not what was in that bush which was burned up, but whatever it was, whether old dead limbs and leaves needful of pruning for the health and vitality of the bush, I know not—only that the Consuming Fire was burning that which was of no good purpose for the bush.  This same Fire which was in the bush is also in a man, and doing the same cleansing work.  The Fire which is God did not consume the bush, neither will it consume a man, nor the entire cosmos which He shall someday cleanse by the selfsame Fire.  Let us consider it.

If a man is, spiritually—i.e., in his heart—looking straight into the face of Jesus he is basking in Light, and Life, and Liberty; and if the man turns his face even an increment away from the Divine he is, to whatever the degree, beginning to turn himself to Darkness, and Death, and License (which is that Bondage of Self-will run riot).  He whose attention, his affection, is squarely focused on Christ has put the “old man,” i.e. the old nature, to say it another way “Self,” to death.  He who has not put Self to death within him, the metaphor being “crucified with Christ,” has willfully set his miserable Barabbas free; such man, even though he claim himself “saved,” is become the lawless malefactor.  He may not physically commit the overt sins of a murdering Barabbas, he may be pious in the eyes of his fellows, he may be a good man to the world, his family, his church; he is still the whited sepulcher, gleaming in God's sunlight but filled with darkness and the stench of death.

And if I seem to speak harshly of any it is because I am firstly most harsh concerning myself.  It is to my own self I first speak and am, even as did Nathan speak to king David, admitting of and to myself “I am the man!”  The preachers have said to you that your salvation is an event; I say to you it is no event but a process.  We shall see the reasons in what follows.

Where does the hypocrite find assurance?  I speak here of the “born again believer,” as he is referred to in evangelical circles, that man who at some point made his “confession of faith,” “asked Jesus into his heart,” has been taught that “once saved always saved,” and that God's wrath for him was poured out on Christ and, therefore, God has no more wrath for him, that when he dies he will go straight to Heaven instead of Hell.  Such are the good churchmen, those who have the appearance of Godliness but deny the power thereof, him who commits his sins of pride, of lust, of avarice, of bitterness and hate, perhaps never showing these things by his actions but knowing them to exist in his heart.  Yet, knowing himself far from God he yet has the assurance “once saved always saved.”

Even in his unrepentant, wayward and willing sinning, though he feels guilt, though he knows he must someday give account, he who professes and believes himself to be “born again” clings to this faith that since he has been saved he is therefore insulated from the Fire which is God, regardless of the sin in his life: This man views salvation as a unilateral legal contract, binding on God, holding God strictly to the terms of the Atoning agreement, but with no sure pressure on himself to uphold his end of the bargain—in fact, such man does not even recognize he also has terms of agreement which he must do; he believes, thinks it enough, does not know that true belief is obedience.  He has terribly misunderstood; salvation is no point of contact, instantaneous, a one sided affair secured for him when he “made a decision:” That decision (poor word) was only a beginning.

Salvation is a process.  Neither is it a unilateral contract binding on but one of two parties; salvation is a bilateral covenant, entirely different from a contract, placing equal weight on both parties; God has a part, and man has a part: God will do for a man what the man cannot do for himself; God will not do for the man what the man can and ought to do for himself.  Even as it is incumbent upon God to do His part, so it is that man has and must do his part.  Relationships are reciprocal, and if only one of the parties in a relationship is relational, the union, the covenant relationship, is broken—not necessarily dissolved, but broken.

And if our relationship with God is broken we are those living-death.  This formula applies equally to “us” who have at some point entered into the covenant as it does to “them” who have not.  God is not respecter of persons concerning His relationship with the creature.  “Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire” says John; that Lake is the Consuming Fire; they shall be utterly consumed, the “living-death” in a man will, then, the “death,” be burned out of him for it is consumable, so that all which shall remain is “living,” the inconsumable.

And, in view of these things, the man's anthem ought not to be “once saved always saved,” but “I trust God that I will be finally saved;” that is, the Author of our Faith shall also be the Finisher of it.  The only salvation for a man is obedience to God in all things, in all ways that he understands obedience is demanded; “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” said our Lord (John 14:15)—and this obedience is not first that of doing but of surrendered heart; the doing, the obedience, rises out of the heart, for from the heart flow, as water from a spring, the issues of life.  “By their fruits you shall know them” is the working out in the life of what resides in and rises up out of the heart—the heart is the root, the works are the stem and leaves, the fruit the product, produced by the Spirit, in the life surrendered to the will of God.

It is not the superficial actions of the Pharisees, their good works are disdained by God; it is the works of the childlike obedient sons and daughters that God relishes; those works, and those lives, are the sacrifice acceptable to him, going heavenward as a sweet-smelling savor.  To the human eye, good works coming from a darkened heart look very much like good works coming from a childlike heart, and though we may be fooled, or fool ourselves, God is the discerner of the heart.  Some will be shocked to finally see that they were those virgins without oil in their lamps when their Bridegroom came, that their good works were but wood, hay, and stubble, that their gold was filled with dross, and that the Consuming Fire still had much refining work to do in them.

Who said to you that this burning, the cleansing work of the Consuming Fire, would end at the grave?  Who taught you that in the moment of death, with sins still clinging, you could enter into your rest, that since Christ took upon Him your sins you are not held accountable for them?  If you confess them, He is faithful—and Just—to forgive them; but what of you, should you carry them out of this present life?

“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” (Hebrews 10:26-27)

I here note that where the translations have it “consume the adversaries” it gives a false notion that God is going to destroy sinners, which in the predominant theory means send them to eternal, conscious, torments in Hell; better understood the meaning to be that He will by the Consuming Fire of Love burn out from sinners all which is contrary, hostile, adverse, to Him and His sinner-child; for God is not bound to destroy sinners, He is bound only to destroy sin.  And it is not He Who ultimately does it, but He will bring the sinner to be his own sin-Self-executioner—is it not what a man does when he confesses his sins, turns from them and to the Light, abhors what he is and thirsts to be what God would have him to be?  Christ died for sins; this man is dying to sins; the Lord allowed wicked hands to crucify Him, the man is self-crucifying himself with Christ.  

Emotions are by degrees; then, also, is spiritual horror.  This horror can come upon a man full force in the presence of an approximal and terrible peril, or of an imminent dreaded but unavoidable future encounter, but oftener in this life by degrees; it may begin as a small flame, black as midnight, which grows exponentially into a raging, all consuming, inferno utterly black.  First by restlessness, or anxiety, by a sense of overhanging gloom, the small dark flame of guilt, in many ways but ever growing within, through stages of fear increasing finally to deathly horror.  It is the outer darkness at its end, beginning by shades of gray as a man turns his face incrementally away from that one true Light which is the Redeeming God.  And of this graduated grayscale, the increase of horror can, and if not dealt with will, sink down to unimaginable depths:

“Imagination cannot mislead us into too much horror of being without God.  For that is living death.  But with this Divine difference: That the outer darkness is but the most dreadful form of the Consuming Fire—the fire without light—the darkness visible, the Black Flame.”

Would you have your own will?  God allows it, must permit it though it break His very Heart to do it; for He is the Agent of Free Will, and you He made in His image; thus you are endowed with all the free will He possesses unto Himself.  But with this significant difference; when God exercises His free will it is always and only to do that which is truly Good, and when a man exercises his own will apart from The Will, it is corrupted and no longer free; it is bondage, it is license, it is evil even when it appears good.

By our sins we are separated from our Father, and since He cannot ravish our will and by force override it, can only woo us, how then shall He reclaim His beloved child to Himself?  He does it by allowing consequence to have its day with us.  He, being wholly Good, can do no harm to any; but He can, and must, allow that by the will of the creature that creature should reap his sown seed come to fruition, must allow the man to eat the bitter fruit he has cultivated, must allow the thing sweet to the taste be bitter to the stomach, must allow death to reign in the man until the man is ready to be done with death, with Self, with his wood, hay, and stubble, to finally by his will, the surrender of it, find his peace and rest, and his very life in the Life of the Father.  And to this end God will work, and continue to work, until it is accomplished, even though it might take ages of ages to happen; it is the “at length” in this quote from the reading:

“But at length, O God, wilt thou not cast Death and Hell into the Lake of Fire—even into Thine own Consuming Self?  Then indeed wilt thou be all in all.  For then our poor brothers and sisters shall have been burnt clean and brought home.”

In closing allow this: Thus far our understanding of the Consuming Fire has centered largely on what effect it has, and will have, on all of creation and as regards man in specific.  We have acknowledged that the Fire is from God, but not spoken much to how it burns within His heart.  From the anthropomorphic focus let us consider the theocentric; what is the best, highest, clearest evidence of the Consuming Fire in God Himself?  Even as it appears to us in nature, in others, in our own selves, so also it appears in God, but whereas in the creation the Fire is in this present age largely internalized, seen only indirectly, in God it has been externalized, made visceral, in Christ Jesus.

The tortured form, the blood of Christ, the moans and oozing from His wounds, flowing down the cross, dripping into the sand—this is the Consuming Fire made crimson, tangible, unmistakable; the Fire is the Love of God, often appearing to us, in our experiences, as a “black flame;” the more so in God Who, on that day, made the sun hide its face for the space of three hours, the darkness an evidence of what His Fire, His Love, appearing in the form of the Black Flame, did in, and to, the breaking Heart of our Father; showing to us the extraordinary lengths His Will pursues to gain, to free, to purify His beloved children, asking nothing of them which He has not first done for them.  The Consuming Fire is not only of and from God, it is God; and in Christ Jesus He has revealed the fact most fully...
 

Into Thine Own Consuming Self
(2017)

by Dave Roney

“...The Black Flame”

Before us today is a great feast of ideas which interlock in complementary fashion to produce, as golden bricks well laid, a monumental edifice of gilded theology.  I can only address but a small fragment of the bounty at hand.  The author begins “Imagination cannot mislead us into too much horror of being without God.”  I would offer that the converse is equally true, that neither can imagination mislead us too much in our consideration and appreciation of the magnitude of the Love of God which He has poured out upon and in us beyond measure.  I will, then, add my own imagination to what has been written in an attempt to describe The Black Flame.

God is the Consuming Fire (Hebrews 12:29); in Him is only Light and no darkness at all; His Fire is of a brilliance which the eye of man cannot now look fully into, for to see it in its unveiled fullness would be too much for our eyes, would, I think, perhaps incinerate us.  How, then, could God be a Black Flame?  MacDonald says here:

“...the Outer Darkness is but the most dreadful form of the Consuming Fire—the Fire without Light—the darkness visible, the Black Flame...” (CAPS and italics added for emphasis)

He speaks here in a paradox; the darkest blackness is that of “the Outer Darkness,” yet it is a visible darkness; a flame, as any flame, is the source and emitter of light, yet this Flame is blacker than blackest midnight.  But, more, we read that the Outer Darkness is (“the most dreadful form of”) the Consuming Fire, which is God; God is the Outer Darkness!  He is the Black Flame!  How can these things be?

To add further to this seeming dilemma the reality of Hell itself must be ciphered into the equation (see end-note concerning“αἰώνιον”); for the “outer darkness” and the “black flame” both speak of Hell, in fact are synonymous with it.  Where is Hell?  Is it up or down, at the molten core of the earth or in the belly of some distant super nova?  It is where the Consuming Fire, in its most dreadful form, is working; it is within the heart of a man, that terrible form being as here called “the black flame,” and the “outer darkness.”  It is not the things entering into a man that defile him, or burn him, but the issues coming from his heart; the remedy wrought by the Consuming Fire in its most dreadful form is not an outer burning Hell-fire, as though that could purify him, but the Black Flame burning him from within; what good could an outer physical flame do but to burn up the flesh?  The heart would still be locked in its chamber of misery except the Fire is Divine, is Love in a hard form, is purging away the man's dross, destroying all his wood, hay, and stubble, burning, ever burning him from within, until the Fire has consumed all within the man which is consumable, so that only what is inconsumable, therefore eternal, then Divine, remains.  The fuel for this Black Flame is the Love of God, and that fuel is an inexhaustible supply; it is sufficient to finish the work which He has begun even though it may take ages of ages for the accomplishment.

“But at length, O God, wilt thou not cast Death and Hell into the Lake of Fire—even into Thine own consuming self?”

Is the “Outer Darkness” and the “Black Flame” truly outer, or dark, or black?  Is it a physical, material, flame meant to destroy the dead who can never cease from indescribable torments?  God forbid!  Is the Lord of all Love and Grace to be reduced to a mere shovel man, filled with hatred, heaping odious coal into the maw of His furnace, into which He has flung His lost sheep, His errant but cherished child?  The “outer” darkness is the inner darkness of a man; though that man suffer incredibly in the final stage of his Hell, he is even in this life carrying it, not yet stoked to its greatest intensity, yet still carrying it within him, which he can never escape except he open his will-shut eyes to see the Beauty standing at his heart's door, ready to receive him.

And that man is cast into the furnace of the Consuming Fire, which is the very Heart of God: the man enduring his innermost Hell will know, when he is able to see, that Hell is the innermost Heart of the Lord who eternally loves him.  The darkness is not the Lord's but the man's; the blackness of the flame is not the reality of it but the man's perception, and all will continue as absolute inky darkness to him until he comes to his senses.  In that day, on the moment that He can see, the Prodigal's eyes shall behold as glorious the thing that once tormented him; he will see the Lord high and lifted up, full of glory and burnished, shining as the sun in his strength.  He will see it not from afar, but from out of the Furnace, the Consuming Fire, the very Heart of the Living One, his home.  And when the Consuming Fire, in its most dreadful form, the Black Flame, has done its work well in every soul, then that which is written will be shown in full; that God is truly in all, and all in all.

End-note: My thinking concerning man's condition and form regarding Hell is structured around certain thoughts, not the least of which has to do with things consumable, which includes the physical body, which in many possible ways, inevitably “returns to dust.”  The “soul” of man is him in his totality, including body, mind, emotions, etc., and also his needs, the chief of these being that for relationships, which is spiritual, the most profound relationship being that intimate one between God and man.

The disembodied soul of a man who knows not his Father lacks all the physical apparatus necessary for communication with the outer world.  In unregenerate man, the soul seeks to “see,” but the eyes of the man are in his grave; there is for that man, then, only absolute blackness.  So also with his other sensual faculties; he can not hear or feel or in any manner “sense” his surroundings.  Thus the lost soul is locked in that dreariest prison of his disembodied Self where he is completely isolated; when he was in the world the things of the world, and of Self, consumed his attention; he will, eventually, turn from his thoughts of Self and the things which were to him in his former life important, which now can no longer satisfy, and begin in time to turn his attention to spiritual matters, leading immediately to God.

Nor will he, in his wretched condition, be unaware of the reality of the Lord, even though the Lord be, seeming to him, far from him.  Yet,“God hath withdrawn Himself, but not lost His hold” on the man.  One may contemplate what “His hold” signifies, be it His hand, or His Heart, or some other link between Him and the incorporeal man.  The Lord is not hard to find; He will be found by the one who earnestly seeks Him.  That is the purpose of Hell, the Consuming Fire, the Black Flame and the Outer Darkness; it is the interminable pleading, in its“most dreadful form,” of a Father to His forlorn and wayward child, which has never nor ever will change or diminish; “Come to Me...”

 

αἰώνιον (aye-own-eh-own) – Is the Greek word translated in every English version of which I am aware as, predominantly, “eternal,” and in a few cases as “everlasting.”  For one example among many see Revelation 21:46; “And these will go away into eternal (αἰώνιον) punishment...”  This is the adjective form of the noun αἰών.  If the reader will refer to any Greek lexicon of their choice, it will be immediately clear that the word translaed as “eternal” is in most cases a misrepresentation; this Greek word means “an indefinite period of time of uncertain duration.”  Our English “eon” carries a like definition, and would have provided a more accurate equivalent to αἰώνιον.

The common teaching concerning the supposed eternality of Hell, predicated primarily on the misinterpretation of this word, must be challenged.  If the duration of Hell is for “an indefinite period of time,” then that duration must be for another reason than punishment; I submit that it is purgatorial in nature, meant to restore and not destroy.   It is evident to me that one man may require more of this “indefinite period of time” than another: Therefore, Hell is not a general place into which all sinners are cast and kept for the same “indefinite period of time.”  Hell is a wholly individual reality for each person; it therefore is not a “place,” such as is a compound or penitentiary, but must be located in an individualized setting specific to each person; this place, I suggest, is the man's own Hell, carried with him in his darkened Self; and that Self, his personal Hell, is contained in the Dark Flame furnace which is the Consuming Fire, the very Heart of God.  Or, I might say to you that even as Christ Jesus has borne the sins of the world, His Father is bearing the sinners themselves, both bearing them and bearing with them until their will becomes His Will.