Our Lord is in Many Ways as a Fire

From The Minor Prophets (1860)

Malachi seems to blend, as Joel, the first and second coming of our Lord. The first coming, too was a time of sifting and severance, according as those, to whom He came, did or did not receive him. The severance was not final, because there was yet space for repentance; but it was real, an earnest of the final judgment. “For judgment,” our Lord says, “I am come into this world, that they which see not may see, and they which see might be made blind; and again, “Now is the judgment of this world” (John 9:39);  and, “he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only-begotten Son of God” (John 12:31) …

It is then one ever-present judgment. Every human soul is in a state of grace or out of it; in God’s favor or under His wrath; and the judgment of the Great Day, in which the secrets of human hearts shall be revealed, will be but an outward manifestation of that now hidden judgment. But the words, in their fullest sense, imply a passing of that judgement, in which men do or do not stand, as in those of our Lord, “As a snare shall that day come on all those that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye, therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things which shall come to pass, and to stand before the son of man” (Luke 21:35-36).

“For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap.” Two sorts of materials for cleansing are mentioned, the one severe, where the baser materials are compounded with the rich ore; the other mild, where the defilement is easily separable. “‘He shall come like a refining fire,” “a fire shall burn before him and it shall be very tempestuous round about him. Then he shall call the heaven from above and the earth, that he may judge his people” (Ps. 50:3,4) streams of fire shall sweep before, bearing away all sinners. For the Lord is called a fire, and a “consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24) so as to burn our “wood, hay, stubble” (1 Cor. 3:12). And not fire only, but fuller’s soap. To those who sin heavily, he is a refining and consuming fire, but to those who commit light sins, fuller’s soap, to restore cleanness to it, when washed. Yet, though light in comparison, this too had its severity; for clothes which were washed (of which the word is used) were trampled on by the feet. “The nitrum and the fuller’s soap is penitence.” (Jerome, On Jeremiah 2.21). Yet the whiteness and purity so restored, is, at the last, perfected. Inspiration could find no more adequate comparison for us, for the brightness of our Lord’s clothing  from the glory of the Transfiguration, than “exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them” (Mark 9:3)

Our Lord is, in many ways, as a fire. He says of himself, “I am come to send afire upon earth, and what will I, if it be already kindled (Luke 12:49). John Baptist said of him, “he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16). He kindles in the heart “a fire of love,” which softens what is hard, and will:

Wash whate’er of stain is here,

Sprinkle what is dry or sere,

Heal and bind the wounded sprite;

Bend whate’er is stubborn still,

Kindle what is cold and chill,

What hath wandered guide aright

(Veni Sancte Spiritus).

But as God is a “consuming fire,” who must burn out the dross, unless we are “reprobate silver” which “the founder melts in vain” (Jer. 6:29-30), either he must, by his grace, consume the sin within us or consume us with it in hell.

Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882) was a priest who served as Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford for more than fifty years. He was among the primary leaders of the Oxford Movement, Anglicanism’s Catholic revival. He wrote several of the Tracts of the Times, and sacramental confession and religious sisterhoods were restored in the Church of England through his influence. His commentary on the minor prophets drew richly on the Church’s wider interpretative tradition while seriously weighing scholarly controversies within Old Testament studies. He is commemorated on September 18 on the liturgical calendars of several Anglican churches.


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