« VorigeDoorgaan »
called the judgments of God. It will also be seen that the term fire, in many instances, stands immediately connected with the words rendered hell, such as Sheol, Gehenna, &c., which see in this work.
The above facts are so easily understood, both from the Old and New Testament scriptures, that but very little need be said. The first place in which it is mentioned in the New Testament is Matt. 3: 10, "And now also the axe is laid unto the roots of the trees: therefore every tree that bringeth forth not good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." There are other similar passages, which teach the same things, and are understood in the same manner. Under the figure of cutting down trees, and casting them into the fire, in this text, is represented the severe judgment about to fall on the Jewish nation, which was before denominated the wrath to come. This figure was often used by the prophets, and, consequently, must have been well understood by the Jews in our Saviour's day. See Isa. 10: 33, 34; Jer. 46: 22, 23; Ezek. 31: 23.
We need not offer arguments that this is the true application of this and the like passages, inasmuch as there is such a universal agreement on the subject among standard commentators. Hammond says, "But now are God's judgments come home to this people, and ready to seize upon the whole nation, and shall actually fall upon every unreformed sinner among you." Par. in loc. Pearce says, "Vengeance is about to be taken upon the Jewish nation." Assembly's Annotations, Poole's Annotations, Lightfoot, and others, make the same application. Clarke says, "The Jewish nation is the tree, and the Romans the axe," &c. Kenrick says, "The national calamities with which you are threatened, are no light evils, but such as, if you do not repent, shall be like cutting up the tree by the roots; for as barren trees, which bring forth no fruit, are hewn down and cast into the fire, so shall it be with you, if you perform not good works; your kingdom shall be overthrown, and the inhabitants of the land utterly extirpated." See Paige's Selections.
A like application is made of similar passages, by the same authors. There is not, in truth, an instance in the Bible where fire is used to signify punishment in eternity. In sermons and exhortations a different interpretation is often given; but few, however, are willing to risk their reputation for biblical knowledge, by publicly
disputing what is so abundantly asserted by the most learned authors.
In the second place it will be seen, in the observance of those passages, that by fire is prefigured the truth of God; which is represented as burning, cleansing, purifying and heating. See Mal. 4:1, and 3: 2, 3. By these quotations is learned the burning affliction of the Jewish people, in the day of their distress. Dr. A. Clarke says, "The day cometh that shall burn as an oven, — signifying the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. And all the proud, this is in reference to verse 15, of the preceding chapter. The day that cometh shall burn them up,· either by famine, by sword, or by captivity, all these rebels shall be destroyed. It shall leave them neither root nor branch; a proverbial expression for total destruction; neither man nor child shall escape." Com. on Mal. 4: 1. Thus Clarke applies the passage wholly to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. It is also seen, same (Mal. 3: 3), that Christ is represented at that time as sitting
as a refiner and purifier of silver: purifying the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness." The prophet represents the Lord himself as a wall of fire. Zech. 2: 5, "For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and a glory in the midst of her" (Jerusalem). In Luke 12: 49, it is said, "I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?" Heb. 12: 29, Paul says, "For our God is a consuming fire." From the above remarks are made plain the nature and qualities of this fire. The properties and qualities of God are indestructible. There are also moral and intellectual properties in man, as parts of God's perfection, or image, which cannot be destroyed. Thus, notwithstanding "God is a consuming fire," yet, that fire is such that it only consumes what stands opposed to its own perfections: it cannot destroy its own qualities or properties. Hence the utility of the apostle's language in 1 Cor. 3: 13-15, "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire: and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. If any man's work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." So we learn that this fire not only consumes wickedness, wicked works, and the
fire. Although the word aionion, here rendered eternal, has the same signification as above defined, yet it will be seen that the his phrase, eternal fire, is here used as the instrument of punishment. Let that fire last as long as it may, it is not said that they were to suffer eternally, or even as long as the fire might continue to burn. The word eternal is here prefixed to fire, not to the cities or their inhabitants. It is stated that the fire which consumed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah actually continued to burn for more than two thousand years; but who could be so insane as to suppose that the inhabitants of those cities suffered during that period? It is immaterial how long that fire continued to burn on the plains of Sodom and Gomorrah; it is certain that the inhabitants could suffer no longer than life remained. Hence, no shade of an argument can be adduced from this text to favor the unmerciful doctrine of endless misery.
In Matt. 3: 12, and Luke 3: 17, we have instances where this fire is called unquenchable. It will, however, readily be understood that this unquenchable fire stands immediately connected with the axe and the trees that were to be hewn down and cast into the fire; and also with the baptism which was to be performed with the Holy Ghost and with fire. From the connection of these expressions, it certainly is reasonable to suppose that the same subject is in view, and the same signification given, with the exception that he here extends his figure in showing favor to the obedient, as well as stern judgment to the disobedient. By gathering his wheat into the garner is signified the deliverance and safety of those who obeyed him, and who were actually safe from all harm in the city of Pella, among the mountains; while the unbelieving Jews were left to the pitiless fury of the Roman armies, and the fiery pangs of starvation and death. The severe distress of the Jews was represented by the phrase unquenchable fire, not because the fire would never cease to burn, but because it could not be extinguished, and would continue until the material on which it fed should be destroyed, or until the cause by which it was produced should be entirely removed.
Pearce, on this text, says, "In this whole verse the destruction of the Jewish state is expressed in the terms of husbandmen; and by the wheat's being gathered into the garner, seems meant that the believers in Jesus should not be involved in the calamity." Ham
mond says, "The burning of this chaff signifies the condition of the Jews in this life." Cappe refers it to the calamities and destruction of Jerusalem. Kenrick and Clarke give the same exposition. See their comments in full, Paige's Selections.
We know of no arguments which can possibly be made to bear against the foregoing conclusions. The fire of God's love and truth will burn, and continue to burn, to all eternity, and that for the good of his creatures. That called the fire of affliction, as connected with man, will burn until every imperfection is removed, and no longer.
Those passages where the expression THEIR WORM DIETH NOT may be found.
Isa. 66: 23, 24. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.
Mark 9: 43-48. And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than, having two hands, to go into hell (Gehenna), into the fire that never shall be quenched; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than, having two feet, to be cast into hell (Gehenna), into the fire that never shall be quenched; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell-fire (Gehenna puros); where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.
Brief Remarks on the "Worm that dieth not."
The expression, "Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched," is relied on with much confidence, by the believer in endless misery, as strong proof of that doctrine. But for what reason we are unable to learn. Sure are we that the scripture