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Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: Acts and the Larger Epistles

Chapter 17 - Acts 7:30; Exodus 3:2, 3, 52 - Consuming and Unconsuming Fire Light & Truth: Acts and the Larger Epistles by Bonar, Horatius


The desert shrubs are like dry stubble. We have seen them set fire to; and in a few seconds they were burnt to ashes. This made the sight which Moses saw more remarkable, though even in an ordinary "bush," anywhere, it would have seemed strange that fire should blaze through all its parts, and yet not consume it at all.

This fire was the Shekinah, or fiery emblem of Jehovah's presence, the same as was seen in Paradise as a flaming sword, and afterwards made the pillar-cloud its chariot, and its dwelling the holy of holies. It was "the glory," the visible symbol of Him who is a "consuming fire."

"The bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed." This excited wonder on the part of Moses, and he turned aside to see why it was so. Then he found that God had come down to that spot, and that within a certain distance from that bush on fire, had made it "holy ground," like "the holy of holies" where the Shekinah dwelt. That it was God Himself who was in that fire is evident from what follows—"Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God."

This "bush," or rather this whole scene, was to be a "token" to Moses,—a pledge of all subsequent fulfillments of the divine promise (Exodus 3:12). And a glorious sign it was!

It was in the "desert", neither in Egypt nor in Canaan; God alone was there; there could be no mistake. It was Jehovah who thus appeared. And the appearance was near what was known as "the Mount of God," and where the glory had dwelt. The mount had probably been the abode of the glory long before the days of Moses. Now that glory came down from the mount to dwell in a desert tree. It shewed itself to this Egyptian exile—this Midianite shepherd,—when busy with his flock. After forty years quiet sojourn here, amid the solitude of pastoral life, Moses is favored with this wondrous prophetic vision; a vision telling much of God, and much of Israel's future story.

It is no common fire. It is the fire of God; the fire which of all others is most fitted to destroy. It is the fire that burned up the sacrifices, that burned Korah and his company, yet it does not burn this shrub. There is nothing in the bush itself to prevent the burning, yet it burns not. It is the fire that made the whole mountain quake and melt, yet it scorches not a leaf of this bush. How is this?

The fire is the special symbol of divine holiness as directed against sin,—wrath burning against the sinner. Why does it not consume? Because of the blood—the blood of the sacrifice. It is the blood alone that prevents the fire from destroying. The fire is not quenched; it burns; but it does not consume. The blood makes the sinner impervious to the devouring flame.

Burning, yet not consumed! Holy wrath raging in the midst of a handful of leaves, yet not a leaf touched! Let us consider this.

I. In Christ Himself. On Him the divine wrath came down in power. "Thy wrath lieth hard upon me." It was this wrath that produced the agony of Gethsemane, and the outcry on the cross. Under that wrath He dies but He rises again, "by the blood of the everlasting covenant" (Hebrews 13:20). With His own sacrificial blood he met the Father's wrath against sin, and satisfied his righteousness and holiness. The full wrath came; and on the cross He bore it all. He was made sin for us; He was made a curse for us; the cup which was filled for us was drained by Him, nay, turned for us into the cup of blessing. It is with propitiated holiness that the sinner has now to do.

II. In Israel. Again and again has Israel been under wrath. The wrath of God has waxed hot against them, and He would have consumed them; but the blood which speaketh better things than that of Abel pleaded for them, and pleadeth still. It still stays the wrath. It still prevents the fire from destroying the chosen nation. How often in that very desert was Israel like that desert bush, enveloped in flame, ready to be consumed. "Let me alone that my anger may wax hot against them." Yet Israel lives on—unconsumed—immortal—ever in the fire, or the fire in her, yet still imperishable-beloved for the fathers' sakes, and preserved by the better blood of the nobler victim.

III. In the church. I do not speak of the nominal or visible church; I speak of the true church, and of the searching fire which a holy God has often let loose against her. I cannot call it the wrath of God in her case; it has been the wrath of man; yet it has been permitted of God; and it has tried, and searched, and sifted, and refined—but not consumed. The church's motto is, Nec tamen consumebatur: Burning, yet unconsumed. She has age after age been cast into the furnace, but has been unhurt.

IV. The earth. The curse has been upon the earth for man's sin; God's wrath rests upon creation, so that it groans. Nothing but this wrath could produce such a state of things as we see over all the earth. Earth seems ever ready for the devouring fire; it will ere long be set on fire; but it will not be consumed. It will emerge more beautiful and perfect: a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. And what shall prevent its consumption? The blood shed on Calvary,—the blood of the great Sacrifice,—that alone. It is to that blood that man and man's earth owe not only present deliverance from wrath, but future glory.

V. The saint. Each redeemed soul is a brand plucked out of the fire at first; and his daily life is like that of the apostle, "as dying, yet behold we live"; troubled, oppressed, persecuted, yet not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. He is ever in the furnace, yet the fire consumes not. This is the daily life of all who follow Christ. Through much tribulation they enter the kingdom. In a sense, we drink of the cup which He drank of; we fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ.

O sinner! what is to be thy doom? The fire without the saving blood! Fire, wrath, everlasting burnings without help or remedy. By the fire and by the blood we beseech you to flee from the wrath to come!