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to be employed in his immediate service, and to enjoy Lis favor. Thus also the expression to see God, signifies to experience his friendship, and to be admitted to the greatest happiness in his presence; whereas, not to see him, is to be shut out from his favor, and to be under his awful displeasure. Christ says of his humblest followers, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of his heavenly Father; referring to the usage of earthly courts, where such as always behold the monarch's face were highest in office and regard. By this he signified, that these little ones had a powerful interest in heaven, and were peculiarly dear to God himself; so that it became men to take heed how they despised them (Matt. xviii. 10). To sit next the king, especially on his right hand, was a mark of the highest honor and dignity (1 Kings ii. 19; Matt. xx. 20-23; Heb. i. 3)." Nevin's "Biblical Antiquities," i. 247.
LXXXII. "For our God is a consuming fire." Heb. xii. 29.
This passage is often used to give force to the doctrine of endless misery, and thus to frighten the weak and timid Let us look for the true sense.
The passage is a quotation from Deut. iv. 24; "For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire." If the reader will peruse the twenth-fourth chapter of Deuteronomy, he will perceive, that it is part of an exhortation which Moses delivered to the children of Israel. He was drawing near the end of life, and must soon take leave of the people, who were about entering into the promised land. Many of them had not been eyewitnesses. of the remarkable dealings of God with the Jews, while they were on their journey to Canaan, and Moses seems to have judged it necessary to recite, in brief, the history of those transactions. He exhorts the people to obey God's law; and, having reverted to the danger of their being led into idolatry, and to the signal judgments with which God had consumed the idolatrous nations around them, he tells them to take heed, and to re
member the judgments with which God had consumed others, adding; "For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, and a jealous God." In the twelfth of Hebrews, Paul was exhorting the Jews to give due attention to the voice of God in the new covenant of his mercy. He tells them, they had come to Mount Zion, &c. &c., "and to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." He then adds, "See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, [that is, those Jews who were regardless of the word God spake unto them,] much more shall we not escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven." He then proposes the same incentive to obedience, which Moses had done; "For our God is a consuming fire."
In view of these circumstances, I think we come plainly to the following conclusion; God was said to be a consuming fire," because he was the source of those judgments which he sent upon the Jews for their sins, and by which they were consumed. Hence, when the children of Israel were about to cross Jordan, to relieve them of all fear of their enemies, Moses said to them, "Understand therefore this day, that the Lord thy God is he which goeth over before thee; as a consuming fire he shall destroy them; and he shall bring them down before thy face; so shalt thou drive them out and destroy them quickly, as the Lord hath said unto thee."
There are abundant evidences in Scripture, that "God is a consuming fire." We read, 2 Thess. ii. 8," then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming." See Exodus xxxii. 10; xxxiii. 3. See also Jer. ix. 16; "I will send a sword after them till I have consumed them." xiv. 12; "I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence." Ezek. xliii. "I have consumed them in mine anger."
Thus we see, that the passage we are considering gives no hint of endless punishment, or of any punishment, out of this state of being. And it should be always remembered, that all God's judgments are rendered in mercy. "He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men." And, although these judgments are sometimes terrible, and often involved in deep mystery to human wisdom, still, from the clear knowledge we have of the principles of the divine government, we believe that all have a benevolent tendeney, and that they shall result in good, even to those who are exercised thereby.
LXXXIII. "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God; and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear." 1 Peter iv. 17, 18.
The comment of Dr. Adam Clarke on this text is so agreeable to my own views, that I offer it without further remark.
"Judgment must begin at the house of God.] Out Lord had predicted, that, previously to the destruction of Jerusalem, his own followers would have to endure various calamities. See Matt. xxiv. 9, 21, 22; Mark xiii. 12, 13; John xvi. 2, &c. Here his true disciples are called the house or family of God. That the converted Jews suffered much from their brethren, the zealots or factions into which the Jews were then divided, needs little proof; and some interpreters think that this was in conformity to the purpose of God. Matt. xxiii. 35. (That on you may come all the righteous blood shed from the foundation of the world,) 'That the Jewish Christians were to be involved in the general punishment; and that it was proper to begin at them, as a part of the devoted Jewish nation, notwithstanding they were now become the house of God; because the justice of God would, thereby, be more illustriously displayed.' See Macknight. But, probably, the word xgiux, which we here translate judgment,
may mean no more than affliction and distress; for it was a Jewish maxim, that when God was about to pour down some general judgment, he began with afflicting his own people, in order to correct and amend them; that they might be prepared for the overflowing scourge.
"And if it first begin at us] Jews, who have repented and believed on the Son of God. What shall the end be of them, the Jews who continue impenitent, and obey not the gospel of God? Here is the plainest reference to the above Jewish maxim; and this, it appears, was founded upon the text which St. Peter immediately quotes.
"And if the righteous scarcely be saved] If it shall be with extreme difficulty that the Christians shall escape from Jerusalem, when the Roman armies shall come against it, with the full commission to destroy it, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Where shall the proud Pharisaic boaster in his own outside holiness, and the profligate transgressor of the laws of God, show themselves, as having escaped the divine vengeance? The Christians, though with difficulty, did escape, every man ; but not one of the Jews escaped, whether found in Jerusalem or elsewhere.
"It is rather strange, but it is a fact, that this verse is the Septuagint translation of Prov. xi. 31. 'Behold the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth; much more the wicked and the sinner.' For this, the Septuagint and St. Peter have; If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?' Such a latitude of construction can scarcely be accounted for. The original signifies this ; 'Behold, to the righteous it shall be returned on the earth; and to the wicked and the transgressor.'
"The Chaldee Paraphrast has given this a different turn; Behold, the righteous shall be strengthened in the earth; but the ungodly and the sinner shall be consumed from the earth.'
"The Syriac thus ; "If the righteous scarcely live, the ungodly, and the sinner, where shall he stand? "The Arabic is nearly the same as the Septuagint; and the apostle and the Vulgate follow the Hebrew.
"I have, on several occasions, shown, that when Cestius Gallus came against Jerusalem, many Christians were shut up in it; when he strangely raised the siege, the Christians immediately departed to Pella, in Colosyria, into the dominions of king Agrippa, who was an ally of the Romans; and there they were in safety; and it appears from the ecclesiastical historians, that they had but barely time to leave the city before the Romans returned under the command of Titus, and never left the place till they had destroyed the temple, razed the city to the ground, slain upwards of a million of those wretched people, and put an end to their polity and ecclesiastical state." 375;
See Universalist Expositor," Vol. III. P. Ballou's "Select Sermons," No. VI.
LXXXIV. 2 Peter ii. 4, 9.
For an explanation of this passage, see my remarks on Jude, ver. 6, Section LXXXVIII. of this chapter.
LXXXV. 2 Peter ii. 17.
For an explanation of this passage, see remarks on Rev. xiv. 9-11, Sect. XCII. of this chapter.
LXXXVI. 2 Peter iii. 7-13.
This passage has been frequently used to prove the destruction of the material earth, and a day of judgment in the future state. We have shown repeatedly in these pages, that God's judgments are IN THE EARTH. But as this text is not generally adduced in support of strictly endless misery, we pass it here, by merely observing, that those who wish to see an explanation of the whole subject, are referred to the Universalist Expositor," Vol. III. 34-52. Balfour's " Balfour's "Essays," p. 260. See also the learned notes of Hammond and Witsius on this subject, in Paige's "Selections."