I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?
Upon a close examination of the text, and a comparison with the following verses, there can be no doubt whatever, that the sending fire upon earth, indicates nothing less than what it at the first glance appears to import, namely, the production of great and violent contention and animosity. When the religion of a crucified Saviour was originally made known to the world, greatly varied: even within a single family circle, was the reception which it met with. Some, when they had heard the word, received it with joy, and cried out, with the Ethiopian, "See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" While others, only observing of the preacher of Jesus and the Resurrection, "He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods," persisted in their ancient course, and loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. Placed in such circumstances, it was almost impossible for the Christian members of a household, with whatever circumspection and caution they might walk, to avoid giving offence. Though they kept silence, and refrained even from good words, their conduct was a tacit reproach to their connections. When they refused to offer the drink-offerings of those dumb idols, or to make mention of their name with their lips, they sufficiently declared their opinion of those that did it, as of men labouring under gross delusion. Now we may observe how sensitive to the slightest apparent contempt of their opinions the spiritually ignorant and superstitious are. Again, the Christians could not, on any terms, partake of the pleasures which their unconverted friends chiefly esteemed; many of them were unclean, and many of them were cruel, teeming with all abomination and pollution. They were compelled, therefore, to stand aloof in their festivities, and as children of light, to have no communion with the works of darkness. This must, according to all experience and observation of the characteristics of weak and vicious men, have contributed in no small degree to engender a spirit of bitterness. The slave of vice cannot bear the eye that looks mournfully on his evil indulgences. Finally, Christianity incapacitated the professor from attaining to many worldly honours and emoluments, and hence another struggle while a parent's ill-judging affection endeavoured to impose upon a child conformity to existing iniquities, that his prospects in this life might not be blighted, and the other as resolutely persisted in the determination to witness a good confession before men, lest his prospects in eternity should suffer a much more fatal blight. How soon such contentions might call into action the most malignant passions of the heart, may be judged from examples nearer to our own times, in which a rational resistance to unreasonable, though originally kind desires, has stirred up the most inveterate hostility. But in all this we only see the natural consequences of a pure and undefiled religion coming in contact with the evil passions of man's unconverted heart. There was nothing hostile to the peace of the world in Christianity itself, and it became the innocent cause of much disquietude and tumult, merely because man would not suffer man to enjoy liberty of conscience.
(W. H. Marriott, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?