The fire must be kept burning on the altar continually; it must not be extinguished.
Exodus 27:1-8. Let us advance in thought, and behold the flames and curling smoke, and hear the lessons the fire preaches.
I. Consider it as THE FULFILMENT OF AN ORDINANCE. From his relationship to God, man is bound to obey him, and this same relationship causes that the majority of God's utterances to man are in the nature of commands, such commands, however, containing virtual promises. And those are most honoured who have most commands. The priests occupied the highest posts in the estimation of the people, simply because they were entirely devoted to the behests of the Almighty. To lay sticks in order upon the altar and set fire to them, was in itself a humble occupation, but the fact that it was performed for the glory of God elevated its character in the eyes of all. Menial duties are ennobled when discharged as unto the Lord. The fire was an emblem of worship, of praise, and supplication, ascending to the Most High from his faithful people. That it was perpetual indicated God's desire to be worshipped, not with fitful enthusiasm, but with steady regularity. There were times when the fuel was renewed, just as men may have their seasons of devotion at morning and at night, on the Lord's day and on a certain week-day, but there must be always a flame of service to testify to the obedience and affection of the people. The fire was kept alight by successive generations in their turn. To no one age is it exclusively given to sound the praises and do the will of the Eternal. When one servant falls asleep, having done the will of God, his younger comrade must step into his place and continue the work. Even the materials so soon to be consumed must be deposited upon the altar in an orderly manner. It is said by the rabbins that care was taken in selecting the sticks, no rotten ones being allowed. Whatever is done for God must be done to the best of our ability.
II. Consider it as THE ENJOYMENT OF A PRIVILEGE. Once the fire was consecrated by the approach thereto of the glorious fire from God's presence instantly consuming the sacrifice (Leviticus 9:24). The flames became henceforth a token of God's acceptance of the offerings of his servants, and his consequent reconciliation and favour. If any Israelite doubted the reality of Jehovah's existence or his willingness to bless the nation, a glance at the fire was sufficient to dismiss all doubt, and to inspire his breast with a consciousness of blessing. The perpetual fire symbolized God's unchangeable protection of his people. Through the hours of daylight and through the watches of the night the flames ascended on high; they knew no cessation; they spoke of him who "never slumbers nor sleeps," upon whose brightness no darkening shadow ever rests. This altar-fire consumed the various offerings presented. It kindled other fires - from it the burning coals for the golden altar of incense were taken; it was the fire-foundation on which the sacrifices were laid, and by which they were consecrated. It is the loving sacrifice of Christ that generates holy lives in his followers. By his ascension the fire of the Holy Spirit descended upon the Church, kindling sparks of hallowed emotion, and making the thoughts and words and acts of Christians an ever-brightening blaze of sacred service. - S.R.A.
I. PIETY MUST BE HABITUAL TO PROVE THAT IT IS REAL.
The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar.I. DIVINE ENDOWMENTS COMMITTED TO THE CONTROL OF MEN. As in the instances of that "fire," supernaturally originated on that altar, and then left in man's hands, so with —
1. Pure sympathies implanted within man.
2. Revelation in the Scriptures.
3. Quickened life in the regenerated soul.
4. Spiritual endowments to the believer.
5. Sacred affections in the Christian heart.
6. Holy enthusiasm firing an earnest nature. From God they come: but man has them in his hands.
II. DIVINE ENDOWMENTS ENTRUSTED TO THE PRESERVATION OF MEN. The priests had to keep that "fire" alive, or it would expire.
1. Having received the gifts of God we are responsible for their maintenance.
2. How solemn the priestly office, which all are called to perform: feeding the Divine "fire" in our souls continually!
III. DIVINE ENDOWMENTS REQUIRING THE CO-OPERATIVE WATCHFULNESS OF MEN. The priest's eye would need to be often turned to the altar fire: "every morning" it needed care.
1. A watchful life is imperative if we would maintain godliness within.
2. Neglect will allow the extinction of the Divinest gift. Only neglect —
(1) (2) (3) (4) IV. DIVINE ENDOWMENTS ENDURING ONLY WHERE ACTIVELY MAINTAINED. That fire did expire! At the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar. 1. May the Divine life m a soul go out? 2. May the Christian's "first love" become extinct? 3. May the holy aspirations of a child of God droop? 4. May all sacred ardour, in prayer, in consecration, die away?Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. "See that ye make your calling and election sure." (W. H. Jellie.)
(2) (3) (4) IV. DIVINE ENDOWMENTS ENDURING ONLY WHERE ACTIVELY MAINTAINED. That fire did expire! At the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar. 1. May the Divine life m a soul go out? 2. May the Christian's "first love" become extinct? 3. May the holy aspirations of a child of God droop? 4. May all sacred ardour, in prayer, in consecration, die away?Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. "See that ye make your calling and election sure." (W. H. Jellie.)
(3) (4) IV. DIVINE ENDOWMENTS ENDURING ONLY WHERE ACTIVELY MAINTAINED. That fire did expire! At the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar. 1. May the Divine life m a soul go out? 2. May the Christian's "first love" become extinct? 3. May the holy aspirations of a child of God droop? 4. May all sacred ardour, in prayer, in consecration, die away?Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. "See that ye make your calling and election sure." (W. H. Jellie.)
1. May the Divine life m a soul go out? 2. May the Christian's "first love" become extinct? 3. May the holy aspirations of a child of God droop? (W. H. Jellie.)
1. May the Divine life m a soul go out?
2. May the Christian's "first love" become extinct?
3. May the holy aspirations of a child of God droop?
(W. H. Jellie.)
I. THE FIRE OF ENTHUSIASM. It was said of Sir Walter Raleigh, "He can toil terribly"; and I think, if the great souls of the past could speak to you in tones that would command your interest, they would say that whatever good they did upon earth was achieved at the cost of strong resolve and strenuous effort.
II. THE FIRE OF INDIGNATION. It is not enough, right as it is, to love what is good. We must hate, we must spurn the evil. The wicked are always a discredited minority; and if the good had only the courage of their opinions, the wicked would never have the courage of theirs.
III. THE FIRE OF PERSONAL SANCTITY. The flame which consumes the dross of the world must itself be bright and beautiful. It must be "a burning and a shining light." Yes, and it must be "ever burning"; it must "never go out." It was the law of the Vestal Virgins in old time that night and day they should watch with sleepless care the everlasting fire upon the altar of the goddess. No calamity that could happen to the State was so terrible as if through their fault that fire should become extinct. But there was one essential condition of their watching: they must themselves be chaste; should any one of them break the Divine law of chastity, it was death for her and for him who made her break it. And oh! let us resolve that "the fire shall ever be burning upon the altar" of this school, which is so dear to us. Let it be bright, fierce, and lambent. Let it burn away the selfishness which lies at the heart of so many an one who knows it not.
(J. E. C. Welldon, M. A.)
1. Whatever is chief in the heart will be ever showing itself in the life.
2. We shall thus surely and thus only verify and carry out the Scripture descriptions of godliness.
II. PIETY MUST BE HABITUAL IN ORDER TO BE PROGRESSIVE.
1. The attainment of holy character is by degrees.
2. These advances can only be attained by constant well-doing.
III. PIETY MUST BE HABITUAL IN ORDER TO BE USEFUL.
1. If there be inconsistency or fitfulness, a painful sense of insincerity will he felt by those to whom the truth may be addressed.
2. With habitual piety, how much greater weight, pathos, and earnestness will there be.
3. An unconscious yet speaking power is in such godliness.
IV. HABITUAL PIETY GIVES DIGNITY AND ELEVATION TO THE WHOLE OF LIFE. It was a noble testimony that the son of J. A. James bore of his father: "I never found in him anything inconsistent or unworthy." What a wreath to lay on that honoured tomb! Conclusion: See to it that the fire be ever burning. What Christian workers should we have then-lips touched with a live coal, because the heart is glowing with the sacred flame. What Churches should we have then — not formal and languishing, but strong in godliness and increasing in numbers. What households should we have then-where the younger members would prove their appreciation of devout sincerity and the attractiveness of lofty example. Individual influence would be benign as that of the Australian tree which destroys infection, and breathes health around; and the whole spiritual scene would be beautiful and fragrant, as "a field that the Lord hath blessed." Cherish the sacred fire, if it is within. As the Parsees with the precious sandalwood keep alive the ever-burning flame in their temples, so with precious passages of Divine truth and prayer seek to keep alive and vigorous the name of love.
(G. McMichael, B. A.)
2. In its tendency.
3. In its nature and properties.
4. In its permanency.
5. In its perpetuity.Lesson: Be diligent in the use of the means of grace —
1. Prayer: secret, family, social.
2. Study of Bible.
4. Attendance on the ordinances.
(G. F. Love.)
I. LET US SEEK TO FAN THE FLAME. Of the Baptist our Lord said, "he was a burning and a shining light." Blessed eulogy! may it be earned by each one of us. "Burning and shining" — our very ideal of a minister; a hot heart with a clear head; impetuosity and prudence blended; zeal and knowledge linked in holy wedlock. The motto on David Brainerd's banner, and the prayer in his heart, ever was, "Oh, that I were a flaming fire in the service of my God." We have as our model Him who could say, "The zeal of Thine house hath eaten Me up"; and while we profess to be His followers, we dare not rest satisfied with the "icy torpor" and "decorous coldness" which are, alas! the usual temperature of too many professors. We do not wish to be for ever praying for the smouldering embers to be blown into a flame, for we covet a steady furnace heat, and no mere fitful zeal, which, like the fire from the horse's hoof, dies in the moment of its birth. Most of us know the sad experience of preaching with the fire burning only amid grey ashes. We cannot expect much blessing while this is the case. If the gospel is to have a mighty effect upon the congregation, it must pass through the fire of an intense spiritual life in the preacher; and this life we feel we must have. And what a boon will it be to us also! What purifying force there is in consuming zeal and passionate love of souls I How it burns up all unworthy and selfish motives! This holy fire has also an educating force; by it the soul is transfigured, and made to enjoy a grand outlook. It awakens the intellect as nothing else can; it quickens the sensibilities of inferior minds, and makes them capable of achievements which, without it, they would never have dreamed of. John Howard had no commanding intellect, but what he had was illuminated with Divine light, and thus his name became immortal. Thomas Chalmers had always an intellect so commanding as to grasp a planet in its span; but it needed the grace of God to so illuminate the mind of Chalmers that he could write his astronomical discourses, and grasp, not a planet merely, but myriads of worlds as a boy handles his marbles, and move "like a strong swimmer in a stormy sea." Divine fire in the soul kindles a light in the intellect, elevates every natural faculty, and makes it a handmaid to the Spirit of God; it burns every bond that Lies the tongue, and makes men orators who else were dumb. This, too, will give us the most attractive characters. It is said that the slopes of a volcano supply soil so fruitful that the richest vines flourish best upon them; when the heart is full of holy fire the life is sure to be adorned with the rich graces of the Spirit, productive of that fruit which glorifies our Father in heaven. And yet to have the heart throb with a might pulse of love — to have a holy passion thrilling and burning in every artery and vein will, in all probability, involve much trial. Every cherished idol of the heart must submit to the action of this fire. It will consume all that is consumable. Upon sin in the soul it will have no mercy. It will probably involve, too, the scorn of some whose friendship we fain would cultivate.
II. LET US NOW GATHER A FEW MATERIALS TO FEED IT. Scientific men are asking, "What is to be the fuel for coming ages?" "What will our great-great-great-grandchildren sit around instead of our household fire?" One authority suggests as a source of heat, when coal is exhausted, the beating of the tidal wave on the shore. Happily the Christian Church need not trouble herself with any conjectures as to the fuel which is to feed her fires. The light and love invested in the covenant of graces ages back will never be exhausted until every elect soul glows with love to God, and every redeemed wanderer is lighted back to his Father's home. Does not even Nature speak to us upon this mailer of earnestness in our Master's work? The sun is earnest: in his path he never lingers, in his course he never halts: the stars never falter in their race, never swerve from their round; the Sea is constant in its ebb and flow, unchanging in eternal change. All Nature says, "The King's business requires haste"; and the man who is not in earnest when about "the King's business" is out of gear with the universe, and is a blot in the creation of God. Our age speaks to us, we live in the cumulated light of succeeding ages. Our age, too, is telling upon ages yet to be — nay, upon eternity itself. Is there not inspiration, too, in the memory of our early vows? If we would be full of Divine energy, let us labour after a strong sense of the love of God in Christ. All the love of eternity meets here as in a focus, and if we only seek full and deep communion with it our lives will not lack the holy fire. There is one other thought which ought ever to arouse our spirits and inspire our hearts with zeal and courage in our holy warfare. We are on the winning side. Victory is surely ours.
(W. Williams.)Hebrews 12:29; Psalm 1:1.2; 2 Thessalonians 1., &c.); and accordingly, when the Jewish worshipper (the veil being off his heart) contemplated the altar's heaven-kindled flame, and bore in mind the Divine edict for its preservation, he was given to understand that the judgment of God was held in abeyance, that the Divine arrangements for turning aside that judgment from the contrite sinner though revealed to hope, were not consummated in fact, and, that as the fire, day by day, swallowed victim after victim, and burned still as fierce as ever, that victim had not yet been laid thereon whose blood should quench in mercy the fire maintained in justice. Well — "God is the Lord who hath showed us light; bind the sacrifice with cords, even to the horns of the altar" — the victim has been found and accepted; "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter"; His blood is "shed for many for the remission of sins," and the fire is gone out — God Himself hath "put it out": "for by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified," and, "through the offering of the body of Christ once for all," mercy and truth, righteousness and peace have met together, and like the wings of the mystic cherubim, they shadow the mercy-seat of God — the throne of Divine grace. Well, the fire is "gone out" — God Himself hath "put it out," but in so doing He hath kindled another. Accordingly, when the fire of Divine justice died away in the offering up of Christ, the flame of Divine love shot upwards upon the altar-hearts of the Lord's redeemed; it was and is kindled from above, for love begets love, and "we love Him because He first loved us." This is the heavenly fire which kindles upon the altar of the heart, the sacrifice of the affections; it is the fruit of satisfied justice; it is the movement of Divine mercy, besprinkling the soul with the all-awakening, all-cleansing blood of Jesus, producing a responsive movement of the soul to God, by the drawings of the Spirit of grace, and lighting up a flame in its Divinely occupied recesses, not to be extinguished by the deepest waters of trial. "It shall never go out."
1. In time of trial and affliction it shall not go out; for "in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion: in the secret of His Tabernacle shall He hide me."
2. In seasons of spiritual depression it shall not go out; "O my God, my soul is cast down within me," &c.
3. In the hour of temptation it shall not go out; "for God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will, with the temptation, also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."
4. When life, too, is waning, and the night of death is setting in, and the blighting chill is paralysing the frame as it enters the deep and dark river, it shall not go out; for "love is strong as death"; and "many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it."
(H. Hardy, M. A.)continually offers Himself to God in self-consecration in our behalf. Very significant it is that the burnt-offering stands in contrast in this respect with the sin-offering. We never read of a continual sin-offering; even the great annual sin-offering of the Day of Atonement, which, like the daily burnt-offering, had reference to the nation at large, was soon finished, and once for all. And it was so with reason; for in the nature of the case, our Lord's offering of Himself for sin as an expiatory sacrifice was not and could not be a continuous act. But with His presentation of Himself unto God in full consecration of His person as our Burnt-offering it is different. Throughout the days of His humiliation, this self-offering of Himself to God continued; nor, indeed, can we say it has yet ceased, or ever can cease. For still, as the High Priest of the heavenly Sanctuary, He continually offers Himself as our Burnt-offering in constantly renewed and constantly continued devotement of Himself to the Father to do His will.
(S. H. Kellogg, D. D.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
(J. Gumming, D. D.)
(S. Charnock.)- So careful is God of this continual burning, that, if you mark, it is reported over and over (see vers. 9, 12). To this end, the priest's care was to feed it with wood, and see to it day and night, and with no other fire might either sacrifice, or incense, be burned and offered to God. This fire was carefully kept upon the altar to the captivity of Babylon, and afterward found again of Nehemiah 2., 2 Macc. 1:18, 19. Of like from hence might grow that great honour and regard, which the heathens had fire in, whereof we read often. The Athenians in their Prytaneo, trod at Delphos, and at Rome, of those Vestal Virgins continual fire was kept, and of many it was worshipped as a God. The Persians called it Orismada, that is, holy fire; and in public pomp they used to carry it before kings with great solemnity. What might be the reason why God appointed this ceremony of continual fire upon the altar, and how may we profit by it?
1. First, there was figured by it the death of Christ from the beginning of the world; namely, that He was the Lamb slain from the beginning for mankind, and by this shadow they were led to believe that although as yet Christ was not come in the flesh, nevertheless the fruit of His death belonged to them, as well as to those that should live when He came, or was come; for this fire was continual and went not out, no more did the fruit of His passion fail to any true believer, even from the beginning. But they were saved by believing that He should come, as we are now, by believing that He is come.
2. Also this fire came from heaven (Leviticus 9:24), and so should Christ in the time appointed. This fire was ever in, and never went out, and so is God ever ready to accept our sacrifices and appointed duties, ever ready to hear us and forgive us, but we are slow and dull, and come not to Him as we ought.
3. No other fire might be used but this, and so they were taught to keep to God's ordinances, and to fly from all inventions of their own heads. For ever it was true, and ever will be true, "In vain do men worship Me, teaching for doctrines men's precepts." Our devices, seem they never so wise, so fit, so holy and excellent, they are strange fire, not that fire that came from heaven, not that fire that God will be pleased withal or endure. This fire coming first from heaven, and thus preserved, still preached unto them by figure, that as well did their sacrifices and services duly performed according to the law please God, as that did when first God sent His fire from heaven to consume it, in token of approbation, which surely was a great comfort to their consciences and a mighty prop to fainting, fearing weak faith.
4. This fire thus maintained and kept with all care, and "not suffered ever to go out," taught them, and still may teach us, to be careful to keep in the fire of God's holy Spirit, that it never die, nor go out within us. The fire is kept in by honest life, as by wood, by true sighs of unfeigned repentance, as by breath or blowing, and by meek humility, as by soft ashes. Oh, that we may have care to keep it in l what should I say? This continued fire taught then, and, though it be now gone and abrogated, may still teach us now, to be careful to keep in, amongst us, the fire of God's Word, the true preaching of His truth, to the salvation of our souls.
5. For the fire hath these properties — it shineth and giveth light, it heateth, it consumeth, it trieth: so the preaching of the gospel. "Thy Word is a lantern unto my feet, and a light unto my path." St. Peter calleth it "a candle in a dark place," and many Scriptures teach the shining light of it. The heat in like sort: "Did not our hearts burn within us, whilst He talked with us, and opened the Scriptures? The fire kindled, and I spake with my tongue," saith the Psalm; and as fire it pleased the Holy Spirit to appear at Pentecost, to show this fruit of effect of the Word preached by their mouths, it heateth the heart to all good life, and maketh us "zealous of good works." The dross of our corruption by degrees it washeth, the stubble of our fancies it "burneth up and consumeth," so that we abhor the sins we have been pleased with, and hate the remembrance of evil passed.
6. Lastly, it trieth doctrine, and severeth truth from error; it trieth men, and discovereth hypocrites. All worthy motives to make us careful to preserve this fire perpetually amongst us whilst we live, and in a holy zeal to provide for it also when we are dead. So shall we live being dead; nay, so shall we assuredly never die, but with immortal souls, and never-dying tongues, praise His name that liveth for ever, and will have us with Him.
( Pres. Edwards.)
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