For wickedness burns as the fire: it shall devour the briers and thorns, and shall kindle in the thickets of the forest…
The Bible is full of the figurative and analogic.
I. SIN IS LIKE FIRE IN THE FORMS IN WHICH IT EXISTS. Fire is found to exist in two states — the insensibly latent, and the sensibly active.
1. In an insensible state, heat is everywhere. Even in solid masses of ice it is to be found. Sir Humphrey Davy, it is said, quickly melted pieces of ice by rubbing them together in a room cooled below the freezing point. It is so with sin. It is found in every part of the human world; it sleeps, perhaps, even in the most innocent of our kind. All it wants is the contact of some tempting circumstance to bring it out into an active flame. The virtue of some men is but vice sleeping. As savages light their fire by rubbing two pieces of wood together, so men stir up the latent of depravity by mutual contact. There is sufficient latent fire around us to burn up the globe, and there is sufficient latent sin in humanity to turn earth into hell
2. But fire is active as well as latent. In its active state you see it flaming on your hearths, illuminating your cities, working your manufactures, propelling your fleets, drawing your carriages, flashing in the lightning and thundering in the earthquake. Sin is terribly active in our world, active in every department of life: — in commerce, in politics, and religion To use the language of the text, "It mounts up like the lifting up of smoke": the smoke of this fire of sin pollutes and darkens every sphere of life.
II. SIN IS LIKE FIRE IN ITS TENDENCY TO SPREAD ITSELF. What a great fire a little spark will kindle! Fire is essentially diffusive; so is sin. How true it is that "one sinner destroyeth much good."
III. SIN IS LIKE FIRE IN ITS POWER OF CHANGING EVERYTHING TO ITS OWN NATURE. It has turned alcohol into intemperance, merchandise into fraud, government into tyranny, aggression into the demon of war. When Archimedes, to gratify his vengeance on the Romans, brought down the genial rays of heaven by magic glass to burn up their ships, he only dramatised the universal fact that sin ever strives to turn the greatest blessing to the greatest curse.
IV. SIN IS LIKE FIRE IN ITS REPELLING ENERGY. Philosophers tell us that fire is that principle in nature which counteracts attraction, and keeps the various particles of matter at their proper distance. It is that repulsive force which prevents atoms from coming into close contact, and sometimes drives them far apart. It turns the solid bodies into liquids and liquids into vapours. Apply fire to the compact tree, and it will break it into a million atoms, and send these atoms abroad on the wide fields of air. Were it not for heat, all parts of the universe would rush together into one solid mass, whose parts would press together in closer contact than the heaviest stone. Sin is a repulsive principle. It separates man from man, family from family, nation from nation — all from God!
V. SIN IS LIKE FIRE IN ITS DEVOURING CAPABILITY. It consumes something far more valuable than the most beautiful forms of material nature, or the most exquisite productions of human art — it consumes man. You cannot walk the streets of any great city, without meeting men whose bodies are being consumed by sin. Sin devours the soul. It dries up its fountain of Divine feeling, it sears its conscience, it withers its intellect, it blasts its prospects and its hopes.
VI. SIN IS LIKE FIRE IN ITS POWER TO INFLICT PAIN. There is no element in nature capable of inflicting more suffering on the body than fire. But sin can inflict greater suffering: the fires of remorse are a thousand times more painful than the flames that enwrapped the martyrs. "A wounded spirit who can bear?" The fire of sin in the soul will "burn to the lowest hell." Ask Cain, Belshazzar, Judas, concerning the intensity of moral suffering.
VII. SIN IS LIKE FIRE IN ITS SUSCEPTIBILITY OF BEING EXTINGUISHED. You have seen a raging fire go out from one of two causes; either because it has consumed the body on which it fed and reduced it to ashes, or because of the application of some quenching force. The fire of sin will never go out for the former reason — the object on which it feeds is indestructible: if it is ever to be destroyed, it must be extinguished by some outward force. Thank God! there is a moral element on earth to put out sin; the river of mediatorial influences that rolls from the throne of God has quenched the fire of sin in the case of millions, and is as efficacious to do so now as ever.
Parallel VersesKJV: For wickedness burneth as the fire: it shall devour the briers and thorns, and shall kindle in the thickets of the forest, and they shall mount up like the lifting up of smoke.