This is another excerpt from Discovering the Character of God by George MacDonald
THE CONSUMING FIRE.
_Our God is a consuming fire_.–HEBREWS xii. 29
Nothing is inexorable but love. Love which will yield to prayer is
imperfect and poor. Nor is it then the love that yields, but its ally.
For if at the voice of entreaty love conquers displeasure, it is love
asserting itself, not love yielding its claims. It is not love that
grants a boon unwillingly; still less is it love that answers a prayer
to the wrong and hurt of him who prays. Love is one, and love is
For love loves unto purity. Love has ever in view the absolute
loveliness of that which it beholds. Where loveliness is incomplete,
and love cannot love its fill of loving, it spends itself to make more
lovely, that it may love more; it strives for perfection, even that
itself may be perfected–not in itself, but in the object. As it was
love that first created humanity, so even human love, in proportion to
its divinity, will go on creating the beautiful for its own outpouring.
There is nothing eternal but that which loves and can be loved, and
love is ever climbing towards the consummation when such shall be the
universe, imperishable, divine.
Therefore all that is not beautiful in the beloved, all that comes
between and is not of love’s kind, must be destroyed.
And our God is a consuming fire.
For, when we say that God is Love, do we teach men that their fear of
him is groundless? No. As much as they fear will come upon them,
possibly far more. But there is something beyond their fear,–a divine
fate which they cannot withstand, because it works along with the human
individuality which the divine individuality has created in them. The
wrath will consume what they _call_ themselves; so that the selves God
made shall appear, coming out with tenfold consciousness of being, and
bringing with them all that made the blessedness of the life the men
tried to lead without God. They will know that now first are they fully
themselves. The avaricious, weary, selfish, suspicious old man shall
have passed away. The young, ever young self, will remain. That which
they _thought_ themselves shall have vanished: that which they _felt_
themselves, though they misjudged their own feelings, shall remain–
remain glorified in repentant hope. For that which cannot be shaken
shall remain. That which is immortal in God shall remain in man. The
death that is in them shall be consumed.
It is the law of Nature–that is, the law of God–that all that is
destructible shall be destroyed. When that which is immortal buries
itself in the destructible–when it receives all the messages from
without, through the surrounding region of decadence, and none from
within, from the eternal doors–it cannot, though immortal still, know
its own immortality. The destructible must be burned out of it, or
begin to be burned out of it, before it can _partake_ of eternal life.
When that is all burnt away and gone, then it has eternal life. Or
rather, when the fire of eternal life has possessed a man, then the
destructible is gone utterly, and he is pure. Many a man’s work must be
burned, that by that very burning he may be saved–“so as by fire.”
Away in smoke go the lordships, the Rabbi-hoods of the world, and the
man who acquiesces in the burning is saved by the fire; for it has
destroyed the destructible, which is the vantage point of the deathly,
which would destroy both body and soul in hell. If still he cling to
that which can be burned, the burning goes on deeper and deeper into
his bosom, till it reaches the roots of the falsehood that enslaves
him–possibly by looking like the truth.
The man who loves God, and is not yet pure, courts the burning of God.
Nor is it always torture. The fire shows itself sometimes only as
light–still it will be fire of purifying. The consuming fire is just
the original, the active form of Purity,–that which makes pure, that
which is indeed Love, the creative energy of God. Without purity there
can be as no creation so no persistence. That which is not pure is
corruptible, and corruption cannot inherit incorruption.
The man whose deeds are evil, fears the burning. But the burning will
not come the less that he fears it or denies it. Escape is hopeless.
For Love is inexorable. Our God is a consuming fire. He shall not come
out till he has paid the uttermost farthing.
If the man resists the burning of God, the consuming fire of Love, a
terrible doom awaits him, and its day will come. He shall be cast into
the outer darkness who hates the fire of God. What sick dismay shall
then seize upon him! For let a man think and care ever so little about
God, he does not therefore exist without God. God is here with him,
upholding, warming, delighting, teaching him–making life a good thing
to him. God gives him himself, though he knows it not. But when God
withdraws from a man as far as that can be without the man’s ceasing to
be; when the man feels himself abandoned, hanging in a ceaseless
vertigo of existence upon the verge of the gulf of his being, without
support, without refuge, without aim, without end–for the soul has no
weapons wherewith to destroy herself–with no inbreathing of joy, with
nothing to make life good;–then will he listen in agony for the
faintest sound of life from the closed door; then, if the moan of
suffering humanity ever reaches the ear of the outcast of darkness, he
will be ready to rush into the very heart of the Consuming Fire to know
life once more, to change this terror of sick negation, of unspeakable
death, for that region of painful hope. Imagination cannot mislead us
into too much horror of being without God–that one living death. Is
not this to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thoughts
But with this divine difference: that the outer darkness is but the
most dreadful form of the consuming fire–the fire without light–the
darkness visible, the black flame. God hath withdrawn himself, but not
lost his hold. His face is turned away, but his hand is laid upon him
still. His heart has ceased to beat into the man’s heart, but he keeps
him alive by his fire. And that fire will go searching and burning on
in him, as in the highest saint who is not yet pure as he is pure.
But at length, O God, wilt thou not cast Death and Hell into the lake
of Fire–even into thine own consuming self? Death shall then die
And Hell itself will pass away,
And leave her dolorous mansions to the peering day.
Then indeed wilt thou be all in all. For then our poor brothers and
sisters, every one–O God, we trust in thee, the Consuming Fire–shall
have been burnt clean and brought home. For if their moans, myriads of
ages away, would turn heaven for us into hell–shall a man be more
merciful than God? Shall, of all his glories, his mercy alone not be
infinite? Shall a brother love a brother more than The Father loves a
son?–more than The Brother Christ loves his brother? Would he not die
yet again to save one brother more?
As for us, now will we come to thee, our Consuming Fire. And thou wilt
not burn us more than we can bear. But thou wilt burn us. And although
thou seem to slay us, yet will we trust in thee even for that which
thou hast not spoken, if by any means at length we may attain unto the
blessedness of those who have not seen and yet have believed.