The Testing of the Fire
We return again to our basic passage of Scripture:
"I came to cast fire upon the earth: and would that it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! Think ye that I am come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: for there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. They shall be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against her mother; mother in law against her daughter in law, and daughter in law against her mother in law" (Luke 12:49-53).
I confess that is one of our Lord's utterances that I least like, and that I find myself most unhappy to speak about. If anyone else but He had said it, perhaps we should have turned away. I am quite sure that if that had originated with myself, or with any of my brethren, it would have caused very great offence. But Christ said it. And it seems to me to be all of a piece with the beginning of that statement.
Perhaps you have noticed that this marks a very abrupt change in the whole course of the narrative. Up to the end of verse forty-eight you seem to have been on one thing: and then quite abruptly there is this change. I can only think that there was a pause on His part. He said that; and then He was quiet for a moment, and His mind ranged the future - the future of His own influence and effect upon the world. And then He began this part of His utterances, in a quite different, strange realm.
"I come to cast fire upon the earth ..." That is why I came; that sums up the meaning of My coming. Why did I come? For what did I come? What is to be the outcome and the issue? I cam to cast fire upon the earth ... and how am I pent up, straitened, limited! What do I want? What is it that is necessary? I have a baptism to be baptized with, and I would that it were over! I wish that were accomplished, and then I should be free of this straitness and this limitation. The purpose for which I have come could be realized. Oh,that it were already accomplished - this baptism of the Passion, of the Cross!' So He thinks and so He speaks. I have said that this paragraph, from verse forty-nine to verse fifty-three, seems to be all of a piece. We see here the effect of the fire, and it is very terrible. It introduces the element of judgment. There is no need to argue with anyone who knows anything about the Bible that fire in the Bible is so often the symbol of judgment - as here.
But we need to comprehend the meaning of that word "judgment." We so often limit it to one of its aspects, especially the final one. We speak of "bringing to judgment" - meaning by that, to punishment - the final effect of judgment. But judgment in the Bible is a more comprehensive word than that. It is, to begin with - and this can be clearly seen in terms of fire, or fire in terms of judgment - a trying of things, a putting them to the test. Now Scriptures will leap to your mind which bear that out. Fire tests, the fire tries, the fire finds things out, does it not? That is the first effect of fire. And that is the first meaning of judgment: to put everything to the test, to try it.
Having done that, it discriminates: that is, it divides; it shows to which category things belong, and it puts them there. Fire has that effect. It says: That is of that kind, and it belongs to that kind; it is of that category, or that realm, or that kingdom: this belongs to another. Fire finds out: it discriminates and it divides.
And then it relegates finally. It says: that has been found to belong to a certain realm; it has been designated, it has been discriminated; it belongs there, we put it there. That is the final effect of the fire.
That is the content of the word 'judgment'. We need always to keep that full meaning in mind when we use the word. We will not dwell upon its application more fully at the moment.
We are told in the Word of God that this judgment - which would come, mark you, with the coming of the Holy Spirit - the effect of Christ's release through the Cross, in the coming of the Holy Spirit was to cast fire. In other words, the effect of Christ's release would be the coming of the Spirit as the Spirit of fire; and as the Spirit of fire His presence would always be in terms of judgment, in this threefold sense of the word. The Holy Spirit's presence is like this and it has this effect. Let us now look into the Word to see the realm in which that operates.
(continued with # 17 - (Human Relationships)