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The Holy Spirit as Fire

This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series The Holy Spirit

Copyright © 2010, 20241

by
Percy Gutteridge

John the Baptist and Fire

Symbolic graphic of flames forming a dove, used under license from 123RF.comFire is an emblem of the Holy Spirit.2


  • 1In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” 3For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:
  • “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
    Make His paths straight.’ ”
  • 4Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
  • 7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, 9and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 10And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
  • 11“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
  • Matthew 3:1-12

We have considered God’s great type in the Old Testament and in the New, the Holy Spirit as oil. Now I want to share with you about the Holy Spirit in another of God’s great types, that of fire. As we’ve read in the passage above, the Lord Jesus is the One who baptizes with the Holy Ghost and fire.

What is the significance of fire? What does fire do? Fire is destruction. Fire is judgment. Fire burns things up and gets rid of them. In our passage, John the Baptist says that the Messiah’s baptism of fire will burn up chaff: He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

The figure that John the Baptist is giving about the Lord Jesus was a very well-known sight to those who grew wheat in Palestine in His day. A wheat farmer would have a threshing floor. He would have an ox to walk around upon the wheat on the floor to tread out the grain from the ears of wheat. The threshing floor would be in the open, having no roof to it. It would often be a flat rock.

Do you remember how Gideon threshed wheat by the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites (Judges 6:11)? A wine press would have provided a flat rock. As the wheat became well trodden, the chaff separated from the grain, so that the seeds were freed from their encumbrances. Then the winnowers would toss the grain up in the air, letting the wind separate the chaff and blow it away. The breeze would let the grain drop, but it would blow most of the chaff away from the threshing floor. Workers would gather any chaff which hadn’t been blown away, and they would burn it.

So in our passage, John the Baptist is using this everyday-life illustration to tell what the Lord Jesus will do: “He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor.” There will be nothing lost, neither the wheat nor the chaff. The wheat He will gather into His garner, His silo, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire. This is God giving us His own indication of the Holy Spirit as fire.

The Salvation Army: Blood and Fire!

Flag of the Salvation ArmyStandard of the Salvation Army3

The Salvation Army, which was once a spiritual power in the world, came well before the Pentecostals, preaching the Baptism in the Holy Ghost; and they took as their great motto, Blood and Fire. In fact, that “Blood and Fire” motto is still on their banners to this day. In their glory days they even wore it on their jerseys: Blood and Fire.

The Blood represents Jesus’ blood which was shed on Calvary; and the Fire stands for the fire which came down at Pentecost. So I want to remind you of this great and true motto. The Salvation Army, which was a revival from God, took this truth all over the world. Don’t look back on the Salvation Army as a denomination; in its early days, it was a very definite Holy Ghost revival. And it taught us one thing that we’ve never forgotten: the social content of the Gospel. The Army and its officers didn’t do what the liberals do—make the “social gospel” the Gospel. But they did what we often don’t do: they saw that the Gospel, when it is a baptism of fire and love, works out in a practical way.

William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, used to say, “Go for souls, but go for the worst.” He claimed that they “netted the sewers.” They took the very refuse. He would say to his officers, “Now when you go to a new city, find out the biggest sinners in that city or town, and go after them. And when you’ve demonstrated to everyone that you’ve won the worst, then the others will be coming along.” Wasn’t that a victory? Could you do a thing like that? Most of us are glad we get a few of the semi-semi-sinners! But General Booth went for the worst, and won the worst.

In the Salvation Army tarrying meetings (although they never called them “tarrying meetings”; that was a phrase which came later), they had all-night prayer meetings. They called them “Glory Meetings.” They would wait upon the Lord. The Lord would visit them with the gifts of the Spirit. The Salvation Army experienced the gifts of the Spirit in those days, but William Booth said, “Don’t major on them. Accept them.”

I remember reading one of his letters, in The War Cry, the Salvation Army’s publication, which was before my time. The old General would always write a letter which was printed on the front page. And in one letter he said, “Seeing that now, God is visiting us with the gifts of the Spirit” (these are his words), “let us not major on the gifts, but still press after the fruit.” And I say, “Hallelujah! Amen!”

Thank God for the gifts; ah, but what we want is the fruit. And as some wise person in England said, “And when you’re majoring on the fruit, please remember that the fruit isn’t a grapefruit or a lemon!” The joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10), and one of the fruits of the Spirit is joy (Galatians 5:22). You can say “Hallelujah” to that, can’t you?

Abel and Fire

Now I want to share with you about how God reveals this fire in the Bible. The very first mention of it is in Genesis, as God reveals Himself in fire. The first chapter of Genesis deals with creation. The second chapter of Genesis deals with the god (little “g,” if you please) of the creation that the Lord has made, that is, the minor god which He has created to rule over His creation. Adam and Eve were meant to be the gods, or rulers, of the Creator’s creation. And just as Adam and Eve and their descendants were to look up to the great, almighty, and ever-living God as their God, so the creatures of the undercreation were to look up to Adam and Eve as their gods, and obey them.

That holds to this day. You’ve probably experienced that your dog doesn’t know God. He has no conception of Him. But as your dog sees it, his god is you, and he worships you from the tip of his tongue to the last wag of his tail. He gives his all to you. That’s what God originated. In Psalm 82:6 God declares, “I said, ‘You are gods.’ ” When Jesus quoted that verse, He elaborated on it: “Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I said, You are gods’? If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken)…” (John 10:34,35). We are the gods of creation.

But, as we have been rebellious to the Living God, the Almighty God, so the under­creation is rebellious to us. And when at last Mankind, in the regeneration, is completely subservient and obedient to the one great and almighty and living God, all creatures of creation will be obedient to us. The wolf and the lion and the cow and the lamb and the deer and the poisonous snake, and little children, and you and I will all be together (Isaiah 11:6-9). Once again we shall have control over all creation.

At present it seems that our control over creation usually amounts to a hunting license. But there will come a day, I’m glad to say, when all that will be over. And instead of brutalizing the creation that God has set under us, we shall show our love to them. The righteous man is merciful to his beasts.4 God wants to set that in order again; He’s going to bring it to pass. When God manifests His sons and daughters on the earth, the Bible tells us, even the creation is going to enter into “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21 kjv).

At present all creation is groaning and travailing in pain (Romans 8:22), for it has been put under bondage, through no fault of its own. It’s not the fault of plants and animals; it’s our fault. That’s why I’m kind to animals, because I recognize that they’re suffering through my fault. They never sinned; we did! They’ve been put under this awful bondage. Ah, but when everything comes right, they are going to come into the same liberty as God’s people.

So Genesis chapter one reveals creation. Chapter two reveals authority given to its underlords, which is man. Genesis 3 reveals the Fall, and the consequences of the Fall. Chapter four reveals the remedy, and that remedy is blood and fire. Now I want to show you how that’s true in Genesis 4:2-5:

  • 2…Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. 4Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, 5but He did not respect Cain and his offering.…

Now Abel as a keeper of sheep, and Cain, as a tiller of the ground, represent the two very necessary forms of husbandry. Neither will stand on its own. So Cain was right in tilling the ground, for God had said to Adam,

“In the sweat of your face you will eat bread….”
–Genesis 3:19–

Adam was sent forth to till the ground. And in the future, when he would till it, it would not bring its strength to him, as it had before (v. 18).

Now when Abel brought the firstlings of the flock, God “respected” him. When Cain brought his offering, God “did not respect” him. Let me show you why. And please, just for the moment, toss aside your prejudices, for there is much untruth taught about the Bible that does not stand up to an honest investigation.

Most of us have learned certain interpretations, and we accept them as true, but we never ask God whether they are true. Most of the interpretations of the Bible we swallow without a thought, and so we think that’s what the Bible says; yet it may say nothing of the sort. What we’re swallowing is not the Bible, but rather interpretations of the Bible. So would you mind reconsidering what you thought about Cain, and about Abel? I’ve already indicated that Cain was right in tilling the ground. Someone had to do it. God ordained that it should be done. And Abel was right in keeping sheep. So Abel and Cain were both right.

So why did God reject Cain’s offering? Not because of what it was, but because of the spirit in which he offered it. God’s question to Cain makes this clear: “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:7) The Lord said, “I will accept your offering if you do well. But sin’s crouching at your door, like an angry tiger, like a leopard, like a subtle thing, waiting to pounce on you.” God was indicating to him that he was jealous of his brother. And God said, “If you do well, I’ll accept you. But if you don’t do well, I cannot accept your offering. It’s not the offering I want, it’s you, Cain. I’m glad to accept the offering when you bring it with a loving heart without sin. But when you have sin in your heart against your brother, I cannot accept your offering.”

Now didn’t Jesus say exactly the same thing later on? “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). It’s exactly the same thing.

“All right,” you answer me, “who was it who said this to Cain?” It was Jesus. The Logos. He hadn’t yet taken that humble, glorious name of a human man, Jesus. But He was the Logos, the Son of God. God’s dealings with men always have been through His Son. The only begotten Son of God always has declared the Father (John 1:18). He’s always been the effulgence of His glory and the brightness of His manifestation (Hebrews 1:3). He has always been the Visible Image of the Invisible God (Colossians 1:15). The Logos is always the One who makes the thoughts of God known to human beings.

So the Logos was talking to Cain in exactly the same way in which He talked to Israel and the disciples later on. And, brothers and sisters, I’ll repeat here what the Logos indicated to Cain: Your offerings are not worth anything to God if you give them in order to buy off your conscience. What God wants is a pure heart. The offering given to the house of God from pure hearts will go a farther distance than the offerings that are given to merely salve your unclean conscience.

The Witness of Fire

So again, why did God accept Abel’s offering and reject Cain’s? Because Abel’s was offered with a pure heart, and Cain’s wasn’t. How did Cain know his offering was not accepted? How did Abel know his was? I’m suggesting, and I’ll back it up with other scriptures, that when God accepts an offering, His fire will come down upon it! I believe that when Abel put his offering before God, the fire came down and consumed it. When Cain put his offering before God, no fire came down.

Let’s come back to what the offerings were. When Abel offered his offering, blood was shed, because he slew a lamb. He got the blood and the fire. When God accepts the blood, He always sends down the fire. Always. Always! Down comes the fire upon the blood. Was Cain wrong in offering the fruits of the ground? No, he was perfectly right. Both these offerings were established by God later through Moses: the offerings of the lamb, the goat, the bullock—the shedding of the blood; and the sacrifice of firstfruits. God established it. In fact, Israel was not allowed to reap their harvest until they first offered the firstfruits unto God. So both offerings were right.

What should they have done, then, so that God could have accepted Cain’s as well as Abel’s offering? They should have both come together, and first offered the lamb. Then together they should have come and offered the firstfruits. Cain should have joined with Abel in the offering of the lamb. Abel should have joined with Cain in the offering of the firstfruits, for that is God’s way. When the sacrifice of the Lamb has been made, then you can come and offer your firstfruits unto God. God is not willing to accept any of your firstfruits until you have come to Jesus, until you’ve been to Calvary, until you’re washed in the blood of the Lamb.

It’s no good listening to Paul, when he writes, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1), unless you’ve been to Calvary! Unless the Blood is marked upon you, your offering is unacceptable to God. All the talk about making Jesus your Healer, your Friend, your Lord, your Master, is valueless, unless first He has accepted you, and you have made Him your Savior. It’s the blood that makes atonement for the soul. After that, He loves you to come and consecrate yourself to Him, which is the offering of the firstfruits.

Now you can see the beautiful harmony here, can’t you? I’m so glad for the harmony of Scripture. You don’t have to ignore one piece in order to establish another. It’s one whole.

Elijah and Fire

So there is the first instance of God accepting the sacrifice—God respected Abel and his offering. God’s way is the fire following the blood. Now do you recall, in 1 Kings 18, that wonderful account of how Elijah challenged all the priests of Ba’al, when Israel was a backslidden people? God brought upon them a tremendous famine and great drought, and for three years this prevailed in answer to Elijah’s prayer.

Yes, Elijah prayed, and God wrought a great drought and a famine. Elijah was inspired by the Holy Spirit to pray such a prayer. Then at the end of that time, when things were absolutely desperate, there was that multitude in the valley of decision.5  They were prepared at last to make up their minds either to serve the true God, Jehovah, or else to continue in the vile worship of Ba’al, which Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, had thrust upon the people, along with with their multitude of priests.

So Elijah brought the people to a challenge at Carmel, a mountain on the seacoast. Elijah’s challenge was this: “The God who answers by fire, He is God” (1 Kings 18:24). The people responded, “Yes, that’s right; the God who answers by fire, let Him be God”; and they answered well. And Elijah said, “If the Lord Jehovah be God, then worship Him; if Ba’al be God, then worship him.” Now he said to the four hundred fifty priests of Ba’al, “You are many, I am one. We will both make a sacrifice. You shall take a bullock and offer it on your altar, and call on Ba'al to bring the fire down. Then I will take a bullock and put it on the Lord’s side, and call the fire down.”

So the priests of Ba’al labored, cutting themselves with knives6 until the blood flowed, and leaping on the altar they had made. They showed their ecstasy, but there was none who answered. So it came to pass at noontide, after they had prayed and agonized all the morning, that Elijah mocked them, saying, “Perhaps Ba’al is asleep. Or perhaps he’s on a hunting expedition and your voice hasn’t reached him yet. Perhaps he has to be woken up. So cry louder!” And the poor, foolish ones cried louder. The evening came and there was no one who answered or heard.

Finally Elijah prepared an altar, building it up with the twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel, unhewn stones as God commanded. When it came time for the now-discontinued evening sacrifice, Elijah killed the bullock, then called for water. Water was poured all over the sacrifice three times, and it filled the trench around the altar.

Atheists and liberals say, “Well, wasn’t there a great drought, with people and cattle dying? Where on earth did the water come from?” Think a minute. It didn’t come from earth, it came from the sea. Carmel is right on the Mediterranean seacoast, and there was no shortage of water in the sea. So Elijah covered the altar with seawater to make it more difficult for God. “For with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37). And then he cried on the Lord, and down came the fire upon the blood. God had answered by fire.

Solomon and Fire

Now God had answered by fire previously in the Bible record. It occurred at the dedication of the temple which Solomon had built for God. With the sacrifices in place, Solomon prayed his great prayer (2 Chronicles 6). See how the Scriptures describe the scene when Solomon had made an end of praying:

  • 1When Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. 2And the priests could not enter the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord had filled the Lord’s house. 3When all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed their faces to the ground on the pavement, and worshiped and praised the Lord, saying:
  • “For He is good,
    For His mercy endures forever.”
  • 2 Chronicles 7:1-3

The fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the Glory of the Lord filled the house. He is the God who answers by fire! It’s first the blood, and then the fire.

Jesus and Fire

John 19 tells us how Jesus was sacrificed. God’s great Victim was offered on the Cross. Yes, Christ was the Victim; Christ became the altar; and Christ became the High Priest who offered Himself without spot to God. He was everything. The blood flowed from His thorn-crowned head, and from His bleeding back, and from His hands and feet; when He had died, the soldier pierced His side, and out came blood and water.

It was only a short while after this that He rose from the dead, ascended to the Glory, and appeared before the Father. Then, as promised, the glory of the Holy Spirit was poured down upon the waiting hundred and twenty disciples. God the Father attested to how supremely acceptable the sacrifice of Jesus was to Him by sending the Holy Spirit as fire!

That glorious outpouring occurred on the day of Pentecost, which took place on what we would call a Sunday morning. According to Leviticus 23:15-16, Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks (which the Jews call Shavuot), had to be celebrated on the first day of the week (not the seventh); that’s why we keep Sunday (or ought to keep it), because the early Church kept the first day of the week.

  • 1When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
  • Acts 2:1-4

Notice, “there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire!” Don’t forget this part! But many do forget, and major on the speaking in tongues. Why doesn’t anyone talk about the tongues of fire that came down? Why? It’s the promise of the Father. John’s prophetic announcement from God was, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). It doesn’t say that He shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and tongues, does it?

Why do we leave the fire out? The carnal mind doesn’t mind speaking in tongues. But the carnal mind strongly objects to being destroyed by the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. Carnality hates being destroyed. It’s “not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). But God has promised a baptism of fire.

Do I believe that they did speak in tongues at Pentecost? Of course I do! And do I believe that God has repeated that phenomenon a hundred thousand, a million times? Yes, I do. But I don’t major on it. I’m more concerned about God’s people having pure hearts, than merely chattering in tongues. I have met so many that speak in tongues, but, oh, their lives are such a sham and a shame! Thank God when you’ve got it all, a pure heart and the gifts of the Spirit. Do get your priorities right. Do get things in proper order.

The Significance of Fire

So Jesus’ sacrifice at Calvary was followed by the fire coming down at Pentecost. What then does the fire mean? In Abel’s case, in Solomon’s case, in Elijah’s case, in Calvary’s case—what does it mean? The fire attests to the validity of the sacrifice. It always means that God has accepted the sacrifice. Well, hallelujah for Pentecost; but Pentecost would have meant nothing, except there had been Calvary.

What is the central doctrine of Christianity? Not Pentecost, but Calvary. “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). We’re not to boast in anything but the cross. The centrality of the cross always keeps the Church in balance. But we must point out what the cross led on to—it led on to Pentecost. That’s the glory of the cross. That’s God covering the cross with a halo of glory. And the reason that He gives us the cross, the reason the precious blood of the Lord Jesus is upon us, the reason we don’t have to die upon the cross, but He died for us, is so that we might experience the glory of a genuine baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Moses and Fire: Preparation for Service

I want to remind you, too, of how the Lord deals with his servants to prepare them for service. Let’s look at a few verses in Exodus 3, where the Lord commissioned Moses. Moses had lived for forty years in Egypt. Then God transferred him, and he lived forty years in the desert. When he was eighty years old, God considered he was then about ready to do something for Him.

How old are you? Do you know, some people have the idea that when you’re older it’s time to retire. Have you ever met a retired Christian? I mean a real Christian. I never have! Fancy a retired Christian, a Christian who says, “I’m retired now, so I leave it all to the young people.” What are you watching, television? You never retire. Ever! How can you retire from living? How can you retire from loving Jesus? How can you retire from speaking about Him? How can you retire from wanting to bring people to Jesus, and to bring them up in their most holy faith? Isn’t that a sheer impossibility? Yes, it is! It’s like a mother retiring and saying, “Well, now, children, you’re married. Don’t see me any more.” Why, a decent daughter knows that that’s when she wants her mother most!

But let me return to Moses:

  • 1Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.”
  • 4So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” 6Moreover He said, “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.
  • 7And the Lord said: “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. 8So I have come down to deliver them….”
  • Exodus 3:1-8

Moses saw a bush burning with fire, an ordinary, common bush. Now I know that the popular liberal view is that the sun was just setting as Moses looked after those sheep. And as the sun was setting, it was dying down in the most glorious orb of fiery crimson. There it was, sending those glorious, dying rays across the desert, and they fell upon a thorn bush. And as the glory of that dying sun shone upon that thorn bush, Moses saw it all shining, and thought to himself, “How wonderful, how marvelous God is, causing the setting sun to bedeck a common thorn bush, and make it beautiful. So I’d better do something about it, and God can come upon me, and I can deliver Israel.” That’s the liberal interpretation, but nothing of the sort happened! Don’t let them cheat you.

Moses had seen desert thorn bushes with the dying sun, the setting sun, shining on them a thousand times. He’d lived in the desert forty years, after all. This wasn’t the first thorn bush he’d seen with the sun shining on it, now was it? But here was something he’d never seen before. And what does the Bible say, a verse the liberals leave out—“I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn” (v. 3). Do you think that Moses was such a nitwit that he thought that the setting sun would consume the bush if it shone on it? Praise God, at least when we get the Baptism of the Holy Spirit He quickens the small amount of intelligence we have!

So Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.” It was a marvel, a miracle; the bush was blazing with fire, and was still there! What was God saying? He was saying to Moses exactly what He then showed him concerning his rod. When God asked Moses, “What is this in your hand?” Moses replied, “A rod” (Exodus 4:1-2). Do you think God didn’t know that? What was God getting at through the question, “What is this in your hand?”

“A dry stick,” Moses replied.

“All right,” God said, “you take that dry stick and I’ll do signs with it. What are you, Moses?”

“A dry stick.”

“What are you good for, Moses?”

“To be a desert thorn bush.”

“All right,” says God, “I can so fully envelop you in My presence, that you’ll blaze with cleansing fire and not be consumed. I can use you, Moses. I can make you so people turn aside to see you. I’ll make you so that when you come before Pharaoh, he won’t even touch you. I will be a wall of fire round about, and the Glory in the midst.”

And the amazing thing was that when Moses returned to Egypt, Pharaoh and his officials did nothing to him at all. They told him to go, but no one attempted to throw him out. And when Moses threw that stick on the ground, it turned into a serpent (Exodus 7:1-10). When Pharaoh’s magicians, by their clever conjuring, and by their manipulation of demonic arts, threw their wands on the ground, their rods also turned into serpents. But then God did something that they never even thought of—Moses’ serpent swallowed up all the other serpents (vv. 11-12). So when Moses had his rod back in his hands, it was thick around the middle.

Now do you see what God does? He’s the God who answers by fire. Moses had to be cleansed by the Lord. And God is using this great figure of a burning flame that cleanses the dross. You know you’ve often been told, wisely and truly, that in those days, when silver was refined, by quite simple methods, the silversmith would have the silver in his crucible, and he would skim off the scum that rose to the surface as he refined it. When he could see his face in it, he knew that all the scum was gone. Similarly, Jesus sits as the Refiner and Purifier of silver (Malachi 3:2-3).

For Jesus to see His face reflected in us, that is, for us to be purified, He must deal with two things:

  1. His first dealing is with the carnal mind, which “is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). This is the unclean, rebellious heart. Do you have a pure heart?
  2. His second dealing is with your self.

The Carnal Mind and Self

The Lord Jesus deals with the carnal mind by removing it, because it kicks against God; it hates God. So if you’re willing, you can have a pure heart that has no hatred for God in it at all, but only love for Him. But your self is so weak, so small, so poor. It’s one thing for God to cleanse our hearts, so that we desire to serve Him. At that point we’re just like Adam was in the Garden of Eden before the Fall.

But Adam fell because of the tasting of the fruit. Why? Because he was weak through the flesh. And we are the same. Adam did not fall because he had a carnal mind; he had a pure heart. But he fell because of the weakness of his humanity. He fell because he had an independent will. God gave him a great measure of free will. And in that free will always lies the possibility of sin. That’s how the angels sinned. They had free will. The origin of sin is not in the devil, brothers and sisters; the origin of sin is in free will.

Now let’s consider a clean heart—a pure heart that only wants to serve its Beloved. Our problem is that we have “this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7). If you look back to the Garden of Eden, you’ll see there were two kinds of sin: one, the sin of the devil; the other, the sin of Adam. Why did the devil entice Adam and Eve to sin? Because he hated God. Why did Adam and Eve sin? Because they hated God? Of course not! They loved Him. They sinned because they loved themselves a little. That was the sin of self. The other was the sin of carnality, which hates God, is not subject to His law, “nor indeed can be.”

The devil malignantly led Adam and Eve into sin because he hated them, he hated God, he hated righteousness; and he loved iniquity. But Adam and Eve didn’t sin because they loved iniquity. They loved themselves too much. But then carnality came upon the race through their sin.

God’s remedy for their sin is the blood of Jesus; and His remedy for carnality is still the same glorious tongue of flame, originally given at Pentecost, which cleanses us from the carnal mind. “Knowing this, that your old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth you might not serve sin” (Romans 6:6 kjv). But God will chasten you to keep “you” down, lest you should be trapped again into sin because of the weakness of your human nature. You have the treasure in earthen vessels. He chastens us “that we may be partakers of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

Isaiah Cleansed by Fire

Let’s consider the experience of the prophet Isaiah as an example of cleansing by fire. We read in Isaiah 6:

  • 1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3And one cried to another and said:
  • “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
    The whole earth is full of His glory!”
  • 4And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. 5So I said:
  • “Woe is me, for I am undone!
    Because I am a man of unclean lips,
    And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
    For my eyes have seen the King,
    The Lord of hosts.”
  • 6Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7And he touched my mouth with it, and said:
  • “Behold, this has touched your lips;
    Your iniquity is taken away,
    And your sin purged.”
  • Isaiah 6:1-7

What was Isaiah saying? “I have desecrated God’s temple!” Remember he was a priest. Isaiah was allowed to come into the temple; it was his duty to be there. He was saying, “I am a sinner and have desecrated God’s temple!” What is the significance? The significance is in the opening verse: “In the year King Uzziah died.”

Why and how did King Uzziah die? He died, before his time, of leprosy. Why? Because as a king he’d actually gone into the temple, taking an incense censer to swing before the Lord. The story is recounted in 2 Chronicles 26:16-23. The priests begged Uzziah to go out, and they thrust him out, warning, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense” (2 Chronicles 26:18). And when they looked, they saw that leprosy had risen up in his forehead (v. 19); and the king dwelt in a separate house until he died (v. 21).

Now Isaiah is in the temple, and he says, “Uzziah died because he desecrated the temple. And now before God, I realize I, too, am a sinner; I am a man of unclean lips. I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. I’m a spiritual leper, a sinner, and I shall die also! Woe is me! I am unclean, undone!” That is the cry of a leper.

Then God sent one of the seraphim, with a live coal in his hand, which he’d taken with the tongs from off the altar. The seraph placed the coal on Isaiah’s lips, and said,

“Behold, this has touched your lips;
Your iniquity is taken away,
And your sin purged.”

This is the same principle we’ve been considering: it is God sanctifying by fire. It is “the God who answers by fire,” purifying the heart.

In Moses’ case, Moses was to do great signs and wonders. That’s why God made him put his hand in his bosom over his heart. Have you noticed that? Two signs were given Moses: the first was the rod thrown down, the rod of power, which could become God’s rod when it was out of Moses’ hand. And the second sign was that Moses had to put his hand in his bosom over his heart. And when he brought his hand out again, it was leprous.

God is showing where the uncleaness comes from—out of the heart. “Out of the heart,” Jesus said, “proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19).7 God knows the heart.

God knew the heart when He sent the Holy Spirit upon Cornelius. Testifying of what God did at the house of Cornelius, Peter declared, “God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9). That was the Pentecost of the Gentiles, at which God did everything at once. They were saved, they were filled with the Holy Ghost, they spoke in tongues and glorified God, and their hearts were made pure, all at once. That’s what we call a blood-red, snow-white, sky-blue salvation. I’m all for red, white and blue! That’s genuine Old Glory.

Now do you see what God did with Isaiah? In Moses’ case, God wanted to use Moses’ hand on the rod, a rod of power. Therefore He had to cleanse Moses at the source, so that it was a pure hand from a pure heart, holding out the rod. But God wanted to use Isaiah, not in these great deeds of power and mighty miracles, but by speech. He’s perhaps the greatest prophet of the Old Testament, the one who reveals the most about the Messiah. He reveals the glories of the coming Messiah. He’s the one who reveals Messiah’s sacrifice on the Cross. So for God to speak through Isaiah’s lips, they had to be clean lips. That’s why God had the fire touched to Isaiah’s lips, and cleansed his heart. Isaiah was a man with clean lips after God did that—after the live coal, the tongue of flame, that came upon him.

You and Fire

In conclusion, many of you have experienced Pentecost. For some of you—it was invisible to you—a flame came down. Many times we receive things in installments that we could have had all at once. I pointed out that Cornelius and his household received full salvation all at once. Others got it separately. It doesn’t matter.

It took me a long time, brothers and sisters, to get things sorted out, because I was brought up well, but brought up without understanding of many things. I was christened and confirmed in the Church of England. I was a Sunday School teacher in the Church of England, and a choirboy in the Church of England. And after all that, the Lord Jesus saved me! I can remember when I was confirmed and knelt down before the Bishop. I was very proud, because my brother and I were confirmed before anyone else (since we were choirboys, and they always dealt with “the clergy” first). And I can truthfully say, with the great Baptist preacher Spurgeon, “Then the Bishop laid his empty hands on my empty head.” (That wasn’t the fault of the Church of England, that was my fault.)

But after that, the Lord Jesus saved me. And after salvation, I learned about the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Then God began to sort things out for me with regards to the gifts of the Spirit. I had accepted that precious Baptism, but I knew nothing about the gifts of the Spirit. Yet God began to operate them through me. Finally, I began to realize where holiness and a pure heart fit into God’s scheme. I began to inquire of the Lord where the “tongue of fire” fits in, and He showed me not only where it fits into the doctrine, but where it fits into me!

So from personal experience I realize that we often have an experience bigger than we comprehend. There are seeds of truth lying in your heart that God hasn’t quickened into life yet. If you’ve never trusted the Lord to give you a pure heart, then trust Him for it now. If you haven’t trusted Him to baptize you in the Holy Spirit, trust Him now. Believe God to baptize you in the Holy Spirit and to give you a pure heart.

It’s as free as every other gift of salvation. You can’t work for it, for the testimony of Scripture, as we have seen, is “purifying their hearts by faith.” Most Protestants believe that you don’t have to work for salvation, to have your sins forgiven, but you have to work incessantly to get a pure heart. It’s completely false! We are sanctified by faith. Holiness is as much a work of grace as the elementary first step of salvation was, whereby you knew that your sins were forgiven, Jesus was your Savior, and you were going to heaven when you die. Holiness is just as much by faith. It’s

Holiness by faith in Jesus,
Not by effort of thine own.
Sin’s dominion, crushed and broken
By the power of grace alone…
8

as Frances Ridley Havergal puts it. So will you trust God to give you a pure heart? He’ll do it. It’s the thing you’ve been longing for and waiting for; it’s the solution to your problems.

Many people have problems. Do you know, some people go to demon-chasing meetings to have demons chased out of them. But what they need is a pure heart! They’re mixing up carnality with demons! If you walk in the Light with a pure heart, you needn’t fear demons. They don’t come around, because you can’t walk with Jesus in the Light and have demons walk with you; try it and see. They’ll go! They don’t like Jesus. They can’t walk with Him.

Amos 3:3 says, “Can two walk together, except they are agreed?” No! Paul indicates much the same thing when he says, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's table and of the table of demons” (1 Corinthians 10:21); and again when he asks, “What accord has Christ with Belial?” (2 Corinthians 6:15). The answer is: none! If you walk in the Light with Jesus, instead of going to demon-chasing meetings, you can have meetings in which you praise the Lord that He’s given you a pure heart! Hallelujah! Praise God!

Dear Father, thank You for the riches of Your “so great a salvation.” You have said, “I will put My laws in their hearts, in their minds I will write them—I will give you a new heart, I will take away the stony heart, and give you a heart of flesh.” And, beloved Lord Jesus, we remember that when You came back from the grave and You met Your disciples, You were angry with them for their unbelief and their hardness of heart. They hadn’t yet received that new heart. They received it at Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost came in.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God.” Lord, I believe that my carnality was crucified with You on the Cross, that I might know it’s destroyed, that I might walk before You in holiness and righteousness all the days of my life, so that I won’t kick against the Cross anymore. So when You chasten me, I will thank You for all Your kindness, knowing that You’re chastening me that I might be a partaker of Your holiness. I confess the self; I am a self, and I ever shall be, Lord. And I’m weak, through the flesh. But, oh, it’s not Your will that this heart that You have redeemed should be a lodging place for carnality that hates God. How can I hate my Father in any part of my being? So, Lord, I ask You now, give me a pure heart. Welcome, Tongue of Flame!

Welcome, welcome, welcome,
Holy Ghost we welcome Thee.
Come in power and fill Thy Temple.
Holy Ghost, we welcome Thee.9

O, welcome! And Lord, You burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. We used to think it meant the Judgment Day. But it means now! You baptize with the Holy Ghost and fire, burning up the chaff in my heart with unquenchable fire. Praise You, Lord! Oh, Beloved, do this thing now, I beseech you. Give me a pure heart. Give me a new infilling of the Holy Ghost. Make me to find that wonderful upwelling of the Spirit within me, and to know that on the way, it purifies my heart. Thank You, Lord. Amen and amen.

(Many thanks to Gail Tyler Yundt
for the original transcription.)


Endnotes:


  1. Copyright held by Finest of the Wheat Teaching Fellowship, Inc. Edited and annotated by Jim Kerwin. Co-edited by Denise Kerwin.

    Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

  2. Image of the fiery dove is copyright by and used under license from 123RF.com / martinsumbaji.
  3. Public domain image of the Salvation Army flag is courtesy of wikipediacommons.org.
  4. Pastor Gutteridge is thinking of Proverbs 12:10 here, which says, “A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal.”
  5. The allusion is to Joel 3:14.
  6. The various English translations seem evenly split between knives and swords when rendering this word. In fact, two flesh-piercing weapons are mentioned in 1 Kings 18:28, variously rendered knives and lancets or swords and spears. The point of emphasis in the passage is their cultic self-mutilation, and not so much the means by which they did it.
  7. See also the parallel passage in Mark 7:21-23.
  8. From Frances Ridley Havergal’s hymn Church of God, Beloved and Chosen
  9. This is the chorus of Leila Naylor Morris’ hymn Holy Ghost, We Bid Thee Welcome.
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