“Everyone shall be salted with fire.” Mark 9:49 Now let us read what the learned John Gill said in his “Expositor” about our Lord’s words.
“Verse 49. For every one shall be salted with fire, That is, every one of those that transgress the law of God, offend any that believe in Christ, retain their sins, and sinful companions; every one of them that are cast into hell, where the worm of conscience is always gnawing, and the fire of divine wrath is always burning, with that fire every one of them shall be salted: that fire shall be to them, what salt is to flesh; as that keeps flesh from putrefaction and corruption, so the fire of hell, as it will burn, torture, and distress rebellious sinners, it will preserve them in their beings; they shall not be consumed by it, but continued in it: so that these words are a reason of the former, showing and proving, that the soul in torment shall never die, or lose any of its powers and faculties; and particularly, not its gnawing, torturing conscience; and that the fire of hell is inextinguishable; for though sinners will be inexpressibly tormented in it, they will not be consumed by it; but the smoke of their torments shall ascend for ever and ever; and that they will be so far from being annihilated by the fire of hell, that they shall be preserved in their beings in it, as flesh is preserved by salt.”
It is surprising how even the most learned of men “get their teeth into” such passages as these, seeming to savour the mediaeval-style vision of everlasting hell fire. If Gill’s language is anything to go by, then it bespeaks a state of mind that is full of revengeful anticipation, licking the lips with delight at the thought of mortals forever being tormented in a lake of fire. Others, more lenient, cringe from the language of the A.V. but say, with sadness, “But it’s Scripture, so it must be true.” A few are absolutely scandalised by the Gills of this world, and demand a full investigation. We are of this last category, and would like to present a few “home truths” from those same Scriptures.
First of all, Jesus said that “everyone will be salted with fire”, not just the sinners, as interpreted by Gill. We read that our God is a consuming fire, (Deut.4:24, 9:3, Heb.12:29) that He is a Refiner’s fire, (Mal.3:2) that He is a devouring fire (Ex.24:17, Isa.33:14 et al.) that His word is as a fire, (Jer.23:29) and that His ministers are a flame of fire (Psalm 104:4) The Lord spoke to Moses, and to all Israel, out of the fire on Sinai, (Deut.5:22, Ex.3:2), He went before them in the wilderness in a pillar of fire (Ex.13:21), and whenever the Cherubim are mentioned, they are depicted with the flames of infolding fire. (Gen.3:24, Ezek.1:4,13,27)
Let’s get it straight. There’s no escape from the fire. No one, sinners and believers alike, can escape the fire, because the Bible declares that God is a consuming, devouring fire. It is His own nature, just as He spoke to Moses out of a bush on fire. But this is where we need to understand exactly the nature of God’s fire.
Moses was intrigued by the burning bush, in that it was NOT CONSUMED. The Seraphim took burning coals from between the Seraphim, and applied them to Isaiah’s lips. His speech was cauterised, not his mouth. (Isa.6) The Lord told Zechariah that in a future day He would “put one third of the inhabitants of Jerusalem through the fire to refine them.” (Zech.13:9) Earth-fire would destroy them, but God’s fire refines them. It is a different type of fire altogether. The Lord told Isaiah that in a coming day He would, “with fire and a sword plead with all flesh,” (Isa.66:16) not like some gigantic flame thrower, or the alien vessels depicted in “Independence Day”, but refining fire.
What is it like to be “attacked” by divine fire? The Lord defined His own word as fire, (Jer.23:29) and the laws of Moses were described as “a fiery law” (Deut.33:2) Jeremiah, in a fit of depression, decided to quit speaking as a prophet, but found that God’s word within him was like a fire shut up in his bones, and he couldn’t help himself but to speak the words God had given him. (Jer.20:9) Elsewhere we learn that God’s word is like a two edged sword, capable of reaching through to the very marrow within our bones. Hence the double mention of “Fire and sword” in that passage in Isaiah 66:16, quoted above.
Pentecostals and Charismatics have always been excited about “the baptism of the spirit”, and the gifts associated with it, but the full expression used by John the Baptist was “the baptism of spirit and of fire.” (Matt.3:11, Luke 3:16) When my wife and I first had this experience in 1967, we were very conscious of the “fire”, simply because it was God’s indwelling word that began burning away some of the dross out of our systems. (We have felt it ever since.) Paul spoke about us building on the foundation laid by the Lord Himself, (1 Cor.3:13) which would eventually be tested by fire. Gold would thereby be refined, but straw would be consumed. Yes, God is a consuming fire, but we must never interpret this in terms of earthly fire. God’s fiery nature devours and consumes all that is not worthy in His sight. His word is that fire, and it activates our consciences, and causes us to be revolted by all that is unworthy and defiled, and then burns it out of our systems.
None of us can escape the fire. All those who name the name of Christ are purged, refined, cauterised by God’s fire. Without it we would be a mixture. As the Lord said to Ezekiel concerning His disobedient sons,(22:20-22) “As they gather silver, brass, iron, lead and tin into the midst of the furnace, to blow the fire upon it, to melt it, so will I gather you in my anger and my fury and I will leave you there [in Jerusalem] and you will be melted in the midst.” He is indeed “the Refiner’s fire, and the fuller’ssope, and He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver.” (Mal.3:3)
Of course there is destruction, consuming, devouring, in God’s fire. But what does it destroy? Nothing good is devoured (for example the bush that Moses saw), only that which is offensive to God. Left to ourselves, without this ministry of burning, we should remain defiled, even though saved by the precious blood of Christ. The whole of Hebrews 12 speaks of this process in terms of discipline, without which the Lord says we should be bastards and not sons. At the end of the chapter we find the words, “. . for our God is a consuming fire.”
All this relates to believers, and shows how God’s fire performs a most necessary, remedial, purgative, and refining process. Shall we not use the lessons learned by this study when interpreting passages relating to unbelievers? Shall we assume that God’s fire is refining towards us, but destructive towards the rest? Shall we emulate John Gill, and relish the thought of countless millions of souls whom God created, spending an eternity in a fiery torture? Or shall we lay aside all such ghoulish and ungodly thoughts, and realise that wicked and impenitent people will feel the refining fires more terribly than those who willingly accept fire into their lives, but it will be the operation of God’s wrath, bringing them to their senses, and preparing them to receive life by the virtues of God’s Son at Calvary?
“The Lord, whom you seek, shall suddenly come . . . but who shall stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire.” Are we allowing this fire to purge us now, or do we refuse God’s discipline? If so, it will be much more painful later.