THE STRANGE FIRE"Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered strange fire (unauthorized) before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord." Leviticus 10:1-2
Sounds of high joy had just been swelling through the holy court. Sure tokens of approving love had rested on the typifying altar. The flame, which might not die, and which alone might now be used, witnessed God's smile on the appointed victims. The Covenant of Grace was sealed anew with blazing seal. The obedient worshiper had proof, that God was near him—with him—for him.
Reader, this sight is opening heaven unto us. Who would not ever gaze? But earth is yet our home. Here a vile foe is always near. He writhes, when souls are safely climbing Zion's hill. He saw the joys of Eden, and he flew to mar. He sees the Gospel of this heaven-sent fire, and he will strive to quench. So now he comes. The place is sacred, and the office holy. But he has keys for every gate. No station is too high for his foul wing. No consecrated functions scare him back.
He seeks the side of Aaron's first-born sons. Their calling to be priests is no protecting shield. He can ascend the altar-steps. He knows the fit temptation for the holiest place. So now he fosters self-exalting zeal. He leads to worship; but the worship must be 'unauthorized'. He prompts an offering; but the offering is not God's.
Such was his bait. Mark its success. Nadab and Abihu take each his censer. Was this God's will? Did He require this act? Their first step strays. They next add fire. Whence was it brought? God had provided what alone He would receive. It was not distant. An outstretched hand might instantly obtain. They madly reason, What, will no other flame avail? Will this alone cause incense to ascend? Impious self-will thus reasons into ruin.
Unauthorized fire is seized, and a unauthorized service acted. Oh! miserable men! their hands simulate holy work, but rebel feet tread down God's ordinance. Oh! terrible result! To despise God is rapid downfall. His frown is withering blight. It arms each creature with destructive sting. Behold a proof. The pledge of favor inflicts sudden death. The symbol of accepted service now hurls the disobedient into ruin's gulf. The fire thus scorned, puts forth its mighty strength. It vindicates its sacred significance. They, who rejected, cannot now cast off. It wraps them in its burning arms, and lays their blackened corpses in the dust. Thus Nadab and Abihu perish from the earth.
But still the judgment lives. This story stands, as a dark beacon on a rocky coast. It cries, 'Beware, to all despisers of the Gospel-scheme!' It shows, that those who stray from God's appointed path, fall into quicksands of tremendous wrath.
Reader, these lines draw near bringing this counsel to your heart. Listen, with humble mind—with earnest prayer. And may the Lord of mercy mercifully bless!
The Bible-page stands open. It courts your eyes. It craves attention. It wears no dark disguise. It is an azure sky of truth. It writes with an unerring pen, the mission and the work of Christ. It tells you, that when you were ruined and undone—when condemnation's thunder roared—the Father sent His Son, to bear the curse—to die the death—to suffer in the sinner's stead, and save with uttermost salvation. These tidings loudly sound their silver note. The testimony is distinct, 'Behold the Lamb of God—Look to His cross—Hide in His wounds—Enter the refuge of His merits—Cement yourself by faith to Him. Grasp Him as your all-prevailing plea.' A train of faithful promises assures, that none thus seeking are cast out. But threats re-echo, There is no other name; no other sacrifice remains; despise, reject, neglect, and death without a remedy is near—and hell without escapes gapes for you.
Reader, a question meets you here—let honest truth reply. Did the attesting fire on Israel's altar blaze with more brightness, than this clear mind of God? Oh, no! The fact defies denial. Such is the way marked out by God. Here is the door, which mercy opens. Here is the refuge raised by sovereign love. Here is the cure of all sin's wounds. God gives, and God authenticates, His Son, as full redemption for the lost.
How is such wondrous news received? Surely all earth will throb with one ecstatic pulse of joy. Surely each sinew will be strained to grasp the gift of gifts. But is it so? Draw back the curtains of man's inmost soul. Enter the chambers, in which hidden thoughts dwell. In many corners many Nadabs and Abihus lurk. They hear of Christ, and sneer. They see the cross, and count it a vain thing. The fire of their own hearths is their delight. They rather choose self-kindled sparks.
Reader, draw near, and mark some leaders of this blinded troop. SELF-RIGHTEOUS PRIDE claims foremost place. It is a bold unblushing rebel in earth's camp. It lifts a daring head, and wears a helmet plumed with nature's gaudy crest. Its mouth abounds with self-invented pleas. What are they? Fancied innocence of grievous sins—a fancied treasury of virtue's deeds—a train of duties towards God—a train of charity towards man. It views this household flame, and fondly asks, 'What lack I more?' Ah! the rash madness! Ah! the wreck of soul! Take nature's best, what is it, but a noxious plant, rooted in filthy mire—laden with poison-berries—plucked by polluted hand! Uplift self's purest clothing to the light of heaven. It is a tattered rag. No thread is clean—no part is whole. But still for this God's well-beloved Son is scorned—for this His righteousness is put aside.
What is the end? The judgment comes. The great white throne is set. How will these Nadabs and Abihus stand? He, who alone could save, is now the Judge. Where is the blood, which once flowed near? There was a plea, which might have fully saved, but this was cast behind them. Can a rejected Jesus, screen rejecting foes from judgement? Can a refused shield, ward off death-blows? Vengeance descends, and human merit takes its own wages with the lost.
Others confess the evil of their early years. When they look back, the traversed path seems foul. They readily allow, that vile transgressions soiled their hands—their feet—their hearts. But they now flee all 'flagrant fault'. They have sown reformation-seeds, and gathered reformation-fruits, and Cain-like, bring the produce of their fields. Here Nadab and Abihu re-appear in a patched-up garb. Amendments pile their censers high. This is the fire of their choice. But it is unauthorized. God's altar gave not such supply.
Reader, do not think that 'reformation' is of any worth. You must be born again. None but new-born can enter heaven, or be happy there. But outward changes are not always grace. Lot's wife left Sodom, but she perished by the way. A new dress may be worn without new heart. A painted surface will not purify a tomb. A Herod may reform without new-birth.
Besides, where grace is real, it is no covering for past offences. This year's honesty has no receipts for last year's debts. Again, a trust in 'reformation of life' is evidence of an unchanged heart. The Spirit leads not to such rotten ground. He never prompts such arrogant conceits. The saintliest man increasingly sees evil cleaving to himself, as the bark to trees—as feathers to the fowl. He knows no hope, but Jesus' life, and Jesus' death. This is the fire, which God prescribes. And this alone the child of God will bring.
Some Nadabs and Abihus come with streaming eyes. Sin has brought loss. Some worldly prospect has been crushed. Thus Esau weeps. Conscience sometimes is quick to see the misery of guilt. Saul's flowing tears own this. So, also, the Gospel's melody will often melt a heart. It falls, as tender dew upon a moistening soil. Feelings relax, as ice beneath the sun. In these relaxing moments, Satan whispers, 'there is merit here.' The mourning spirit fondly hopes, that 'mourning' can buy peace with God. The tearful eye sees virtue in its drops. Thus signs of penitence are offered, as a ransom-price. Doubtless, no heart loves Christ, which hates not self, and bitterly bewails its grievous state. Doubtless the arms of penitence twine tightly round the cross. But seas of grief cannot wash out soul-stains. Sorrow, when brought as pardon's price, is but strange fire. And all unauthorized fire calls vengeance down.
The class of formalists may not be overlooked. They crowd God's courts. Each attitude—each look—is studied reverence. Their lips drop holiest words. Their hands touch holiest symbols. Their souls seem rapt to heaven on devotion's wing. If services discharged—if rites observed—if outward show were Christ, their cup of safety would be full. But these are only means. In their right place, they are most salutary helps—but decked as saviors—they impose; mislead; destroy. To use them, as meek handmaids of the Lord, is piety's delight; to trust in them, as reconciliation's price, is superstition's blind conceit. Then they become strange fire. These worshipers reject the substance, and repose on signs.
But ritual services have in themselves no saving power. Such planks span not the gaping gulf. Such ladders reach not to the throne of God. Their office is to lead to Christ; and witness of His love. They are the channels of His precious grace. But they wash out no sin; they satisfy no wrath; they stay no vengeance; they have no key of heaven; they snatch not from the grasp of Satan; they are no plea for pardon; they hold no title-deeds of glory's kingdom. Christ is Salvation—Christ alone. Such is the work, which God commissioned Him to work. He undertook it. And He gloriously achieved. The mighty truth is ever true, "I have finished the work, which You gave Me to do." They, then, who now present another sacrifice, like Nadab and Abihu sin—like Nadab and Abihu die.
Reader, now view your censer; now say, what are its contents. Surely you hold some 'offering' in your hands. Surely some confidence keeps conscience still. What is it? God has sent forth His Son—the only way—the only truth—the only life—the only ransom-price—the one atonement, for all sin. Is He the rock, on which you rest? Is He the center of your hopes? Is He the one foundation of your trust? Is He your only argument for mercy? One sun illuminates the world. One ark delivered from the flood. One Joseph fed in times of famine. One brazen-serpent healed the poison's sting. One fire came down for tabernacle-use. One Savior saves the saved. One Christ is first and last to merit life. God sends, anoints, accepts, proclaims Him. If you plead Him in real faith, you cannot fail. To grasp another savior, is to grasp a straw.
Hark, Abel and all saints of old, and all believers of all times, and the one shout around the throne, tell, that eternal safety is beneath His wings. Hark, the wild wails of Cains, and Nadabs, and Abihus, warn, that other fire kindles a quenchless flame. Christ, by God's will, is heaven's gate. Strange offerings are hopeless hope. And hopeless hope must plunge in black despair.
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