The Vehement Flame
Robert Wurtz II
Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:35-40)
Love as a Fire
It is interesting that God describes both love and lust metaphorically as fire (Romans 1:27, James 4:3). In Song of Solomon 8:6, 7 we read, Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament and in this passage love is translated from the Hebrew into the Greek as agape. It is important to note that this word agape is also used to translate Jeremiah 2:2, Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. The Greek word agape is used in the Septuagint just 14 times, with all but 2 being in Solomon’s writings. Surely if agape love is a fire, then as with all fires, they must have an origin as well as a means of being sustained. You will notice in Jeremiah 2:2 that God coupled kindness and love together. This is love in it’s youthfulness long before time and circumstances have succeeded in bringing the flame low. Israel’s love towards God was like a fleeting flame that burned for a little while and then vanished away.
Burning for God
Solomon described love as a ‘vehement flame.‘ This could be translated as the flame of God (Yah). Many waters cannot quench this love and floods cannot drown it. That is, earthly calamities and struggles cannot put out this fire. So long as this fire is cultivated it will continue to burn. God’s love towards us needs no cultivation, but our love towards Him must be cultivated through devotion and faithfulness to Him. Our lives must be a perpetual burnt offering. (Romans 12:1, 2) The power of this love has been demonstrated in the lives of the Saints that gave their lives for the cause of Christ; they loved not their lives unto the death: they loved Christ unto the death. And yet the proof of this love is manifest not just in our zealous love for God, but in our compassionate (kindness) towards others; even our enemies. This is the great lesson of the stoning of Stephen. He was full of the Holy Ghost. The love of God had been poured out in his heart (Romans 5:5). He burned for God with the fire of agape love and that love withstood the test as he passed from this life praying for his enemies that persecuted him. (Matthew 5:44) Solomon understood the altar. (GW North see II Chronicles 6 &7) Stephen understood the altar also. He put himself utterly on the altar until the fire of God fell in his life and from thereon as did Solomon he continued to bring the sacrifice in a reckless fashion. Stephen burned for God and nothing else.
The Root of All Declension
Anthony Norris Groves
“It seems as though love of refinement, love of power, and consequent love of money, were sapping its spiritual strength. How plainly we can see everywhere that the absence of spiritual enjoyment of God, and finding all-sufficiency in Him, is the real source of all declension: spiritual affections must be cultivated, for they grow not. so as to render their fruits to the careless husbandman; and true affections toward God, are indeed a spring of unmixed joy, yet how seldom with most are they in lively exercise. The, surest way of attaining all we need is in pouring forth prayer in God’s ear, under the sweet and firm assurance that Jesus helps our infirmities and directs our petitions ; this is so wonderful a grace that nothing but grievous unbelief prevents our enjoying it—and oh ! how little do I enjoy! how little do I pray with undistracted thoughts and undisturbed feelings! and yet the conviction that the Lord is with us, if truly felt, would drive away every misgiving. I believe we know little of Satan’s power to hinder communion with God.” (Anthony Norris Groves Memoirs 1845)
The Cultivated Flame
There is another flame that we must concern ourselves with that challenges our burning for God. In James 4:3 we read, Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Here we have lust being described as a fire that consumes and the items for which God is being petitioned are meant to be fodder for that flame. Yet God will have none of it. He will not provide praying men that ask amiss with those things as they seek to heap upon their lust until it burns as an inferno for the things of this world. God wants His people burning for Him- consumed with Him- ablaze with an unquenchable love that goes after Him even in an uncultivated, dry, barren, rock infested dearth. And was it not what God called them out to? Did He not call Israel to Himself as a husband would His bride- expecting that she would cling to Him in devotion and look to Him for provision? God remembered. He said, I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. But now Israel burned for the gods of the land and for the security and prosperity that this world promises to deliver. When men burn for that which is other than God the light that is in them is darkness. When they no longer like to retain God in their knowledge, God will give them over to the thing they lust after. (Romans 1) At last they that reject God are handed over step by step until they even burn in their lusts one for another in the grossest of unnatural desire. This is what it is to cultivate and feed the wrong flame. This is what happens when men and women are enticed away from their first love for God. God is simply left to, ‘remember’. He remembers the way it used to be. He remembers the times when we burned for Him before the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches robbed Him of the love He so richly deserves. No man or woman can simply ‘not burn’; if there is heat in our bodies we are indeed burning for something or someone. We are commanded not to love this world or the things of this world. We cannot burn for God and this world at the same time.