Who Shall Dwell with the Devouring Fire?

Horatius Bonar

"The sinners in Zion are afraid, fearfulness has surprised the hypocrites! Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" Isaiah 33:14

There is a day coming when sinners shall be afraid, and when terrors shall overtake them as a flood. They are not afraid just now; they eat and drink and make merry, as if they had no eternity to prepare for, no danger to alarm them. But it shall soon be different. What is now far off, shall then be near and sinners shall realize too late the horrors of that wrath from which they refused to flee. In the agonies of despair, when the flames are kindling round them, they will burst forth in such bitter outcries as these, "Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?"

Oh, that shriek of agony! Oh, that awful outcry of surprise and despair! Careless sinner! That cry shall soon be yours. These words shall soon be the very language in which your wretched soul shall give vent to its hopeless anguish when it sees itself shut in within the flaming walls, and feels damnation sure!

Oh, then, flee from the wrath to come! Make haste to escape from the devouring fire!

1. There is such a thing as devouring fire. It may appear a shadow now, but it shall soon be reality and oh, what a reality! It is FIRE, the most torturing and excruciating of elements. It is devouring fire not merely fire that can pain or scorch, but devour, swallow up the wretched sinner in its undying flame. His abode is a prison house of fire a lake that burns with fire and brimstone (Rev. 19:20).

Hear how God Himself speaks of this, and learn that it is no mere dark imagination of cruel men to torment you before the time. "A fire is kindled in My anger, and shall burn unto the lowest Hell!" (Deuteronomy 32:22). "Upon the wicked He shall rain burning coals, fire and brimstone, and a burning tempest!" (Psalm 11:6). "You shall make them as a fiery oven in the time of Your anger, the Lord shall swallow them up in His anger wrath, and the fire shall devour them!" (Psalm 21:9). "Behold the name of the Lord comes from far, burning with His anger, and the grievousness of flame; His lips are full of indignation, and His tongue as a devouring fire!" (Isaiah 30:27).

Ah! Sinner, these are awful words, and they shall soon be realized in you unless you turn and flee!

2. It is everlasting fire burnings that shall never grow less intense or die away. They are kindled by God's own breath (Isaiah 30:33); and He who kindled them, alone can quench them. But this He will never do. They must burn on forever and forever. It is called "unquenchable fire," "everlasting fire," whose smoke goes up forever and ever! It shall be kept alive, fanned, increased, watched over but it shall never go out nor abate! Nor shall there be anything to make it tolerable not a drop of cold water to cool the sinner's scorching tongue. Long endurance shall never make it less tormenting or more easy to be borne. A vain dreamer of earth might say, "This horror will grow mild, this darkness light" but it shall not be. There shall be nothing to mitigate it, or render it less intolerable throughout eternity.

That horror shall never grow mild;
that darkness shall never grow light;
that fire shall never abate!

Oh, what a dungeon, what a furnace! It is not called eternal solitude though that would be awful. Neither is it called eternal darkness though that would be insupportable. It is called everlasting fire!

3. It is prepared for the ungodly. It is said to have been at first prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41), but it is also to be the abode of all who neglect the great salvation. It is for those who forget God (Psalm 9:17). It is for those who have refused to turn to the Lord, and slighted the blood of sprinkling. Shut out of Heaven and shut into Hell this is their doom! They turned away from God and now He turns away from them! They rejected His love and now His wrath comes on them to the uttermost. They obeyed the devil on earth and now they are handed over to his company and his abode in Hell forever. They would not believe that God was holy, and did not care whether He was gracious; but now they are compelled to feel how holy He is, and at the same time to feel how He has forgotten to be gracious! For them, grace is past. They might have had it once, but they despised it and now it is gone. It is all wrath and indignation now (Rev. 14:10).

4. They must dwell in it. They cannot flee. Escape is hopeless, for it is the Judge of all who pronounces the sentence, "Depart, you who are cursed, into everlasting fire!" The sinner may shrink but he cannot flee. He may struggle but it is all in vain. The command is given; angels hasten to see it executed, and devils seize him for their prey, and drag him along to his eternal abode!

As the sentence falls on his ear, "Depart, you who are cursed," his spirit sinks within him, and he exclaims, "Who shall dwell with the devouring fire?" As he is hurried away from the judgment seat, with the sentence ringing in his ears, he cries out, "Who shall dwell with the devouring fire?" As he nears the gate and sees the flaming walls, he cries out with a yet more bitter cry, "Oh, who shall dwell with these everlasting burnings?" As the gate is opened, as he is thrust in, as it closes behind him, as he looks round upon the whole flaming circle, as he hears the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth on every side, as he takes his place among the damned, those "spirits in prison" who shall never leave he shrieks out the piercing exclamation, "Oh! Who shall dwell with this devouring fire? Who shall dwell with these everlasting burnings?"

Yet dwell he must, and that forever.
No opening of the gates,
no scaling of its walls,
no loosing of the chain,
no ray of hope,
no respite,
no Savior,
no mercy now!

His eternity is sealed. He has reached his everlasting dwelling place, where all is "lamentation, and mourning, and woe." Sinners of every class, especially sinners in Zion, to whom these words are spoken, listen to these warning words! You are sinners in Zion not sinners among the heathen. Yet this only makes your case more awful, and your doom more inevitable. You profess to be Christians but have never been born again. You do many things like God's people you pray, read, hear, speak, observe ordinances, yet still one thing is lacking. You are not born again! Surely, then, it is time to search yourselves. It is time to be alarmed.

The Judge is at the door! Your hypocrisy will not serve you then. You will be detected and unveiled, and all your hollow pretensions to religion will be laid bare. The day of His coming will be a terrible one to you. He comes with His winnowing fan in His hand, thoroughly to purge His floor gathering the wheat into His barn, and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire! He comes with His sieve to sift you and can you stand His sifting? He comes with His touchstone to try and to detect you. He comes with His balances to weigh you, to see what is the real value of all your professions whether after all you may be found lacking. He comes with His lighted candles to search you in every part. He comes with His flaming eye to penetrate at one glance, your inmost soul, and to discover all its hidden abominations.

With such a prospect before you, would it not be wise to take immediate alarm, and inquire whether all be well with your souls, lest you perish at the rebuke of Him who is a consuming fire. Why should wrath be your portion? It was the portion of Jesus once that it might never be yours. The pains of Hell took hold on Him (Psalm 116:3) that they might never take hold of you. He was forsaken of the Father that you might not be forsaken. In enduring the fire of that wrath for sinners, He was constrained to cry, "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death." (Psalm 22:14-15).

Seeing that He has passed through all this, that you might not pass through it why should you reject such a substitute as this? The burnt offerings and sin offerings under the law, in all of which consuming fire was employed, tell us what the great sacrifice had to undergo when iniquity was laid on Him. When these offerings had been duly presented, then Israel was forgiven. In our case no question can arise as to the due offering of the sacrifice. We know that it has been duly offered once for all, and has been accepted of the Father. The one sacrifice has been offered, and now the worshipers, once purged thereby, have no more conscience of sins (Hebrews 10:2).

Do we consent to take that sacrifice for sins? We do not need to offer it anew. It has been already offered. But are we willing that it be reckoned to us as our substitute? If not, then we must bear that wrath in our own persons the fire which otherwise would have passed over us, will descend with devouring fierceness on our heads! We must either take refuge under the wing of the Substitute or bear the wrath eternally ourselves. Which is the wiser, safer way for a helpless sinner?