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True And False Fire
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True And False Fire

by George D. Watson
This article was written and published at the beginning of this century. Its content, however, is timeless. The vocabulary and grammar may seem unusual, but the message is clear.


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The True saints of God, who have clear heads, and pure, warm hearts, have in all generations had to walk between the two extremes of cold formality on the one side, and wild, ranting fanaticism on the other. Dead formality and the false fire of fanaticism are both Satan's counterfeits, and he does not care into which extreme the soul plunges, just so he can prevent it from having that scriptural type of holiness which is "full of faith," and "full of the Holy Spirit," and "full or wisdom," and of a "sound mind." There is a state of deep, divine fervor described in Scriptures as a "hot heart," "fervent, or boiling in spirit," and having a "tongue of fire." Inasmuch as this state of grace is the most fruitful for the glory of God, it is the policy of Satan to either counterfeit it, or else to inject some of his wildness into it to destroy its efficiency, and break the soul down by a false fire, just as a hot box on a railway train will melt the axle and cause a wreck. There are some things by which we can detect the difference between true and false fire.


True fire has its seat in the heart. David says, "my heart is hot within me." It melts the affections, and expands the sympathies, and simplifies the desires, and all its furnace flames are centered in the love nature. False fire runs up into the head and centers itself in the imagination, and produces rashness, a reckless impetuosity: it involves impracticable schemes, extravagant air castles; it produces an unbalanced view of truth; it magnifies non-essentials and minifies the most essential needs; it puts a typhoid fever into the judgment by which it ignores the beautiful fitness of things as to time and place, and in the same proportion that the head becomes overheated the heart becomes cool. A fanatic has a hot heat and a cold heart; a true saint has a hot heart, and a claim, equable mind. The same fire that blesses us while kept in the stove will ruin us if it gets in the furniture.


The true fire of the Holy Ghost in a pure heart will feed and fatten the soul with strength and divine nourishment, but false fire irritates and excites the faculties without really feeding them. Ripe fruit or grain is very nourishing to the body, but when it is turned into alcohol it gives no nourishment, but intoxicates, and carried to excess produces delirium and death. In like manner the words of Scripture, when applied to the soul by the Holy Ghost are just like pure bread and ripe fruit, so healthy and sweet, and fattening. But when those some words of Scripture are applied to the mind of Satan, with his perverted interpretation, it is like corn whiskey and peach brandy. How few people understand that Satan is constantly using the Bible to pervert true holiness and a life of pure love, and that as men take God's pure grain to make the devil's whiskey, so Satan takes God's pure word and, passing it through his distillery, makes wild fire. The identical same piece of bread which will feed the body, when turned into whiskey will destroy it; so the identical words of Scripture which feed the soul with all the graces of the Christ life, when perverted by Satan will make the soul drunk with fanaticism.

True Fire Produces Christian Character

The true fire produces great tenderness of spirit; it puts a sweetness and gentleness in the voice, the manners, the expressions of the face, and a deep, yearning in the soul for the welfare of everybody. But false fire puts a hardness and combativeness in the spirit, and makes one deck himself out in warpaint. It puts a severity in the voice, a critical cutting look in the eye, a boisterous and dictatorialness in the manners, a stubborn and unteachable self-conceit in the mind. It makes one denunciatory and argumentative and tiresome. It always wants to be in a fight, and thinks it must stir up the snakes, and be always in hot water, and looks upon the meek and quiet spirit, or true Christian refinement, as a tame sort of thing. It prefers to warm itself at the wild, dangerous crater of a vulcano instead of at the good old fire place of a quiet home.

True Fire Produces Inward Life With God

The true fire of God strikes deep in the interior nature, it produces a profound inward life with God, it lights up the vast hidden chambers of the soul, leads to a profound mental prayer, reveals fathomless depths of humility, weans the mind more and more from outward things, and unites it in an inexpressible way in the hidden life of God. False fire on the other hand flares, and fumes, and smokes, and crackles, and corruscates in the external life. False fire in its very nature seeks to make itself seen and felt; it must of necessity be notorious. It goes in for great demonstrations; it magnifies bodily exercise, which the Bible tells us profits but little; it measures its power by the loudness of the voice, or the height of its jump, or by some attitude, or posture, or gesture, or sound; in fact anything that will appeal to the senses. The true fire of God will have its demonstration, but it does not emphasize them, nor measure its sanctity by them, not prescribe them to others, nor condemn others for not having them. The divine fire seeks above all things to be perfectly genuine to the core, perfectly simple and unostentatious, and prefers to hide itself like God in deep humility than to make a show of itself.

True Fire Seeks God For Himself

True heavenly fire is always seeking for God himself. It is united to the three divine persons of the Godhead; it continually magnifies the personality of God; it seeks a divine person and communes with and enjoys a divine person. The false fire unconsciously takes the glory from a divine person and gives it to "the fire," to "a blessing," or a "state," or a "thing," or an "it." God declares himself over and over again to be a jealous God, and he will not give his glory to another, or to a thing, or a blessing. There is more religious idolatry in the world than people have an idea of. We talk about the heathen worshipping idols, and the Romanists worship saints and images, and many Protestants worship their churchism, but some go into still finer idolatry and make an idol of their religious blessings or their experiences, or their demonstrations, and some make an idol of the fire, and put the word fire and the word sanctification where they ought to put one of the adorable person of God. We had just as well learn once and for all that the living God abominates idolatry in every form and degree, and he will severely punish the idol worshipper, even though his idol may be holiness or baptism of fire.

The true illuminated saint lets nothing in the universe, not even the gifts of the Holy Spirit, get between him and God. This is truth easily said, but a thousand times more difficult to learn in the very depths of our souls. When people insist on having certain phenomena, or seeing certain lights, or hearing certain sounds, or having certain thrilling censations, it is a proof that they are putting a "thing" in the place of a divine person, and this is proof that it is a false flame and not the living God himself.

True Fire Is Bent On Saving Souls

The true fire of God's presence in the soul is ever bent on saving souls, on getting new converts, on widening the realm of grace, on leading believers into the fullness of Christ. The false fire seeks after proselytes; seeks to build itself up by tearing other things down; it is not so much bent on saving souls as it is perverting those that are already saved. Have we not noticed that Mormons, and Spiritualists, and annihilationists, and fanatics of all sorts and sizes, will hang around a meeting of true Christians and seek to proselyte and subvert the faith of God's people? They are not able to save sinners, and so spend their strength in perverting God's people. The sifting days are on us, and every true soul will be tried by a block of ice on one side and a volcanic wild fire on the other.


For additional articles by George Watson, see the Christian Life and Ministry menu.

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