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§ 212. The Fire to be Kindled.—The Baptism of Sufferings.—Christianity not Peace, but a Sword. (Luke, xii., 49-53.)

I am come to send fire upon the earth; and what will I (more), if 316it be already kindled?” As he had compared the pervading and renewing power of the word of truth to the leaven, so here, as that word sends forth a holy flame which is to seize upon human nature and burn out all its dross and impurity—inextinguishable until it has enveloped all mankind—he compares it to a fire kindled by himself, whose unquenchable flames he already sees bursting forth. “What will I more.” says he; “the object of my ministry on earth is so far accomplished.”

But after speaking thus of what had been already done, he passed on to what remained for the fulfilment of his work, viz., the sufferings that were awaiting him. These he betokens by a baptism which he must undergo; partly, perhaps, in view of the multitude of afflictions that were to overwhelm him,574574   To “immerse himself in sufferings.” and partly in view of baptism as a religious symbol, and of the baptism of suffering as his last and perfect consecration as Messiah and Redeemer; just as John’s baptism was the first and preparatory one. “I have yet a baptism [of suffering] to be baptized with, and how sorely am I pained until it be accomplished.”575575   The common interpretation of these two verses (which is certainly a possible one) considers the two members as co-ordinate—τί θέλω corresponding to πῶς συνέχομαι; and εἰ ἤδη ἀνήφθη to ἕως οὗ τελεσθῇ: “I am come to send a fire on the earth, and how do I wish it were already kindled! but I have still the baptism of suffering to undergo, and how am I pained until it be fulfilled.” This places the whole in the future. And in a certain sense, indeed, Christ might have said that the fire which he came to light among men was not as yet kindled; for the great crisis which Christianity was to produce in humanity had not as yet come. In this sense of the passage, it expresses Christ’s longing for this crisis; for the accomplishment of his work as Saviour by the consecration of his sufferings. But we think, in view of the parables of the mustard seed, the leaven, and the ripening corn, that he alluded in the first clause to what had been done; the fire burned already, though but glimmering in secret, in the hearts of those that received his preaching as the word of eternal life. The words τί θέλω are thus interpreted more naturally; though, as we have said, the other rendering is not impossible (Matt., vii., 14, cannot decide the question, as the reading of that passage is doubtful). The δὲ in v. 50 is adversative, according to our view, which, by the way, was adopted (among the ancients) by Euthymius Zigabenus. The word συνέχομαι, thus apprehended, was Christ’s first expression of his struggles of soul in view of the approach of death.

In this saying, also, Christ contradicted the prevailing idea that the Messiah was to work an outward revolution. The preached word itself was the mighty flame which was to produce such wonderful effects among mankind. He was not to end his labours by coming forward to subdue his foes and glorify his reign by miraculous power; his victory consisted in his being overcome by suffering and death. And he warned his disciples, in addition (v. 51, 52), not to imagine that he would leave them to enjoy outward peace; far from it; the truth of God was to be a separating power, to cause the sharpest strifes in nations and in families. The dearest natural ties were to be sundered by his true disciples (v. 53), for the sake of the kingdom of God).576576   Cf. Matt., x., 34 seq. The higher unity of Christianity was to shape itself out of the midst of discords and contradictions. So clearly had Christ at that time before 317his eyes the effects subsequently produced every where by Christianity in the life of nations and of families.


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