To Aaron's sons, the tongues of flame in their censers seemed in no way different from the fire from God which consumed the sacrifice that Aaron had offered at the dedication of the tabernacle. Their censers were adequate, their habiliments of office were correct, and they had chosen a particularly aromatic incense. But their fire was common. It did not come from off the altar, and in God's holy eyes it was a "strange" service.
There is warning here for modern Nadabs and Abihus who profane God's service with the "common fire" of secularism in its many forms. The failure of the high priest's hapless sons was not in doing that which was not commanded, but in failing to adhere to procedures which were explicitly ordered. God allows His workers considerable freedom in adapting secular advantages for spiritual use, but He is particular in matters that involve spiritual obedience.
This spirit of secularism which assumes that because we are registered servants of the Most High, He will therefore condone whatever is done in the nature of substitution for His express commands, is enervating to the highest spiritual accomplishment. It should be noted that it was not the fragrant incense employed by Nadab and Abihu that was offensive, but rather their choosing of "common fire." Likewise, in a modern application, the methods of Christian •service may vary, even to the employment of secular advantages and appointments ; but when such service is performed in a secular spirit, it becomes "strange fire" in the estimation of Heaven.
In education, the Nadab-Abihu spirit is manifested in our ranks among those who see no justification for a separate system of schools, contending that it uses the same method of teaching, the same curriculum, the same kind of equipment employed by free state institutions. They point to the burnished censers, to the habiliments of office, to the aromatic incense of culture in a well-organized system of public instruction, and ask, "Why not ?"
In our health and medical program, the danger of depending wholly upon the knowledge acquired in a medical school and the skills made competent through internship in modern hospitals should be apparent. Here, too, secularism can destroy the whole effectiveness of our health ministry as an evangelistic agency.
The Christian physician who still prays for skill in a surgical operation, or ministers to the mental and spiritual comfort of his patient, exalts his profession to a priestly calling.
In pastoral and evangelistic ministry, how supremely important it is that a metropolitan auditorium, a robed choir, and a beautiful worship ritual should not vitiate the spirit of holy reverence due to God. Heaven does not frown upon order, beauty, or ritual as such, but only when this framework of worship is mistaken for its spirit.
Learning, art, forensic eloquence, or scientific skills are no adequate substitute for spirituality. Costly appointments, outward decorum, and all the evidences of secular culture are unavailing in Christ's service where God is not. It is this failure in the things of the Snirit which gives rise to all the ills abroad in the world today. Politics without principle, pleasure without conscience, industry without morality, science without humanity, knowledge without character, worship without sacrifice—we have only to rehearse them to realize that service without holiness is a "strange fire," unrepresentative of Christian idealism and realism.
God's chosen censer is the chalice of the human heart. Hi § altar fire is spiritual discernment. His appointed habiliments for service are the robes of imputed righteousness through faith in Christ.. Come into His temples of privilege with these, and His holy fire will consume the sacrifice while His glory lights up the dark corners of the understanding. Bring anything short of these for God to bless, and the desolate end of Nadab and Abihu will be our ignominious reward: "There went out a fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord." "So they went near, and carried them in their coats out of the camp." Lev. 10 :2, 5.