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§ 3. The End of the World.

The principal passages of Scriptures relating to the final consummation or the end of the world, are the following: Psalm iii. 25, 26, “Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure; yea, all of them shall wax old as a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed.” Isaiah li. 6, “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath; for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment.” Isaiah lxv. 17, “Behold, I create new heavens, and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered nor come into mind.” Luke xxi. 33, “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.” Romans viii. 19-21, “The earnest expectation of the creature (κτίσις, creation) waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” 2 Peter iii. 6-13, “The world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: but the heavens and earth which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. . . . . The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also, and the works that are therein shall be burned up. . . . . Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” Revelation xx. 11, “I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.” Revelation xxi. 1, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.”

Remarks.

1. These passages are not to be understood as predicting great political and moral revolutions. It is possible that some of them might bear that interpretation; but others are evidently intended to be understood in a more literal sense. This is especially the 862case with 2 Peter iii. 6-13, in which the Apostle contrasts the destruction of the world by the waters of the deluge with the destruction by fire which is still future. If the fact be established that the Scriptures anywhere clearly predict the destruction of the world at the last day, that fact becomes a rule for the interpretation of the more doubtful passages. There is nothing in this predicted destruction of our earth out of analogy with the course of nature. Stars once clearly visible in the firmament, after a brief period of unusual splendour, have disappeared; to all appearance they have been burnt up. Scientific men tell us that there is abundant evidence that the earth was once in a state of fusion; and there are causes in operation which are adequate to reduce it to that state again, whenever God sees fit to put them unto operation.

2. The destruction here foretold is not annihilation. (a.) The world is to be burnt up; but combustion is not a destruction of substance. It is merely a change of state or condition. (b.) The destruction of the world by water and its destruction by fire are analogous events; the former was not annihilation, therefore the second is not. (c.) The destruction spoken of is elsewhere called a παλιγγενεσία, regeneration (Matt. xix. 28); an ἀποκα τάστασις, a restoration (Acts iii. 21); a deliverance from the bondage of corruption (Rom. viii. 21). The Apostle teaches that our vile bodies are to be fashioned like unto the glorious body of Christ, and that a similar change is to take place in the world we inhabit. There are to be new heavens and a new earth, just as we are to have new bodies. Our bodies are not to be annihilated, but changed. (d.) There is no evidence, either from Scripture or experience, that any substance has ever been annihilated. If force be motion, it may cease; but cessation of motion is not annihilation, and the common idea in out day, among men of science, is that no force is ever lost; it is, as they say, only transformed. However this may be, it is a purely gratuitous assumption that any substance has ever passed out of existence. In all the endless and complicated changes which have been going on, from the beginning, in our earth and throughout the universe, nothing, so far as known, has ever ceased to be. Of course He who creates can destroy; the question, however, concerns the purpose, and not the power of God; and He has never, either in his word or in his works, revealed his purpose to destroy anything He has once created.

Many of the old theologians, especially among the Lutherans, 853understood the Bible to teach the absolute annihilation of our world. Schmid871871Die Dogmatik der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, von Heinrich Schmid, Professor de Theologie in Erlangen; Frankfort and Erlangen, 1853; p. 506. states as the Lutheran doctrine that the world is to be reduced to nothing (in Nichts sich auflösen). He quotes Baier, Hollaz, and Quenstedt in support of this view. Quenstedt872872Theologia Didactico-Polemica, edit. Leipzig, 1715. says: “Forma consummationis hujus non in nuda qualitatum immutatione, alteratione seu innovatione, sed in ipsius substantiæ mundi totali abolitione et in nihilum reductione consistit.” Gerhard873873Loci Theologici, XXX. v. 37; Tübingen, 1779, vol. xx. pp. 51, 52. takes the same view: “Formam consummationis dicimus fore non nudam qualitatum alterationem, sed ipsius substantiæ abolitionem, adeoque totalem annihilationem, ut sic terminus a quo consummationis sive destructionis sit ‘esse,’ terminus vero ad quem ‘non esse’ sive nihil.” He admits, however, that many of the fathers and Luther himself were on the other side. He quotes Irenæus, Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome, Augustine, and Chrysostom, as in favour of mutation and against annihilation. Luther was wont to say: “The heavens have their work-day clothes on; hereafter they will have on their Sunday garments.” Most of the Reformed theologians generally oppose the idea of annihilation. Turrettin certainly does.874874Institutio, XX. v.; edit. Edinburgh, 1847, vol. iii. p. 506. One of his questions is: “Qualis futuris sit mundi interitus? An per ultimam conflagrationem sit annihilandus, an instaurandus et renovandus?” He argues throughout in favour of the latter.

3. The subject of the change which is to take place at the last day is not the whole material universe, but our earth and what pertains to it. (a.) It is true the Bible says: “Heaven and earth are to pass away,” and by heaven and earth the Scriptures often mean the universe; and it would therefore be consistent with the language of Scripture to hold that the whole universe is to be changed at the last day. It was natural that this interpretation should be put upon the language of the Bible so long as our earth was regarded as the central body of the universe and sun, moon, and stars as subordinate luminaries, intended simply for the benefit of the inhabitants of our world. “Wenn der Tanz,” says Strauss,875875Dogmatik, 104; Tübingen, vol. ii. p. 665. “zu Ende ist, bläst der Wirth die Lichter aus.” The case however assumes a different aspect when we know that our earth and even our solar system is a mere speck in the immensity of God’s works. It is one of the unmistakable 854evidences of the divine origin of the Scriptures, that they are written on such a high level that all the mutations of human science take place beneath them without ever coming into collision with their teachings. They could be read by those who believed that the sun moves round the earth, without their convictions being shocked by their statements; and they can be read by us who know that the earth moves round the sun, with the same satisfaction and confidence. Whether the heaven and earth which are to pass away are the whole material universe, or only our earth and its atmospheric heavens, the language of the Scripture leaves undecided. Either view is perfectly consistent with the meaning of the words employed. The choice between the two views is to be determined by other considerations. (b.) The à priori probability is overwhelming in favour of the more limited interpretation. Anything so stupendous as the passing away of the whole universe as the last act of the drama of human history would be altogether out of keeping. (c.) The Bible concerns man. The earth was cursed for his transgression. That curse is to be removed when man s redemption is completed. The κτίσις that was made subject to vanity for man’s sin, is our earth; and our earth is the κτίσις which is to be delivered from the bondage of corruption. The change to be effected is in the dwelling-place of man. (d.) According to the Apostle Peter, it is the world which once was destroyed by water, that is to be consumed by fire. But although the predictions of Scripture concern only our earth, it does not follow that the material universe is to last forever. As it is not from eternity, it probably will not last forever. It may be only one of the grand exhibitions of the wonderful working of God in the field of infinite space, and in the course of unending ages.

4. The result of this change is said to be the introduction of a new heavens and a new earth. This is set forth not only in the use of these terms, but in calling the predicted change “a regeneration,” “a restoration,” a deliverance from the bondage of corruption and an introduction into the glorious liberty of the Son of God. This earth, according to the common opinion, that is, this renovated earth, is to be the final seat of Christ’s kingdom. This is the new heavens; this is the New Jerusalem, the Mount Zion in which are to be gathered the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven; the spirits of just men made perfect; this is the heavenly Jerusalem; the city of the living God; the kingdom prepared for his people before the foundation of the world.

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5. It is of course, in itself, no matter of interest what portion of space these new heavens and new earth are to occupy, or of what materials they are to be formed. As the resurrection bodies of believers are to be human bodies they must have a local habitation, although it be one not made with hands eternal in the heavens. All we know about it is that it will be glorious, and adapted to the spiritual bodies which those in Christ are to receive when He comes the second time unto salvation.


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