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oriental style, which is in the highest degree poetical and figurative, have mistaken its meaning.
II. And I beheld, when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth
remarks thus: Archbishop Tillotson, and Brennius, with many other learned interpreters, imagine, that our Lord here makes the transition from the destruction of Jerusalem, which had been the subject of his discourse thus far, to the general judgment: but I think, as it would be very harsh to suppose all the sufferings of the Jewish nation, in all ages, to be called the tribulation of those days;' [what occasion, by the by, for supposing the sufferings of the Jewish nation in all ages to be treated of at all?] so it would, on the other hand, be equally so to say, that the general judgment, which probably will not commence till at least a thousand years after their restoration, will happen immediately after their sufferings; nor can I find any one instance in which we [immediately] is used in such a strange latitude. What is said below (in Matt. xxiv. 34, Mark xiii. 30, and Luke xxi. 32,) seems also an insuperable objection against such an interpretation. I am obliged therefore to explain this section as in the paraphrase; though I acknowledge many of the figures used may with more literal propriety be applied to the last day, to which there may be a remote though not an immediate reference.' Moved by these considerations, this worthy divine, though he sees some difficulties in the way, determines to apply the prophecy, thus far, to the destruction of Jerusalem. But when he comes to the thirty-sixth verse, though the series continues to flow without the least sign of interruption, he paraphrases the words, 'But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only,' in reference to the final sentence' of all mankind; and adds this note: I cannot agree with Dr. Clarke in referring this verse to the destruction of Jerusalem, the particular day of which was not a matter of great importance; and as for the season of it, I see not how it could properly be said to be entirely unknown, after such an express declaration that it should be in that generation.-It seems therefore much fitter, with Dr. Whitby (after Grotius,) to explain it of the last day, when heaven and earth shall pass away. Well then, the Doctor has now taken the leap. The simple connective 'but' has carried him over an interval, of not less, according to his computation, than three thousand years. No sooner however has he taken this leap, than he deems it necessary to jump back again. He seems to apply the very next verses to the subject just dismissed: but in a note on the fortieth and forty-first verses, Then shall two be in the field,' &c. he explicitly says, that though these words may allusively be accommodated to the day of judgment, yet he doubts not they originally refer to the destruction of Jerusalem, to which alone they are properly applicable.' He now, however, determines to fly for the last time across the gulf: so, he adds, I humbly conceive that the grand transition, about which commentators are so much divided, and so generally mistaken, is made precisely after these two verses.' Let the reader then examine whether he can here find the marks of 'the grand transition,' so conspicuous to Dr. Doddridge or whether he will not rather find that the discourse proceeds in the same unbroken series, making no transition but from the announcement of awful facts, to the deducing from them of weighty admonitions. Thus Dr. Doddridge's well-meant attempt to relieve the hiatus scheme of its difficulties, only issues in a demonstration that the difficulties are insuperable.'-pp. 217-223.
her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind and the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens, and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?' This passage is one of those which have been understood to describe a literal destruction of the material universe. But if we shall show that similar language is used by the sacred writers with exclusive reference to events accomplished on the earth, then it will follow that there is no absolute necessity to interpret this passage literally. 1. It is said, 'the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood.' The prophet Joel uses similar language, which Peter applies to events transpiring on earth: This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel . . . . . I will show wonders in the heaven above, and in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come.' 2 Is this language to be understood literally? Does it imply an end of the things which are made? Whatever it may imply, Peter assures us this prophecy was fulfilled in his days; yet the earth, and the sun, and the moon remain. 2. It is said, 'The stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind; and the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.' Isaiah has language almost precisely the same, in his description of the judgments about to come upon Idumea : 'And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll, and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as the falling fig from the fig-tree. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven; behold it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse to judgment.' The events here described, have long been number
1 Rev. vi. 12-17.
Acts ii. 16, 19, 20.
3 Isa. xxxiv. 4, 5.
ed with the past; yet the heavens and the earth remain. 3. It is said that men hid themselves through fear, and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us,' &c. But Jesus uses the same language, in allusion to the horrors which should attend the destruction of Jerusalem: Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us, and to the hills, Cover us.'1 4. It is said, The great day of his wrath is come.' When describing the judgments about to come upon Jerusalem, Jesus says, 'These be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.' 2 The latter expression is quite as significant as the former.
Is there any thing in the passage under consideration, which necessarily implies the destruction of the material universe? We do not say it will, or will not, be destroyed; but we do say, we see no evidence, in this passage, that it shall perish. We have shown that every phrase it contains, on which any argument for such destruction can be founded, is elsewhere used, to describe events already past. Whence then arises any absolute necessity that in this case we should apply the same language to events yet future?
One or two additional circumstances may be mentioned, which are worthy of consideration. 1. After saying that the 'heavens departed as a scroll when it is rolled together, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places,' John adds,' after these things, I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth.' 3 Hence we judge that the tremendous convulsions before described, had not resulted in the utter destruction of the earth. 2. It is said, 'the stars of heaven fell unto the earth.' Can this be understood literally? How many stars could find room on the face of the earth? Astronomers tell us that each of the fixed stars is much larger than the earth; and the same is true in regard to many of the planets. It is then naturally impossible that this language can be literally verified. And if it be in any degree figurative, we are not bound to understand it to imply a literal destruction of the heavenly bodies.
To conclude: the phraseology in this passage strongly resembles that used by Jesus, when describing the destruction of the Jewish state; may we not reasonably suppose the apostle to have used language as his master had used it, in
1 Luke xxiii. 30.
2 Ibid. xxi. 22.
3 Rev. vii. 1.
the bold, figurative style of the Eastern nations? and may we not safely conclude, that by these metaphors, he intended to describe certain revolutions in the civil or ecclesiastical governments existing among men?
III. But the heavens and the 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. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But 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 burnt up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.'1
This passage affords as much proof as perhaps any other, that the material universe shall be destroyed; yet it seems susceptible of an interpretation, which will not involve this consequence. In its general character, it resembles those which have already been noticed; and so far as this correspondence exists, nothing further need be said. But one or two expressions occur here, of a somewhat different form; these however may justly be considered figurative also, as they are applied by the sacred writers to events transpiring on the earth. 1. It is said the elements shall melt with fervent heat.' We also find it written, the heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved; he uttered his voice, the earth melted." 2 Whatever else may be intended by the melting of the earth, in this instance, we cannot suppose David to have spoken of a literal destruction of the earth by melting; for he represents the event to have been already accomplished. Again: 'The
12 Peter iii. 7-13.
2 Psalm xlvi. 6.
hills melted like wax at the presence of the Lord." The same remark is applicable in this instance. 2. It is said, 'the earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burned up.' It is also written, O Lord, to thee will I cry; for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field. The beasts of the field cry also unto thee,' &c. That this language is figurative, is too plain to require proof. 3. It is said, 'The heavens being on fire, shall be dissolved.' In a passage already quoted, descriptive of judgments about to come upon Idumea, we find the same language: and all the host of heaven shall be dissolved,' &c.3 All these expressions are used with reference to events to be accomplished on the earth. But there are several circumstances connected with the text itself, which plainly indicate that the language employed is figurative, representing certain commotions or revolutions, then near at hand. 1. Peter declares that after the event shall have occurred, which he describes, he expects new heavens, and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.' The new heavens and new earth are generally understood to mean the gospel dispensation. At least, such is the general opinion concerning the following declaration by the prophet, on which Peter seems to have had his eye: Behold, I create new heavens, and a new earth, and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind; and they shall build houses and inhabit them, and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.'* Men shall build houses, and plant vineyards after the old heavens and earth are destroyed, and the new created. But who believes this shall be done after men shall be raised to an incorruptible life, and clothed with spiritual bodies? As Peter uses the language of the prophet, we may reasonably conclude that he uses it in the same sense. If we know anything of the force of language, the prophet speaks of events to be accomplished on the earth. And we see nothing which requires us to believe that Peter departs from scriptural usage, and employs the same language to describe events in the spiritual existence. 2. Peter represents this day of God' as very near, and declares himself to be looking for, and hasting unto' its 'coming.' If he speak of an event, which, after a lapse
3 Isaiah xxxiv. 4.
1 Psalm xcvii. 5.
Joel i. 19, 20.