Concerning the new Heavens and new Earth,
Concerning the Consummation of all things.
That the World will not be annihilated in the last Fire. That we are to expect, according to Scripture and the Christian doctrine, New Heavens and a new Earth, when these are dissolv’d or burnt up.
WE are now so far advanc’d in the Theory of the Earth, as to have seen the End of two Worlds: One destroy’d by Water, and another by Fire. It remains onely to consider, whether we be yet come to the final period of Nature: The last Scene of all things, and consequently the utmost bound of our enquiries. Or, whether Providence, which is inexhausted in wisdom and goodness, will raise up, from this dead glass, New Heavens and a new Earth. Another habitable World, better and more perfect than that which was destroyed. That, as the first World began with a Paradise, and a state of Innocency, so the last may be a kind of Renovation of that happy state; whose Inhabitants shall not die, but be translated to a blessed Immortality.
I know ’tis the opinion of some, that this World will be annihilated, or reduc’d to nothing, at the Conflagration: and that would put an end to all further enquiries. But whence do they learn this? from Scripture, or Reason, or their own imagination? What instance or example can they give us, of this they call Annihilation? Or what place of Scripture can they produce, that says the World, in the last Fire, shall be reduc’d to nothing? If they have neither instance, nor proof of what they affirm, ’tis an empty Imagination of their own: neither agreeable to Philosophy, nor Divinity. Fire does not consume any substance: It changes the form and qualities of it, but the matter remains. And if the design had been Annihilation, the employing of fire would have been of no use or effect. For smoak and ashes are at as great a distance from Nothing, as the bodies themselves out of which they are made. But these Authors seem to have but a small tincture of Philosophy, and therefore it will be more proper to confute their opinion from the words of Scripture; which hath left us sufficient evidence, that another World will succeed after the Conflagration of that we now inhabit.
The Prophets, both of the Old and New Testament, have left us their predictions concerning New Heavens and a New Earth. So says the Prophet Isaiah, ch. 65. 17. Behold I create New Heavens and a New Earth, and the former shall not be remembred, or come into mind. As not worthy our thoughts, in comparison of those that will arise when these pass away. So the Prophet St. John, in his Apocalypse,Apoc. 21. 1. when he was come to the end of this World, says, And 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. Where he does not only give us an account of a New Heaven and a New Earth, in general: but also gives a distinctive character of the New Earth: that it shall have no Sea. And in the 5th ver. He that sat upon the Throne, says, Behold I make all things New; which, consider’d with the antecedents and consequents, cannot be otherwise understood than of a New World.
But some men make evasions here as to the words of the Prophets, and say they are to be understood in a figurate and allegorical sence: and to be applyed to the times of the Gospel, either at first or towards the latter end of the World. So as this New Heaven and New Earth signifie only a great change in the moral World. But how can that be, seeing St. John places them after the end of the World: and the Prophet Isaiahch. 65. connects such things with his New Heavens and New Earth, as are not competible to the present state of Nature? However to avoid all shuffling and tergiversation in this point, let us appeal to St. Peter, who uses a plain literal style, and discourses down-right concerning the Natural World. In his 2d Epist. and 3d chap. when he had foretold and explained the Future Conflagration, he adds, But we expect New Heavens and a New Earth according to his promises. These Promises were made by the Prophets: and this gives us full authority to interpret their New Heavens and New Earth to be after the Conflagration. St. Peter, when he had describ’d the Dissolution of the World in the last Fire, in full and emphatical terms, as the passing away of the Heavens with a noise: the melting of the Elements, and burning up all the works of the Earth: he subjoyns, Nevertheless, notwithstanding this total dissolution of the present World, We, according to his promises, look for new heavens and a new earth: wherein dwelleth Righteousness. As if the Apostle should have said, Notwithstanding this strange and violent dissolution of the present Heavens and Earth, which I have described to you, we do not at all distrust God's Promises concerning New Heavens and a New Earth, that are to succeed these, and to be the seat of the Righteous.
Here's no room for Allegories or allegorical expositions: unless you will make the Conflagration of the World an Allegory. For, as Heavens and Earth were destroy’d, so Heavens and Earth are restored: and if in the first place you understand the natural material World, you must also understand it in the second place: They are both Allegories, or neither. But to make the Conflagration an Allegory, is not only to contradict St. Peter, but all Antiquity, Sacred or Prophane. And I desire no more assurance that we shall have New Heavens and a New Earth, in a literal Sence, than we have that the present Heavens and Earth shall be destroyed in a literal Sence, and by material Fire. Let it therefore rest upon that issue, as to this first evidence and argument from Scripture.
Some will fancy, it may be, that we shall have New Heavens and Earth; and yet that these shall be annihilated; They would have These first reduc’d to no-thing, and then others created, spick and span New, out of nothing. But why so, pray, what's the humour of that? lest Omnipotency should want employment, you would have it do, and undo, and do again. As if new-made Matter, like new Clothes, or new Furniture, had a better Gloss, and was more creditable. Matter never wears: as fine Gold, melt it down never so often, it loses nothing of its quantity. The substance of the World is the same, burnt or unburnt: and is of the same Value and Virtue, New or Old: and we must not multiply the actions of Omnipotency without necessity. God does not make, or unmake things, to try experiments: He knows before hand the utmost capacities of every thing, and does no vain or superfluous work. Such imaginations as these proceed only from want of true Philosophy, or the true knowledge of the Nature of God and of his Works; which should always be carefully attended to, in such Speculations as concern the Natural World. But to proceed in our Subject.
If they suppose part of the World to be annihilated, and to continue so, they Philosophize still worse and worse. How high shall this Annihilation reach? Shall the Sun, Moon, and Stars be reduc’d to nothing? but what have They done, that they should undergo so hard a fate? must they be turn’d out of Being for our faults? The whole material Universe will not be Annihilated at this bout, for we are to have Bodies after the Resurrection, and to live in Heaven. How much of the Universe then will you leave standing: or how shall it subsist with this great Vacuum in the heart of it? This shell of a World is but the fiction of an empty Brain: For God and Nature in their works never admit of such gaping vacuities and emptinesses.
If we consult Scripture again, we shall find that that makes mention of a Restitution and Reviviscency of all things: at the end of the World, or at the Coming of our Saviour. St. Peter,Act. 3. whose doctrine we have hitherto followed, in his Sermon to the Jews after our Saviour's Ascension, tells them that He will come again, and that there will be then a Restitution of all things: such as was promised by the Prophets. The Heavens, says he, ver. 21. must receive him until the time of Restitution of all things: which God hath spoken by the mouth of his holy Prophets, since the world began. If we compare this passage of St. Peter's, with that which we alledged before out of his second Epistle, it can scarce be doubted but that he refers to the same Promises in both places: and what he there calls a New Heaven and a New Earth, he calls here a Restitution of all things. For the Heavens and the Earth comprehend all, and both these are but different phrases for the Renovation of the World. This gives us also light how to understand what our Saviour calls the Regeneration or Reviviscency,Matt. 19. 28, 29. when he shall sit upon his Throne of Glory, and will reward his followers an hundred fold, for all their losses in this World: besides Everlasting Life as the Crown of all. I know, in our English Translation, we separate the Regeneration from sitting upon his Throne: but without any warrant from the Original. And seeing our Saviour speaks here of Bodily goods, and seems to distinguish them from everlasting life, which is to be the final reward of his Followers, This Regeneration seems to belong to his Second
coming, when the World shall be renew’d or regenerated: and the Righteous shall possess the Earth.
Other places of Scripture that foretel the fate of this material World, represent it always as a Change, not as an Annihilation. St. Paul says, The Figure of this World passes away: 1 Cor. 7. 31. The form, fashion, and disposition of its parts: but the substance still remains. As a Body that is melted down and dissolv’d, the Form perishes,Psal. 102. 26. but the Matter is not destroy’d. And the Psalmist says, The Heavens and the Earth shall be chang’d: which answers to this Transformation we speak of. The same Apostle, in the Eight Chapter to the Romans,Ver. 21, 22, 23, 24. shows also that this change shall be, and shall be for the better: and calls it a Deliverance of the Creation from vanity and corruption: and a participation of the glorious liberty of the Children of God. Being a sort of Redemption, as they have a Redemption of their Bodies.
But, seeing the Renovation of the World is a Doctrine generally receiv’d, both by ancient and modern Authors, as we shall have occasion to show hereafter: We need add no more, in this place, for confirmation of it. Some Men are willing to throw all things into a state of Nothing at the Conflagration, and bury them there, that they may not be oblig’d to give an account of that state of things, that is to succeed it. Those who think themselves bound in honour, to know every thing in Theology that is knowable: and find it uneasie to answer such questions and speculations, as would arise upon their admitting a new World, think it more adviseable to stifle it in the birth, and so to bound all knowledge at the Conflagration. But surely, so far as Reason or Scripture lead us, we may and ought to follow: otherwise we should be ungrateful to Providence, that sent us those Guides. Provided, we be always duly sensible of our own weakness: and, according to the difficulty of the subject, and the measure of light that falls upon it, proceed with that modesty and ingenuity, that becomes such fallible enquirers after Truth, as we are. And this rule I desire to prescribe to my self, as in all others Writings, so especially in this: where, tho’ I look upon the principal Conclusions as fully prov’d, there are several particulars, that are rather propos’d to examination, than positively asserted.