An Account of those extraordinary Phænomena and Wonders in Nature, that, according to Scripture, will precede the coming of Christ, and the Conflagration of the World.
IF we reflect upon the History of Burning Mountains, we cannot but observe, that, before their Eruptions, there are usually some changes in the Earth or in the Air, in the Sea or in the Sun it self; as signs and forerunners of the ensuing storm. We may then easily conclude that when the last great Storm is a coming,
and all the Vulcano's of the Earth ready to burst, and the frame of the World to be dissolv’d, there will be previous signs, in the Heavens and on the Earth,' to introduce this Tragical fate. Nature cannot come to that extremity, without some symptomes of her illness; nor die silently, without pangs or complaint. But we are naturally heavy of belief as to Futurities, and can scarce fancy any other Scenes, or other state of nature, than that is present, and continually before our eyes; we will therefore, to cure our unbelief, take Scripture for our guide, and keep within the limits of its Predictions.
The Scripture plainly tells us of Signs or Prodigies that will precede the coming of our Saviour, and the end of the World; both in the Heavens and on the Earth. The Sun, Moon, and Stars, will be disturb’d in their motion or aspect; The Earth and the Sea will roar and tremble, and the Mountains fall at his Presence. These things both the Prophets and Evangelists have told us; But what we do not understand, we are slow to believe; and therefore those that cannot apprehend how such Changes should come to pass in the Natural World, chuse rather to allegorize all these expressions of Scripture, and to make them signifie no more than political changes of Governments and Empires; and the great confusions that will be amongst the People and Princes of the Earth towards the end of the World. So that darkning of the Sun, shaking of the Earth, and such like phrases of Scripture, according to these Interpreters, are to be understood onely in a moral sence.
And they think they have a warrant for this interpretation from the Prophetick style of the old Testament, where the destruction of Cities, and Empires, and great Princes, is often describ’d by such figures, taken from the Natural World. So much is true indeed as to the phrase of the old Prophets in some places; but I take the true reason and design of that, to be a typical adumbration of what was intended should literally come to pass in the great and universal destruction of the World; whereof these partial destructions were onely shadows and pre-figurations. But to determine this case, Let us take the known and approved rule for interpreting Scripture, Not to recede from the literal sence without necessity, or where the nature of the subject will admit of a literal interpretation. Now as to those cases in the old Testament, history and matter of fact do show that they did not come to pass literally, therefore must not be so understood; But as for those that concern the end of the World, as they cannot be determin’d in that way, seeing they are yet future; So neither is there any Natural repugnancy or improbability that they should come literally to pass: On the contrary, from the intuition of that state of Nature, one would rather conclude the probability or necessity of them. That there may and must be such disorders in the external World before the general dissolution. Besides, if we admit Prodigies in any case, or Providential indications of God's judgments to come, there can be no case suppos’d, wherein it will be more reasonable or proper to admit them, than when they are to be the Messengers of an Universal vengeance and destruction.
Let us therefore consider what signs Scripture hath taken notice of, as destin’d to appear at that time, to publish, as it were, and proclaim the approaching end of the World; And how far they will admit of a natural explication, according to
those grounds we have already given, in explaining the causes and manner of the Conflagration. These Signs are chiefly, Earthquakes, and extraordinary commotions of the Seas. Then the darkness or bloudy colour of the Sun and Moon; The shaking of the Powers of Heaven, the fulgurations of the Air and the falling of Stars. As to Earthquakes, we have upon several occasions shown, that these will necessarily be multiplied towards the end of the World; when, by an excess of drought and heat, exhalations will more abound within the Earth; and, from the same causes, their inflammation also will be more frequent, than in the ordinary state of nature. And as all Bodies, when dry’d, become more porous and full of Vacuities; so the Body of the Earth will be at that time: And the Mines or Cavities wherein the fumes and exhalations lodge, will accordingly be of greater extent, open into one another, and continued through long tracts and regions; By which means, when an Earthquake comes, as the shock will be more strong and violent, so it may reach to a vast compass of ground, and whole Islands or Continents be shaken at once, when these trains have taken fire. The effects also of such concussions, will not onely affect Mankind, but all the Elements and the Inhabitants of them.
I do not wonder therefore that frequent and great Earthquakes should be made a sign of an approaching Conflagration; and the highest expressions of the Prophets concerning the Day of the Lord, may be understood in a literal sence, if they be finally referr’d to the general destruction of the World, and not terminated solely upon those particular Countries or People, to whom they are at first directed. Hear what Ezekiel says upon this subject:Ch. 38. 19, 20, 22. For in my jealousy and in the fire of my wrath have I spoken; Surely in that Day there shall be a great shaking in the Land of Israel. So that the Fishes of the Sea, and the Fowls of the Heaven, and the Beasts of the Field, and all creeping things that creep upon the Earth; and all the Men that are upon the face of the Earth, shall shake at my presence; and the Mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground. And I will rain an over flowing rain, and great hail-stones, fire and brimstone. The Prophet Isaias describesch. 24. 18, 19, 20 these judgments in terms as high, and relating to the Natural World: The Windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the Earth do shake. The Earth is utterly broken down, the Earth is clean dissolv’d, the Earth is moved exceedingly. The Earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a Cottage, and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it, and it shall fall and not rise again.
To restrain all these things to Judea, as their adequate and final object, is to force both the words and the sence. Here are manifest allusions and foot-steps of the destruction of the World, and the dissolution of the Earth; partly as it was in the Deluge, and partly as it will be in its last ruine; torn, broken, and shatter’d. But most Men have fallen into that errour, To fancy both the destructions of the World, by water and by fire, quiet, noiseless things; executed without any ruines or ruptures in Nature; That the Deluge was but a great Pool of still waters, made by the rains and inundation of the Sea: and the Conflagration will be onely a superficial scorching of the Earth, with a running fire. These are false Idea's, and unsuitable to Scripture: for as the Deluge is there represented a
[paragraph continues] Disruption of the Abyss, and consequently of the then habitable Earth; so the future combustion of it, according to the representations of Scripture, is to be usher’d in and accompanied with all sort of violent impressions upon Nature; and the chief instrument of these violences will be Earthquakes. These will tear the Body of the Earth, and shake its foundations; rend the Rocks, and pull down the tall Mountains; sometimes overturn, and sometimes swallow up Towns and Cities; disturb and disorder the Elements, and make a general confusion in Nature.
Next to Earthquakes, we may consider the roarings of a troubled Sea. This is another sign of a dying World. St. Lukech. 21. 25, 26, 27 hath set down a great many of them together; Let us hear his words: And there shall be signs in the Sun, and in the Moon, and in the Stars; and upon the Earth, distress of Nations, with perplexity, The Sea and the Waves roaring. Mens hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the Earth: for the powers of Heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in a cloud, with power and great glory, &c. As some would allegorize these Signs, which we noted before; so others would confine them to the destruction of Jerusalem. Ver. 28.
Mat. 24. 31.But ’tis plain, by this coming of the Son of man in the clouds, and the redemption of the faithful, and at the same time, the sound of the last trumpet, which all relate to the end of the World, that something further is intended than the destruction of Jerusalem. And though there were Prodigies at the destruction of that City and State, yet not of this force, nor with these circumstances. ’Tis true, those partial destructions and calamities, as we observ’d before, of Babylon, Jerusalem, and the Roman Empire, being types of an universal and final destruction of all God's Enemies, have, in the pictures of them, some of the same strokes, to show they are all from the same hand; decreed by the same wisdom, foretold by the same Spirit; and the same power and providence that have already wrought the one, will also work the other, in due time, the former being still pledges; as well as prefigurations, of the latter.
Let us then proceed in our explication of this sign, The roaring of the Sea, and the Waves, applying it to the end of the World. I do not look upon this ominous noise of the Sea, as the effect of a tempest, for then it would not strike such a terrour into the Inhabitants of the Earth, nor make them apprehensive of some great evil coming upon the World, as this will do; what proceeds from visible causes, and such as may happen in a common course of Nature, does not so much amaze us, nor affright us. Therefore ’tis more likely these disturbances of the Sea proceed from below; partly by sympathy and revulsions from the Land; by Earthquakes there, and exhausting. the subterraneous cavities of waters, which will draw again from the Seas what supplies they can: And partly by Earthquakes in the very Sea it self; with exhalations and fiery Eruptions from the bottom of it. Things indeed that happen at other times, more or less, but at this conjuncture, all causes conspiring, they will break out with more violence, and put the whole Body of the Waters into a tumultuary motion. I do not see any occasion, at this time, for high Winds; neither can think a superficial agitation of the Waves would answer this Phænomenon; but ’tis rather from
[paragraph continues] Contorsions in the bowels of the Ocean, which make it roar, as it were, for pain. Some Causes impelling the Waters one way, and some another, make intestine struglings and contrary motions; from whence proceed unusual noises, and such a troubled state of the Waters, as does not only make the Sea innavigable, but also strikes terror into all the Maritime inhabitants, that live within the view or sound of it.
So much for the Earth and the Sea. The face of the Heavens also will be chang’d in divers respects. The Sun and the Moon darkned, or of a bloudy, or pale countenance; The Celestial Powers shaken, and the Stars unsetled in their Orbs. As to the Sun and Moon, their obscuration or change of colour is no more than what happens commonly before the Eruption of a fiery Mountain; Dion Cassius, you see, hath taken notice of it in that Eruption of Ætna which he describes; and others upon the like occasions in Vesuvius. And ’tis a thing of easie explication; for according as the Atmosphere is more or less clear or turbid, the Luminaries are more or less conspicuous; and according to the nature of those fumes or exhalations that swim in the Air, the face of the Sun is discolour’d, sometimes one way, sometimes another. You see, in an ordinary Experiment, when we look upon one another through the fumes of Sulphur, we appear pale like so many Ghosts; and in some foggy days the Sun hangs in the Firmament as a lump of Bloud. And both the Sun and Moon at their rising, when their light comes to us through the thick vapours of the Earth, are red and fiery. These are not changes wrought in the substance of the Luminaries, but in the modifications of their light as it flows to us. For colours are but Light in a sort of disguise; as it passes through Mediums of different qualities, it takes different forms; but the matter is still the same, and returns to its simplicity when it comes again into a pure air.
Now the air may be changed and corrupted to a great degree, tho’ there appear no visible change to our eye. This is manifest from infectious airs, and the changes of the air before storms and rains; which we feel commonly sooner than we see, and some other creatures perceive much sooner than we do. ’Tis no wonder then if before this mighty storm the dispositions of the Air be quite alter’d; especially if we consider, what we have so often noted before, that there will be a great abundance of fumes and exhalations through the whole Atmosphere of the Earth, before the last Fire breaks out; whereby the Light of the Sun may be tinctur’d in several ways. And lastly, it may be so order’d providentially, that the Body of the Sun may contract at that time some Spots or Maculæ far greater than usual, and by that means be really darkened; not to us only, but to all the neighbouring Planets. And this will have a proportionable effect upon the Moon too, for the diminution of her light. So that upon all suppositions these Phænomena are very intelligible, if not necessary forerunners of the Conflagration.
The next Sign given us, is, that the powers of heaven will be shaken. By the Heavens in this place is either understood the Planetary Heavens, or that of the Fix’d Stars; but this latter being infinitely distant from the Earth, cannot be really affected by the Conflagration. Nor the powers of it, that is, its motions or the Bodies contain’d in it, any way shaken or disorder’d. But in appearance
these celestial Bodies may seem to be shaken and their motions disorder’d; as in a tempest by night, when the ship is toss’d with contrary and uncertain motions, the Heavens seem to fluctuate over our heads, and the Stars to reel to and fro, when the motion is only in our own Vessel. So possibly the uncertain motions of the Atmosphere, and sometimes of the Earth it self, may so vary the sight and aspect of this starry Canopy, that it may seem to shake and tremble.
But if we understand this of the Planetary Heavens, They may really be shaken. Providence either ordering some great changes in the other Planets previously to the Conflagration of our Planet; as ’tis probable there was a great change in Venus, at the time of our Deluge. Or the great shakings and concussions of our Globe at that time, affecting some of the neighbouring Orbs, at least that of the Moon, may cause Anomalies and irregularities in their motions. But the sence that I should pitch upon chiefly for explaining this phrase of shaking the powers of heaven, comprehends, in a good measure, both these Heavens, of the Fix’d Stars and of the Planets; ’Tis that change of situation in the Axis of the Earth, which we have formerly mention’d; whereby the Stars will seem to change their places, and the whole Universe to take another posture. This is sufficiently known to those that know the different consequences of a strait or oblique posture of the Earth. And as the heavens and the earth were, in this sence, once shaken before; namely at the Deluge, when they lost their first situation; so now they will be shaken again, and thereby return to the posture they had before that first concussion. And this I take to be the true literal sence of the Prophet Haggai, ch. 2. 6.
Hebr. 12. 26. repeated by St. Paul, Yet once more I shake not the Earth only, but also heaven.
That last Sign we shall take notice of, is that of Falling Stars. And the Stars shall fall from Heaven, says our Saviour, Matt. 24. 29. We are sure, from the nature of the thing, that this cannot be understood either of fix’d Stars or Planets; for if either of these should tumble from the Skies, and reach the Earth, they would break it all in pieces, or swallow it up, as the Sea does a sinking ship; and at the same time would put all the inferiour universe into confusion. It is necessary therefore by these Stars to understand either fiery Meteors falling from the middle Region of the Air, or Comets and Blazing Stars. No doubt there will be all sorts of fiery Meteors at that time; and amongst others, those that are call’d Falling Stars; which, tho’ they are not considerable singly, yet if they were multiplyed in great numbers, falling, as the Prophet says,Isa. 34. 4. as leafs from the Vine, or figs from the fig-tree, they would make an astonishing sight. But I think this expression does chiefly refer to Comets; which are dead Stars, and may truly be said to fall from heaven, when they leave their seats above, and those ethereal regions wherein they were fixt, and sink into this lower World; where they wander about with a blaze in their tail, or a flame about their heads, as if they came on purpose to be the Messengers of some fiery Vengeance. If numbers of these blazing Stars should fall into our heaven together, they would make a dreadful and formidable appearance; And I am apt to think that Providence hath so contriv’d the periods of their motion, that there will be an unusual concourse of them at that time, within the view of the Earth, to be a prelude to this last and most Tragical Scene of the Sublunary World.
I do not know any more in Scripture relating to the last Fire, that, upon the grounds laid down in this discourse, may not receive a satisfactory explication. It reaches, beyond the Signs before mention’d, to the highest expressions of Scripture, As Lakes of fire and brimstone, a molten Sea mingled with fire, the Liquefaction of Mountains, and of the Earth it self. We need not now look upon these things as Hyperbolical and Poetical strains, but as barefac’d Prophecies, and things that will literally come to pass as they are predicted. One thing more will be expected in a just hypothesis or Theory of the Conflagration, namely, that it should answer, not only all the conditions and characters belonging to the last Fire, but should also make way and lay the foundation of another World to succeed this, or of New Heavens and a New Earth. For St. Peter hath taught this doctrine of the Renovation of the World, as positively and expressly as that of its Conflagration. And therefore they that so explain the destruction of the present World, as to leave it afterwards in an eternal rubbish, without any hopes of restoration, do not answer the Christian doctrine concerning it. But as to our Hypothesis, we are willing to stand this farther trial, and be accountable for the consequences of the Conflagration, as well as the Antecedents and manner of it. And we have accordingly in the following Book, from the Ashes of this, rais’d a New Earth; which we leave to the enjoyment of the Readers. In the mean time, to close our discourse, we will bid farewel to the present World, in a short review of its last flames.