THE later Part consists of the Conflagration of the World, and the New Heavens and New Earth. And seeing there is no dispute concerning the former of these two, our task will now lie in a little compass. Being onely this, To prove that there will be New Heavens, and a New Earth, after the Conflagration. This, to my mind, is sufficiently done already, in the first, second and third Chapters of the 4th. Book, both from Scripture and Antiquity, whether Sacred or prophane: and therefore, at present, we will onely make a short and easie review of Scripture-Testimonies, with design chiefly to obviate and disappoint the evasions of such, as would beat down solid Texts into thin Metaphors and Allegories.
The Testimonies of Scripture concerning the Renovation of the World, are either express, or implicit. Those I call express, that mention the New Heavens and New Earth: And those implicit, that signifie the same thing, but not in express terms. So when our Saviour speaks of a Palingenesia, or Regeneration, (Matt. 19. 28, 29.) Or St. Peter of an Apocatastasis or Restitution, (Act. 3. 21.) These being words us’d by all Authors, prophane or Ecclesiastical, for the Renovation of the World, ought, in reason, to be interpreted in the same sence in the holy Writings. And in like manner, when St. Paul speaks of his Future Earth, or an habitable World to come, Hebr. 2. 5. 1 or of a Redemption or melioration of the present state of nature, Rom. 8. 21, 22. These lead us again, in other terms, to the same Renovation of the World. But there are also some places of Scripture, that set the New Heavens and New Earth in such a full and open view, that we must shut our eyes not to see them. St. John says, he saw them, and observ’d the form of the New Earth, Apoc. 21. 1. The Seer IsaiahIsa. 65. 57. spoke of them in express words, many hundred years before. And St. Peter marks the time when they are to be introduc’d, namely after the Conflagration, or after the Dissolution of the present Heavens and Earth: 2 Pet. 3. 12, 13.
These later Texts of Scripture, being so express, there is but one way left to elude the force of them; and that is, by turning the Renovation of the World into an Allegory: and making the New Heavens and New Earth to be Allegorical Heavens and Earth, not real and material, as ours are. This is a bold attempt of some modern Authors, who chuse rather to strain the Word of God, than their
own notions. There are Allegories, no doubt, in Scripture, but we are not to allegorize Scripture without some warrant: either from an Apostolical interpretation, or from the necessity of the matter: and I do not know how they can pretend to either of these, in this case. However, that they may have all fair play, we will lay aside, at present, all the other Texts of Scripture, and confine our selves wholly to St. Peter's words: to see and examine whether they are, or can be turn’d into an Allegory, according to the best rules of interpretation.
2 Pet. 3. 11, 12, 13.St. Peter's words are these: Seeing then all these things shall be dissolv’d, what manner of persons ought ye to be, in holy conversation and godliness? Looking for, and hasting the coming of the Day of God: wherein the Heavens being on fire shall be dissolv’d, and the Elements shall melt with fervent heat. NEVERTHELESS, we, according to his promise, look for New Heavens and a New Earth, wherein Righteousness shall dwell. The Question is concerning this last Verse, Whether the New Heavens and Earth here promis’d, are to be real and material Heavens and Earth, or onely figurative and allegorical. The words, you see, are clear: And the general rule of interpretation is this, That we are not to recede from the letter, or the literal sence, unless there be a necessity from the subject matter; such a necessity, as makes a literal interpretation absurd. But where is that necessity in this Case? Cannot God make new Heavens and a new Earth, as easily as he made the Old ones? Is his strength decay’d since that time, or is Matter grown more disobedient? Nay, does not Nature offer her self voluntarily to raise a new World from the second Chaos, as well as from the first: and, under the conduct of Providence, to make it as convenient an habitation as the Primæval Earth? Therefore no necessity can be pretended of leaving the literal sence, upon an incapacity of the subject matter.
The second rule to determine an Interpretation to be Literal or Allegorical, is, the use of the same words or phrase in the Context, and the signification of them there. Let's then examine our case according to this rule. St. Peter had us’d the same phrase of Heavens and Earth twice before in the same Chapter. The old Heavens and Earth, ver. 5. The present Heavens and Earth, ver. 7. and now he uses it again, ver. 13. The new Heavens and Earth. Have we not then reason to suppose, that he takes it here in the same sence, that he had done twice before, for real and material Heavens and Earth? There is no mark set of a new signification, nor why we should alter the sence of the words. That he us’d them always before for the material Heavens and Earth, I think none will question: and therefore, unless they can give us a sufficient reason, why we should change the signification of the words, we are bound, by this second rule also, to understand them in a literal sence.
Lastly, The very form of the words, and the manner of their dependance upon the Context, leads us to a literal sence, and to material Heavens and Earth. NEVERTHELESS, says the Apostle, we expect new Heavens, &c. Why Nevertheless! that is, notwithstanding the dissolution of the present Heavens and Earth. The Apostle foresaw, what he had said, might raise a doubt in their minds, whether all things would not be at an end: Nothing more of Heavens and Earth, or of any habitable World, after the Conflagration; and to obviate
this, he tells them, Notwithstanding that wonderful desolation that I have describ’d, we do, according to God's promises, expect new Heavens and a new Earth, to be an Habitation for the Righteous.
You see then the New Heavens and New Earth, which the Apostle speaks of, are substituted in the place of those that were destroy’d at the Conflagration; and would you substitute Allegorical Heavens and Earth in the place of Material? A shadow for a substance? What an Equivocation would it be in the Apostle, when the doubt was about the material Heavens and Earth, to make an answer about Allegorical. Lastly, the timeing of the thing determines the sence. When shall this new World appear? after the Conflagration, the Apostle says: Therefore it cannot be understood of any moral renovation, to be made at, or in the times of the Gospel, as these Allegorists pretend. We must therefore, upon all accounts, conclude, that the Apostle intended a literal sence: real and material Heavens, to succeed these after the Conflagration: which was the thing to be prov’d. And I know not what Bars the Spirit of God can set, to keep us within the Compass of a Literal sence, if these be not sufficient.
Thus much for the Explication of St. Peter's Doctrine, concerning the new Heavens and new Earth: which secures the second Part of our Theory. For the Theory stands upon two Pillars, or two pedestals, The Ante-diluvian Earth and the Future Earth: or, in St. Peter's phrase, The Old Heavens and Earth, and the New Heavens and Earth: And it cannot be shaken, so long as these two continue firm and immoveable. We might now put an end to this Review, but it may be expected possibly that we should say something concerning the Millennium: which we have, contrary to the general Sentiment of the modern Millenaries, plac’d in the Future Earth. Our opinion hath this advantage above others, that, all fanatical pretensions to power and empire in this World, are, by these means, blown away, as chaff before the wind. Princes need not fear to be dethron’d, to make way to the Saints: nor Governments unhing’d, that They may rule the World with a rod of Iron. These are the effects of a wild Enthusiasm; seeing the very state which they aim at, is not to be upon this Earth.
But that our sence may not be mistaken or misapprehended in this particular, as if we thought the Christian Church would never, upon this Earth, be in a better and happier posture than it is in at present: We must distinguish betwixt a melioration of the World, if you will allow that word: and a millennium. We do not deny a reformation and improvement of the Church, both as to Peace, Purity, and Piety. That knowledge may increase, mens minds be enlarg’d, and Christian Religion better understood: That the power of Antichrist shall be diminish’d, persecution cease, and a greater union and harmony establish’d amongst the Reformed. All this may be, and I hope will be, ere long. But the Apocalyptical Millennium, or the New Jerusalem, is still another matter. It differs not in degree only from the present state, but is a new order of things: both in the Moral World and in the Natural; and that cannot be till we come into the New Heavens and New Earth. Suppose what Reformation you can in this World, there will still remain many things inconsistent with the true Millennial state. Antichrist, tho’ weakned, will not be finally destroy’d till the coming of our
[paragraph continues] Saviour, nor Satan bound. And there will be always poverty, wars, diseases, knaves and hypocrites, in this World: which are not consistent with the New Jerusalem, as St. John describes it. Apoc. 21. 2, 3, 4, &c.
You see now what our notion is of the Millennium, as we deny this Earth to be the Seat of it. ’Tis the state that succeeds the first Resurrection, when Satan is lockt up in the bottomless pit. The state when the Martyrs are to return into Life, and wherein they are to have the first lot and chief share. A state which is to last a thousand years. And Blessed and Holy is he, that hath a part in it: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be Priests of God and Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. If you would see more particular reasons of our judgment in this case, why such a Millennium is not to be expected in this World: they are set down in the 8th Chap. of the 4th Book, and we do not think it necessary that they should be here repeated.
As to that dissertation that follows the Millennium, and reaches to the Consummation of all things, seeing it is but problematical, we leave it to stand or fall by the evidence already given. And should be very glad to see the conjectures of others, more learned, in Speculations so abstruse and remote from common knowledge. They cannot surely be thought unworthy or unfit for our Meditations, seeing they are suggested to us by Scripture it self. And to what end were they propos’d to us there, if it was not intended that they should be understood, sooner or later?
I have done with this Review: and shall only add one or two reflections upon the whole discourse, and so conclude. You have seen the state of the Theory of the Earth, as to the Matter, Form, and Proofs of it: both Natural and Sacred. If any one will substitute a better in its place, I shall think my self more obliged to him, than if he had shew’d me the Quadrature of the Circle. But it is not enough to pick quarrels here and there: that may be done by any writing, especially when it is of so great extent and comprehension. They must build up, as well as pull down; and give us another Theory instead of this, fitted to the same natural History of the Earth, according as it is set down in Scripture: and then let the World take their choice. He that cuts down a Tree, is bound in reason to plant two, because there is an hazard in their growth and thriving.
Then as to those that are such rigorous Scripturists, as to require plainly demonstrative and irresistible Texts for every thing they entertain or believe; They would do well to reflect and consider, whether, for every article in the three Creeds (which have no support from natural reason) they can bring such Texts of Scripture, as they require of others: or a fairer and juster evidence, all things consider’d, than we have done for the substance of this Theory. We have not indeed said all that might be said, as to Antiquity: that making no part in this Review, and being capable still of great additions. But as to Scripture and Reason I have no more to add. Those that are not satisfied with the proofs already produc’d upon these two heads, are under a fate, good or bad, which is not in my power to overcome.
409:1 ἡ εἰκουμὶνη ἡ μέλλουτα.