HEAVENS DISSOLVED, AND ELEMENTS MELT WITH FERVENT HEAT
Dear Brother Beebe: I see in No.21, Sister Dutton requests my views on II Peter 3: 12-13. "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."
I somewhat regret being called on for my views on this text; because, in the first place, I think I have in some of the earlier volumes of the Signs expressed my views of it, and, secondly, I am aware that my views of this text differ from those of some of the brethren whom I have quite as much reason to believe are, in their general views, subjects of God's teaching, as I hope that I have myself been thus taught. Still, as I am not convinced of the error of my views, I will give them.
The first point of enquiry is, What are we to understand by the heavens and earth which are to be burned, and what by the new heaven and earth wherein dwelleth righteousness? The opinion of some is that by the former we are to understand the covenant of circumcision and legal dispensation, as being appointed of God a fixed residence for national Israel to dwell in; and that by the latter is intended the new covenant and gospel dispensation. I admit that the terms heaven and earth are sometimes used to denote the old covenant and legal dispensation; as in Is. 13:13 & Hag.2:6-7, compared with Heb. 12:26-28. I also admit that in the gospel covenant and kingdom there dwelleth righteousness. But the heavens and earth spoken of in these texts were to be shaken and moved from their place, not burned, that I am informed of. This, as I understand, according to the prophecy of Haggai, was by the coming of Christ, when He gave up the Ghost, having taken the hand writing of ordinances out of the way and nailed it to His cross. Hence the veil of the temple was then rent in twain, showing that God no longer dwelt in the holy place of the temple, and was there no longer to be worshipped by legal rites. And from the day of Pentecost believers have dwelt under the dispensation and blessings of the new covenant, and received that kingdom which cannot be moved. But the old heavens and earth of which Peter speaks were yet reserved unto fire, when he wrote A. D. 65, thirty-two years after the gospel dispensation or kingdom of heaven had come and taken the place of the legal dispensation. And the new heavens and new earth of which he spake were yet looked for as something yet future.
But, secondly, taking the context as a correct criterion by which to judge of what Peter intended by the heavens and earth that were reserved unto fire, we must conclude that he spake of the natural heavens and earth, which still exist. For in verses 5 & 6, he speaks of the heavens of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water, whereby the world that then was being overflowed with water perished; meaning, evidently, the antediluvian world which perished. Consequently, the heavens and the earth, which, he says, verse 7, are now by the same word; that is, which still exist by the same word of God, are kept in store reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, must be the same natural heavens and earth. However slack God may appear to some men to be, in thus destroying this world, yet Peter assures us that "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" Verse 10. Hence I understand the apostle to mean what his language so definitely expresses, that these material heavens are to pass away, and this earth, with all the works which belong to it, are to be burned up. Hence also by the new heavens and new earth which, he says, is looked for, I understand him to refer to a distinct place of residence where the saints, being raised and changed when this day of the Lord shall come, shall forever be with the Lord.
The idea has been entertained that these heavens and this earth being dissolved and burnt up, they will only be burned over and purified by fire. Whether Peter's strong language will admit of such construction, I will not stop to enquire. To me, it is of no importance whether the new heavens and the new earth are to be formed out of these old materials, or whether they will be altogether new. The revealed change of the bodies of the saints at the resurrection, from natural to spiritual bodies, would favor the idea of a change of the present heavens and earth, corresponding thereto, for their future residence. The saints, though their bodies will be raised spiritual bodies, must still occupy some locality, because they will not be omnipresent. The same is the case with the glorified body of the Son of God. Where He is, there will be the heaven of the saints, there they will behold the brightness of God's glory and the express image of His person, for such is the Son. But of whatever the new heavens and new earth may be composed, there are important differences between them and the present heavens and earth, some of which I will notice. 1st. In the heavens which John saw, there was no more sea; consequently there will be there no water needed, but the fountain of the water of life; no materiality there Rev.21:1-6. 2ndly. There will be no temple there, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. They will truly worship God as they will see Him in the Lamb, in spirit, without any need of external forms to express their worship. They will be wholly swallowed up in and filled with the love of God Rev.21 :22. 3rdly. There will be "no need of the sun nor the moon there, for the glory of God and the Lamb, will be the light thereof. And there will be no night there" Rev.21 :23-25. As the saints will be wholly changed from natural to spiritual in their bodies, there will to them be no natural darkness and no need of natural light. And as the Lamb, who is the light thereof, will be constantly present with them, and the brightness of the glory of God constantly shining upon them, there will be no spiritual night or darkness there.
Again, Peter informs us that righteousness dwelleth therein. In this world dwelleth sin, making it a sin-defiled and sin-disordered world. There is no purity, no truth in it; look where we will within ourselves, or without, we behold corruption, and that which maketh a lie. But because in the new heavens and earth dwelleth righteousness, according to the pure law of love, there "shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither that worketh abomination or a lie" Rev. 21:27. Hence, there shall be there "no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain" Rev.21:4. What a glorious and happy residence the saints will have in their heavenly inheritance!
I will now pass to notice Peter's exhortation to the saints in view of those things of which he wrote. In doing this, I will also take the 11th verse in connection. "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," &c. I do not understand Peter here as intending to shake the minds of, or trouble or terrify, the saints to whom he wrote any more than Paul did the Thessalonian brethren by writing to them that: "the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night," &c. I Thes.5:l-3 & II Thes.2:1-1O. It is not much to be wondered at, that persons who view the Scriptures as an instrument of terror to drive people to a servile religion rather than as a revelation of peace and good will to men, should,. in view of such declarations as this of Peter's and the one of Paul's just noticed, do as did many in the latter part of the tenth century, who, thinking that the millennium or the thousand years of Christ's reign on earth was about closing, and therefore that the world was about coming to an end, gave up their possessions to the Catholic Church, and became monks and hermits; or as did the Millerites a few years back in running into all their wildness, manifesting, in both these cases, and in many others, that "God had sent them strong delusions that they should believe a lie." But you, my sister, I trust, are not left to that delusion which would lead you to suppose that, to maintain a holy conversation and godliness, you must neglect to fill with fidelity your station in society and in the world, or that you must neglect to provide things honest in the sight of all men. The truth is, we manifest more of a holy conversation and godliness by a proper attention to the wants of our families, and to the several affairs of this life appertaining to our station, than by neglecting them. A holy conversation and godliness are a deportment corresponding with our profession of not being our own, but the Lord's, and of being governed in all things by His revealed word. The consideration that all worldly relations and things are perishing and hasting to dissolution should keep us mindful that our inheritance is not here, and lead us to live as those who are looking for another and better country. Such a sense of things would prevent our being covetous and grasping after the world, and from hoarding it up. If we are entrusted in Providence with this world's goods, whilst as faithful stewards we shall not waste it by extravagance or neglect, we shall hold it as not our own but the Lord's, subject to be taken from us if He pleases, or to be used for the good of His cause and people where the duty is pointed out by His word. If in providence we are destitute of this world's goods, we shall still manifest a cheerful and thankful spirit, knowing that a destitution of these things is no evidence that we are not heirs of God or objects of His love and care. Hence also, in our holy conversation we shall not suffer these perishing things of time, nor reproaches, nor persecution to hinder us from attending upon our ministry, if in the fellowship of the church we have been called to minister, nor from assembling ourselves together with the saints to whom we have given ourselves to walk in fellowship; nor from connecting ourselves with the poor and despised followers of the Lamb, if we have a good hope of being saved through grace.
Looking for and hasting unto the coming; or, hasting the coming day of God, as it reads in the margin. Not that we are to look for or hasten the coming of that day by practicing the devices of men for hastening on what they call the millennium. Nor that we are to expect its coming before the whole purpose of God, revealed in the Scriptures to transpire in the world shall have been accomplished. Nor that we are to hasten its coming personally to ourselves by dissolving our connections with the world by suicide or by secluding ourselves from it, but by habitually looking for the coming of the day of God wherein all these earthly things and relations shall be dissolved, we shall hasten the coming of that day in our experience, in that we shall thereby feel less tied to the world and less solicitude and anxiety about its affairs, and live more in the anticipation of the new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Could we thus live in anticipation of that glorious residence which is in reserve for the saints, the warfare within, temptations without, poverty, and other afflictions, reproaches and persecutions, and the commotions in the world, would have less effect upon us to disturb our peace than they now do with many of us.
In answer to Sister Dutton's request, I have given such views as I have on this portion of Scripture. Happy would it be for many of us (I speak of such as, with myself, have reason to complain of our coldness and want of spiritual enjoyment) if we might be enabled, by grace, to give more heed to Peter's injunction, in view of the day of darkness and trouble which seems fast coming upon the church; we should then find, according to Paul's declaration: "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." That is, the new heavens and new earth which the day of God shall reveal.
With Christian regards, Elder Samuel Trott
Centreville, Fairfax County, Virginia, Dec. 15, 1856.
SIGNS of the TIMES: Vol. 25 (1857)