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SERMON XXIV.

NEW HEAVENS AND NEW EARTH.

2 PETER, iii, 13.

Nevertheless, we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteous

ness.

In the sixty-fifth chapter of the prophet Isaiah (v. 17), God says,—" For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.” And again, in the following chapter (v. 22),—“ For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord, SO your

seed and

your name remain.” These are the only passages in the Old Testament, containing that promise of God to which St. Peter alludes; and these have commonly been understood, not in a literal, but in a figurative sense ; as signifying the happy state of the Jewish nation at some future time, (when they shall be restored to the favour of God); and indeed, the happiness of all mankind through them. In consequence of this, some have thought that the apostle's language also ought to be considered as figurative, and as referring only to that universal renovation or regeneration of mankind, which is expected to take place before the last great day. Others have supposed that St. Peter may have written this Epistle after St. John wrote the Revelations, and that the promise of which he speaks, is that contained in the twenty-first chapter of that book ;-" And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away.” But this is most highly improbable,-contrary to the general voice of antiquity,—and merely a gratuitous conjecture, hazarded for the sake of explaining an apparent difficulty. Others, again, would have St. John as well as St. Peter to be understood figuratively, and so they apply both these passages to the millennial state, which will be so happy as to deserve the name of a new creation. But I cannot conceive how any one, who studies the whole context in the writings of the two apostles, can entertain a moment's doubt, that they both speak of a state of things which is to follow after the general judgment, and the dissolution of the present world.

If therefore we must necessarily suppose that St. Peter alluded to a written promise, when he said, “we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness,” I see no reason why he should not have understood those passages of the prophet Isaiah, which I have already quoted, in a literal sense; for there certainly is no objection to their being so understood, and I cannot but say,

that I am inclined to adopt that interpretation as well on other grounds, as especially because I believe that was the sense in which they were taken by this inspired apostle. If there are any to whom this is not satisfactory, they must conclude that St. Peter either heard the promise from the mouth of Christ, while he abode in the flesh among men, or that he received it by revelation afterwards, as St. John himself did.

That our apostle speaks of a literal new heaven and new earth, appears to be beyond all reasonable controversy. He has just been warning his readers that “in the last days” (some time or other under the gospel dispensation, often described in these terms) there would arise prophane persons, who would make a mockery of the

christian hope, and sneeringly ask how Christ had performed his promise of coming again to judge the world. To this he replies by four arguments; first, that God made the world by his word, and therefore (we must add the conclusion which be has not thought it necessary to express) can as easily destroy it; secondly, that he did actually once drown the whole human race, (except that small family whom it pleased him to save) and therefore is fully able to do that which he designs to do, namely, “to keep in store the heavens and the earth which now are, and to reserve them unto fire against the day of judgment, and perdition of ungodly men ;” thirdly, that it is vain for us to be calculating time in this matter, because God, having all eternity at command, may take as much time as he sees fit for the accomplishment of his purposes, one day being with him as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day;" and fourthly, that he does not delay from any indifference about the fulfilment of his promises, but for a most merciful reason, because he “is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Then he goes on thus, “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 all the works that are therein shall be burned up.” And this he repeats immediately afterwards, in almost the same words. Now who can for an instant doubt (particularly since he has adduced the destruction of mankind by water as one of his arguments) that he does in this language mean to describe the real and actual disso, lution of the world by fire?

Would it not be very strange, if one branch of his description should be literal, and the other figurative ? And would it not also be most extraordinary, if after this account of the melting of the heavens, and the burning up of the earth and all the works therein, he should immediately add, “ Nevertheless, we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness,” and yet mean nothing more than that a more spiritual and happy state should succeed? Let us never turn the scriptures into figures, where the literal signification is the most natural and easy.

As surely then as I believe that this present world shall be destroyed, so fully do I expect that a new creation shall succeed. Our blessed Saviour himself, the mysterious Word, “ by whom all things were made, and without whom was not any thing made that was made,” has plainly informed

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