IV. The End of the World
"Neither the visible heaven nor the habitable earth will perish, but both will remain for ever."—L.J. 1.
INQUIRER.—That is the way you New Churchmen shock people, who are not familiar with your views.
MISSIONARY.—I do not see why it should shock any one to say that the earth will never be destroyed.
I.—We have always been taught, you know, that there is to be a day of judgment, and that then the world will come to an end.
M.—True, it has been generally taught and believed that a judgment will some day take place here in the natural world. But this clashes with the teaching of the Scriptures. The Apostle Paul says: "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment" (Heb. ix. 27). According to this statement, the judgment will be after death; consequently in the spiritual world, and not in the natural. This is taught all through the Bible.
I.—But is it not stated in several passages in the Bible, that the world will actually come to an end?
M.—The expression "the end of the world" occurs five times in Matthew; but it is in each case an erroneous translation. It ought to read, "the consummation of the age." This is the marginal reading in the revised version, as you will see in the following places: xiii. 39, 40, 49, xxiv. 3, xxviii. 20.
I.—I was not aware of that.
M.—In the mere letter the Bible contradicts itself. In some passages it appears to teach that the earth and the universe will finally be destroyed. On the other hand, it also declares that the earth shall endure for ever, as in Ecclesiastes i. 4, and in Psalm civ. 5.
I.—How then do you explain it?
M.—We will come to the explanation very soon; permit me to say here that the true method of the interpretation of the Bible harmonizes all its contradictions. The Word contains a spiritual sense. The Lord speaks in parables. Natural things convey spiritual ideas. Material objects are used to teach heavenly principles. Thus the real meaning is in the spiritual sense of the Scriptures. "The words that I speak unto you, are spirit, and are life," says the Divine Teacher.
I.—You seem to mean much the same by a "spiritual sense" as we do by "figurative expressions."
M.—The Word contains a spiritual sense in every part. And in the Epistles, when Peter, for example, appears to be describing a universal conflagration, he is certainly making use of figurative language. For, taken literally, he would be contradicting David and Solomon.
I.—Yes, I see.
M.—When John had written the words in Revelation xxi. 1,—"I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away,"—the very same physical heavens and earth existed as before. These had not passed away; nor will they ever pass away in the sense of being burned up or destroyed. In fact, the material heavens and earth are not meant at all, any more than our Lord means natural salt when He says to the disciples, "Ye are the salt of the earth" (Matt. v. 13).
I.—What do you understand by the new heavens and the new earth?
M.—The new heavens and the new earth are new states and conditions on the part of the people who constitute the Lord's Church. There are new states and conditions because the Lord has effected His Second Coming, by making a revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word, and by giving genuine spiritual knowledges on all subjects. And in this, His Second Advent, the Lord is at this day establishing a New Church, meant by the New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation.
I.—I now begin to get some new ideas.
M. —Well, then, let me try to give you another new idea. God can no more destroy the universe, or the earth, than He can destroy the immutability of His character.
I.—Are not all things possible with God?
M.—Let us consider my assertion logically and rationally; for whatever is not capable of demonstration, according to genuine logic and sound reason, cannot be true. Now I say emphatically, that it is absolutely impossible for God ever to destroy His universe. God is the Creator, the Upholder, the Preserver, of the stupendous fabric of creation. This grand truth is revealed to us in the Scriptures. The immutability of the Divine character is also plainly taught. God is "the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." Does it not, therefore, follow as a logical conclusion, that since God is the Creator and Preserver of the world, and is also immutable, He will remain for ever the same? How can He at any time entirely change His essential Divine nature, and from a beneficent Creator, become a ruthless Destroyer of His own works? Is not such an idea in the highest degree irrational and absurd?
I.—I admit that there is a great deal of force in your method of reasoning on the subject. But since the natural body of man perishes, why not the natural earth also?
M.—Your question is perfectly legitimate. I will try to answer it, though I confess it is somewhat difficult. In the first place, however, I would say that it is not strictly true that the natural body of man does perish. It is only apparently so. The natural body has no life or sensation of itself. All the life and sensations that are manifested in the body are by virtue of the spirit that dwells within the body. The spirit is in the human form, is composed of spiritual substance, and is the man himself that survives the dissolution of the body. The body is said to perish, or to die; but the truth is, that when the spirit is separated from it, as man enters into the eternal world, then the material substances of which the body was composed, are dissolved, and thus return to the earth from which they were taken. But the material substance of which the body was formed is not destroyed nor annihilated. The form has been changed, but every particle of substance still exists. Matter is indestructible. You understand me thus far?
I.—I think so; proceed, please.
M.—Well, in the second place, I would say, that there is no correct analogy, or logical comparison, between the dissolution of man's natural body and the destruction or annihilation of the material world. Matter of itself, in the absolute sense, is nothing, and cannot exist. The natural earth exists because there is a spiritual world. And the natural earth is the outbirth from the spiritual world; and can no more exist separate from it than the body of man can exist separate from the soul or spirit. The two worlds are indeed distinct as to the nature of the substances of which they are respectively composed. This earth is formed of material substances, while the other world is made of spiritual substances. And they are, nevertheless, very intimately related to each other; are in connection with each other, comparatively like soul and body. The Divine power of God flows in through the spiritual world, and keeps all things of the physical universe in being. Nature cannot create itself and exist of itself any more than a watch can make itself, and keep time without being wound up.
I.—I should like to hear a little more about the reasons why it is impossible, as you affirm, for God to destroy the universe. It has seemed to me that with God all things are possible. He is the Almighty.
M.—God is an infinitely perfect Being. He is Divine order itself. "Order is heaven's first law." Without laws of order the universe could not exist for an instant. Not all things are possible with God. It is not possible for Him to do anything that is disorderly. He cannot violate the laws of Divine order which He has ordained for the government of His universe. Such an idea is inadmissible and unthinkable when we think rationally.
I.—You New Churchmen have quite a new way of looking at things.
M.—Yes, we try to get along with as little nonsense as possible on these great questions. We need not launch into wild speculations; because in the New Church doctrines rational knowledges have been given us on all these subjects.
I.—Have you anything more to tell me about the matter we have been discussing?
M.—Yes; before we drop the subject, I should like to make a few more remarks. God created the universe according to His own Divine order. Since He is the Creator, and is immutable, He certainly cannot change into a Destroyer. He created the world to the beneficent end that He might form angelic heavens from the human race. This life, with all its experiences, is intended as a preparation for eternal life. We have no good ground to imagine that this beautiful earth of ours will ever be dissipated into gases, and thus return into a chaotic condition. We cannot reasonably suppose that it will be consumed by fire; that all the oceans, rocks, and mountains, and the solid globe itself, will ever be burned up and clean dissolved. The spiritual world is the medium through which the Creator sustains the natural earth. The spiritual world will never be removed from the natural world, as the spirit is removed from the body at the time man is said to die. The material world will not,, therefore, be subject to dissolution in like manner as the material body of man. The spirit world and the natural are related to each other like cause and effect. As there can be no effect without a cause, so there cannot be a natural world without a spiritual. The physical earth is gradually and constantly undergoing changes. It is not two hours precisely the same. These changes are analogous to those that take place in the human body. The earth is destined to become more beautiful, more desirable, as a temporary home for man throughout the ages of the future. As regards its continued existence, I believe the earth to be as enduring as the heavens. It seems to me to accord well with enlightened human reason to think that the entire glorious universe will be perpetuated, to subserve those wise and benevolent uses for the sake of which it was brought into existence. So that it is literally a grand philosophic truth, that "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth for ever" (Eccles. i. 4).
I.—These explanations, I must say, are very interesting to me; and it seems as though your doctrines ought to do much in the course of time to enlighten the world on many difficult problems.