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science, God's vicegerent within him, at least may let the moral being know thus much, if no more. It is the choice of some present inferior good to the higher and lasting good, and this notwithstanding the reproach of conscience, which constitutes sin. Hence it is not merely more light or knowledge, that is needed; a radical reformation is necessary; the bent of the soul to escape from the true path which leads to the highest good, and to plunge into some other which ends only in inferior and present gratification, must be corrected; a correspondent exercise of the moral faculties, with the true tendency as respects the highest happiness, must be brought out, or in other words, the change is one of the governing purposes of a moral agent. Then, and then only, will the force of moral obligation be felt as it should be, and the power put forth into action to meet it, when the heart is right, --when the purpose has been formed to be as happy as possible, and in the only way in which this is possible, by acting so as to promote the general good. Whether or not such a degree of mere knowledge or light is practicable to any being, as without any further direct influence of God might cause the moral being to change his governing purpose, it is of no consequence to inquire, for we have no means of determining; and the case supposed, we are certain, will never take place. It is enough for us to know, that sin is a thing so radical in its character, so subversive of the very elements of moral being, that it must be reached by as radical a change or cure. God cannot view it with any thing but the utmost abhorrence ; for he sees it just as it is—rending away, if it were possible, all the ties which bind the subject to his supreme ruler, and striking a death-blow at all existing, and preventing all conceivable, happiness. Nothing short of the utter annihilation of all moral being, so far as regards the appropriate tendencies of his elementary constitution, could be the result, were sin to do all its evil work. Such, too, is the constitution of moral agency, that the being who has once broken over the barriers of his obligation, and entered upon the purpose of rebellion, will continue in his desperate course, unless sovereign grace arrest him and bring him to choose the way of life. For he has of his own free act, cast away the hope of his highest happiness, and with the consciousness, that he ought not, he has adopted an inferior good, selfishly giving up himself to mere present gratification, thus showing how utterly estranged he is from the high principle of aiming at the perfection of his being, and carrying out the benevolent design of his existence. His obligation must forever remain unchangeable, and yet his heart is reluctant to its exercise. Who can estimate the wretchedness of such a being, when conscience wakes its slumbering energies, to reproach him with his own ruin, and the tendency of his transgression to destroy the happiness of all !
On this account, the proper view of the ultimate ground of moral obligation, is of great importance. Impressed upon the mind of the preacher, it will enable him, without bringing any particular theory formally into the pulpit, to urge home the great facts on which it is based, so as to fasten the deeper conviction in the conscience of his hearers, of their lost situation without Christ, and their need of redeeming grace. The claims of God for obedience will stand justified; for they are founded in a purpose of infinite benevolence, and the love which, unwillng to relinquish that purpose, has made such provision for the guilty, that has given up to death his own son, will shine out in its true splendor, compelling even the rebel who disowns him, to confess the justice of his eternal sentence of condemnation. We would urge, therefore, every one whose duty it is to minister to the souls of men, to study accurately and prayerfully the bearings of this question, and placing himself on the high ground of a proper view of moral agency and moral obligation, fearlessly to press home the truth of God upon the conscience; sensible that it is in rightly dividing that truth, and presenting it in its own appropriate adaptations, that he is to hope, if in any way to become the instrument of salvation to any, or of the highest glory to God. Let it be written upon his own soul—let it be fastened on the heart of every hearer, that moral obligation is as it were a part of his being, to cling to him in all its pressure and solemn consequences, as long as he exists, and wherever he is; that whether obeying or sinning, he is under it, and God's law and government is only carrying out the truth in its appropriate tendency to happiness; that the decisions of the judgment day are only a more perfect development to the universe, of the bearing of all moral action on that highest general good which he, as a perfect being, who is forever blessed, is seeking to secure ; let it be felt as it should be, and under its influence, the conduct of the life be directed ; itwill teach him to admire and adore the wisdom and the grace of his Creator and divine Sovereign, and cheerfully submitting to the command, he will find it the way of peace and of life!
ART. IV.-EXPOSITION OF 2 Pet. 3: 12.
“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.”
This is one of those passages of scripture which are made plainer by the aid of human science. It seems to the unlearned almost impossible, that the earth shall ever be burned. If he allows that such an event may ever take place, it is on the principle, that with God all things are possible, rather than from perceiving any method by which it can be accomplished.
A few remarks will remove the air of impossibility that hangs over this text, and “ help the unbelief” of those who are half inclined to believe, that the earth will not be burned.
1. It is a doctrine of the bible, that the heavens and the earth shall be destroyed by fire. In 2 Pet. 3:6, it is said, that the old world being "overflowed with water perished," and in the 7th verse we are told, that “the heavens and the earth which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire." Our Saviour on different occasions taught, that "the heavens and the earth shall pass away,” but his word should not fail. In Ps. 102 : 26, there is an allusion to some great catastrophe, that shall befall the earth; the heavens and the earth “shall perish,” yea, all of them shall wax old as a garment, as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed. In the 51st chapter of Isaiah, the righteous are exhorted to look to the heavens and to the earth, for “the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment.” The Jews at a very early period believed, that the world would have an end. Job, who is supposed to have lived as early as the time of Abraham, speaks of lying down
“ till the heavens be no more. It is not expressly said in the old testament, that the earth shall be destroyed by fire, but it is clearly revealed, in both the old and new testaments, that the earth shall perish; and in the latter, we are assured, that it shall perish through the agency of fire.
2. It is not irrational to suppose, that the earth may be destroyed by fire. It is true, that the materials which compose it, are incombustible in their present combination. Rocks, sands, and water will not burn ; but each is a compound substance, composed of elements that are either combustible, or supporters of combustion. He who united the gases that form water, and the Vol. X.
in the grave
elements of silex and lime and other earthy and metallic compounds, can as easily separate them. If the water of every river, lake, and ocean should be simultaneously decomposed, what an immense quantity of oxygen and hydrogen gases would exist in a state of mixture! A cubic inch of this mixture, brought in contact with a taper, burns with an explosion as loud as a musket. Science teaches us, that the rocks have metallic bases which, when brought into contact with water or oxygen, explode with more or less violence. If, now, the land and the water were reduced to their component parts, by the omnipotent word of him who spake and it was done, these substances would immediately come in contaềt with the fires upon the surface, or with oxygen, and an awful explosion would ensue. Then would be justly realized the prophecy of Peter, “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent
Science teaches yet another method by which this awful prediction of the scriptures may be fulfilled. It has been shown, that the temperature of the earth increases downwards—that the average rate of increase is one degree for fifty feet.f It hence follows, that at the average depth of sixty-two miles, the rocks and metals are in a state of fusion; and that the earth is a vast mass of molten lava, inclosed in a shell sixty two miles thick. The existence of two hundred volcanoes, is an argument in favor of this induction of science; they are necessary as ventholes through which steam and streams of molten lava may escape.
We have evidence, therefore, that the earth is already on fire. The burning has already commenced at the center; a fire exists there, of sufficient magnitude to melt down the remainder of the globe. It is kept for the present smothered; how easy it would be for the Almighty to cleave with an earthquake the external crust of the globe, and admit the free access of the external air! If he should, how soon flames would burst out on every side, and the elements "melt with fervent heat.”
3. When it is said “the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved,” it does not mean the starry heavens. We have no evidence, that the great conflagration will extend beyond the confines of the solar system, and probably not beyond the earth. The old world was overflowed with water and perished, in consequence of the wickedness of the human family, and the heavens and the earth, which are now, are “reserved unto fire
* 2 Pet. 3:10.
1 Cordier's Temp. of Earth, and Silliman's Jour. Vol. 15.
against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” The earth that was deluged is to be burned. Again it is to be burned on account of the wickedness of men. The inference, therefore, is, that the burning will be limited to the earth, the residence of man. A curse came upon the earth in consequence of man's sin; the flood did not remove that curse; when the earth burns it will be purified and cleansed. As we have no evidence that the curse for sin rested upon any other planet, we have no evidence that any other will be burned.
If it be asked, whether the phrase, “the heavens shall pass away,” or “shall be rolled together as a scroll,” does not imply, that the destruction will reach other planets, or the fixed stars, we answer, that necessarily we suppose “the heavens,” in the text, mean only the visible heavens, or the aerial region. The word often has this meaning in the bible; the birds are said to fly through the heavens, i. e. through the air; God "gives us rain from heaven,'* i. e., from the clouds floating in the atmosphere ; and “ the Lord thundered in the heavens,”'t or among the clouds.
4. The matter of which the earth is composed, will not be destroyed. The scriptures teach, that “these things shall be dissolved," that “the elements shall melt," and "the heavens shall be rolled together;" but such language does not teach the annihilation of matter. “Dissolved,” in the text, means decomposed. The verb here translated dissolve, in John 11:44 is translated loose, and in Mark 1:7, unloose. Its most obvious meaning is to unbind or untie; the elements shall be untied or decomposed. Dissolution never means the destruction of the materials of which any thing is composed. Salt may be dissolved, and so may a town meeting, but the material substance still exists. The earth may burn, also, and not a particle of matter be lost. When wood burns, it ceases to be wood ; combustion changes the state of matter, but does not destroy it. “By the convulsions of the last day, the earth may be shaken, and broken down, and thrown into such fitful agitation, that the whole framework shall fall to pieces, and become as it was in the beginning, without form and void."" Out of this chaos, a new heaven and a new earth may arise, and the world be peopled again by a nobler race of beings; or, as an eminent theologian has said, it may be converted into a paradise of beauty and loveliness, to which the redeemed from among men, when clothed with spiritual bodies,
# Acts 14 : 17.
Ps. 18 : 13.