No truth is more clearly stated in the Old Testament than that God is the Creator and Lord of all that exists. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." From the very character of God as omniscient, it follows that they were made for an end, and were what He designed them to be. All worlds and all material things have their place and meaning as means of revealing their Creator, partly in themselves, their existence and qualities, as proofs of His power and wisdom; but chiefly we may believe in their subordination to His purpose in the intelligent and moral beings for whose inhabitation and use they were made. But this revelation of God in creation, vast and varied as it is, was necessarily imperfect; the perfect revelation could be made only through the Incarnate Son. It was "for Him that all things were made," and, therefore, are what they are. But this ultimate end could not be known till the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among men.
For man was the earth specially made, as a house is made for him who is to inhabit it, and was adapted in all its arrangements to his needs. And as the moral element is the highest in man, we may believe that God in the physical constitution of the earth had reference to its bearings upon his spiritual education, even more than upon his bodily well-being. Besides those external influences, obvious and universally recognized, that affect man in his intellectual and moral development, there was also established by God such a relation between him and his dwelling-place, that there should be a correspondence in their history and destiny. Thus we are expressly taught by St. Paul, that through the transgression of Adam the earth was made subject to bondage; and in Genesis we read that God said to Adam, " Cursed is the ground for thy sake." (iii. 17; Rom. viii. 20.) As we are ignorant of the processes of creation, we know not how this curse was effected, nor with what changes accompanied. As he was placed in his first estate of innocence in the garden in Eden, full of fruitfulness and beauty, the ground yielding its fruits with little labor, so in its fallen state it was to bring forth thorns and thistles; and in toil and sorrow, and sweat of his face, should he eat his daily bread, — words which have had a sorrowful fulfillment in all subsequent ages. (Gen. v. 29.)
If, then, God established at first such a bond of unity between man and the earth, that the moral condition of the former should determine to a certain degree the physical condition of the latter, — a fruitful, peaceful, blessed earth for man remaining good; barrenness, disorder, toil, suffering for man become evil, — it can cause no surprise when we are told that in the Messianic Kingdom, all things will be made new. As man's disobedience brought it into bondage, so through man's obedience shall it be delivered. In the Messianic Kingdom as a new and higher stage of redemption, the physical will correspond with the moral. With the righteousness of that Kingdom, and the obedience shown to God, there will be progressive changes in the material order, through which the evils of the disobedient past will be done away, and a world be prepared in which the righteous will dwell. (2 Pet. iii. 13.) Upon two distinct grounds we may believe that the earth will ultimately be made new: first, that having been brought under the bondage of corruption, not of its own will, but by the sin of man, it is embraced in the scope of redemption; it is to enter into " the liberty of the glory of the children of God." (Rom. viii. 21.) Second, that God having made man, body and soul, and appointed the body to be an essential element in humanity, He will so order the material world that it shall minister in the highest degree to all his needs. If the body be raised into a higher condition through resurrection, there must be a corresponding change in its material environments, — the new creation serving as a means to higher knowledge of God, and to the continual enlargement of man's conceptions of His power, wisdom, and goodness.
To say, then, that the earth will be made new, is to say only what the whole scope of the Scriptures in their teachings respecting creation and redemption has prepared us to expect. The relation of temporal blessings to obedience under the Theocracy is distinctly taught. Everywhere in the prophets it is said that when His people become obedient, and truly honor Him, God will minister to them richly in all outward blessings, and in richest measure in the Messianic Kingdom. Then "the ploughman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed;" then "the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters." (Amos ix. 13; Levit. xxvi. 4, etc.; Joel iii. 18.) And as during the Messianic Kingdom all nations will serve and worship the King, and be blessed in Him, we cannot suppose that the curse pronounced upon the ground—sterility, and devastating storms, drought, famines, and pestilences — is then to continue. (Rev. xxii. 3.)
But what are we to understand by the "new " earth? Plainly, not new in substance, but in qualities. It is that change which our Lord spoke of as "the regeneration," or "new birth." "Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit on twelve thrones." It is that change in the physical order which begins when He — " the Beginning of the new creation " — establishes His Kingdom. It is that change of which the apostle speaks, as to be in "the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken of by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began." (Acts iii. 21.) We are thus taught that this change from the old to the new is essentially a restoration, the bringing in again of that condition of goodness which had been lost through man's disobedience. Nor is this, rightly understood, inconsistent with any thing we know of the geological history of the earth. Yet is it more than the mere removing the effects of the curse, it is adding new qualities, such as were not found in the original creation; perhaps by the re-arrangement of the old elements, rather than by fresh creative acts. The basis of this new constitution lies in the new and heavenly Man, the second Adam, for whom it is remade, and in whom our humanity was reconstituted, made anew, when He rose from the dead. As the resurrection of the body is not an absolutely new creation, and yet not a mere restoration of the old, so is it with the new earth. And, as the second Adam is higher than the first, being the Incarnate Son glorified, so will His world be in like proportion more excellent and glorious.
In this change from lower to higher, there is nothing in contradiction with the past history of the earth. Geology tells us of many transitions, from a fiery mass to its present state of fruitfulness and beauty. The nature of these changes no finite being could have foretold, but all were in the line of the Divine purpose. And that they have ceased, that the end has been reached, and that there will be absolute permanence of present condition, no one will venture to say. If future changes are expected, as all do expect them, the question is, in what direction are these to be? Has the earth already reached its highest stage? Will it fall back into chaos and darkness? or will it go on into a still higher stage? If we trace in the past a uniform line of upward improvement, this may continue in the future. And, viewing the earth in its relations to the Second Adam, the new earth becomes a certainty.
But it is not necessary to affirm that the change from the old to the new i^ instantaneous. Not only the analogy of all God's actings in creation, so far as we know them, and of His rule over nature, but also the words of Scripture, justify us in thinking that this change is to be gradual, step by step, till its consummation is reached. The two more marked epochs are, doubtless, those at the beginning and end of the Messianic Kingdom. In the Old Testament, the coming of Jehovah to establish His Kingdom over all the earth is always spoken of as accompanied by marked physical phenomena, of which fire is an essential element, and earthquakes a frequent attendant — as at His manifestation on Mount Sinai, when "the mount was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire, . . . and the whole mount quaked greatly." (Exod. xix. 18; Ps. xviii. 7, 8.) Thus Micah speaks: "Behold the Lord cometh forth out of His place, and will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth; and the mountains shall be molten under Him, and the valleys shall be cleft as wax before the fire." (i. 4.) "The mountains quake at Him, and the hills melt; and the earth is upheaved at His presence." (Nah. i. 5.) Thus, the Psalmist: "A fire goeth before Him, and burneth up His enemies round about. His lightnings enlightened the world, the earth saw and trembled; the hills melted like wax at the presence of the Lord." Of the coming of the Lord Jesus it is said by an apostle, that "He will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God." (2 Thess. i. 7.)
There are passages that may seem, indeed, to indicate a sudden destruction of the old, and creation of the new, especially in St. Peter. (2 Pet. iii.) But in his language he evidently does not make discriminations of time. "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 earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up." "The day of the Lord " we have already seen to be a period of considerable though indefinite duration. The words of the apostle take in the whole period, and look forward to the consummation, —new heavens and a new earth,— without discriminating the several steps by which it is reached. We know also from what is revealed as to the execution of God's purpose in man, that His redemption is by stages. The first to be exalted into the glory of the resurrection is Christ, the First-fruits; then they that are Christ's at His coming; then, the end, when He delivers up the Kingdom to the Father. (1 Cor. xv. 24.) If the change from the old to the new were instantaneous at the Lord's coming, such progressive resurrection would not be possible; nor would the Kingdom period be one in which He is engaged in "putting all enemies under His feet." The words of Isaiah, also, referring to the same events, are inconsistent with such an instantaneous change, since he speaks of those dwelling on the new earth, as still under the law of death (lxv. 20, etc.); as are also the words in the Revelation as to the coming up of Gog and Magog against the city of the saints, at the close of the heavenly Kingdom. The Scriptures are uniform in their teaching that the Messianic Kingdom is to be a period of redemption; and, therefore, no such physical change can take place at its establishment as would destroy the race, or make the earth unfit for a place of probation.
If this physical change in the earth from lower to higher is progressive, yet with marked stages, we may believe that it will begin with the land which God gave to His people, and which He had thus so greatly honored. As it was appointed to be the seat of the Messianic Kingdom, and Jerusalem the royal city, here would naturally be seen the first manifestation of the power that would ultimately make the whole earth new. And this is often intimated by the prophets. The words of Micah cannot be rightty understood of a purely spiritual exaltation: "In the last days it shall come to pass that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills." (iv. 1.) Of the same prophecy given in Isaiah, it has been remarked by Cheyne: "Mount Zion is to be physically raised, and to become fixed at the head of the lower mountains, which radiate, as it were, in all directions from it." Zechariah speaks of the great earthquake that shall be when the feet of the Lord shall stand upon the Mount of Olives, and He shall fight with the nations: "The Mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, — a very great valley. . . . All the land shall be turned as a plain from Geba to Rimmon, south of Jerusalem." (xiv. 4, etc.) These words cannot be understood, of other than physical changes; and these will be of such a character as to make Jerusalem "beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth," worthy in its local positions and environs to be "the city of the Great King."
In several of the prophets mention is made of a fountain that shall flow forth from the house of the Lord: "In that day living waters shall go out from Jerusalem, half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea." (Zech. xiv. 8; Joel iii. 18; Ezek. xlvii. 1, etc.) It is in perfect accordance with all previously said, if these words are literally to be fulfilled. Thus beholding in fulfillment before their eyes all that was said by Moses of the exemption of the land, if the people were obedient, from all forms of physical evil; the forces of nature co-operating harmoniously with the labors of men; all nations will "call its inhabitants blessed, and their land a delightsome land." (Mai. iii. 12.) It is a false spiritualism that makes an antagonism between the inward and outward, the soul and the body, the spiritual and the temporal gifts of God. Job, who may be regarded as a type of the Remnant, when his captivity was turned received from the Lord twice as much as he had before. So when Jehovah restores His people, all His promises of temporal good will be more than fulfilled.
Whether this change is of the earth only as man's dwelling-place, or embraces the other heavenly bodies also, is not made known to us. We may at least believe that as the earth is a member of a planetary system so closely bound together by physical forces that each member is dependent upon the other members, these changes in it will be accompanied by such changes in the system as God shall see meet for the accomplishment of His purpose in man. The comparatively inferior position of the earth, physically considered in this system, is of no importance, since in the light of the Incarnation it stands, as the birthplace of the Son of God, and the place of the spiritual education of His Church in a relation to God in which no other orb can stand. It is to be noted how often the Lord refers to the signs to be seen in heaven, in the sun, moon, and stars at His return; and though, doubtless, there may be a symbolical interpretation in some cases, yet there is much ground to expect that "the powers of the heavens" will be literally shaken; to be followed by a readjustment of present relations, so that a higher order will be established whose stability shall be no more disturbed.
That the earth will be delivered from " the bondage of corruption " into which it has been brought through man's sin, and will be made new; that the process of new creation will be gradual; that it will begin with marked changes in the present physical order at the time of the setting up of the kingdom; that these changes will be first seen in God's own land; that during the whole process of deliverance the material changes will be compatible with man's habitation, and be subordinated to his welfare; and that the perfected deliverance — " the regeneration " in its highest measure — will not be till God's redemptive work in man is completed; — are truths involved in all that is taught us in the Scriptures of God's purpose in the Incarnate Son, who is Himself the Beginning of the new creation. As he "who is in Him, is a new creature; old things are passed away, all things are become new;" so will it be at last with the earth. It is already brought under the law of the new creation. As we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan within ourselves, waiting for the redemption of the body; so with the earth that has been subjected to vanity, it groaneth and travaileth in pain. (Rom. viii. 19-23.) With His return as King begins the process of transformation; it is then, in a measure, delivered from the bondage of corruption, virtually made new; but its perfected condition is not reached till death, the last enemy, is destroyed, and it is prepared to be inhabited by those no more under the law of sin and death. "He that sat on the throne said, Behold! I make all things new." This may refer primarily to the earth: but doubtless the law of new creation in the God-Man, will ultimately embrace the whole universe; for it is due to the Son, for whom all things were made, that they correspond to Him in all material excellence, and thereby show forth in a fitting manner the goodness, the wisdom, and the glory of God.
How far a false spiritualism has gone in casting dishonor on the material creation, may be seen by some extracts from Edwards's "History of Redemption," in regard to the future of the earth. "Then," after their resurrection, "the saints shall take their everlasting leave of this earth. . . . Thus Christ's Church shall forever leave this accursed world, to go unto the highest heavens, the paradise of God. . . . When they are gone this world shall be set on fire, and be turned into a great furnace wherein all the enemies of Christ and His Church shall be tormented for ever and ever. ... The miserable company of the wicked being left behind to have their sentence executed upon them here, then this whole lower world shall be set on fire. . . . This world, which used to be the place of Satan's kingdom, shall now be the place of his complete punishment, and perfect and everlasting torment." Thus the earth, Christ's birthplace and redeemed by Him, instead of being made new, is turned into the hell of the damned.