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"For this they wilfully forget, that there were heavens from of old, and an earth compacted out of water and amidst water, by the word of God; by which means the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: but the heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgement and destruction of ungodly men."—2 Peter iii. 5-7.

"The world lasts on" (διαμένει) "through all times," say the scoffers, "just as it was at the Creation. There has been no change; there will be none." But out of their own mouth their folly is rebuked. How can these men speak of a creation? If there is to be no Judge, why believe that there has been a Creator? That must be included in the general denial. For this they wilfully forget. Yes, here is the reason of their conduct, the root of all the evil. They forget because they wish to forget; they speak of the fathers, but of set purpose ignore the history of Noah; they are casting God out of all their thoughts: and so even to the things that are made, and by which He testifies to all men alike His eternal power and Godhead, they close their eyes, and refuse to read His wide-open lesson-book. And still less do they regard all that His written word records of the world's past history and God's discipline for men therein.


That there were heavens from of old, and an earth compacted out of water and amidst water, by the word of God. They close their ears as well as their eyes. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." As the study of nature progresses men are learning to comprehend more of the vastness of that phrase "in the beginning," and in the light of science to read a larger meaning into St. Peter's words, "There were heavens from of old." But even in that generation to which the Apostle soon alludes the unchanging character of the skies spake of duration and permanence. The antediluvian world had run a long course; from Adam to Noah men had beheld the sun rise and set daily in the skies, just as it rose on the morning of the Deluge. And the mockers then living could say, and doubtless did say, to the preacher in their midst, "These things have always been as they are, and will be so for evermore." The later scorners had their prototypes of old, who pointed to the existence of an eternal law, and wilfully forgot that law implies a lawgiver, and that He who made must have the power to unmake.

St. Peter takes their text, but reads from it a very different lesson. There were heavens from of old, yea, long before there was an earth fit for man to dwell in. This world in that old time was formless and void, and the waters covered its face like a garment. The word of the Lord went forth, and the waters were gathered together as a heap, and the depth was laid up in God's storehouses. Then the dry land appeared; then there was an earth. The streams took their appointed place down the mountain-sides and in the valleys, and rivers began to roll onward to the sea; the waters of ocean learnt their bounds, neither turned again to cover the337 earth. The Divine word clothed in all the glory of vegetation the hitherto barren land, making it a fit home for man, who was not yet; and the water ministered sustenance to everything that grew out of the ground. Birds, beasts, and fishes were made, and the waters were the birthplace of most of these. For God said, "Let the water bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life," not its own tenants only, but fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. So there was an earth, not the bare ground only, but the whole wealth of vegetable and animal life; and this was all existent, compacted, supported out of water and by means of water (δι' ὕδατος). For without it nothing could have flourished. God had laid up water above the firmament and water below the earth, and by means of watery vapour refreshed and blessed everything that grew. This was the reign of God's law, and ere the Flood came men could point to it and say, "What mean you to talk of a deluge? The sand is made the bound of the sea by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it; the earth is set high above the waters, and has been so from old time." But that long duration did not hinder the same productive, nurturing water being turned, by the word of the Lord, into an agency of destruction.

By which means the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished. Every word in the Apostle's sentence is meant to tell. God employed as means of overthrow the very powers which at first He ordained for blessing. His word makes things what they are. The reign of law endures until He, who is before all law and the source of all law, gives another direction to those forces which His law has always been controlling.338 In this way the world that then was, the world which had endured and been stedfast from the Creation to the Flood, perished. The world was full of order, full of glory. The name (κόσμος) expresses all this. Yet, for the sin of man, it repented God that He had made this glorious order; and this it was which perished. The earth was not destroyed; it only received again that covering of primeval waters which, at God's word, had retired and let the dry land appear. At the same word both earth and heaven combined to destroy the goodliness with which creation was adorned. For, on the day of the Deluge (Gen. vii. 11), all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened, and the waters came again to cover the earth. They prevailed exceedingly, and all flesh died that moved upon the earth; even the fowls and the moving creatures, which had been brought forth from the teeming waters, perished, and all things were destroyed from off the earth. Thus does St. Peter lay bare the unwisdom of those who will not listen to, who are wilfully forgetful of, the parables of God's word, who close their eyes to His judgements, sent that by them men may learn righteousness.

But the heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored up for fire. The Apostle now turns away from what the Old Testament Scriptures relate as history of the past to what the same records teach us concerning the future; and he deals partly with promise, partly with prophecy. The earth will not be destroyed again by a deluge. God hath made His covenant: "I will establish My covenant with you, neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood, neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth" (Gen. ix. 11). But there339 will be a judgement; and then not, as in the days of Noah, will the κόσμος, the beautiful order of nature, alone be destroyed, but heaven and earth alike shall be involved in the common overthrow. Here the Apostle is but the expositor of the words of psalmists and prophets of the older times. He who sang, "Of old Thou hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Thy hands," was inspired to add, "They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure; yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment: as a vesture shalt Thou change them, and they shall be changed" (Psalm cii. 25). Isaiah, the evangelist among the prophets, saw more, and connects this mighty change with the day of the Lord's vengeance: "Then shall all the host of heaven be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll" (Isa. xxxiv. 4); and in another place he foresees how "the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner, ... for Mine arms shall judge the people" (Isa. li. 6); and yet again in more solemn wise, "The Lord will come with fire, and with His chariots like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury and His rebuke with names of fire, for by fire and by His sword will the Lord plead with all flesh" (Isa. lxvi. 15). And this he proclaims as the preparation for "the new heavens and the new earth which He will make." Daniel also tells us of God's "throne of judgement to be set, which is like the fiery flame, and His wheels as burning fire" (Dan. vii. 9).

With such light from the lamp of prophecy, the Apostle in his exegesis proclaims the nature of the final judgement. Like other New Testament writers, he has attained, since the day of Pentecost, a deeper insight340 and a firmer grasp of the purport of what Moses in the Law and the prophets did write. We can see how on that very day thoughts like these which he expresses in his letter were borne in upon his mind. For not only does he apply the prophecy of Joel to the events which then struck the multitude with wonder, but he carries on the lesson further to the coming of the great and notable day of the Lord, and reminds his hearers that then God "will show wonders in heaven above and signs in the earth beneath, blood and fire and vapour of smoke, when the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood" (Acts ii. 19). And the like illumination had been bestowed on St. Paul. For he too tells (1 Cor. iii. 13) of a day when each man's work shall be proved by fire; and more definitely he assures the Thessalonians, to whom he wrote much concerning the day of the Lord, that there will come a "revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of His power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thess. i. 8).

In such wise did the Apostles read the utterances of prophecy; and thus did they apply them as lessons for their own and all future times. They felt that not unto themselves, but unto us, did the prophets minister. And St. Peter does but put their message into his own words when in his bold figure he says that the heavens that now are and the earth are stored up for fire.

The Revised Version on its margin renders the last words "stored with fire." And when we reflect on the storing of the waters at the Creation, afterwards to be let forth to destroy the world which hitherto they had made fruitful and lovely, the parallelism is very suggestive. God has stored the earth within with fire, which341 from time to time makes its mighty presence and power for destruction known. The visitations of earthquakes may therefore well remind us that He who used the treasures of waters in the Deluge for His ministers may in like manner hereafter employ this treasury of fire.

Being reserved against the day of judgement and destruction of ungodly men. When God no longer waits for sinners to repent, then will come the judgement and destruction of the ungodly. At that day the heavens that now are and the earth shall be exchanged or transformed. God will prepare a new heaven and a new earth wherein the righteous may find a congenial home with their Lord. Here they can never be other than pilgrims and sojourners, seeking to be clothed upon with their house which is from heaven. What the destruction of the ungodly shall be we can only judge and speak of in the terms of Scripture. The language of St. Paul to the Thessalonians seems to teach us that the very advent of the Judge shall bring their penalty: "They shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction" (the word is not the same which St. Peter uses) "from the face of the Lord and from the glory of His might" (2 Thess. i. 9), in the presence of which nothing that is defiled can dwell. So God, of His mercy, still reserves the heavens and the earth, and thus to every new generation offers His mercy, saying continually through their silent witness, in the spirit in which He spake to Israel at the close of the volume of prophecy, "I am Jehovah"—that is, the merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin—"I change not; therefore ye sinners are not destroyed."

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