2 Peter 3:3-4
Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,…
I. THE SCIENTIFIC DIFFICULTY.
1. So far as the objection relates to the delay of the second advent, it would seem that, in a scientific age like the present, it would least of all have weight. For the history of the earth, as related by geology, and the history of the cosmical system, as related by astronomy, present periods so vast, that the eighteen hundred years, during which Christianity has been evolving its work among men, shrink into utter insignificance in the comparison. Certainly, the man of science, of all men, should recognise the utter inadequacy of human standards of time as measures of the development of the plans of the Creator.
2. Again, so far as the objection relates to other aspects of the subject, such as the regularity and immutability of natural law which, it is alleged, forbid any such catastrophe as the end of the world, I suggest —
(1) That creation is the fundamental fact on which all our knowledge rests. Science is compelled to admit the beginning of the Kosmos. The very principle of evolution which, in some form or other, is now generally adopted as a twin generalisation with gravitation, carries with it the idea of a beginning. Even if the Kosmos had been self-evolved, the seed out of which it evolved itself must be assumed. But does not this suggest that it is working towards an end? an ultimate solution?
(2) That the three leading ideas involved in the second advent, and that which is associated with it, at least in perspective, the end of the world, find clear analogies in the latest theories of science.
(a) The second advent involves the idea of the imagination of a higher stage of life and being for man — emancipation from old fetters, the ascent to a higher plane, the taking on a new body with new powers, and under new and higher conditions. But this is just in the line of the story which science is telling us — whether in astronomy, geology, natural history, or sociology — the several spheres in which the law of evolution is traced.
(b) The second advent involves the sudden manifestation of the Son of God, and a new birth of the world resulting from it. But again, the scientific man at our side teaches us that the ascent of matter and force to higher planes, though indeed in orderly succession, has not been by infinite gradation as upon a sliding scale, but always by paroxysms. The story of a chemist is a story of successive births of force into higher and higher forms, the transformation of dead into living matter, of physical into chemical force, and again of chemical into vital force. These are all instances of sudden births into higher conditions with new properties and powers which could not have been imagined before.
(c) The second advent — or that great event which, in the perspective, is contiguous with it, though in reality it may lie far beyond it (like two distant peaks, which seem to spring from the same base though a wide valley really intervenes) — involves also stupendous natural phenomena — the regeneration by fire, the new heavens and the new earth. But here again the analogy of science is in harmony with the scriptural revelation; for the geologist, in telling of an internal treasure-house of fire, as well as the astronomer in his theory of "planetary old age," clearly establish that harmony. And, moreover, if there is a law of conservation of force, there is also, as its antithesis, a law of dissipation of energy. Says Le Comte, "All scientific speculations on the subject of the final destiny of the Kosmos bankrupt nature. The final result is, the running down of all forms of force into heat, and so the final death of the Kosmos."
II. THE HISTORICAL DIFFICULTY. Christ promised to come again in person to judge the world. He said, "Behold, I come quickly." But He has not come. Long cycles of history have rolled round, yet still He comes not. Now how do we meet this objection? Exactly as St. Peter did — by reminding the objector that with the Lord "a thousand years are as one day." He is the strong and patient worker. Whether we study the record of races or of civilisations, the conclusion is the same — that the God who orders the course of history does indeed reckon "a thousand years as one day," maturing His purposes through long tracts of time, and refusing to hasten His work in obedience to the impatience of men. Great nations are not born in a day; strong civilisations are not the product of a generation; both are rather the resultant of a combination of forces and influences whose origin must be sought in remote antiquity. Judging, then, from the analogy of history, what should be the case of Christianity? Here was a new spiritual kingdom set up on earth, designed to be as wide as the world, and as universal as man. How would its results be reached? Surely we should expect that such a design could only be wrought out through long cycles of time; or, at least, this is certain, leaving out of view what could be done (for who shall limit the power of the Almighty?) if experience shall prove that the kingdom of God is to establish itself slowly and through long ages of development, this is only. what the analogy of history would teach us to expect. But does not this slow ripening of the great periods of history and civilisation, while it removes the difficulty occasioned by the long delay of the second advent, create at the same time a presumption against the manner of its imagination? The Scripture picture represents a sudden event, a great crisis and catastrophe in the history of the world, in the second coming of Christ. But this, too, finds its frequent analogies in history. The records of mankind afford instances not a few of great crises in the history of cities and nations and races, when sudden destruction has overtaken them, when the long pent-up clouds of wrath have burst upon them and swept them away from among the families of the earth. Such was the case with Nineveh and Babylon. Such was the case with Accad, a city older than either of these, which was indeed the cradle of civilisation, but which so utterly disappeared, that its existence was not even known forty years ago, and was only brought to light by the discovery of the key to the arrow-headed characters, in which the story of the Accadians, with their laws and literature and religion, had remained securely locked up for more than three thousand years. Such was the case with Jerusalem, which when it filled up the measure of its guilt, perished in that sudden storm of indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish. Such was the case with the Roman Empire, when it sank to rise no more before the devastating flood of the Northern barbarians. Similar examples are not wanting in modern history, illustrating the principle in question, and giving ground for the assertion that the analogy of history is in harmony with the prophecy that the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night — a day of judgment and indignation and wrath to those who are disobedient and rebellious against the Son of God, but a day of Redemption to all them that wait for His appearing.
(R. H. McKim, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,