Jul 12, 2014

The earth shall SOON dissolve like snow?

One of my all-time favorite songs, John Newton's 1772 "Amazing Grace", contains some of the sweetest words ever written. "I once was lost but now I'm found, was blind but now I see". God's love, grace and mercy are truly amazing! 

The healed blind man said it first, "...one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." (John 9:25) A whole new world opened up to him. What a powerful metaphor for our spiritual condition prior to faith in Christ.

As you may be aware, Chris Tomlin's updated rendition of Amazing Grace (My chains fell off), eliminated the last verse and included the following.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God, Who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
Will be forever mine.
You are forever mine.

What you may not know is that Chris' version, though a slight alteration of the one found in most hymnals, was in fact a revival of Newton's original (published in 1779). 

John Newton, 1779, Olney Hymns
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav'd a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev'd;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ'd!

Thro' many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis'd good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call'd me here below,
Will be forever mine.

Do you notice the difference between Newton's original and the one in the hymnal below?

In the mid 1800s, the verse, "When we've been there ten thousand years..." replaced the apocalyptic predictions of Newton. 

With that revelation, two questions immediately sprang to mind.

1. Why was Newton's "the earth will soon be dissolved like snow" replaced?

2. And why did Chris Tomlin bring it back?

Clearly Newton believed like so many before him, that the current world conditions at the end of the 18th century signaled the end of the planet. And this point is critical because we continue to repeat his error. There is a doom and gloom atmosphere that pervades today's Church as it has for the many generations before ours. The church seems to believe the worst about everything. The currency, financial markets and society as a whole, are always assumed to be on a crash course. But given the sordid track record of these doomsayers, should that not at least cause us pause?

Since Newton penned this beloved song so long ago (241 years to be exact), is that perhaps the reason this verse was eventually eliminated? Did someone finally realize that an event can't be perpetually imminent?  That, since the earth did not dissolve "soon" as Newton expected, it became somewhat of an embarrassment? How long will it be before we stop to realize that something cannot be forever on the verge? 

In a sermon this Sunday morn, the pastor, in his attempt to explain the imminence of 1 Peter 4:7 ("The end of ALL THINGS is NEAR..."), fell all over himself trying to explain what Peter "really" meant by NEAR (Greek eggizo). Surely Peter didn't mean that the earth was ABOUT TO dissolve as snow, given the fact that he'd penned these words in the earthly AD 60s, almost 2,000 years ago... slightly less than a GENERATION after Jesus proclaimed, "This GENERATION will not pass away until ALL THESE THINGS take place" (Matt 24:34)? 

Even after reading two verses earlier "...to Him who is READY TO JUDGE the living and the dead" (1 Peter 4:5), the pastor immediately dispelled the notion that Peter, an inspired Apostle, meant exactly what he wrote. After all, the pastor quipped, Peter never said that the end of all things would take place in his GENERATION. 

Do you realize what this dear pastor was arguing? Even though Peter's teacher, Messiah, friend and Savior, made that exact statement some 3 decades prior, since Peter didn't use the word GENERATION, "near" basically meant nothing. I'm sorry, but this kind of logic is unacceptable. This pastor apparently doesn't understand the ground he's giving the atheists and mockers of our day. We need to be prepared to give a defense, and this is not it. 

The reason Peter made that and other bold time sensitive assertions was in direct response to the claims of Jesus Christ. Not only had Jesus said that "ALL THESE THINGS" would take place within a GENERATION of His audience, but He made it abundantly clear that He would return before His disciples finished going through the cities of Israel while a few were still alive. (Matt 10:23; 16:27-28). And, in the Revelation, Jesus at this point (approx AD 62) sitting at the right hand of the Father in full knowledge of the events about to transpire, told John "Things which are to SOON take place...for the TIME IS NEAR." (Rev 1:1,3)  

So, respectfully, we must not continue to make these kinds of excuses for the Word of God. If we will begin to interpret it in context, we will find out how amazing the Bible really is. 

So why did Tomlin remove the one verse (below) that instills the inevitable, our date with death? I can't answer that but it is, in my opinion, what our focus should be. Our lives will "soon dissolve as snow". We are here but for an instant. Our life is but a vapor in the wind. 

For centuries, the millions if not billions who have awaited the return of Jesus, have one thing in common. They have all died. So doesn't it seem that that our focus should be on our life that will eventually fade? How precious is this verse?
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

Concerning Newton's last verse, a blogger wrote, "There will come a time when the "earth will soon dissolve like snow" -- melting snow is something that we've all seen either in person or remotely. 

This comment is a microcosm of the modern day problem and is not dissimilar to that which the pastor said this morning. The majority have become so desensitized concerning time (the misinterpretation of 2 Peter 3:8 being at the hub) that they don't recognize this kind of faulty logic. Do you see it how inane this is? They are saying that there will come a time when the earth will SOON dissolve? Really?  Is that what Newton meant by "the earth will soon dissolve like snow"? Was he ambivalent about the timing of the end? Was he truly saying that one day in the distant future, the earth would SOON dissolve? That doesn't mean anything at all. 

If I tell my wife, "I'll be there soon, honey," does that mean that at some future time when I finally decide to leave the office, that I'll be there soon? Can you imagine what she would say if that was my excuse for not coming home when she expected? When getting the evil eye upon my appearance, how do you think this would sell? "Honey, I only meant that when I left, I would be there shortly." These are the kinds of ludicrous statements that arise from a very faulty eschatological system. It has come to the point where words don't mean a thing. 

The reality is that John Newton, however well-intentioned, joined the long list of false prophets when he wrote, "The earth will soon dissolve like snow, the sun forebear to shine." 

So why then did Chris Tomlin bring that verse back? 

Perhaps he was motivated by his eschatology. In my view, Chris made the same mistake as Newton. No doubt Chris believes, that given the state of affairs today, the earth will in fact dissolve SOON. However, I want to know why, when he sings this verse, he thinks soon actually conveys something that is actually AT HAND? If the inspired NT writers weren't implying imminence when they used terms like "shortly", "soon", "at hand", "quickly" and "in a very little while", time becomes totally irrelevant and it would be impossible to hold a prophet accountable. So why would Chris use what has so often been characterized as a Biblically ambiguous term? (for a more comprehensive look at the Biblical usages of imminent language click HERE)

The kind of de-creation apocalyptic verbiage Tomlin brought back (earth dissolving like snow) is found in the Olivet discourse (Matt 24; Mark 13; Luke 21), Peter's Pentecost sermon (Acts 2) and in the Revelation as the 6th seal is opened (Rev 6). So when were all these cataclysmic events supposed to take place? Written in Approx AD 62 Jesus, through the Angel told John...

Revelation 1:1-3 (NASB) The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, 2 who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.

So, what's going on? If the calamitous events Tomlin references were imminent 2,000 years ago but never happened, what makes him think they'll happen soon? 

When the Bible refers to this kind of judgment language like the moon turning into blood, the stars falling from the sky and the sun ceasing to shine, was it EVER used in a literal fashion? Not once! (for a fuller discussion click HERE) Until we understand the context and genre of apocalyptic language, we will continue to get stuck in the eschatological quagmire. 

So what's actually going on here? What kind of expectations is Tomlin creating? If you expect the earth to dissolve in the near-term, how will that affect your perceptions about the future? Will it cause any lifestyle changes? Will you begin hording food? Will you see the degradation of our society as a sign of the end or determine that Christ wants you to reform it for His ultimate glory? 

The Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians that the "time is short...for the form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor 7:29-31). And because they were nearing the end, what was Paul's admonition? To remain as they were! "So that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none30 and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; 31 and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it..." So why aren't Christians heeding this message if they truly believe that we only have a short time left?

Chris is a gifted songwriter and he recorded a wonderfully inspiring song (our chains have fallen off and we truly have been set free!), but the problem is that he's subtly spreading an eschatological system that is not Scriptural. In my opinion, it's rather audacious to say that soon actually means soon today, but it didn't mean soon when Peter or Paul wrote it. 

The crux of the matter is that we've been led by the experts to believe that, when Peter wrote, "The end of all things is near" that he referred to the end of the planet. Neither Jesus nor Peter were referring to the physical end of the universe, but instead, the end of the Old Covenant age that was growing old and ready to disappear. (Heb 8:13) Consider the following:

Revelation 6:12-17 (NASB) I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. 14 The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" 

If this passage is to be interpreted literally, do you notice the glaring problem? A dark sun, a blood red moon, stars crashing onto the planet earth, the sky splitting and rolling up, and all while every mountain moves out of it's place... and yet people are hiding under rocks? Are you kidding me? What rocks? How in the world could anyone hide under a rock after the entire solar system has obliterated our planet? This de-creation language is poetic and symbolic but it was never meant to be taken literally/naturally. Yes, judgement was coming upon the generation of Christ killers and it came like clockwork just as Peter and the inspired Bible authors foretold. 

If you would like proof that these things didn't happen with the timing predicted, I highly recommend the following rather expansively titled short book, "The Destruction of Jerusalem: An Absolute and IrresistibleProof of the Divine Origin of Christianity including a narrative of thecalamities which befel the Jews, so far as they tend to verify our Lord'spredictions relative to that event. With a brief description of the city and the temple" written by George Peter Holford (Written in 1805). With titles so extensive who needs to read the book?  :)

We have unambiguous historical proof that these events did indeed take place "soon" as Jesus returned with both blessings and cursings. The holy city was destroyed along with the temple that will never be rebuilt. The sun never again shined on the Jewish nation that killed their Messiah as 1.1 million Jews died the most horrific holocaust that nation would ever see. 

So the next time you sing this song, or any song for that matter, ask yourself if each verse is Biblically supported. If truth matters, it seems that we ought to become more theologically discerning. Perhaps "the earth shall soon dissolve like snow" should in fact be permanently replaced with:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.