Thursday, 28 June 2018

The End of the World

Those brought up in the world of evangelical Christianity are likely to remember being frightened when the Book of Revelation was discussed, especially the sections describing what is going to happen at the end of the World. There was always the thought that the events described were imminent and that “fire and brimstone” awaited unbelievers.

Philip Henry Gosse was an evangelical Christian who led the congregation of Brethren who met in Fore Street in St Marychurch Torquay during the second half of the Nineteenth Century. Every Sunday, he preached a sermon and we have a record of their contents as they were published in one of his last books, The Mysteries of God [1]. His preaching on the end of the World would certainly have produced some discomfort in those listening to him. 

In the chapter entitled “Things coming on the Earth” [1] we read:

It is probable that, at the instant of Rapture of the Church, the whole of Papal Europe will be engulfed by the yawning of the earth bursting into a vast Volcano, never to be quenched. Perhaps one effect of this opening of the bowels of the globe will be to fill up the depression of the Mediterranean; and so to accomplish that physical change announced (Rev. xxi. 1),- “the sea was no more.”

The inference is that the destruction likely to result from this volcanic activity is to be aimed at Roman Catholicism, long a subject of loathing by Gosse and other members of evangelical, non-conformist Christian sects (and obviously not mentioned by name in the Bible, as the book was written in the earliest days of Christianity). We are not told about the extent of other eruptions and explosions, although it was well known in the Nineteenth Century that other areas of the World have considerable volcanic activity. The focus on the Mediterranean not only serves to allow focus on the fate of Roman Catholics, but it also leads on to the events that are set to occur in, and around, Jerusalem.

Most important is the descent of the New Jerusalem, described by Gosse as [1]:

..the sudden coming into sight, from heavenly space, of a glittering object, unknown to astronomers, self-luminous, above the brightness of the sun, steadily approaching, till it enters our atmosphere, and comes into close proximity to, if not actual contact with, this globe; transcends all human experience, and defies all natural philosophy. But the epoch is an epoch of miracle: the Almighty God is henceforth visibly interposing; and is not bound by natural laws, which He made, and which He can interrupt, or counteract, at his pleasure. The suspension of a non-rotating cubic mass, 1500 miles every way, in our atmosphere or near it, composed of such materials as gold and gems, and inhabited by millions of human beings, in bodies, however ethereal, would surely so augment and throw out of bearing, the specific gravity of the earth, so alter its relations to the sun, to the moon, even to all the other planets, as to be inconceivable and impossible!..

..I suppose this cube to face the earth cornerwise: to consist, indeed of two pyramids, placed base to base, of which the upper will be the city-proper, and the lower will consist of the twelve glorious foundations. These foundations are the most remarkable feature in the whole material structure; and they form its distinctive character; “the City that hath the foundations.”

This extraordinary description is based on Revelation Chapter 21, with Gosse adding his own exegesis. Questions arise from this description, of course, and contemporary readers must ask where the New Jerusalem (Heaven) is now and whether it currently has a physical form, as it is going to at the end of the World. I’m sure that these questions also occurred to Gosse, but he was happy to admit there were sections of the Bible that he could not understand.

The attention to detail in The Mysteries of God is typical of the man and it replicates the pattern of Gosse's investigations on seashore life and on many other aspects of Natural History. His books on these subjects were very popular and they contain many references to God as Creator. Like many contemporary readers, I do not pay much attention to these interjections and they do not impact the rest of his wonderful writing. Gosse was a profound Creationist and proposed his own theory to explain the presence of the rock strata, with their associated fossils, that came into existence over the few days stated in Genesis [2]. It is fitting that he had something to say about both the beginning, and the end, of the World.

To Henry Gosse, religious belief was paramount and he always wished to be able to ascend to Heaven in the Rapture [3] and not have to go through the process of death. Unfortunately, he didn’t get his wish and died four years after The Mysteries of God was published.

[1] Philip Henry Gosse (1884) The Mysteries of God. London, Hodder and Stoughton.

[2] Philip Henry Gosse (1857) Omphalos: an attempt to untie the geological knot. London, John Van Voorst.

[3] Ann Thwaite (2002) Glimpses of the Wonderful: The Life of Philip Henry Gosse 1810-1888. London, Faber and Faber.

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