(by Dennis B. Horne)
We are requested to touch upon a subject that seems to be much misunderstood by many people, including some of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even by persons who might be supposed to have correct information. It has been stated and published that “The earth is almost six thousand years old,” and on that theory, some inferences are drawn which are untenable if the premise is incorrect. The question is: are we to understand the assertion as literally true? If so, does not that come in direct opposition with the facts that are looked upon as demonstrated, and with scientific discoveries and rational teachings? The editor of the Millennial Star does not profess to know the precise age of this earth on which we live, but is prepared to state most emphatically that its age is very far in advance of that which is implied in the assertion that has given rise to these remarks.
In times past a large portion of the religious world, following perhaps the chronology of the scriptures given by Archbishop Usher, believed that the creation took place in the year 4004 before Christ, but this no longer prevails among enlightened people, and has been exploded by researches and developments and scientific observation. Geology, or “the science of the earth,” has demonstrated the fallacy of the idea that the earth is such a young planet in this universe. We do not regard geology as sufficiently scientific to determine exactly the period when this globe rolled into organized existence, revolving on its own axis and traveling on its career round the sun, but the data furnished by thoroughly sincere and truth exploring geologists are sufficiently definite and reliable to prove that this planet existed and moved and had its being long ages before the six-thousand-years period.
The doctrine that God created the earth and everything mentioned in the Book of Genesis concerning it, in six of our days, has been almost entirely set aside in the light of modern discovery. It is generally believed by expounders of the Hebrew scriptures that the “days” spoken of in the first chapter of Genesis were periods extending over great lengths of time, and were not days of twenty-four hours each, as at one time supposed. Modern revelation has made this fact very clear, disclosing the truth that the “days” mentioned were God's days, not measured according to man's reckoning taken from the diurnal revolutions of this globe, but according to the motion of a great governing orb, the revolution of which each day is a thousand of our years. These periods were anterior to the bringing forth of man upon the earth, but the succession of events narrated in the first chapter of Genesis was in the order there described. Many scientific writers have advanced cogent arguments in evidence of the correspondence between the Mosaic account and scientific declarations, so far as this order of the creation is concerned.
The light thus thrown on the process of creation and the periods thereof, throws back the age of the earth at least a period of six thousand years before the time set forth in the chronology, which for a long time was accepted in Christendom. Readers of the Bible should understand that the figures placed at the head of chapters [in Sectarian Bibles] therein are in a large degree speculative and unreliable; some of them, showing the periods from the birth of some of the patriarchs to that of others, are measurably correct, because they are computed from statements given in the sacred record. But those ventured as starting points on which to calculate the age of the earth, are altogether mere matters of conjecture. That which we have referred to as given by modern revelation does not disclose, or profess to disclose, the actual age of the earth. It only starts from the period alluded to in Genesis 1:3 when “God said, Let there be light; and there was light.” How many ages upon ages passed from the time called “in the beginning,” to that when God called forth the light out of the midst of the darkness, cannot be gleaned from any revelation or scripture ancient or modern, that is now known to man.
The words “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” signify the beginning of this globe in its formation out of chaos. There is no beginning to the works of creation, nor will there be any end. Each world is brought forth in its proper time and place, to preserve the equilibrium of the universe and supply a needful addition to continue its order and harmony. And to that orb it is the beginning of its heaven and its organized materiality, but the term “created” does not signify a production out of nothing. “Ex nihil nihil fit,” (out of nothing, nothing comes). God has revealed that the word “create” signifies organize; also that “the elements are eternal.” The primary atoms, or whatever is the proper term to use in relation to their original essence, may be organized into different forms and those forms may pass away and go back to their original condition, but the substance remains and cannot be dissolved into nothing.
When the Prophet Joseph Smith enunciated the great truth just referred to, the whole Christian world around him denounced him, as opposing and denying the scriptures, but as time has passed along, some of the most eminent philologists, as well as the great fraternity of scientists, have endorsed what he set forth by the word of the Lord, not, however, recognizing him in their declarations. There are, no doubt, many people, learned and unlearned, who cling to the notion that God made the universe and all things therein out of nothing, and that the earth and all things material will at some time perish and pass away and be no more. But they are not to be classed with the truly enlightened and advanced students either of science or theology.
Neither the periods nor the processes of the development of the earth from the nucleus or starting point of its organized development are revealed in the sacred writings, but there may have been eons of ages between the time mentioned as “in the beginning” until the time when “God said, Let there be light; and there was light.” And it should not be thought that this command of Deity was the actual creation or formation of light, for that is an eternal principle or manifestation of an eternal essence. It was simply the bringing forth of light to penetrate “the darkness which was upon the face of the deep.” So, when after several periods in the order of creation “God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night,” and further, when it is said, “God made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also,” it is not to be understood that they were for the first time brought into being, but that they were disclosed to this globe, and their influence was brought to bear upon it by the clearing away of the dense mists that had surrounded this planet.
As there is much misunderstanding in regard to the origin of the earth, so there is concerning its destiny. It is stated in scripture that “the earth and the works therein shall be burned up.” The conclusion is leaped at from that remark that the earth is then notion neglect to read that which follows, i. e., “Nevertheless, we according to his promise look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness” (II Peter 3:10-13.) The lesson learned from these verses is that this globe is to be purified by fire and the “elements to melt with fervent heat,” but not to be annihilated. As it was once, in “the flood,” cleansed by the baptism of water, so it is to be regenerated by the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, and made a fit habitation for “righteousness” and the righteous, that God may dwell among men and stand upon his “footstool” and commune with man as he did before sin entered the world, and “death by sin.” This globe will thus be restored to its primeval beauty and purity when God looked upon it and saw that everything therein was “very good.” (See Rev., chaps. 21 and 22.)
The destiny of this globe is to be fitted as a habitation for the righteous and “meek” of the earth, who will inherit it in their resurrected state. The Lord has revealed that “the earth abideth the law of its creation,” and when it has fully filled the measure thereof, “it shall be crowned with glory; even with the presence of the Father;” that “although it shall die, it shall be quickened again” and shall be inhabited by beings clothed with the celestial glory: that “for this intent was it made and created.” (See Doc. and Cov. sec. 88:17-26) There are many other particulars concerning the future of this planet, formed by the Eternal as a dwelling place for this branch of the great family of which he is the Head, but on these we will not discourse further at present.
Suffice it to say that this globe in its purified, immortalized condition is to be the inheritance of the Saints of God wherein “the will of God will be done” as it is obeyed in heaven, for his kingdom will come upon it in the fulness of his glory, and he will visit it in person, and Christ, his Son, will reign over it, and then there will be no more sickness or sorrow, darkness or diabolism, war or conflict, pain or death. For Satan who once ruled it will be bound with all his hosts, away from its vicinity, and it will no more bring forth anything that will tend to evil or dissolution, but only that which will perpetuate life and extend joy and pleasure and peace. Its elements are eternal; its organization, when quickened by the Holy Spirit, will be “after the power of an endless life;” it will be clothed with celestial glory, shining like “a sea of glass mingled with fire;” it will scintillate in its own light and be numbered among the ransomed worlds, basking in the everlasting effulgence of its Maker's presence. Its beginning as a planet was away back in countless ages; its end will be nevermore. (“The Age and Destiny of the Earth,” Improvement Era, 12: [May 1909] 7.)