Wonders In The Heavens



     IN the prophecy of Joel there are presented events which, in their fulfillment, betoken the near approach of the great day of the Lord. "Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand."  

     Among the events to transpire, as the great day approaches, the prophet speaks of that which he compares to the unrestrained march of a devastating army. This army the Lord designates as the locust, canker-worm, caterpillar, and the palmer-worm. 2 Before these destructive agencies come upon the land, He says, it "is as the Garden of Eden," but "behind them a desolate wilderness." 3 This is undoubtedly in the time mentioned by the prophet Isaiah when he says, "The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth."  

     These visitations of the curse, as we approach the end, are the visible evidences that the earth and atmospheric heavens are waxing old as does a garment, and that they are soon to be folded up and changed.  

     While the curse is thus resting more heavily upon the earth, the prophet shows that earthquakes will increase, and the signs appear which our Saviour said would show that His coming was even "at the door." He says: "The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining: and the Lord shall utter His voice before His army: for His camp is very great: for He is strong that executeth His word: for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?"  

     In comparing the above with the language respecting the sixth seal, there is seen a striking similarity both as to the events introduced and as to the question raised. Here are the signs in the sun, moon, and stars; and then as the voice of God shakes the heavens and the earth, and rocks are flying in every direction, men call to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?"  

     This "voice of God" before His army, which rends mountains, is in that time when the seventh and last plague is poured out, and Christ comes to a warned yet unprepared world as a thief in the night.  

     The prophet Joel proceeds to show the necessity of an earnest, humble seeking of God, a rending of the heart before Him, and that to such He will give the "latter rain" of His Spirit - the same that the apostle James declares the Lord is waiting to bestow upon His people when "the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." 9 Having carried us past this "latter rain," the prophet presents the final consummation in these words: "My people shall never be ashamed."  

     The prophet then refers back to that prediction which the apostle Peter said began its fulfilment on the day of Pentecost, 11 and carries us down to the "great day of the Lord" again: "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out My Spirit. And I will show --


“And in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke [Septuagint, "pillars of smoky vapor"]. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come."  

     It appears from the order of events here introduced, that before the signs in the sun and moon, there were to be "wonders in the heavens," and such, too, as would have the appearance of "blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke."    

     About the middle of the sixteenth century there appeared a wonder in the heavens that finally, in the fore part of the eighteenth century, assumed the exact appearance of that predicted by the prophet Joel. It is the aurora borealis, first seen in a fiery display in Great Britain in 1716, and in America for the first time, three years later, in 1719. From the middle of the sixteenth century there have been witnessed, from time to time, in increasing magnitude, "spears of red light in the heavens," and "shooting stars;" but up to A. D. 1716 no fiery display is recorded.    

     As the first authority for these statements, a quotation is given from the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, published about the year 1804. From that work we quote the following paragraphs:-  

     "The most unaccountable of all the circumstances respecting the aurora borealis is that it is not much more than a century since this phenomenon has been observed with any degree of frequency in our latitudes. We find, indeed, atmospheric phenomena recorded by the ancients, which may be regarded as examples of this meteor; but, with trifling exceptions, the whole of antiquity is absolutely silent on this subject.      

     "Dr. Halley, of London, England, informs us that he had begun to despair of witnessing this beautiful phenomenon, when the remarkable aurora of 1716 made its appearance. This philosopher has given us a historical detail of the several observations of this meteor, in which he says the first of it on record in an English work is a book entitled 'A Description of Meteors,' by W. F., D. D., reprinted at London, in 1654, which speaks of burning spears being seen Jan. 30, 1560. He says, in this book, that the next appearance of a like kind is recorded by Stow, and occurred on Oct. 7, 1564. In 1574, according to Stow and Camden, an aurora was seen for two successive nights, viz., the 14th and 15th of November. The same phenomenon was twice seen in Brabant, in 1575, on the 13th of February and the 28th of September, and the circumstances accompanying it were described by Cornelius Gemma, who compares them to spears, fortified cities, and armies fighting in the air. In 1580 and 1581, this phenomenon was repeatedly observed at Backrang, in the county of Wurtemburg, in Germany. But from this till 1621, we have no such phenomenon on record, when it was seen all over France on September 2, and is particularly described by Gassendi, in his 'Physics,' under the title of 'Aurora Borealis.'  

     "In November, 1623, another was seen all over Germany, and is particularly described by Kepler. Since that time, for more than eighty years, we have no account of any such phenomenon being observed. In 1707, Mr. Neve observed one of short continuance in Ireland, and in the same year a similar appearance was seen by Romer at Copenhagen, while during an interval of eighteen months, in the years 1707 and 1708, this sort of light had been seen no less than five times.  

     "The aurora of 1716, which Dr. Halley particularly describes, was remarkably brilliant. It was also visible over a prodigious tract of country, being seen from the west of Ireland to the confines of Prussia and the east of Poland, extending nearly thirty degrees of longitude [about 1,800 miles east and west] and from the fiftieth degree of north latitude, over almost all the north of Europe [about 800 miles north and south], and in all places, exhibiting, at the same time, appearances similar to those observed in London. 

     "It appears then to be certainly established that the aurora was of rare occurrence in our latitude till about a century ago; for it can not be supposed that so beautiful and striking a phenomenon would have passed unnoticed and unrecorded during the two preceding centuries, while men of science, and particularly astronomers, were so busily employed in examining every remarkable appearance of the heavens, or that the philosophers of Greece and Rome would have remained silent concerning so beautiful a meteor, had it been in any degree familiarly known to them. It is in vain to account for their silence by saying that they inhabited latitudes which are scarcely ever visited by these appearances, for the Romans not only visited, but long resided, in the north of Germany and Britain, where the aurora is now frequently seen in great splendor."

     The above details from the encyclopedia show that the aurora, especially in its crimson and fiery display, is of modern date.


     Increase Mather, father of Cotton Mather (both eminent and learned divines of the Congregational Church, Boston, Mass.), in a book of five sermons on "Fearful Sights and Great Signs Shall There Be from Heaven," published in 1680, made no reference in his sermons to any fiery display of aurora. He said he had searched all history, both ancient and modern. He referred to fiery comets, one of which was visible when he preached his fifth sermon. He had found in history accounts of several blazing stars, which he supposed had sufficiently the appearance at times of "blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke" in the heavens to be in fulfilment of the word of the Lord by the prophet Joel.

     In a book published in London, about one hundred and twenty years ago, entitled "Dictionary of Arts and Sciences," is an account of the fiery aurora of 1716. This book states expressly that "the oldest inhabitants there, at that time, had never seen nor heard of the like before."


     In Dr. J. B. Felt's history of Salem, Mass., is an account of the first appearance of the aurora in America: "The aurora borealis was seen for the first time in America, Dec. 17, 1719. It filled our country with great alarm. It was dreaded, as being the precursor of the judgment fires which were to consume the world. It had a similar effect on the people of England in 1716."   


     A description of the aurora borealis, on page 146 of "Willard's Abridged History of the United States," published in 1869, is as follows: "A phenomenon, singular at the time, and not yet satisfactorily explained, alarmed the people of New England in 1719. This was the 'aurora borealis,' first noticed in this country on the night of the 17th of December. Its appearance, according to the writings of the day, was more calculated to excite terror than later appearances of the same kind."  

     A writer in the New York Evening Post, about the year 1864, speaking of the effect of these wonderful sights in the heavens, on the people, says: "It prompts some to a more constant study of the heavens, others to a more reverent feeling of dependence upon Him by whose command all things were made that were made, and terrifying others by the threatening approach of those latter days - those times prophesied of by Joel - when wonders should be shown in the sky, and when, according to St. Luke, 'fearful sights and great signs' from heaven should appear."    


     In a work called "Percy Aneedotes," we have an account of the aurora as witnessed in Virginia in1789:

     "On that day I stopped in Portsmouth to spend the evening at a house where there was a large party of both sexes. All at once our ears were assailed by loud murmurs outside. We rushed to the door, and were much astonished to find the whole population of the place in the street, the greater part of them on their knees, and uttering the loudest lamentations. Attracted by the brilliancy of the heavens, I raised my eyes upward, and observed a very vivid aurora borealis, casting its coruseations over more than one half of the hemisphere. On turning round I saw the whole company on their knees, and evidently in great trepidation. The scene was certainly awful. . . . Toward midnight the aurora disappeared, as did the fears of the good people of Portsmouth. On crossing the ferry to Norfolk, I saw that the same species of alarm had also existed there to a considerable extent, and was happily extinguished."   

     This record is of itself conclusive evidence that the aurora was a new sight to the people of Virginia in 1789. 

AURORA OF NOV. 14, 1837

     On Nov. 14, 1837, the fiery aurora of the 25th of January of that year was repeated on a still grander scale. In a work published at the close of the first century of American independence, called   

     "Our First Century," we read of this extraordinary display:-  

     "Years of observation, covering many countries and embracing all latitudes, give no record of any display of auroral glories equal in sublimity and magnificence and extent to the aurora borealis of Nov. 14, 1837. . . . So extensive was this magnificent celestial phenomenon that it exhibited its wonderful splendors contemporaneously to the inhabitants of Europe and America. . . . It was such a sight as fills the mind with wonder and awe; and in America, at least, was the most marvelous of the kind ever known."  


     There have been other occurrences of this phenomenon, in various countries, since those already mentioned. It was the privilege of the writer to observe one in March, 1852, among the Alleghany Mountains, in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. When preaching there I had occasion to refer to the fiery aurora as a fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel respecting the same. A skeptic, who was attending the meetings, said to me, "The fiery aurora is not the prophecy of Joel." One night when we came out of the meeting room the whole heavens were ablaze with a grand display of fiery aurora. It came up from the horizon to the zenith in the north, and from two thirds of the way down in the southern heavens. Overhead it looked exactly like vast columns of smoke tumbling together. My skeptical friend stood with both hands on his loins, cheeks pale as ashes, staring up at the sight. After about two minutes he turned to me, and said: "Elder, I give it up. That is the prophecy of Joel exactly."  


     Near the first of October, 1900, in South New Zealand and Australia there was an exhibition of this phenomenon, and the people declared that it was "the first of the kind ever known in that country." The Public Journal at the time said it must be that "the northern lights were coming down in the southern climate," or words to that effect.    

     Again, I learn by a communication from Box Hill, Victoria, Australia, that in the month of September, 1909, there was on one night, from 10 P. M. to 3 A. M., "a fiery aurora that covered the whole heavens, for all this period, and that the heavens were entirely free from clouds."  

     One of the most wonderful of these appearances is that seen in McMurdo Sound, by those on the steamer Nimrod in its south pole expedition, under the command of Lieutenant Shackelton, in the year 1909. Of this we give a cut, as drawn by Mr. W. E. A. Wilson, the artist who accompanied the Nimrod. This picture was drawn by this artist on the spot, and a facsimile of it was placed in an album of the Royal Society of Great Britain. The copy here given I obtained at Hobart, Tasmania, from a weekly paper entitled Every Saturday, in its issue of March 13, 1909. That paper entitled it "a marvel of the Antarctic;" and in a subhead, "auroral curtains." The editor says of this scene that they call it auroral curtains "because of their resemblance to great folds of drapery in the sky." Their appearance can hardly fail to call to mind that verse in the 104th Psalm: "O Lord, . . . . Thou art clothed with honor and majesty. Who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain." And in Isaiah, again, "It is He . . . that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in." Isa.40:22.    

     Of this and other such appearances in the heavens, this writer frankly admits that "no completely satisfactory explanation of the auroral lights, or of any such phenomena, has yet been offered."  

     Various indeed have been human speculations as to the cause of the aurora, or northern lights. After advancing different theories, like the above writer all are obliged to admit, "The cause is unknown." In the face of this, the student of the prophetic word declares, "This phenomenon is produced by the direct power of the Lord, in fulfilment of His prediction made through the prophet Joel (Joel 2:30), and is a sure token that we are nearing 'the great and terrible day of the Lord.'"

1904 JNL, LDT 15-32


     On the next page is given an illustration of a wonder seen by the pilot of the steamer William Penn, on the Ohio River, on the night of March 21, 1843. An account of it was published in the Cincinnati Sun of March 27, 1843, and reads as follows:-   1904 JNL, LDT 65

"On Saturday afternoon, Mr. William Frances, pilot of the William Penn steamboat, a packet that runs between this city and Rising Sun, Ind., called personally at our office to give us the full particulars of the wonderful sight seen by him on the night above mentioned, fully impressed with the solemnity of the subject, and the awful responsibility of telling anything of this nature but what is strictly true. Mr. Frances informed us that he is a member of the church, and assured us in the most solemn manner that what he was about to relate was truth, and nothing but the truth, and that he is ready to convince any gentleman or lady that will call upon him. {1904 JNL, LDT 65.3}  


  "He states that as the Penn was on her trip to this city, when between Rising Sun and Aurora, about 11 or 12 P. M., he was steering the boat along, it being a star-bright night, - excepting a few clouds in the west, low down, sky clear, - when of a sudden a light burst forth, the whole face of the earth appearing to be lighted up, which so blinded him that it was with difficulty he could see anything, even the most near object. His first impression was that it lightened sharply, but its continuing convinced him that it must be something else, which he could not account for.   

"The captain of the Penn, James Pratzman, was sitting in the cabin at the time with three or four candles; he saw the light, notwithstanding, ran out on the guard, anxious to know the cause, and asked Mr. Frances if he saw the light.     

"He said he did. 

"'What is it?' said Captain P. 

"'Dear only knows,' answered Mr. F., 'for I don't.' 

"From that the captain disappeared from looking over the hurricane deck, and went below.   

"Mr. Frances, now being anxious to discover whence this bright light came, looked diligently out of the side of the pilot-house, in rather a southwest course, but nearly overhead, when he saw the outlines of-- 


in a crooked position, except the tail, which was straight, and the head toward the east. It turned to a lively bright red, deep and awful, and remained stationary among the stars. Mr. Frances watched it for two or three minutes, when the part disappeared nearly to the middle, and the remainder, in a gradual manner, formed into a distinct Roman G {1904 JNL, LDT 67.8}

"Mr. F. had time now to mind the channel of the river and deliberate upon the grandeur of the letter in the sky! It was remarkably interesting to him, as may well be supposed from the accuracy of its formation. And, in about one minute and a half, he watched it and the boat alternately, when it changed, turning into a distinct letter O as perfect as was ever seen, in which position it remained as before. Mr. F. stated that he was surprised greatly at this, but not scared or frightened in the least, and immediately tapped the bell for the captain to witness the scene. The captain did not come immediately, but after a moment or two appeared, but ere this the figure in the heavens had changed to a plain, distinct letter D {1904 JNL, LDT 68.1}

"The captain said to Mr. F., 'What's wanting?' {1904 JNL, LDT 68.2}

"'Come here, quick,' said Mr. F., 'and look up yonder. Did you ever see the like?' {1904 JNL, LDT 68.3}

"The captain answered, 'I see it,' and looked at it till it disappeared. {1904 JNL, LDT 68.4}

"Mr. F. states that when the O turned to a D, {1904 JNL, LDT 68.5}



it formed a kind of oblong shape, and then came straight on one side, as a D should be. When it disappeared it turned into the same oblong shape as before, and gradually the sky returned to its original appearance. 

     "Mr. F. states that he did not leave the wheel of the boat, but steered it straight to this city. He declares that, let others think or say what they will, what he has related is strictly true. He is no Millerite, neither is he crazy or frightened; and if gentlemen or ladies will call upon him, he will convince them that what he has told is true."


     A letter from John Morrison, of Glasgow, Lower Canada, dated May 27, 1843, reads: "A family near this place saw, in the heavens, on the evening of Friday, May 19, a great sword, exceeding bright." He quotes the statement of another person, near the same place, who said: "On Monday last (May 21, 1843), in the afternoon, as I was coming from the post-office, being alone, and it being a cloudy afternoon, I saw a spot of clear sky in the west, and in that the appearance of a splendid crown, highly ornamented, as clear and bright as ever I saw in a picture. I kept my eye upon it, and hastened home to show it to my family. But I saw it was changing, and it became quite round. It was as red as blood, and much larger than the moon.

     "A black line came across the center, and after a few moments it disappeared." 1904 JNL, LDT 71, 72