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Charles Buck Theological Dictionary

Destructionists

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Those who believe that the final punishment threatened in the Gospel to the wicked and impenitent consists not in an eternal preservation in misery and torment, but in a total extinction of being, and that the sentence of annihilation shall be executed with more or less torment, preceding or attending the final period, in proportion to the greater or less guilt of the criminal The name assumed by this denomination, like those of many others, takes for granted the question is dispute, viz. means annihilation: in strict propriety of speech, they should be called Annihilationists. The doctrine is largely maintained in the sermons of Mr. Samuel Bourn, of Birmingham; it was held also by Mr. J. N. Scott; Mr. John Taylor, or Norwich; Mr. Marsom; and many others. In defense of the system, Mr. Bourn argues as follows: There are many passages of Scripture in which the ultimate punishment to which wicked men shall be adjudged is defined, in the most precise and intelligible terms, to be an everlasting destruction from the power of God, which is equally able to destroy as to preserve.

So when our Saviour is fortifying the minds of his disciples against the power of men, by an awe of the far greater power of God, and the punishment of his justice, he expresseth himself thus: Fear not them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do; fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Here he plainly proposes the destruction of the soul (not its endless pain and misery) as the ultimate object of the divine displeasure, and the greatest object of our fear. And when he says, These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal, it appears evident that by that eternal punishment which is set in opposition to eternal life, is not meant any kind of life, however miserable, but the same which the apostle expresses by everlasting destruction from the presence and power of the Lord. The very term, death, is most frequently made use of to signify the end of wicked men in another world, or the final effect of divine justice in their punishment. The wages of sin (saith the apostle) is death; but eternal life is the gift of God, through Christ Jesus our Lord.

See also Romans 8:6 .

To imagine that by the term death is meant an eternal life, though in a condition of extreme misery, seems, according to him, to be confounding all propriety and meaning of words. Death, when applied to the end of wicked men in a future state, he says properly denotes a total extinction of life and being. It may contribute, he adds, to fix this meaning, if we observe that the state to which temporal death reduces men is usually termed by our Saviour and his apostles, sleep; because from this death the soul shall be raised to life again: but from the other, which is fully and properly death, and of which is fully and properly death, and of which the former is but an image or shadow, there is no recovery; it is an eternal death, an everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of his power. Hi next proceeds to the figures by which the eternal punishment of wicked men is described, and finds them perfectly agreeing to establish the same doctrine. One figure or comparison, often used, is that of combustible materials throws into a fire, which will consequently be entirely consumed, if the fire be not quenched.

Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. The meaning is, a total, irrevocable destruction: for, as the tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire, and is destroyed; as the useless chaff, when separated from the good grain, is set on fire, and, if the fire be not quenched, is consumed; so, he thinks, it plainly appears, that the image of unquenchable or everlasting fire is not intended to signify the degree or duration of torment, but the absolute certainty of destruction, beyond all possibility of recovery. So the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are said to have suffered the vengeance of an eternal fire; that is, they were so effectually consumed, or destroyed, that they could never be rebuilt; the phrase, eternal fire, signifying the irrevocable destruction of those cities, not the degree or duration of the misery of the inhabitants who perished. The images of the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched, used in Mark 9:43 , are set in opposition to entering into life, and intended to denote a period of life and existence.

Our Saviour expressly assigns different degrees of future misery, in proportion to men's respective degrees of guilt, Luke 12:47-48 . But if all wicked men shall suffer torments without end, how can any of them be said to suffer but a few stripes? All degrees and distinctions of punishment seem swallowed up in the notion of never-ending or infinite misery. Finally, death and the eternal destruction, or annihilation, is properly styled in the New Testament an everlasting punishment, as it is irrevocable and unalterable for ever; and it is most strictly and literally styled, an everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. Dr. Edwards, in his answer to Dr Chauncey, on the salvation of all men, says that this scheme was provisionally retained by Dr. C.: 1:e. in case the scheme of universal salvation should fail him: and therefore Dr. E., in his examination of that work, appropriates a chapter to the consideration of it.

Among other reasonings against it are the following:

1. The different degrees of punishment which the wicked will suffer according to their works, proves that it does not consist in annihilation, which admits of no degrees.

2. If it be said that the punishment of the wicked, though it will end in annihilation, yet shall be preceded by torment, and that this will be of different degrees according to the degrees of sin; it may be replied, this is making it to be compounded partly of torment, and partly of annihilation. The latter also appears to be but a small part of future punishment, for that alone will be inflicted on the least sinner, and on account of the least sin; and that all punishment which will be inflicted on any person above that which is due to the least sin, is to consist in torment.

Nay, if we can form any idea in the present state of what would be dreadful or desirable in another, instead of its being any punishment to be annihilated after a long series of torment, it must be a deliverance, to which the sinner would look forward with anxious desire. And is it credible that this was the termination of torment that our Lord held up to his disciples as an object of dread? Can this be the destruction of body and soul in hell? Is it credible that everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power, should constitute only a part, and a small part, of future punishment; and such too, as, after a series of torment, must, next to being made happy, be the most acceptable thing that could befall them? Can this be the object threatened by such language, as recompensing tribulation, and taking vengeance in flaming fire? 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12 : Is it possible that God should threaten them with putting an end to their miseries? Moreover, this destruction is not described as the conclusion of a succession of torments, but as taking place immediately after the last judgment.

When Christ shall come to be glorified in his saints, then shall the wicked be destroyed.

3. Everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power, cannot mean annihilation, for that would be no exertion of divine power, but merely the suspension of it: for let the upholding power of God be withheld for one moment, and the whole creation would sink into nothing.

4. The punishment of wicked men will be the same as that of wicked angels, Matthew 25:41 . Depart ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. But the punishment of wicked angels consists not in annihilation, but torment. Such is their present punishment in a degree, and such in a greater degree will be their punishment hereafter. They are "cast down to hell;" they "believe and tremble;" they are reserved in chains under darkness, to the judgment of the great day; they cried, saying, "What have we to do with thee? Art thou come to torment us before our time?" Could the devils but persuade themselves they should be annihilated, they would believe and be at ease rather than tremble.

5. The Scriptures explain their own meaning in the use of such terms as death, destruction, &c. The second death is expressly said to consist in being cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, and as having a part in that lake, Revelation 20:14 ; Revelation 21:8 : which does not describe annihilation, nor can it be made to consist with it. The phrase cut him asunder, Matthew 24:51 . is as strong as those of death, or destruction; yet that is made to consist of having their portion with hypocrites, where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

6. The happiness of the righteous does not consist in eternal being, but in eternal well-being; and as the punishment of the wicked stands every where opposed to it, it must consist not in the loss of being, but of well-being, and in suffering the contrary. The great Dr. Watts may be considered, in some measure, a destructionist; since it was his opinion that the children of ungodly parents who die in infancy are annihilated.

See ANNIHILATION, HELL; Bourn's Sermons; Dr. Edwards on the Salvation of all Men strictly examined; Adam's View of Religions.


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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Destructionists'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/cbd/d/destructionists.html. 1802.

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