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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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GENERAL. A term used to denote that grand period or catastrophe of our world, when the face of nature is to be changed by fire, as formerly it was by water.

1. Scripture assures us in the general that this earth in its present form will not be perpetual, but shall come to an end.

2. It farther tells us, that this dissolution of the world shall be by a general conflagration, in which all things upon the face of the earth shall be destroyed, by which the atmosphere shall also be sensibly affected, as in such a case it necessarily must be, 2 Peter 3:5-7; 2 Peter 3:10; 2 Peter 3:12 . where from the connection of the words, the opposition between the conflagration and the deluge, as well as the most literal and apparent import of the phrases themselves, it is plain they cannot, as Dr. Hammond strangely supposes, refer to the desolation brought on Judea when destroyed by the Romans, but must refer to the dissolution of the whole earth.

3. The Scripture represents this great burning as a circumstance nearly connected with the day of judgment, 2 Peter 3:7 . compared with 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 . Hebrews 10:27 . 1 Corinthians 3:12-13; and it is probable that there may be an allusion to this in several passages of the Old Testament, such as Psalms 11:6 . Psalms 50:3 . Psalms 96:3 . Is. 34: 4, 8, 10. Is. lxvi 15. Daniel 7:9-10 . Malachi 4:1 . Zephaniah 3:8 . Deuteronomy 32:22 . to which many parallel expressions might be added, from the canonical and apocryphal books.

4. It is not expressly declared how this burning shall be kindled, nor how it shall end; which has given occasion to various conjectures about it, which see below. The ancient Pythagoreans, Platonists, Epicureans, and Stoics, appear to have had a notion of the conflagration; though whence they should derive it, unless from the sacred books, is difficult to conceive; except, perhaps, from the Phoenicians, who themselves had it from the Jews. Mention of the conflagration is made in the books of the Sibyls, Sophocies, Hystaspes, Ovid, Lucan, &c. Dr. Burnet, after J. Tachard and others, relates that the Siamese believe that the earth will at last, be parched up with heat, the mountains melted down, the earth's whole surface reduced to a level, and then consumed with fire. And the Bramins of Siam do not only hold that the world shall be destroyed by fire, but also that a new earth shall be made out of the cinders of the old.

Divines ordinarily account for the conflagration metaphysically, and will have it take its rise from a miracle, as a fire from heaven. Philosophers contend for its being produced from natural causes, and will have it effected according to the laws of mechanics. Some think an eruption of the central fire sufficient for the purpose; and add, that this may be occasioned several ways, viz. either by having its intention increased, which again may be effected either by being driven into less space by the encroachments of the superficial cold, or by an increase of the inflammability of the fuel whereon it is fed; or by having the resistance of the imprisoning earth weakened, which may happen either from the diminution of its matter, by the consumption of its central parts, or by weakening the cohesion of the constituent parts of the mass by the excess of the defect of moisture. Others look for the cause of the conflagration in the atmosphere, and suppose that some of the meteors there engendered in unusual quantities, and exploded with unusual vehemence, from the concurrence of various circumstances, may effect it without seeking any farther.

Lastly, others have recourse to a still more effectual and flaming machine, and conclude the world is to undergo its conflagration from the near approach of a comet in its return from the sun. Various opinions also are entertained as to the renovation of the earth after the conflagration.

1. Some suppose that the earth will not be entirely consumed, but that the matter of which it consists will be fixed, purified, and refined, which they say will be the natural consequence of the action of fire upon it; though it is hard to say what such a purification can do towards fitting it for its intended purpose, for it is certain a mass of crystal or glass would very ill answer the following parts of this hypothesis.

2. They suppose that from these materials thus refined, as from a second chaos, there will by the power of God arise a new creation; and then the face of the earth, and likewise the atmosphere, will then be so restored, as to resemble what it originally was in the paradisaical state; and consequently to render it a more desirable abode for human creatures than it at present is: and they urge for this purpose the following texts, viz. 2 Peter 3:13 . (compare Is. 65: 17, 66: 22.) Matthew 19:28-29 . (compare Mark 10:1-52; Luke 18:29-30 .) Psalms 102:25-26 . Acts 3:21 . 1 Corinthians 7:31 . Romans 8:21 .

3. They agree in supposing, that in this new state of things there will be no sea, Revelation 21:1 .

4. They suppose that the earth, thus beautified and improved, shall be inhabited by those who shall inherit the first resurrection, and shall here enjoy a very considerable degree of happiness, though not equal to that which is to succeed the general judgment; which judgment shall, according to them, open when those thousand years are expired, mentioned in Revelation 20:4 . &c. 1 Thessalonians 4:17 . compare ver. 15., which passage is thought by some to contain an insinuation that Paul expected to be alive at the appearance of Christ, which must imply an expectation of being thus raised from the dead before it: but it is answered that the expression we that are alive may only signify "that of us that are so, " speaking of all Christians as one body, 1 Corinthians 15:49-52 . Dr. Hartley declared it as his opinion, that the millennium will consist of a thousand prophetical years, where each day is a year, 1: e. 360, 000; pleading that this is the language used in other parts of the Revelation.

But it seems an invincible objection against this hypothesis, which places the millennium after the conflagration, that the saints inhabiting the earth after the first resurrection are represented as distressed by the invasion of some wicked enemies, Revelation 20:7-9 . Eze 38:39:

See MILLENNIUM. After all, little can be said with certainty as to this subject. It is probable that the earth will survive its fiery trial, and become the everlasting abode of righteousness, as part of the holy empire of God; but, seeing the language used in Scripture, and especially in the book of Revelation, is often to be considered as figurative rather than literal, it becomes us to be cautious in our conclusions. Burnet's Theory of the Earth; Whitby on the Millennium; Hartley on Man, vol. 2: p. 400; Fleming on the first Resurrection; Ray's three Discourses; Whiston's Theory of the Earth; and article DISSOLUTION in this work.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Conflagration'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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