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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
a denomination of Christians who believe that the final punishment threatened in the Gospel to the wicked and impenitent, consists not in eternal misery, but in a total extinction of being; and that the sentence of annihilation shall be executed with more or less previous torment, in proportion to the greater or less guilt of the criminal. This doctrine is largely maintained in the sermons of the late Dr. John Taylor, of Norwich; Mr. S. Bourn, of Birmingham; and many others. In defence of the system, Mr. Bourn argues, that 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, proceeding from Him who is equally able to destroy as to create; and who, by our Lord himself, is said to be "able to destroy both soul and body in hell." By the "everlasting punishment of the wicked," therefore, Mr. B. understands "everlasting destruction," literally speaking, "from the presence of the Lord," which is "the second death;" from which there can be no resurrection, and which is set in opposition to "eternal life." In speaking of the images used to illustrate this subject, Mr. B. remarks, that the wicked are compared to combustible materials, as brands, tares, &c, which the fire utterly consumes: so Sodom and Gomorrah suffer "the vengeance of eternal fire," that is, they are destroyed forever: and the phrases, "the worm that dieth not, and the fire which is not quenched," are placed in opposition to entering into life, and denote the termination of existence, Mark 9:43 .
To all this it may be answered:
1. That annihilation, as a punishment, admits of no degrees.
2. If we connect with this a previous state of torment, (as Mr. Winchester says, "for ages of ages,") annihilation must be rather a relief from punishment, than the punishment itself.
3. That annihilation is rather a suspension than an exertion of divine power.
4. That the punishment of impenitent men is described as the same with that of the fallen angels, who are not annihilated, Matthew 25:41 , but remain in expectation of future punishment, "Art thou come to torment us before the time?" Matthew 8:29 .
5. In the state of future punishment: there is said to be "weeping and gnashing of teeth," Matthew 24:51 .
6. As the happiness of saints in the future state consists not merely in being, but in well being, or happiness; so the punishment of the wicked requires the idea of eternal suffering to support the contrast. It might be added, that annihilation, as far as we know, forms no part of the divine economy.
One thing is also certain and indisputable: the strong language of Scripture is intended to deter men from sin; and whoever attempts to remove the barrier, offers insult to the divine wisdom, and trifles with his own destiny. But the capital argument is, that it is unscriptural:— "Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched," is, like many others, a declaration to which no dexterity of interpretation can give any other good sense, than the continuance of conscious punishment.
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Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Destructionists'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/d/destructionists.html. 1831-2.
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26