A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Destructionists

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DESTRUCTIONISTS, a denomination of Christians who teach that the final punishment threatened in the gospel to the wicked and impenitent, consists not in external misery, but in a total extinction of being; and that the sentence of annihilation shall be executed with more or less torment, in proportion to the greater or less guilt of the criminal.

The name assumed by this denomination, takes for granted that the scripture word destruction means annihilation. In strict propriety of speech they should therefore be called Annihilationists. this doctrine is largely maintained in the sermons of Mr. S. Bourn of Birmingham; by Mr. J. N. Scott, by Mr. J. Taylor, or Norwich, and many others.

In defence 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 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 wrath of men, he expresses himself thus: Fear not them that kill the body, but him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. And when he says, These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal, Mr. B. understands, by that eternal punishment, which is opposed to eternal life, not a state of perpetual misery, but total and everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, which is 'the second death,' from which there is no resurrection.[1] Mr. Bourn alleges, that the figures, by which the eternal punishment of wicked men is described, agree to establish the doctrine of annihilation of the finally impenitent. One figure or comparison often used, is that of combustible materials thrown into a fire, which will consequently be entirely consumed, if the fire not be quenched. So the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are said to have suffered the vengeance of eternal fire; that is, they could never be rebuilt; the expression of eternal fire signifying the irrevocable destruction of these 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 ix. 44. are set in opposition to entering into life, and intended to denote a period of life and existence.

To this scheme Dr. Jon. Edwards opposes many objections, as --1. That the punishment of annihilation admits of no degrees, --2. That this destruction is not described as the end, but as the beginning of misery. --3. That annihilation is not exertion, but a suspension only of divine power. --4 That the punishment of the wicked is to be the same as that of the fallen angels, Matt. xxv. 41. --5. That the state of final punishment is attended with weeping and gnashing of teeth, Matt. xxiv. 51. --6. As the happiness of the just does not consist in eternal being, but well-being, so the punishment of the wicked requires the idea of eternal suffering to support the contrast.[2]

Original footnotes[edit]

  1. Bourn's Serm. vol. i. p.379-395
  2. Edwards' 'Salvation of all men examined,' chap. v.