With the Contents and Order of this Work.
SEEING Providence hath planted in all Men a natural desire and curiosity of knowing things to come; and such things especially as concern our particular Happiness, or the general Fate of mankind: This Treatise may, in both respects, hope for a favourable reception amongst inquisitive persons; seeing the design of it is, to give an account of the greatest revolutions of Nature that are expected in future Ages; and in the first place, of the Conflagration of the World. In which Universal Calamity, when all Nature suffers, every man's particular concern must needs be involv’d.
We see with what eagerness men pry into the Stars, to see if they can read there the Death of a King, or the fall of an Empire: ’Tis not the fate of any single Prince or Potentate, that we Calculate, but of all Mankind: Nor of this or that particular Kingdom or Empire, but of the whole Earth. Our enquiries must reach to that great period of Nature, when all things are to be dissolv'd: both humane affairs, and the Stage whereon they are acted. When the Heavens and the Earth will pass away, and the Elements melt with fervent heat. We desire, if possible, to know what will be the face of that Day, that great and terrible Day, when the Regions of the Air will be nothing but mingled Flame and Smoak, and the habitable Earth turn’d into a Sea of molten Fire.
But we must not leave the World in this disorder and confusion, without examining what will be the Issue and Consequences of it. Whether this will be the End of all things, and Nature, by a sad fate, lie eternally dissolv’d and desolate in this manner: or whether we may hope for a Restauration: New Heavens and a New Earth, which the Holy Writings make mention of, more pure and perfect than the former. As if this was but as a Refiner's fire, to purge out the dross and courser parts, and then cast the Mass again into a new and better Mould. These things, with God's assistance, shall be matter of our present enquiry; These make the general subject of this Treatise, and of the remaining parts of this Theory of the Earth. Which now, you see, begins to be a kind of Prophecy, or Prognostication of things to come: as it hath been hitherto an History of things pass’d; of
such states and changes as Nature hath already undergone. And if that account which we have given of the Origine of the Earth, its first and Paradisiacal form, and the dissolution of it at the universal Deluge, appear fair and reasonable: The Second dissolution by Fire, and the renovation of it out of a second Chaos, I hope will be deduc’d from as clear grounds and suppositions. And Scripture it self will be a more visible Guide to us in these following parts of the Theory, than it was in the former. In the mean time, I take occasion to declare here again, as I have done heretofore, that neither this, nor any other great revolutions of Nature, are brought to pass, by causes purely natural, without the conduct of a particular Providence. And ’tis the Sacred Books of Scripture that are the records of this Providence, both as to times past, and times to come: as to all the signal Changes either of the Natural World, or of Mankind, and the different Oeconomies of Religion. In which respects, these Books, tho’ they did not contain a Moral Law, would notwithstanding be, as the most mystical, so also the most valuable Books in the World.
This Treatise, you see, will consist of Two Parts: The former whereof is to give an account of the Conflagration; and the latter, of the New Heavens and New Earth following upon it; together with the state of Mankind in those new Habitations. As to the Conflagration, we first enquire, what the Antients thought concerning the present frame of this World; whether it was to perish or no: whether to be destroyed, or to stand eternally in this posture. Then in what manner they thought it would be destroy’d; by what force or violence; whether by Fire or other ways. And with these opinions of the Antients we will compare the doctrine of the Prophets and Apostles, to discover and confirm the truth of them. In the Second place, We will examine what Calculations or Conjectures have been made concerning the time of this great Catastrophe, or of the end of this World. Whether that period be defineable or no: and whether by natural Arguments, or by Prophecies. Thirdly, We will consider the Signs of the approaching Conflagration: Whether such as will be in Nature, or in the State of humane Affairs; but especially such as are taken notice of and recorded in Scripture. Fourthly, which is the principal point, and yet that wherein the Antients have been most silent, What Causes there are in Nature, what preparations, for this Conflagration: Where are the Seeds of this universal Fire, or fewel sufficient for the nourishing of it? Lastly, in what order and by what degrees the Conflagration will proceed: In what manner the frame of the Earth will be dissolv'd: and what will be the dreadful countenance of a Burning World.
These heads are set down more fully in the Arguments of each Chapter; and seem to be sufficient for the explication of this whole matter: Taking in some additional discourses, which, in pursuing these heads, enter of their own accord, and make the work more even and intire. In the second Part, we restore the World that we had destroy'd: Build new Heavens and a new Earth, wherein Righteousness shall dwell. Establish that new order of things, which is so often celebrated by the Prophets: A Kingdom of Peace and of Justice, where the Enemy of Mankind shall be bound, and the Prince of Peace shall rule. A Paradise without a Serpent, and a Tree of Knowledge, not to wound, but to heal the Nations.
[paragraph continues] Where will be neither curse, nor pain, nor death, nor disease. Where all things are new, all things are more perfect: both the World it self, and its Inhabitants. Where the First-born from the Dead, have the First-fruits of glory.
We dote upon this present World, and the enjoyments of it: and ’tis not without pain, and fear, and reluctancy, that we are torn from them: as if our hopes lay all within the compass of this life. Yet, I know not by what good fate, my thoughts have been always fixt upon things to come, more than upon things present. These I know, by certain experience, to be but trifles; and if there be nothing more considerable to come, the whole Being of Man is no better than a trifle. But there is room enough before us in that we call Eternith, for great and noble Scenes: and the mind of Man feels it self lessen’d and straiten’d in this low and narrow state: wishes and waits to see something greater. And if it could discern another World a coming, on this side eternal life; a beginning Glory, the best that Earth can bear, It wou’d be a kind of Immortality to enjoy that prospect before-hand; To see, when this Theater is dissolv’d, where we shall act next, and what parts. What Saints and Hero's, if I may so say, will appear upon that Stage; and with what luster and excellency. How easie would it be, under a view of these futurities, to despise the little pomps and honours, and the momentary pleasures of a mortal life. But I proceed to our Subject.