The true state of the Question is propos’d.
’Tis the general doctrine of the Ancients, that the present World, or the present frame of Nature, is mutable and perishable: To which the Sacred Books agree: and natural reason can alledge nothing against it.
WHEN we speak of the End or destruction of the World, whether by Fire or otherwise, ’Tis not to be imagin’d that we understand this of the Great Universe; Sun, Moon, and Stars, and the highest Heavens: as if these were to perish or be destroy’d, some few years hence, whether by Fire or any other way. This Question is only to be understood of the Sublunary World, of this Earth and its Furniture; which had its original about six thousand years ago, according to the History of Moses; and hath once already been destroy’d, when the exteriour region of it broke, and the Abyss issuing forth, as out of a womb, overflow’d all the habitable Earth. Gen. 7. II. Job 38. 8.The next Deluge is that of Fire; which will have the same bounds, and overflow the Surface of the Earth much-what in the same manner. But the celestial Regions, where the Stars and Angels inhabit, are not concern’d in this fate: Those are not made of combustible matter, nor, if they were, cou’d our flames reach them. Possibly those Bodies may have changes and revolutions peculiar to themselves, but in ways unknown to us, and after long and unknown periods of time. Therefore when we speak of the Conflagration of the World, These have no concern in the question; nor any other part of the Universe, than the Earth and its dependances. As will evidently appear when we come to explain the manner and causes of the Conflagration.
And as this Conflagration can extend no further than to the Earth and its Elements, so neither can it destroy the matter of the Earth; but onely the form and fashion of it, as it is an habitable World. Neither Fire, nor any other natural Agent can destroy Matter, that is, reduce it to nothing: It may alter the modes and qualities of it, but the substance will always remain. And accordingly the Apostle,1 Cor. 7. 31. when he speaks of the mutability of this World, says onely, The figure or fashion of this World passes away. This structure of the Earth and disposition of the Elements: And all the works of the Earth, as St. Peter says2 Epist. 3.; All its natural productions, and all the works of art or humane industry; these will perish, melted or torn in pieces by the Fire; but without an annihilation of the Matter, any more than in the former Deluge. And this will be further prov’d and illustrated in the beginning of the following Book.
The question being thus stated, we are next to consider the sense of Antiquity upon these two Points: First, whether this Sublunary World is mutable and perishable. Secondly, by the force and action of what causes, and in what manner it will perish: whether by Fire or otherwise. Aristotle is very irregular in his Sentiments about the state of the World; He allows it neither beginning nor ending, rise nor fall, but wou’d have it eternal and immutable. And this he understands not onely of the great Universe, but of this Sublunary World, this Earth which we inhabit: wherein he will not admit there ever have been or ever will be, either general Deluges or Conflagrations. And as if he was ambitious to be thought singular in his opinion about the eternity of the World, He says, All the Ancients before him, gave some beginning or origine to the World: but were not indeed so unanimous as to its future fate. Some believing it immutable, or as the Philosophers call it, incorruptible; Others, that it had its fatal times and periods, as lesser Bodies have; and a term of age prefixt to it, by Providence.
But before we examine this Point any further, it will be necessary to reflect upon that which we noted before, an ambiguity in the use of the word World, which gives frequent occasion of mistakes in reading the Ancients: when that which they speak of the great Universe, we apply to the Sublunary World: or on the contrary, what they speak of this Earth, we extend to the whole Universe. And if some of them, besides Aristotle, made the World incorruptible, they might mean that of the great Universe, which they thought would never be dissolv’d or perish as to its Mass and bulk: But single parts and points of it (and our Earth is no more) may be variously transform’d, and made habitable and unhabitable, according to certain periods of time, without any prejudice to their Philosophy. So Plato, for instance, thinks this World will have no Dissolution: for, being a work so beautiful and noble, the goodness of God, he says, will always preserve it. It is most reasonable to understand this of the Great Universe; for, in our Earth, Plato himself admits such dissolutions, as are made by general Deluges and Conflagrations; and we contend for no other. So likewise in other Authors, if they speak of the immortality of the World, you must observe what world they apply it to; and whether to the matter or the form of it: and if you remember that our Discourse proceeds onely upon the Sublunary World, and the dissolution of its form, you will find little in antiquity contrary to this doctrine.
[paragraph continues] I always except Aristotle, (who allow’d of no Providence in this inferiour World) and some Pythagoreans falsly so call’d, that were Apostates from the doctrine of their Master. These being excepted, upon a view of the rest, you will find very few dissenters from this general doctrine.
Plato's argument against the dissolution of the world, from the goodness and wisdom of God, wou’d not be altogether unreasonable, tho’ apply’d to this Earth, if it was so to be dissolv’d, as never to be restor’d again. But we expect new Heavens and a new Earth upon the dissolution of these: better in all respects, more commodious and more beautiful. And the several perfections of the divine nature, wisdom, power, goodness, justice, sanctity, cannot be so well display’d and exemplifi’d in any one single state of Nature, as in a succession of States: fitted to receive one another according to the dispositions of the Moral World, and the order of Divine Providence. Wherefore Plato's argument from the Divine Attributes, all things consider’d, doth rather prove a succession of Worlds, than that one single world should remain the same throughout all ages, without change or variation. Next to the Platonists, the Stoicks were most considerable in matters relating to Morality and Providence: And their opinion, in this case, is well known; they being lookt upon by the Moderns, as the principal authors of the doctrine of the Conflagration. Nor is it less known that the School of Democritus and Epicurus made all their worlds subject to dissolution; and by a new concourse of Atomes restor’d them again. Lastly, The Ionick Philosophers, who had Thales for their Master, and were the first Naturalists amongst the Greeks, taught the same doctrine. We have indeed but an imperfect account left us of this Sect, and ’tis great pity; for as it was one of the most ancient, so it seems to have been one of the most considerable amongst the Greeks for Natural Philosophy. In those remains which Diogenes Laertius hath preserv’d, of Anaxagoras, Anaximenes, Archelaus, &c. All great men in their time, we find that they treated much of the Origine of the world, and had many extraordinary Notions about it, which come lame and defective to us. The doctrine of their founder, Thales, which made all things to consist of Water, seems to have a great resemblance to the doctrine of Moses and St. Peter, Gen. 1.
2 Pet. 2. 5. about the constitution of the first Heavens and Earth. But there is little in Laertius what their opinion was about the Dissolution of the world. Other Authors inform us more of that. StobæusEcl. Phys. l. 1. c. 24. joyns them with Leucippus and the Epicureans: Simplicius with Heraclitus and the Stoicks, in this doctrine about the corruptibility of the World. So that all the Schools of the Greek Philosophers, as we noted before, were unanimous in this point, excepting the Peripateticks; whose Master, Aristotle, had neither modesty enough to follow the doctrine of his Predecessors, not wit enough to invent any thing better.
Besides these Sects of Philosophers, there were Theologers amongst the Greeks, more antient than these Sects, and more mystical. Aristotle often distinguisheth the Naturalists and the Theologues. 1 Such were Orpheus and his followers, who had more of the antient Oriental Learning than the succeeding Philosophers. But they writ their Philosophy, or Theology rather, Mythologically and Poetically, in Parables and Allegories, that needed an interpretation. All these Theologers supposed the Earth to rise from a Chaos: and as they said that Love was
the principle at first, that united the loose and severed Elements, and formed them into an habitable World: So they supposed that if Strife or Contention prevail’d, that would again dissolve and disunite them, and reduce things into a Chaos: Such as the Earth will be in, upon the Conflagration. And it further appears, that both these Orders of the Learned in Greece suppos’d this present frame of Nature might perish, by their doctrine of Periodical Revolutions, or of the Renovation of the World after certain periods of time: which was a doctrine common amongst the learned Greeks, and received by them from the ancient Barbarick Nations. As will appear more at large in the following Book.Ch. 3. li. 5. In the mean time we may observe that Origen in answering Celsus, about the point of the Resurrection, tells him, that Doctrine ought not to appear so strange or ridiculous to him, seeing their own Authors did believe and teach the Renovation of the World, after certain Ages or periods. And the truth is, this Renovation of the World, rightly stated, is the same thing with the first Resurrection of the Christians. And as to the second and general Resurrection, when the Righteous shall have Celestial bodies; ’tis well known that the Platonists and Pythagoreans cloath’d the Soul with a Celestial body, or, in their Language, an Ethereal Vehicle, as her last Beatitude or Glorification. So that Origen might very justly tell his adversary, he had no reason to ridicule the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection, seeing their own Authors had the main strokes of it in their Traditionary Learning.
I will only add one remark more, before we leave this Subject, to prevent a mistake in the word Immortal or Immortality, when applyed to the World. As I told you before, the equivocation that was in that term World, it being us’d sometimes for the whole Universe, sometimes for this inferiour part of it where we live; so likewise we must observe, that when this inferiour World is said to be immortal, by the Philosophers, as sometimes it is, that commonly is not meant of any single state of Nature, or any single World, but of a succession of Worlds, consequent one upon another. As a family may be said immortal, not in any single person, but in a succession of Heirs. So as, many times, when the Ancients mention the immortality of the World, they do not thereby exclude the Dissolution or Renovation of it: but suppose a vicissitude, or series of Worlds succeeding one another. This observation is not mine, but was long since made by Simplicius, Stobæus, and others, who tell us in what sense some of those Philosophers who allowed the World to be perishable, did yet affirm it to be immortal: namely, by successive renovations.
Thus much is sufficient to shew the sence and judgment of Antiquity, as to the changeableness or perpetuity of the World. But ancient learning is like ancient Medals, more esteemed for their rarity, than their real use; unless the Authority of a Prince make them currant. So neither will these testimonies be of any great effect, unless they be made good and valuable by the Authority of Scripture. We must therefore add the Testimonies of the Prophets and Apostles to these of the Greeks and Barbarians, that the evidence may be full and undeniable. That the Heavens and the Earth will perish or be chang’d into another form, is, sometimes, plainly exprest, sometimes supposed and alluded to in Scripture. The Prophet David's testimony is express, both for the beginning and ending of the
[paragraph continues] World: in the 102. Psalm,Ver. 25, 26, 27. Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the Earth, and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a Vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed. But thou art the same, and thy Years shall have no end. The Prophet Esay's testimony is no less express, to the same purpose.Ca. 51. 6. Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the Earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the Earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner. These Texts are plain and explicite; And in allusion to this day of the Lord, and this destruction of the World, the same Prophet often useth phrases that relate to it. Isa. 13. 13. c. 24. 18, 19. c. 34. 4. As the Concussion of the Heavens and the Earth. The shaking of the foundations of the World. The dissolution of the Host of Heaven. And other Sacred Writers have expressions of the like force, and relating to the same effect. As the Hills melting like wax, at the presence of the Lord: Psal. 97. 5. Shattering once more all the parts of the Creation: Hagg. 2. 6. Overturning the mountains, and making the pillars of the Earth to tremble: Job 9. 5, 6. If you reflect upon the explication given of the Deluge in the first part of this Theory, and attend to the manner of the Conflagration, as it will be explain’d in the sequel of this Discourse, you will see the justness and fitness of these expressions: That they are not poëtical hyperboles, or random expressions, of great and terrible things in general, but a true account of what hath been, or will be, at that great day of the Lord. ’Tis true, the Prophets sometimes use such-like expressions figuratively, for commotions in States and Kingdoms, but that is onely by way of metaphor and accommodation; the true basis they stand upon, is that ruine, overthrow, and dissolution of the natural World, which was once at the Deluge, and will be again, after another manner, at the general Conflagration.
As to the new Testament, our Saviour says, Heaven and Earth shall pass away, but his words shall not pass away: Matt. 24. 35. St. Paul says, the Scheme of this world; the fashion, form, and composition of it, passeth away: 1 Cor. 7. 31. And when mention is made of new Heavens and a new Earth, which both the Prophet Isaiah,Isa. 65. 17. & 66. 22.
Rev. 21. 1.
2 Pet. 3. 13. and the Apostles, St. Peter and St. John, mention, ’tis plainly imply’d that the old ones will be dissolv’d. The same thing is also imply’d, when our Saviour speaks of a Renascency or Regeneration: Matt. 19. 28. and St. Peter, of a Restitution of all things: Act. 3. 21. For what is now, must be abolish’d, before any former order of things can be restor’d or reduc’d. In a word, If there was nothing in Scripture concerning this subject, but that discourse of St. Peter's, in his 2d. Epistle and 3d. Chapter, concerning the triple order and succession of the Heavens and the Earth; past, present, and to come; that alone wou’d be a conviction and demonstration to me, that this present World will be dissolv’d.
You will say, it may be, in the last place, we want still the testimony of natural reason and Philosophy to make the evidence compleat. I answer, ’tis enough if They be silent, and have nothing to say to the contrary. Here are witnesses, humane and divine, and if none appear against them, we have no reason to refuse their testimony, or to distrust it. Philosophy will very readily yield to this doctrine, that All material compositions are dissolvable: and she will not wonder to
see that die, which she had seen born; I mean, this Terrestrial World. She stood upon the Chaos, and see it rowl it self, with difficulty and after many struglings, into the form of an habitable Earth: And that form she see broken down again at the Deluge; and can as little hope or expect now, as then, that it should be everlasting and immutable. There would be nothing great or considerable in this inferiour World, if there were not such revolutions of nature. The Seasons of the Year, and the fresh Productions of the Spring, are pretty in their way; But when the Great YearAnnus Magnus comes about, with a new order of all things, in the Heavens and on the Earth; and a new dress of nature throughout all her regions, far more goodly and beautiful than the fairest Spring; This gives a new life to the Creation, and shows the greatness of its Author. Besides, These Fatal Catastrophes are always a punishment to degenerate Mankind, that are overwhelm’d in the ruines of these perishing Worlds. And to make nature her self execute the divine vengeance against rebellious Creatures, argues both the power and wisdom of that Providence that governs all things here below. These things Reason and Philosophy approve of; but if you further require that they should shew a Necessity of this future destruction of the World, from Natural Causes, with the time and all other circumstances of this effect; your demands are unreasonable, seeing these things do not depend solely upon Nature. But if you will content your self to know what dispositions there are in Nature towards such a change, how it may begin, proceed, and be consummate, under the conduct of Providence, be pleased to read the following Discourse for your further satisfaction.
243:1 Οἱ φυσικοὶ οἱ θεόλογος.