That the World will be destroy’d by Fire, is the doctrine of the Ancients, especially of the Stoicks. That the same doctrine is more ancient than the Greeks, and deriv’d from the Barbarick Philosophy, and That probably from Noah; the Father of all Traditionary Learning. The same doctrine expresly authoriz’d by Revelation, and inroll’d into the Sacred Canon.
THAT the present World, or the present frame of Nature, will be destroy’d, we have already shewn. In what manner this destruction will be, by what force or what kind of fate, must be our next enquiry. The Philosophers have always spoken of Fire and Water, those two unruly Elements, as the only Causes that can destroy the World, and work our ruine; And accordingly they say, all the great and fatal Revolutions of Nature, either past or to come, depend upon the violence of these Two; when they get the mastery, and overwhelm all the rest and the whole Earth, in a Deluge or Conflagration. But as they make these Two the Destroying Elements, so they also make them the Purifying Elements. And accordingly in the Lustrations, or their rites and ceremonies for purging sin, Fire and Water were chiefly made use of, both amongst the Romans, Greeks and Barbarians. And when these Elements over-run the world, it is not, they say, for a final destruction of it, but to purge Mankind and Nature from their Impurities. As for purgation by Fire and Water, the stile of our Sacred Writings
does very much accommodate it self to that sence; and the Holy Ghost, who is the great Purifier of Souls, is compared in his operation upon us, and in our regeneration, to fire or water. And as for the external world, St. Peter1 Ep. 3. 21.
1 Cor. 3. 13.
Mal. 3. 2, 3. makes the Flood to have been a kind of Baptising or renovation of the world. And St. Paul and the Prophet Malachy make the last Fire, to be a purging and refining fire. But to return to the Ancients.
The Stoicks especially, of all other Sects amongst the Greeks, have preserved the doctrine of the Conflagration, and made it a considerable part of their Philosophy, and almost a character of their order. This is a thing so well known that I need not use any Citations to prove it. But they cannot pretend to have been the first authors of it neither. For, besides that amongst the Greeks themselves, Heraclitus and Empedocles, more ancient than Zeno, the Master of the Stoicks, taught this doctrine, ’tis plainly a branch of the Barbarick Philosophy, and taken from thence by the Greeks. For it is well known that the most ancient and mystick learning amongst the Greeks, was not originally their own, but borrowed of the more Eastern Nations, by Orpheus, Pythagoras, Plato, and many more: who travel’d thither, and traded with the Priests for knowledge and Philosophy; and when they got a competent stock, returned home, and set up a School, or a Sect, to instruct their Country-men. But before we pass to the Eastern nations, let us, if you please, compare the Roman Philosophy upon this subject, with that of the Greeks.
The Romans were a great people, that made a shew of Learning, but had little in reality, more than words and Rhetorick. Their curiosity or emulation in Philosophical Studies was so little, that it did not make different Sects and Schools amongst them, as amongst the Greeks. I remember no Philosophers they had but such as Tully, Seneca, and some of their Poets. And of these Lucretius, Lucan and Ovid, have spoken openly of the Conflagration. Ovid's Verses are well known,
A Time decreed by Fate, at length will come,
When Heavens and Earth and Seas shall have their doom;
A fiery doom: And Nature's mighty frame
Shall break, and be dissolv’d into a flame.
We see Tully's sence upon this matter in Scipio's Dream. When the old man speaks to his Nephew Africanus, and shews him from the clouds, this spot of Earth, where we live; He tells him, tho’ our actions shou’d be great, and fortune favour them with success, yet there wou’d be no room for any lasting glory in this World; for the World it self is transient and fugitive. And a Deluge or a Conflagration, which necessarily happen after certain periods of time, sweep away all records of humane actions. As for Seneca, he being a profest Stoick, we need not doubt of his opinion in this point. We may add here, if you please, the Sibylline verses, which were kept with great Religion, in the Capitol at Rome, and consulted with much ceremony upon solemn occasions. These Sibyls were
the Prophetesses of the Gentiles, and tho’ their writings now have many spurious additions, yet none doubt but that the Conflagration of the World was one of their original Prophecies.
Let us now proceed to the Eastern nations. As the Romans receiv’d the small skill they had in the Sciences, from the Greeks; so the Greeks receiv’d their chief mystick learning from the Barbarians: that is, from the Ægyptians, Persians, Phœnicians, and other Eastern Nations: For ’tis not onely the Western or Northern people, that they call’d Barbarians, but indeed all Nations besides themselves. For that is commonly the vanity of great Empires, to uncivilize in a manner all the rest of the World; and to account all those People Barbarous, that are not subject to their dominion. These however, whom they call’d so, were the most ancient People, and had the first learning that was ever heard of after the Flood. And amongst these, the Ægyptians were as famous as any: whose Sentiment in this particular of the Conflagration is well known. For Plato, who liv’d amongst them several years, tells us in his Timæus, that it was the doctrine of their Priests, that the fatal Catastrophes of the World were by Fire and Water. In like manner the Persians made their beloved God, Fire, at length to consume all things that are capable of being consum’d. For that is said to have been the doctrine of Hydaspes, one of their great Magi or Wise men.Just. Mar. Apol. 2. As to the Phœnicians, I suspect very much that the Stoicks had their Philosophy from them, and amongst other things the Conflagration. We shall take notice of that hereafter.
But to comprehend the Arabians also, and Indians, give me leave to reflect a little upon the story of the Phœnix. A story well known, and related by some ancient Authors, and is in short this. The Phœnix, they say, is a Bird in Arabia, India, and those Eastern parts, single in her kind, never more than one at a time, and very long-liv'd: appearing onely at the expiration of the Great Year, as they call it: And then she makes her self a Nest of Spices, which being set on fire by the Sun, or some other secret power, she hovers upon it, and consumes her self in the flames. But, which is most wonderful, out of these ashes riseth a second Phœnix; so that it is not so much a death as a renovation. I do not doubt but the story is a fable, as to any such kind of Bird, single in her species, living and dying, and reviving in that manner: But ’tis an Apologue, or a Fable with an interpretation, and was intended as an Emblem of the World: which, after a long age, will be consum’d in the last fire: and from its ashes or remains will arise another world, or a new-form’d Heavens and Earth. This, I think, is the true mystery of the Phœnix, under which Symbol the Eastern Nations preserv’d the doctrine of the Conflagration and renovation of the World. They tell some-what a like story of the Eagle, soaring a-loft so near the Sun, that by his warmth and enlivening rays, she renews her age and becomes young again. To this the Psalmist is thought to allude: Psal. 103. 5. Thy Youth shall be renew’d like the Eagles: which the Chaldee Paraphrast renders, In mundo venturo renovabis, sicut Aquilæ, juventutem tuam. These things to me seem plainly to be symbolical, representing that World to come, which the Paraphrast mentions, and the fireing of this. And this is after the manner of the Eastern Wisdom; which always lov’d to go fine, cloath’d in figures and fancies.
And not onely the Eastern Barbarians, but the Northern and Western also, had this doctrine of the Conflagration amongst them. The Scythians, in their dispute with the Ægyptians about antiquity, argue upon both suppositions, of Fire or Water, destroying the last World, or beginning this. And in the West, the Celts, the most ancient People there, had the same tradition; for the Druids, who were their Priests and Philosophers, deriv’d, not from the Greeks, but of the old race of Wise men, that had their Learning traditionally, and, as it were, hereditary from the first ages: These, as Strabo tells us,l. 4. gave the World a kind of immortality by repeated renovations; and the principle that destroy’d it, according to them, was always Fire or Water. I had forgot to mention in this List, the Chaldeans: whose opinion we have from Berosus in Seneca.Nat. Quæst. 3. c. 29. They did not onely teach the Conflagration, but also fixt it to a certain period of time, when there should happen a great Conjunction of the Planets in Cancer. Lastly, we may add, to close the account, the Modern Indian Philosophers, the reliques of the old Bragmans; These, as Maffeusl. 16. Hist. Ind. tells us, declare, that the World will be renew’d, after an Universal Conflagration.
You see of what extent and universality throughout all Nations, this doctrine of the Conflagration hath been. Let us now consider what defects or excesses there are, in these ancient opinions, concerning this fate of the World, and how they may be rectified: That we may admit them no further into our belief, than they are warranted by reason, or by the authority of Christian Religion. The first fault they seem to have commited about this point, is this, That they made these revolutions and renovations of nature, indefinite or endless: as if there would be such a succession of Deluges and Conflagrations to all eternity. This, the Stoicks seem plainly to have asserted, as appears from Eumenius, Philo, Simplicius, and Others. St. JeromeEpist. 60. imputes this Opinion also to Origen: but he does not always hit the true sence of that Father, or is not fair and just in the representation of it. Whosoever held this Opinion, ’tis a manifest errour, and may be easily rectified by the Christian Revelation; which teaches us plainly, that there is a final period and consummation of all things that belong to this Sublunary or Terrestrial world. When the Kingdom shall be deliver’d up to the Father: and Time shall be no more.
Another Errour they committed in this doctrine, is, the Identity, or sameness, if I may so say, of the worlds, succeeding one another. They are made indeed of the same Lump of matter, but they suppos’d them to return also in the same Form. And, which is worse, that there would be the same face of humane affairs; The same Persons and the same actions over again; So as the second World would be but a bare repetition of the former, without any variety or diversity. Such a revolution is commonly call’d the Platonick Year: A period, when all things return to the same posture they had some thousands of years before; As a Play acted over again, upon the same Stage, and to the same Auditory. This is a groundless and injudicious supposition. For, whether we consider the nature of things; The Earth after a dissolution, by Fire or by Water, could not return into the same form and fashion it had before; Or whether we consider Providence, it would no ways suit with the Divine Wisdom and Justice to bring upon the
stage again those very Scenes, and that very course of humane affairs, which it had so lately condemn’d and destroy’d. We may be assured therefore, that, upon the dissolution of a World, a new order of things, both as to Nature and Providence, always appears: And what that new order will be, in both respects, after the Conflagration, I hope we shall, in the following Book, give a satisfactory account.
These are the opinions, true or false, of the Ancients; and chiefly of the Stoicks, concerning the mystery of the Conflagration. It will not be improper to enquire in the last place, how the Stoicks came by this doctrine: whether it was their discovery and invention, or from whom they learned it. That it was not their own invention, we have given sufficient ground to believe, by shewing the antiquity of it beyond the times of the Stoicks. Besides, what a man invents himself, he can give the reasons and causes of it, as things upon which he founded his invention: But the Stoicks do not this, but according to the ancient traditional way, deliver the conclusion without proof or premisses. We nam’d Heraclitus and Empedocles amongst the Greeks to have taught this doctrine before the Stoicks: And, according to Plutarch,De defec. Orac. Hesiod and Orpheus, authors of the highest antiquity, sung of this last Fire, in their Philosophick Poetry. But I suspect the Stoicks had this doctrine from the Phœnicians; for if we enquire into the original of that Sect, we shall find that their Founder Zeno, was a Barbarian or Semi-barbarian, deriv’d from the Phœnicians, as Laertius and Cicero give an account of him. And the Phœnicians had a great share in the Oriental knowledge, as we see by Sanchoniathon's remains in Eusebius. And by their mystical Books which Suidas mentions, from whence Pherecydes, Pythagoras his Master, had his learning. We may therefore reasonably presume that it might be from his Countrey-men, the Phœnicians, that Zeno had the doctrine of the Conflagration. Not that he brought it first into Greece, but strongly reviv’d it, and made it almost peculiar to his Sect.
So much for the Stoicks in particular, and the Greeks in general. We have also, you see, trac’d these Opinions higher, to the first Barbarick Philosophers: who were the first race of Philosophers after the Flood. But Josephus tells a formal story of Pillars set up by Seth, before the Flood; implying the foreknowledge of this Fiery destruction of the World, even from the beginning of it. His wordsl. 1. c. 3. are to this effect, give what credit to them you think fit. Seth and his fellow students having found out the knowledge of the cœlestial Bodies, and the order and disposition of the Universe; and having also receiv’d from Adam a Prophecy, that the World should have a double destruction, one by Water, another by Fire; To preserve and transmit their knowledge, in either case, to posterity. They raised two Pillars, one of Brick, another of Stone, and ingrav’d upon them their Philosophy and inventions. And one of these pillars, the Author says, was standing in Syria, 1 even to his time. I do not press the belief of this story; there being nothing, that I know of, in Antiquity Sacred or prophane, that gives a joint testimony with it. And those that set up these Pillars, do not seem to me to have understood the nature of the Deluge or Conflagration; if they thought a Pillar, either of Brick or Stone, would be secure, in those great dissolutions of the Earth. But we have pursued this doctrine high enough without the help of these ante-diluvian Antiquities: namely, to the earliest people and the first appearances of Wisdom after
the Flood. So that, I think, we may justly look upon it as the doctrine of Noah, and of his immediate posterity. And as that is the highest source of learning to the present World; so we should endeavour to carry our Philosophical Traditions to that Original: for I cannot perswade my self but that they had amongst them, even in those early days, the main strokes or conclusions of the best Philosophy: or, if I may so say, a form of sound doctrine concerning Nature and Providence. Of which matter, if you will allow me a short digression, I will speak my thoughts in a few words.
In those first Ages of the World after the Flood, when Noah and his Children peopled the Earth again, as he gave them Precepts of morality and piety for the conduct of their manners: which are usually call’d Præcepta Noachidarum, the Precepts of Noah, frequently mention’d both by the Jews and Christians: So also he deliver’d to them, at least, if we judge aright, certain Maximes or Conclusions about Providence, the state of Nature, and the fate of the World: And these, in proportion, may be call’d Dogmata Noachidarum, the Doctrines of Noah, and his Children. Which made a Systeme of Philosophy or secret knowledge amongst them, deliver’d by Tradition from Father to Son; but especially preserv’d amongst their Priests and Sacred Persons, or such others as were addicted to Contemplation. This I take to be more ancient than Moses himself, or the Jewish Nation. But it would lead me too far out of my way, to set down in this place, the reasons of my judgment. Let it be sufficient to have pointed onely at this Fountain-head of knowledge, and so return to our Argument.
We have heard, as it were, a Cry of Fire, throughout all Antiquity, and throughout all the People of the Earth. But those alarums are sometimes false, or make a greater noise than the thing deserves. For my part, I never trust Antiquity barely upon its own account, but always require a second witness, either from Nature, or from Scripture: What the voice of Nature is, we shall hear all along in the following Treatise: Let us then examine at present, what testimony the Prophets and Apostles give to this ancient doctrine of the Conflagration of the World. The Prophets see the World a-fire at a distance and more imperfectly, as a brightness in the Heavens, rather than a burning flame: but St. Peter describes it, as if he had been standing by, and seen the Heavens and Earth in a red fire: heard the cracking flames and the tumbling Mountains: 2 Pet. 3. 10. In the day of the Lord, The Heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the Elements shall melt with fervent heat: The Earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burnt up. Then, after a pious Ejaculation, he adds, Ver. 12. Looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, wherein the Heavens, being on fire, shall be dissolved; and the Elements shall melt with fervent heat. This is as lively, as a Man could express it, if he had the dreadful spectacle before his Eyes. St. Peter had before taught the same doctrine (ver. 5, 6, 7.) but in a more Philosophick way; describing the double fate of the World, by water and fire, with relation to the Nature and Constitution of either World, past or present. The Heavens and the Earth were of old, consisting of water and by water: whereby, the World that then was, being overflow’d with water, perished. But the Heavens and the Earth which are now, by the same Word are kept in store, reserved unto fire
against the day of judgment, and perdition of ungodly, or Atheistical men. This testimony of St. Peter being full, direct, and explicit, will give light and strength to several other passages of Scripture, where the same thing is exprest obscurely or by allusion. As when St. Paul says,1 Cor. 3 12, 13.
Mat. 13. 40. 41, 42.
2 Thess. 2. 7, 8. The fire shall try every mans work in that day. And our Saviour says, The tares shall be burnt in the fire, at the end of the World. Accordingly it is said, both by the Apostles and Prophets, that God will come to judgment in Fire. St. Paul to the Thessalonians, promiseth the persecuted Righteous, rest and ease, When the Lord shall be revealed from Heaven, with his mighty Angels, in flaming fire: taking vengeance on them that know not God, &c. And so to the Hebrews, St. Paul says,ch. 10. 27. that for wilful Apostates there remaineth no more Sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries, or enemies of God. And in the 12th. Chapter,Ver. 26, 27, 28, 29. he alludes to the same thing, when after he had spoken of shakeing the Heavens and the Earth once more, he exhorteth, as St. Peter does upon the same occasion, to reverence and godly fear, For our God is a consuming Fire.
In like manner the Prophets, when they speak of destroying the wicked, and the Enemies of God and Christ, at the end of the world, represent it as a destruction by Fire. Psalm the 11th. 6. Upon the wicked the Lord shall rain coals, fire, and brimstone, and a burning tempest: This shall be the portion of their Cup. And Psal. 50. 3. Our God shall come, and will not be slow: A fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him. And in the beginning of those two triumphal Psalms, the sixty-eight, and ninety-seventh, we see plain allusions to this coming of the Lord in fire. The other Prophets speak in the same style, Of a fiery indignation against the wicked, in the day of the Lord: As in Isaiah 66. 15.and ch. 34. 8, 9, 10. For behold the Lord will come with fire, and with his Chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. And in Daniel, (c. 7. 9, 10.) The Ancient of days is plac’d upon his Seat of Judgment, cover’d in flames. I beheld till the Thrones were set, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: His Throne was like the fiery flame, his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: Thousand thousands ministred unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: The judgment was set, and the Books were opened. The Prophet Malachy (c. 4. 1.) describes the Day of the Lord to the same effect, and in like colours; Behold the Day cometh, that shall burn as an Oven: and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and the day that cometh shall burnt them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. And that nature her self, and the Earth shall suffer in that fire, the Prophet Zephany tells us, (c. 3. 8.) All the Earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousie. Lastly, this consumption of the Earth by fire, even to the foundations of it, is exprest livelily by Moses in his Song, Deut. 32. 22. A fire is kindled in my anger, and shall burn unto the lowest Hell: and shall consume the Earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the Mountains.
If we reflect upon these Witnesses; and especially the first and last, Moses and St. Peter: at what a great distance of time they writ their Prophecies, and yet how well they agree, we must needs conclude that they were acted by the same
[paragraph continues] Spirit: and a Spirit that see thorough all the Ages of the World, from the beginning to the end. These Sacred Writers were so far distant in time from one another, that they could not confer together, nor conspire, either in a false testimony, or to make the same prediction. But being under one common influence and inspiration, which is always consistent with it self, they have dictated the same things, tho’ at two thousand years distance sometimes from one another. This besides many other considerations, makes their authority incontestable. And upon the whole account, you see, that the doctrine of the future Conflagration of the World, having run through all Ages and Nations, is, by the joynt consent of the Prophets and Apostles, adopted into the Christian Faith.
250:1 κατὰ τὴν Συριάδα.