Annihilationists a name given to the holders of the theory that the wicked will not be kept in eternal misery, but will suffer a total extinction of being. SEE ANNIHILATION.
1. There are only a few traces of this doctrine in early church history. Some are disposed to find the first hint of it in Justin (Dialog. cum Tryphon. c. 5), where it is said that the souls of the wicked should be punished as long ἔστ᾿ ¨ν αὐτὰς καὶ εϊvναι καὶ κολάζεσθαι ὁ Θεός θέλῃ (as long as God wishes them to exist and to be punished). Similar expressions are used by Irenaeus (2, 34: Quoadusque ea Deus et esse et perseverare voluerit), and Clem. Hom. 3, 3. In clearer terms the doctrine was propounded by Arnobius (q.v.) at the beginning of the 4th century. SEE HELL.
2. The theory of annihilation was maintained in the last century in England by a few writers of inferior note, as Samuel Bourne (Sermons), J. N. Scott, and others. They took the name of Destructionists, assuming the point in dispute, viz., that the word destruction in Scripture means annihilation. Their proper designation is "Annihilationists." Among the more eminent supporters of this doctrine was Taylor of Norwich (q.v.); and Macknight is also claimed as among its advocates. Jonathan Edwards, in his answer to Dr. Chauncey, on the salvation of all men, says that this scheme was provisionally retained by Dr. Chauncey, i.e. in case the scheme of universal salvation should fail him; and Edwards, in his examination of that work, appropriates a chapter to the consideration of it. Among other reasonings against it are the following:
"1. The different degrees of punishment which the wicked will suffer according to their works, proves that it does not consist in annihilation, which admits of no degrees.
2. If it be said that the punishment of the wicked, though it will end in annihilation, yet shall be preceded by torment, and that this will be of different degrees, according to the degrees of sin, it maybe replied, this is making it to be compounded partly of torment and partly of annihilation. The latter also appears to be but a small part of future punishment, for that alone will be inflicted on the least sinner, and on account of the least sin; and that all punishment which will be inflicted on any person above that which is due to the least sin is to consist in torment. Nay, if we can form any idea in the present state of what would be dreadful or desirable in another, instead of its being any punishment to be annihilated after a long series of torment, it must be a deliverance, to which the sinner would look forward with anxious desire. And is it credible that this was the termination of torment that our Lord held up to his disciples as an object of dread? Can this be the destruction of body and soul in hell? Is it credible that everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power, should constitute only a part, and a small part, of future punishment; and such too as, after a series of torment, must, next to being made happy, be the most acceptable thing that could befall them? Can this be the object threatened by such language, as recompensing tribulation, and taking vengeance in flaming fire? (2 Thessalonians 1). Is it possible that God should threaten them with putting an end to their miseries? Moreover, this destruction is not described as the conclusion of a succession of torments, but as taking place immediately after the last judgment. When Christ shall come to be glorified in his saints then shall the wicked be destroyed.
3. Everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power, cannot mean annihilation, for that would be no exertion of divine power, but merely the suspension of it; for let the upholding power of God be withheld for one moment, and the whole creation would sink into nothing.
4. The punishment of wicked men will be the same as that of wicked angels (Mt 25:41): Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. But the punishment of wicked angels consists not in annihilation, but torment. Such is their present punishment in a degree, and such, in a greater degree, will be their punishment hereafter. They are 'cast down to hell;' they 'believe, and tremble;' they are reserved in chains under darkness to the judgment of the great day; they cried, saying, "What have we to do with thee? Art thou come to torment us before our time?" Could the devils but persuade themselves they should be annihilated, they would believe, and be at ease rather than tremble.
5. The Scriptures explain their own meaning in the use of such terms as death, destruction, etc. The second death is expressly said to consist in being cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, and as having a part in that lake (Revelations 20:14; 21:8), which does not describe annihilation, nor can it be made to consist with it. The phrase cut him asunder (Mt 24:51) is as strong as those of death or destruction; yet that is made to consist of having their portion with hypocrites, where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
6. The happiness of the righteous does not consist in eternal being, but eternal well-being; and as the punishment of the wicked stands everywhere opposed to it, it must consist, not in the loss of being, but of well-being, and in suffering the contrary." Bishop Law (t 1789) maintained that spiritual death is an entire destruction — an annihilation of the soul, with the resolution of the body into its original dust (Theory of Religion, 7th ed. p. 339-351). The name of Archbishop Whately is probably to be enrolled among the modern supporters of annihilationism in England. 'In his work on the future state (A View of the Scripture Revelations concerning a Future State, Philad. 1855) he argues the opinion fully. He says, that in the passages in which the words "death," "destruction," "eternal death," are spoken of, these words may be taken as signifying literal death, real destruction, an utter end of things. The unquenchable fire" may mean that fire which utterly consumes what it is burning upon. The "worm that dieth not" may be that which entirely devours what. it feeds upon. "Everlasting perdition" may mean that perishing from which the soul canhot be saved, but it will be final annihilating. The: passage "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death," affords, according to Whately, some ground for thinking that there may be a "final extinction of evil and suffering by the total destruction of such as are incapable of good and happiness. If eternal death means final death — death without any revival — we can understand what is meant by death being destroyed, viz., that none henceforth are to be subjected to it" (p. 184). And Whately concludes this scriptural argument by this sentence: "On the whole, therefore, I think we are not warranted in concluding, as some have done so positively concerning the question, as to make it a point of Christian faith to interpret figuratively the 'death and destruction' spoken of in the Scriptures as the doom of the condemned, and to insist on the belief that they are to be left alive forevermore."
3. The revival of annihilationism in this country seems to have begun with the publication of Six Sermons on the Question "Are the wicked immortal?" by George Storrs, answered by Prof. Post, in the New Englander, Feb. and May, 1856. One of the most representative advocates of the doctrine, and a very moderate one, is Dr. McCulloh, of Baltimore, in his Analytical Investigations concerning the Scriptures (Baltimore, 1852, 2 vols. 8vo). He maintains that after the final decisions of the judgment, the wicked will be utterly destroyed by a dreadful visitation of Almighty wrath. The ablest work produced on the side of destructionism is Hudson, Debt and Grace, as related to the Doctrine of a Future State (Boston, 1857, 12mo). This work "denies that the natural immortality of the soul is ever expressed or even implied in the Bible. On the contrary, life and immortality are brought in fullness by the Redeemer to the redeemed alone; while all others are not only naturally mortal, soul and body, at death, but, after that mortal suspension of positive existence, are raised at the final resurrection and cast into the lake of fire as the second death. It denies that endless conscious suffering is ever affirmed to be the nature of future penalty; but affirms that the penalty consists in. privation, and in its perpetuity consists the eternity of future punishment. The class of Scripture terms by which eternal misery is usually understood to be designated, such as condemnation, damnation, perdition, destruction, the writer understands to express the painful and penal consignment of the entire nature to the disorganization and complete nonexistence from which it sprung" (Meth. Quar. Rev. Jan. 1858, p. 149). An exhaustive reply to Mr. Hudson, and a thorough examination of the whole controversy, is given by Landis in his treatise On the Immortality of the Soul and theFinal Condition of the Wicked. (N. Y. 1859, 12mo). The subject is also ably treated by Mattison in his work, The Immortality of the Soul. (Philad. 1864). See also Alvah Hovey, State of Impenitent Dead (1859); J. R. Thompson, Law and Penalty; Meth. Quar. Rev. 1852, p. 240; 1858, p. 149; 1861, p. 31; 1864, p. 689; Presb. Quar. Rev. April, 1860; Am. Theol. Rev. April, 1861; Biblbotheca Sacra, April, 1858, p. 395 sq., and April, 1863, art. 5; Buck, Theol. Dict.; Smith's Hagenbach, 1, 226; 2, 451. SEE IMMORTALITY.