Conflagration, General The opinion that the end of the world is to be effected by the agency of fire is very ancient, and was common among heathen philosophers (Ovid, Metamorph. 1:256). Other testimonies are quoted by Grotius (De Veritate Rel. Chr. lib. 1, § 22). It is not easy to discover the origin of this opinion; it can scarcely be traced to tradition derived from revelation, since there is no distinct reference to such a catastrophe in the Old Testament. It is, moreover, remarkable, considering how universal and definite is the ordinary belief on the subject, that there is only one passage in the New Testament, viz., 2Pe 3:7-10, which can be adduced as speaking distinctly of this event. This passage is, indeed, very explicit, but some learned and able expositors have referred it altogether to the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Jewish polity. Among these are Dr. Lightfoot (Horae
Hebr. in Job 21; Job 22) and Dr. John Owen (Θεολογούμενα, edit. Bremen, 1684, p. 147, quoted by Dr. Pye Smith, Scripture and Geology, sect. 6, p. 233, 1st ed.). If, however, with the majority of interpreters, we refer the prediction to the end of the world, to which it seems most naturally to apply, we could not have a more distinct statement of the fact that the present order of things is to be terminated by the world we inhabit and all the works of man it contains being "burnt up." There is no reason for assuming that the whole material universe is to be involved in this catastrophe; the mention of the heavens leads our thoughts no farther than the atmosphere and vapors surrounding this planet. Nor should we regard this conflagration as involving the absolute destruction or annihilation of the world; it is more consistent with the narrative itself, as well as with physical science, to consider it as introductory to a new and better state of things-"new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness" (ver. 11). By what means the conflagration is to be effected we are not informed, and all attempts to explain how this is to be accomplished must be mere speculation. We have only at present to remark that such an event is not inconsistent with physical facts. We know that the temperature of the earth increases gradually and with considerable regularity as we descend below the surface (Phillips, Geology, 2:232), and we have every reason to believe that the central mass is intensely hot. We know, moreover, that there are subterranean fires of great extent, if not forming part of this heated central mass. The means, therefore, of combustion are near at hand. But even if there were no such central heat, chemistry points out very easy means by which the conflagration may be effected through the agency of various elementary substances (Phillips, Geology, 2:211). We find evidence also in the pyrogenous rocks which form so large a part of the crust of the earth, that the world has already been subjected, if not to conflagration, yet to a more intense and general action of heat than any which is now observed on the surface of the earth; and it is clearly not impossible that the action may be yet more intense and more general. The example of the conflagration of a star in the constellation of the Northern Crown in May, 1866, by the sudden evolution of hydrogen gas, shows one way in which such a catastrophe might be produced (Bibliotheca Sacra, July, 1867, p. 473). In speculating on this subject, however, the caution of Calvin should not be disregarded, that the apostle is not speaking to gratify the speculations of the curious, but to add impressiveness to his pious exhortations (Comm. in 2Pe 3:10).