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THE ETERNITY OF GOD.
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.—Psalm xc. 2.
THE immensity and eternity of God, are those at tributes which relate to his nature, or manner of being. Having spoken of the former, I proceed to consider the latter, from these words.
The title of this Psalm is, “the prayer of Moses, the man of God.” He begins his prayer with the acknowledgment of God’s providence to his people from the beginning of the world; “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place from all generations:” “in generation and generation;” so the Hebrew. He was well acquainted with the history of the world, and the providence of God from the beginning of it; and, as if he had spoken too little of God, in saying, that his providence had been exercised in all the ages of the world, he tells us here in the text, that he was before the world, and he made it; he was from all eternity, and should continue to all eternity the same. “Before the mountains were brought forth,” the most firm and durable parts of the world, the most eminent and conspicuous; “or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world,” before any thing was created; “from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” In speaking of this attribute, I shall,
First, Give you the explication of it.202
Secondly, Endeavour to prove that it doth be long to God, and ought to be attributed to the Divine nature.
Thirdly, Draw some corollaries from the whole.
First, For the explication of it. Eternity is a duration without bounds or limits: now there are two limits of duration, beginning and ending; that which hath always been, is without beginning; that which always shall be, is without ending. Now we may conceive of a thing always to have been, and the continuance of its being now to cease, though there be no such thing in the world: and there are some things which have had a beginning of their being, but shall have no end, shall always continue, as the angels and spirits of men. The first of these the schoolmen call eternity a parteante; that is, “duration without beginning;” the latter, eternity a parte post, “a duration without ending.” But eternity, absolutely taken, comprehends both these, and signifies an infinite duration, which had no beginning, nor shall have any end: so that when we say God is eternal, we mean that he always was, and shall be for ever; that he had no beginning of life, nor shall have any end of days; but that he is “from everlasting to everlasting,” as it is here in the text.
It is true, indeed, that as to God’s eternity a parte ante, as to his having always been, the Scripture doth not give us any solicitous account of it; it only tells us, in general, that God was before the world was, and that he created it: it doth not descend to gratify our curiosity, in giving us any account of what God did before he made the world, or how he entertained himself from all eternity: it doth not give us any distinct account of his infinite duration; 203for that had been impossible for our finite under standings to comprehend; if we should have ascended upward millions of ages, yet we should never have ascended to the top, never have arrived at the beginning of infinity; therefore the Scripture, which was wrote to instruct us in what was necessary, and not to satisfy our curiosity, tells us this, that God was from everlasting, before the world was made, and that he laid the foundations of it.
So that, by the eternity of God, you are to understand the perpetual continuance of his being, with out beginning or ending.
I shall not trouble you with the inconsistent and unintelligible notions of the schoolmen; that it is duratio tota simul, in which we are not to conceive any succession, but to imagine it an instant. We may as well conceive the immensity of God to be a point, as his eternity to be an instant: and as, according to our manner of conceiving, we must necessarily suppose the immensity of God to be an infinite expansion of his essence, a presence of it to all places, and imaginable space; so must we suppose the eternity of God to be a perpetual continuance, co-existent to all imaginable succession of ages. Now, how that can be together, which must necessarily be imagined to be co-existent to successions—let them that can, conceive.
Secondly, For the proof of this, I shall attempt it two ways.
I. From the dictates of natural light and reason.
II. From Scripture and Divine revelation.
I. From the dictates of natural reason. This at tribute of God is of all others least disputed among the philosophers: indeed, all agree that God is a perfect and happy being; but wherein that happiness 204and perfection consists, they differ exceedingly; but all agree, that God is eternal, and are agreed what eternity is; viz. a boundless duration: and however they did attribute a beginning to their heroes and demons, whence come the genealogies of their gods, yet the Supreme God they looked upon as without beginning: and it is a good evidence, that this perfection doth clearly belong to God, that Epicurus, who had the lowest and meanest conceptions of God, and robbed him of as many perfections as his imperfect reason would let him, yet is forced to attribute this to him: Tully (de Nat. Deor. lib. 1.) saith to the Epicureans, Ubi igitur vestrum beatum et æternum quibus duobus verbis significatis Deum? “Where then is your happy and eternal being, by which two epithets you express God?” And Lucretius, who hath undertaken to represent to the world the doctrine of Epicurus, gives this account of the Divine nature:
Omnis enim per se divum natura necesse est
Immortali ævo summa cum pace fruatur:
“It is absolutely necessary to the nature of the gods, to pass an eternity in profound peace and quiet.”
The poets, who had the wildest notions of God, yet they constantly give them the title of ἀθάνατοι; the heathen never mention the name of God, with out this attribute; Dii immortales! “Immortal gods!” was their ordinary exclamation; and they swear constantly by this attribute, Deos testor immortales; and to mention no more, Tully saith expressly, Nos Deum nisi sempiternum intelligere qui possumus? “How can we conceive of God, but as an eternal Being.”205
Now, the reason of this is evident, because it would be the greatest imperfection we could attribute to his being; and the more perfect his being were otherwise, the greater imperfection would it be for such a being to die; so excellent a nature to cease to be; it would be an infinite abasement to all his other perfections, his power, and wisdom, and goodness, that these should all be perishing; nay, it would hinder several of his perfections, and contradict their very being: his self-existence; had he not always been, he had not been of himself: his necessary existence; for that is not necessarily, which may at any time not be, or cease to be what it is: and it would much abate the duty of the creature; we could not have that assurance of his promise, and that security of the recompence of the next life, if the continuance of his being, who should be the dispenser of them, were uncertain.
Now, these absurdities and inconveniences following from the denial of this perfection to God, is sufficient evidence that it belongs to him; for I told you the perfections of God cannot be proved by way of demonstration, but only by way of conviction., by shewing the absurdity of the contrary.
II. From Scripture and Divine revelation. There are innumerable places to this purpose, which speak of the eternity of God directly, and by consequence: by consequence those words, (2 Pet. iii. 8.) “One day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day;” which words, however interpreters have troubled themselves about them, being afraid of a contradiction in them, yet the plain meaning of them is this—that such is the infinite duration of God, that all measures of time bear no proportion to it; for that this is the plain 206meaning appears by Psal. xc. out of which they are cited; “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday, when it is past, and as a watch in the night;” that is, as the time past, as a few hours slept away, for that is the meaning of” a watch in the night,” that is as nothing. Now, St. Peter’s conversion of the words, “One day is as a thou sand years, and a thousand years as one day,” only signifies this, that the longest duration of time is so inconsiderable to God, that it is as the shortest that is, bears no proportion to the eternity of God.
But directly, the Scripture frequently mentions this attribute: he is called the “everlasting God,: (Gen. xxi. 33.) “The eternal God,” (Deut. xxxiii. 27.) and, which is to the same purpose, “he that inhabiteth eternity,” (Isa. lvii. 15.) And this, as it is attributed to him in respect of his being, so in respect of all his other perfections, (Psal. ciii. 17.) “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to ever lasting.” (Rom. i. 20.) “His eternal power.” (1 Tim. i. 17.) “The King eternal.” Those doxologies which the Scripture useth, are but acknowledgments of this attribute: “Blessed be the Lord for ever and ever,” (Neh. ix. 5.) “To whom be glory, and honour, and dominion for ever and ever,” (Gal. i. 5.) and in many other places.
Hither we may refer all those places which speak of him as without beginning; (Psal. xciii. 2.) “Thou art from everlasting.” (Micah v. 2.) “Whose goings forth have been from everlasting.” (Hab. i. 12.) “Art not thou from everlasting, O Lord?” And those which speak of the perpetual continuance of his duration, (Psal. cii. 24-27.) “Thy years are throughout all generations; of old thou hast laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are 207the work of thy hands: they shall perish, but thou shalt endure; yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment, and as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed; but thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.”
And those which speak of him “as the first and the last.” (Isa. xliii. 10.) “Before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be any after me. I am the first, and I am the last, and besides me there is no God.” And to mention no more, those which speak of his being, as co-existent to all difference of time, past, present, and to come: (Rev. i. 8.) “I am Alpha, and Omega, the beginning, and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come.”
Thirdly, I shall from hence draw,
I. Some doctrinal corollaries.
II. Some practical inferences.
I. Doctrinal corollaries, that you may see how the perfections of God depend one upon another, and may be deduced one from another.
1st Corol.—From the eternity of God, we may infer, that he is of himself. That which always is, can have nothing before it to be a cause of its being.
2d Corol.—We may hence infer the necessity of his being. It is necessary every thing should be, when it is; now that which is always is absolutely necessary, because always so.
3d Corol.—The immutability of the Divine nature; for being always, he is necessarily; and being necessarily, he cannot but be what he is; a change of his being, is as impossible as a cessation. Therefore the Psalmist puts his immutability and eternity together: (Psal. cii. 27.) “But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.”208
II. By way of practical inference or application.
1. The consideration of God’s eternity may serve for the support of our faith. This Moses here useth as a ground of his faith; “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations; before the mountains were brought forth,” &c. (Psal. lxii. 8.) “Trust in him at all times, ye people.” His immensity is an argument why all should trust in him, he is a present help to all; and why they should trust in him at all times, his eternity is an argument, (Deut. xxxiii. 27.) “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” There are two attributes which are the proper objects of our faith and confidence—God’s goodness, and his power; both these are eternal: “The goodness of the Lord endureth for ever,” as it is frequently in the Psalms. And his power is eternal: the apostle speaks of his eternal power, as well as Godhead, (Rom. i. 20. Isa. xxvi. 4.) “Trust ye in the Lord for ever, for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.” (Isa. xl. 28.) “The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary.”
We cannot trust in men, because there is no thing in man to be a foundation of our confidence; his good-will towards us may change, his power may faint, and he may grow weary; or if these continue, yet they that have a mind and a power to help us, themselves may fail: therefore the Psalmist useth this consideration of men’s mortality, to take us off from confidence in man, (Psal. cxlvi. 3, 4.) “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help; his breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth, in that very day his thoughts perish.” (Isa. ii. 22.) “Cease ye from man, 209whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of?” The greatest of the sons of men are but lying refuges to the everlasting God; they are but broken reeds to the rock of ages.
And this may support our faith, not only in reference to our own condition for the future, but in reference to our posterity, and the condition of God’s church to the end of the world. When we die, we may leave ours and the church in his hands, who lives for ever, and reigns for ever. The enemies of God’s church, and those who have the most malicious designs against it, whatever share they may have in the affairs of the world, they can but domineer for a while, they must die, and “that very day their thoughts perish:” “But thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.”
2. For the encouragement of our obedience. We serve the God who can give us an everlasting reward. The reward of the next life is called “eternal life, an eternal weight of glory,” (2 Cor. iv. 17.) “Eternal salvation,” (Heb. v. 9.) “An eternal in heritance,” (Heb. ix. 15.) That place where good men shall be rewarded, is called “everlasting habitations,” (Luke xvi. 9.) “A house eternal in the heavens,” (2 Cor. v. 1.) As the promise of our future reward is founded in the goodness of God, and the greatness of it in his power, so the duration of it in his eternity. Now what an encouragement is this to us, that we serve him, and suffer for him, who lives for ever, and will make us happy for ever? When we serve the great men of this world, though we be secure of their affection, yet we are uncertain of their lives; and this discourageth many, and makes men worship the rising sun; and many times takes off men’s eyes from the king, to his successor; but 210he that serves God, serves “the King everlasting,” as the apostle calls him, who will live to dispense rewards to all those who are faithful to him.
3. For the terror of wicked men. The sentence which shall be passed upon men at the day of judgment, is called “eternal judgment,” (Heb. vi. 2.) because it decides men’s eternal state; the punishment that shall follow this sentence, which shall pass upon the wicked, is called “everlasting punishment,” (Matt. xxv. 46.) “Everlasting fire,” (Matt. xxv. 41.) “Everlasting destruction,” (2 Thess. i. 9.) “The vengeance of eternal fire,” (Jude 7.) “The smoke of the bottomless pit,” is said “to ascend for ever and ever,” (Rev. xiv. 11.) and the wicked “to be tormented day and night, for ever and ever,” (Rev. xx. 10.) Now as the punishment of wicked men is founded in the justice of God, and the greatness of it in his power, so the perpetuity and continuance of it in his eternity. The apostle saith, (Heb. x. 31.) “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God;” because he that lives for ever, can punish for ever; as the eternal demerit of sin feeds, and animates, and keeps alive, the never-dying worm, so the wrath of the eternal God blows up the eternal flame.
How should this awaken in us a fear of the eternal God! Sinners, what a folly is it, for the pleasures of sin, which are but for a season, to incense that justice which will punish and torment you for ever! As good men shall have the everlasting God for their reward, and their happiness, so wicked men shall have him for their judge and avenger!
We fear the wrath of men, whose power is short, and whose breath is in their nostrils, who can afflict but a little, and for a little while. Dost thou fear 211“man that shall die, and the son of man that shall be made as grass?” And is not the wrath of the eternal God much more terrible? (Luke xii. 4, 5.) “And I say unto you, my friends, be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do: but I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear; fear him, who, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, fear him.” The wrath of man is despicable, because it hath bounds and limits; the fury of man can but reach to the body, it can go no farther; it expires with this life, it cannot follow us beyond the grave: but the wrath of the eternal God doth not only reach the body, but the soul; it is not confined to this life, but pursues us to the other world, and extends itself to all eternity.
“Fear him, who, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell;” that is, to inflict eternal torments; “yea, I say unto you, fear him.”212
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