“On the Eternity of God” is taken from the February 1810 issue of the Baptist Magazine, page 51. Though the language is somewhat antique, this wonderful statement of orthodox theology from an early Baptist magazine is a great encouragement. Please take the time to read and consider it.
From everlasting to everlasting Thou art God
Ps. xc. 2.
What must have been the feelings of Jacob when he arose from his pillow of stone and exclaimed, How dreadful is this place, this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. Such sentiments of awe should ever impress our minds, when, in the exercises of private or public worship, we are called to contemplate the being and perfections of God. The divine attributes lay at the basis of Christianity itself, and a proper view of them will aid our conception of the grandeur of the new Economy.
The Eternity of God is the centre of all Divine perfections, and that which stamps infinity upon all that he possesses.
In the ninetieth Psalm, Moses, the man of God, wished to impress the minds of the Israelites with the greatness of God and the dignity of their alliance to him, with a view to fix their affections and make them more diligent in every branch of awful obedience. May such a Spirit inspire our hearts in contemplating the Eternity of God.
Eternity, in strictness of Speech, implies perpetual duration, without beginning, middle, or end. According to this definition, Eternity does not only refer to that which shall be endless, but to that which had no beginning. Angels and Souls of men will live forever, but they are by this immortal, and not absolutely eternal. Immortality supposes that a being will not die, but does not suppose that he had no beginning. Eternity differs from time–the latter is a portion of the former–commences at a certain period–continues to a certain space; but Eternity is an immutable state; it comprehends all ages. Time supposes something before it, because it had a beginning; that which was before it was Eternity. But if any thing were before what we call eternity, then that which was so before it would be eternity, and not what we had so called.
Eternity is applicable alone to God. He is said to inhabit Eternity, that is, Eternity is the distinguishing attribute of God; it is indeed a negative attribute, denying him any measure of time, as immensity denies him any bounds of space. Immensity is the diffusion of his essence, and eternity is the duration of it. We learn that God is eternal,
1. From the Nature and Priority of his existence. In meditating on this topic our minds are soon lost; nevertheless, by a chain of very natural reasoning, we may arrive at a truth accompanied by irresistible evidence. Were either of us alone in the earth, and walking through the vast desert, we found a watch, we should conclude it had a maker. We should not attempt to persuade ourselves that it came by chance, or that it made itself. Apply the same reasoning to our own existence, we must look for a cause. It is true, we were born of parents, and they of others, and so on, for thousands of years past: but yet we must come to a first. By the mechanism of the human frame, its contrivance, and the suitability of the several parts, we readily perceive it could not be formed without design, and that all the art of man could not form another. There must then exist some Being from whom all others derive their origin–That Being is God–and this awful Being, we contend, never had a beginning. If God had a beginning, he must have had a creator, consequently cannot be supreme. To say he gave existence to himself is absurd: for then there must have been a time in which he was not, and if that were the case he would never have existed at all; unless we suppose an attribute without a subject–an effect without a cause–or that a thing which is not, gives existence to that which is. If God exists, and hath not received his existence from another, he must be eternal; and as there is no cause of his existence, he must be by necessity what he is. When we say he is by necessity what he is, we mean he cannot but be what he is, and that his existence was not a matter of choice, and therefore is impossible ever not to have been, or ever to cease from being. These are scriptural views of the subject. God is eternal, and it is revealed not as a matter of speculation but interest. One day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day; that is, one day, and a thousand years are both inconsiderable points when compared with Eternity. Our minds labour when we endeavour to conceive of an essence so diffused as to fill all space; and are equally on the stretch in contemplating an existence that comprehends all duration in itself. All that has been or will be is most distinctly before his sight; not contemplated in succession, but as we might view a bright spot in the heavens–all at once. His existence has continued through all generations. What millions has he seen living and dying–what wars and revolutions in the affairs of men–but his years are not diminished, his purposes are not shaken! He hath seen all the acts of faith and labours of love among his children, and all the unbelief and malignity of the world. God is eternal. He has not only lived to promise but to fulfill–not only to purpose but to perform. Did he purpose from Eternity to save? He lived to bring his creatures into existence, and shewed his love to be everlasting. He is not like a man that may die, and have the mortification to leave his plans unfinished: but he ever lives to perform. This God is our God. What a portion for his people! No temporary God, but eternal. Doth adversity overtake us–doth sickness enfeeble us–do our friends die? Still he liveth. Even death shall not separate us from his love–Judgment itself shall prove it is everlasting.
2. We also learn the Eternity of God from his Immutability. To suppose a changeable God would be to imagine what is impossible. It would make him inferior, and subject to circumstances he could neither command or prevent; and consequently he must be degraded from his omnipotence and supreme control. If God be unchangeable, he is now what he ever was and ever will be. If any change could take place in his purposes or perfections, there would be every argument in favour of a change of existence, both as it respects its mode and continuance. But if we suppose that God must be eternal because there is no superior to him, then he must be immutable in his existence for the same reason; consequently nothing can happen by the will of another but what he orders or permits: therefore no circumstance can subject him to a change. Though changes happen in the world, he sees all unmoved, as a river ever changing passes before a rock, or as a world revolving beneath a fixed sun. The various events which succeed each other cannot present any new objects to an eternal mind; for though, according to his purposes, they succeed each other, yet he knows them all at once, as though they happened all at the same instant. He does not acquire any new ideas; no thoughts strike his mind afresh, or with more force at one time than another; no plans are floating in his immense intelligence which were not there millions of years ago, yea from all eternity. It is acknowledged that these speculations confound us, and our minds being used to a mode of operation suited merely to the littleness of our nature, are perplexed and lost. However, the reflection may be turned to good purpose for the Christian. God is immutable and therefore eternal. Nothing can take place respecting his people but he foresees it. At one moment he beholds their trials and appoints their supports, determining that all shall work together for good. The christian may sometimes look forward and anxiously enquire how shall I ascend the difficult steep? How shall I pass the river, deep, and rapid, and broad? But he may here console himself; God sees the trial, and has appointed the deliverance–he knows the difficulty and has determined the release and the conquest.
3. Our next proof of the Eternity of God is derived from his perfection. If we pay attention to the attributes of creatures, we find they possess nothing in perfection. If they have power, they have only certain degrees, not all power; if they have knowledge, it is limited; if they are great, they are not infinite; if they have holiness, it is not absolute; even their existence is derived, and so not perfect. Absolute perfection applies only to God. Has he existence? It is self-existence; does he diffuse himself? Behold the heavens cannot contain him; has he knowledge? It is not confined to languages, science, or history, but extends to every thing; has he power? It is all power in heaven or earth; has he holiness? It is not that defective degree of moral goodness possessed by men or angels, or all degrees, it is an absolute perfection without degree.
A perfect Being must be eternal, if there were ever a time in which he did not possess these attributes, there may be a time in which he may not possess them again; consequently there would be a tendency towards defection; and a being having such a tendency would not be perfect in an absolute sense. Therefore, if God be allowed to be a perfect Being, he must have existed from Eternity, and must have in himself by necessity those principles which will continue his being forever. So that absolute perfection and eternal existence are almost synonymous terms.
From the foregoing positions we infer,
1. If God be eternal, he will never cease to be what he is and ever was. Whatever is finite is in its nature changeable; it began to be what it was not, and will at some period cease to be what it was: but God will ever be what he is.
(1.) He is independent. He would be what he is, and possess all the glorious properties of his nature were there no other being in existence. As he can make no being equal to himself, much less superior, he can never depend on any one, but must remain forever.
(2.) He is incorruptible. “The incorruptible God.” “God is a Spirit.” Simple, without any mixture of any thing tending to decay. He never grows old. Eternity adds nothing to his years, immensity enfeebles him not.
(3.) He possesses infinite power. A weaker being cannot lessen his tranquility, frustrate his purposes, or injure his existence; and a stronger cannot exist.
(4.) He possesses for himself an infinite affection. He is the greatest and best of beings, most holy and worthy, and must love himself most. Therefore cannot feel any inclination not to be. His felicity must remain for ever uninterrupted because the source of that felicity is infinitely in himself.
2. If God is eternal in his existence, he is so in his perfections and character. All his Love and Grace remain the same. He once received sinners, and he doth so still. He hath heretofore delivered believers from all their trouble, and given them everlasting consolation and good hope through grace;–he is immutable–let timid christians suppress their fears, an unchanging God will send them deliverance.
3. A perfect God will always act worthy of his great name. This was the sublime reflection of Moses, “He is a Rock, and his work is perfect.” He hath provided a perfect Saviour, who hath wrought our perfect redemption. The pardon he grants is complete; the sanctification he bestows leaves no sin behind; his people are perfectly justified, so that no charge is found against them. He has provided for them a perfect happiness, which their new nature prepares them to enjoy; and to render it complete himself will shine among them. This shall make their Heaven, and Eternity insures its continuance.
This Subject opens various sources of encouragement and instruction.
1. The Eternity of God is the basis of the Covenant of Grace. The oath whereby he confirms it is by his life. As long as he lives it cannot be disannulled. The Gospel by which it is published is the Everlasting Gospel, which cannot be changed any more than its Author. He cannot deny himself. He could as soon cease to be. This encouraged our Redeemer to enter on his work with joy–to be born, and bleed, and die. All was Divine certainty. He must see of the travail of his Soul. Thus good men should exult, I am persuaded that neither life nor death–things present or to come–shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
2. The Eternity of God is the Comfort of the Church. How many and how fierce have been its persecutions; sometimes it appeared almost extinct, its enemies waited, as it were a moment, to witness its downfall. But built on the Rock Christ, although Apostates have withdrawn from it, faithful ministers have died in it, and tribulations every where surrounded it–His cause goes on without interruption. Underneath are the everlasting arms. God is our Refuge and Strength.
3. The Divine Eternity may assist us to estimate the World. What is there in time that shall compare with Eternity? Place the glitter of a course, the trappings of power, the pleasures of sense–beside the awful splendour of Eternity, how they shrink into meanness and nothing. How unfitted for Souls to live upon. Let the humble christian, passing through a great sight of Affliction, look up to the Divine Eternity, and revive. His Inheritance is reserved there. There shall he, like Lazarus, be comforted.
4. The Eternity of God is the Source of future felicity. This source of guilty horror to the wicked is the spring from which our everlasting peace shall flow. Here our highest happiness is interrupted, but there it shall abide forever. Forever to behold our God–forever to see our Lord–forever to learn the depths and lengths of divine love–forever to grow in knowledge, and feel the awful Eternity a source of the sublimest joy.