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measure this eternity by any notion which we can frame of it.
If we go to the bottom of this matter, we shall find that the difficulties we meet with in our conceptions of eternity proceed from this fingle reason, that we can have no other idea of any kind of duration, than that by which we ourselves, and all other created beings, do exist; which is, a successive duration made up of past, present, and to come. There is nothing which exists after this manner, all the parts
of whose existence were not once actually prefent, and consequently may be reached by a cer-tain number of years applied to it. We may afcend as high as we please, and employ our being to that eternity which is to come, in adding millions of years to millions of years, and we can never come up to any fountain-head of duration, to any beginning in eternity: But at the fame time we are fure, that whatever was once present does lie within the reach of numbers, though perhaps we can never be able to put enough of them together for that purpose. We may as well say, that any thing may be actually present in any part of infinite space, which does not, lie at a certain distance from
us, as that any part of infinite duration was once actually present, and does not also lie at some determined diftance from us. The dirtance in both cases may be immeasurable and indefinite as to our faculties, but our reason tells us that it cannot be so in itself: Here therefore is that difficulty which human understanding is not capable of surmounting. We are sure that something must have existed from eternity, and are at the same time unable to conceive, that any thing which : : exists, according to our notion of existence, can have existed from eternity.
It is hard for a reader, who has not rolled this thought in his own mind, to follow in such an abkracted speculation ; but I have been the longer
on it, because I think it is a demonstrative argument of the being and eternity of a God : And: though there are many other demonstrations which lead us to this great truth, I do not think we oughe to lay aside any proofs in this matter, which the light of reason has suggefted to us, especially when it is such a one as has been urged. by men famous for their penetration and force of understanding, and which appears altogether conclusive to those who will be at the pains to examine it.
Having thus considered that eternity which is paft, according to the beft idea we can frame of it, I shall now draw up those several articles on this fubject, which are dictated to us: by the light of reaton, and which may be looked upon as the creed of a philosopher in this great point.
First, It is certain that no being could have made itself; for if so, it must have acted before it was, which is a contradiction.
Secondly, That therefore some Being must have existed from all eternity.
Thirdly, That whatever exists after the manner of created beings, or according to any notions which we have of existence, could not have existed. from eternity.
Fourthly, That this eternal being must therefore be the great Author of Nature, The ancient of Days, who being at an infinite distance in his pers feétions from all finite and created beings, exists in a quite different manner from them, and in a manner of which they can have no idea.
I know that several of the schoolmen, who would not be thought ignorant of any thing, have pretended to explain the manner of God's existence, by telling us, that he comprehends infinite duration in every moment; that'eternity is with him à punc-. tum ftans, a fixed point; or, which is as good sense, an infinite inftant; that nothing, with reference to his existence, is either paft or to come : To which
the ingenious Mr. Cowley alludes in his description of Heaven.
Nothing is there to come, and nothing past,
But an eternal now does always laft. For my own part, I look upon these propofitions as words that have no ideas annexed to them; and think men had better own their ignorance, than advance doctrines by which they mean nothing, and which, indeed, are felf-contradictory. We cannot be too modest in our disquisitions, when we meditate on him, who is environed with so much gloгу. and perfection, who is the source of being, the fountain of all that existence which we and his whole creation derive from him. Let us therefore with the utmost humility acknowledge, that as fome being must neceffarily have existed from e. ternity, so this Being does exist after an incomprehensible manner, since it is impossible for a Being to have existed from eternity after our manner or notions of existence. Revelation confirms these natural dictates of reason in the account which it gives us of the divine existence, where it tells us, that he is the same yesterday, to day, and for ever; that he is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending ; that a thousand years with him are as one day, and one day as a thousand years ; by which, and the like expressions, we are taught, that his existence with relation to time or durati. on, is infinitely different from the existence of any of his creatures, and consequently that it is impossible for us to frame any adequate conceptions of it.
In the first revelation which he makes of his own being, he entitles himself I am that I am; and when Mofes desires to know what name he will give him in his embaffy to Pharaoh, he bids him say that I am hath fent you. Our great Creator by this revelation of himself, does in a manner exclude every
thing else from a real existence, and distinguishes himself from his creatures, as the only being which truly and really exists. The ancient Platonic notion which was drawn from speculations of eternity, wonderfully agrees with this revelation which God hath made of himself. There is nothing, fay they, which in reality exists, whose existence, as we call it, is pieced up of past, present, and to come. Such a flitting and successive existence is rather a fhadow of existence, and something which is like it, than existence itfelf. He only properly exists whose existence is entirely present; that is, in other words, who exists in the most perfect manner, and in sucha maner as we have no idea of.
I shall conclude this fpeculation with one useful inference. How can we sufficiently prostrate ourfelves, and fall down before our Maker, when we confider that ineffable goodness and wisdom which contrived this existence for finite natures ? What must be the overflowings of that good-will, which prompted our Creator to adapt existence to beings, in whom it is not necessary ? Especially when we
, confider, that he himself was before in the complete poffeffion of existence and of happiness, and in the full enjoyment of eternity. What man can think of himself as called out and feparated from nothing, of his being made a conscious, a reasonable, and a happy creature, in short, of being taken in as å sharer of existence, and a kind of partner in eternity, without being swallowed up in wonder, in praise, in adoration! It is indeed a thought too big for the mind of man, and rather to be entertained in the secrecy of devotion, and in the filence of the soul, than to be expressed by words. The Supreme Being has not given us powers or faculties fufficient to extol and magnify fuch unutterable goodness.
It is however fome comfort to us, that we shall be always doing what we fhall never be able to do,
and that a work which cannot be finished, will however be the work of an eternity.
No 591. WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 8.
Tenerorum lufor amorum.
Ovid. Trift. Eleg. iii. 1: 3. ver. 73.
who tells me he has observed, with no finall
invention therefore should be almost exhausted on this head, he offers. to serve under me in the quality of a Love-Casuift; for which he conceives himself to be thoroughly qualified, having made this paffion his principal study, and observed it in all its different shapes and appearances, from the fifteenth to the forty-fifth year of his age.
He assures me with an air of confidence, whicle I hope proceeds from his real abilities, that he does not doubt of giving judgment to the fatisfaction of the parties.concerned, on the most nice and intricate cases which can happen in an amour; as,
How great the contraction of the fingers must be before it amounts to a squeeze by the hand.
What can be properly. termed an absolute denial from a maid, and what from a widow.
What advances a lover may presume to make, after having received a pat upon his shoulder froin his mistress's: fan.
Whether a Lady, at the first interview, may allow ao humble servant to kiss her hand,