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fpeculations of eternity we consider the time which is present to us as the middle, which divides the whole line into two equal parts. For this reason, many witty authors compare the present time to an Isthmus or narrow neck of land, that rises in the midst of an ocean, immeasurably diffused on either side of it.
Philosophy, and indeed common sense, naturally throws eternity under two divifions ; which we may call in English, that eternity which is paft, and that erernity which is to come. The learned terms of æternitas à parte ante, and æternitas à parte poft, may be more amusing to the reader, but can have no other idea affixed to them than what is conveyed to us by those words, an eternity that is past, and an eternity that is to come. Each of these eternities is bounded at the one extreme; or, in other words, the former has an end, and the latter a beginning.
Ler us first of all consider that eternity which is part, reserving that which is to come for the fubject of another paper. The nature of this eternity is utterly inconceiveable by the mind of man : Our reason demonstrates to us that it has been, but at the same time can frame no idea of it, but what is big with absurdity and
contradiction. We can have no , other conception of any duration which is past, than that all of it was once present; and whatever was once present, is at some certain distance from us, and whatever is at any certain distance from us, be the distance never so remote, cannot be eternity. The very notion of any duration's being past, implies that it was once prefent ; for the idea of being once present, is actually included in the idea of its being past. This therefore is a depth not to be founded by human understanding. We are sure that there has been an eternity, and yet contradict ourselves when we 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 single 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 present, and confequently may be reached by a certain
number of years applied to it. We may ascend 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 same time we are sure, that whatever was once presept 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 fay, 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 distance from us. The distance 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 abstracted fpeculation ; but I have been the longer on it, because I think it is a demonftrative argument of the Being and Eternity of a God: And tho' there are many other demonstrations which lead us to this great truth, I do not think we ought to lay aside any proofs in this matter which the light of reason has suggested to us, efpecially when it is such a one as has been urged by men fainous 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, acoording to the best idea we can frame of it, I shall now draw up those several articles on this subject which are dictated to us by the light of reason, 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.
Fourtbly, That this eternal Being must therefore be the great Author of nature, The Ancient of Days, who, being at an infinite distance in his perfections 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 School-men 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 a punetum ftans, a fixed point ; or, which is as good Sense, an infinite instant ; That nothing with reference to his Existence is either past 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 last.
For my own part I look upon these propositions as words that have no ideas annexed to them; and think men had better own their ignorance, than advance