MEDITATIONS ON CHRISTIAN DOGMA TREATISE I. 9. THE ETERNITY OF GOD.
BICCI DI NERI
Tobias and the Angel and St Jerome
MEDITATIONS ON CHRISTIAN DOGMA
9. THE ETERNITY OF GOD.
9. THE ETERNITY OF GOD.
I. The Eternity of God is His infinite tenure of life. The life of God is nothing else but God ; so it is incomprehensible, and can no more be represented in human words than the likeness of God can be painted in oils. For we can only conceive of existence as in time, and as having succession and duration, and we necessarily speak of all existence in corresponding language. Now, time and eternity are incommensurable terms. They are of analogous significance, as being the creature s tenure of life and God s ; but they are the opposites of one another at every point. Eternity is first the simultaneous possession of life, whereas time is of successive instants. Eternity is neither past, present nor future. So St. Denis says that God never " was," for there is no past in His life ; He never " will be/ for there is no unrealized future before Him ; and it is not to be said, in our sense, that He " is," for our present is a transient moment, gone before we enjoy its possession. However, on account of our imperfect grasp of the idea of Eternity, we are obliged to speak of God as if He had a successive life, with an indefinite past at one side " He always was;" an indefinite future at the other " He always will be ; " and a present like ours intermediate be tween the two " He is," In picturing Eternity to our minds we try to multiply durations till imagination ceases to grasp them ; we think of God s existence as extending backwards and backwards out of sight and forward into the future, beyond the enormous periods of created existence. And yet all this is not the first factor of a true idea of eternity. It is even misleading, for it is an attempt to picture eternity by multiplying an element which is contradictory to eternity. Mortify your curiosity. " Seek not the things that are too high for thee, and search not into things above thy ability : . . . for it is not necessary for thee to see with thy eyes the things that are hid" (Eccli. iii. 22-23).
II. Eternity is the possession of a life without any limits. This is involved in the first quality of simultaneousness. As there is no such thing as past or future in God s wonderful eternity, so it is impossible and unthinkable that such an existence should ever have begun or should ever finish. Beginning and ending belong to time, and to creatures, which exist in time. We cannot reckon back the enormous periods of created existence nor calculate its duration. But we are certain that everything we see was once non-existent ; and that each individual creature, whether matter or force, a planet or its movement, is now gradually dissipating its energies and will one day sink into inactivity and death. Outside and beyond all this there is the all-pervading, immutable, supreme Existence. "The heavens are the works of Thy hands. They shall perish, but Thou remainest. . . . Thou art always the self-same and Thy years shall not fail " (Ps. ci. 26-28). Therefore, " to the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen" (1 Tim. i. 17).
III. God s tenure of life, or His Eternity, is also said to be complete or perfect ; it is free from all those deficiencies which belong to life considered as in time. Human life is imperfect because, being successive, there is always some thing that has yet to be attained or something that has been lost. While each stage of life has its duties and its pleasures, each has its disadvantages. We do not possess our life absolutely, but in dependence on another, and on equal terms with millions of others. We are immortal indeed, we are capable of going through an interminable series of successive durations, but we shall never be eternal in the same sense as God. Even the life of glory which we shall derive from Him will not be absolute, independent, complete and perfect in the same sense as His. Still, we shall be raised one day to some sort of participation in that wonderful life, whose glory and beauty and happiness are beyond our present comprehension. Give thanks to God, and desire that happy day.
MEDITATIONS ON CHRISTIAN DOGMA BY THE RIGHT REV. JAMES BELLORD, D.D.