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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 consequently 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, 10 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 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 deter
mined distance from us. The distance in both cases may be im20 measurable 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 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 30 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, 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 past, according 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 40 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 10 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 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 a punctum stans, 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 20 alludes in his description of heaven.
Nothing is there to come, and nothing past,
But an eternal now does always last n. 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 doctrines by which they mean nothing, and which, indeed, are self-contradictory. We cannot be too modest in our disquisitions, when we meditate on Him who is environed with so much glory and perfection, who is the
source of being, the fountain of all that existence which we and 30 his whole creation derive from him. Let us therefore with the
utmost humility acknowledge, that as some being must necessarily have existed from eternity, 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 exist
Revelation confirms these natural dictates of reason in the accounts 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 ? ;
1 Heb. xiii. 8.
2 Rev. i.8.
MAN'S GLORIOUS DESTINY,
that a thousand years are with him 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 duration, 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 intitles himself, I am that I am; and when Moses desires to
know what name he shall give him in his embassy to Pharaoh, 10 he bids him say that I am hath sent 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 has made of himself. There is nothing, say 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 shadow of existence, and something which is like it, 20 than existence itself. He only properly exists, whose existence
is entirely present; that is, in other words, who exists in the most perfect manner, and in such a manner as we have no idea of.
I shall conclude this speculation with one useful inference. How can we sufficiently prostrate ourselves, and fall down before our Maker, when we consider 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? 30 especially when we consider that he hirnself was before in the
complete possession of existence and of happiness, and in the full enjoyment of eternity. What man can think of himself as called out and separated from nothing, of his being made a conscious, a reasonable, and a happy creature, in short, of being taken in as a 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 silence of the soul, than to be expressed by words. The Supreme Being has not given us powers or faculties sufficient to extol and magnify such unutterable goodness.
1 2 Pet. iii. 8.
It is however some comfort to us, that we shall be always doing what we shall never be able to do, and that a work which cannot be finished will however be the work of an eternity.
No. 600.-Notions of an African tribe conce
ncerning a Future State ;
Virg. Æn. vi. 641.
DRYDEN. I have always taken a particular pleasure in examining the opinions which men of different religions, different ages, and different countries have entertained concerning the immor
tality of the soul, and the state of happiness which they pro10 mise themselves in another world. For whatever prejudices
and errors human nature lies under, we find that either reason, or tradition from our first parents, has discovered to all people something in these great points which bears analogy to truth, and to the doctrines opened to us by divine revelation. I was lately discoursing on this ubject with a learned person ", who has been very much conversant among the inhabitants of the more western parts of Afric. Upon his conversing with several in that country, he tells me that their notion of heaven, or of a future
state of happiness, is this, that every thing we there wish for will 20 immediately present itself to us. We find, say they, our souls are
of such a nature, that they require variety, and are not capable of being always delighted with the same objects. The Supreme Being, therefore, in compliance with this taste of happiness which he has planted in the soul of man, will raise up from time to time, say they, every gratification which it is in the humour to be pleased with. If we wish to be in groves or bowers, among running streams or falls of water, we shall immediately find ourselves in the midst of such a scene as we desire. If we would
be entertained with music and the melody of sounds, the concert 30 arises upon our wish, and the whole region about us is filled with
harmony. In short, every desire will be followed by fruition,
and whatever a man's inclination directs him to will be present with him. Nor is it material whether the Supreme Power creates in conformity to our wishes, or whether he only produces such a change in our imagination, as makes us believe ourselves conversant among those scenes which delight us. Our happiness will be the same, whether it proceed from external objects, or from the impressions of the Deity upon our own private fancies. This is the account which I have received from my learned friend.
Notwithstanding this system of belief be in general very chimerical and visionary, there is something sublime in its manner of considering the influence of a Divine Being on a human soul. It has also, like most other opinions of the Heathen world upon these important points, it has, I say, its foundation in truth, as it supposes the souls of good men after this life to be in a state of perfect happiness ; that in this state there will be no barren hopes nor fruitless wishes, and that we shall enjoy every thing we can desire. But the particular circumstance which I am most pleased
with in this scheme, and which arises from a just reflexion upon 20 human nature, is that variety of pleasures which it supposes the
souls of good men will be possessed of in another world. This I think highly probable, from the dictates both of reason and revelation. The soul consists of many faculties, as the understanding, and the will, with all the senses, both outward and inward; or, to speak more philosophically, the soul can exert herself in many different ways of action. She can understand, will, imagine, see and hear, love and discourse, and apply herself to many other the like exercises of different kinds and natures;
but what is more to be considered, the soul is capable of receiving 30 a most exquisite pleasure and satisfaction from the exercise of
any of these its powers, when they are gratified with their proper objects: she can be entirely happy by the satisfaction of the memory, the sight, the hearing, or any other mode of perception. Every faculty is as a distinct taste in the mind, and hath objects accommodated to its proper relish. Dr. Tillotson somewhere says ”, that he will not presume to determine in what consists the happiness of the blessed, because God Almighty is capable of making the soul happy by ten thousand different ways. Besides
those several avenues to pleasure which the soul is endowed with 40 in this life, it is not impossible, according to the opinion of many