The remaining discourses, on the attributes of God Viz. his Goodness. His mercy. His patience. His long-suffering. His power. His spirituality. His immensity. His eternity. His incomprehensibleness. God the first cause, and last end. By the most reverend Dr. John Tillotson, late Lord Arch-Bishop of Canterbury. Being the seventh volume; published from the originals, by Ralph Barker, D.D. chaplain to his Grace.
Tillotson, John, 1630-1694., Barker, Ralph, 1648-1708, publisher.
Page  355

SERMON XIII.* The Eternity of God.


Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou had'st formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.

THE Immensity, and Eter∣nity of God are those Attributes which relate to his Nature, or man∣ner of Being. Having spoken of the former, I proceed to consider the latter, from these words.

Page  356The Title of this Psalm is the Prayer of Moses, the man of God. He begins his Prayer with the ac∣knowledgment of God's Providence to his people from the beginning of the World; Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place from all ge∣nerations; in generation and genera∣tion; so the Hebrew. He was well acquainted with the History of the World, and the Providence of God from the beginning of it, and as if he had spoken too lit∣tle of God, in saying, that his Providence had been exercised in all the Ages of the World, he tells us here in the Text, that he was before the World, and he made it, he was from all E∣ternity, and should continue to all Eternity the same. Before the mountains were brought forth; the most firm and durable parts of the World, the most eminent and conspicuous; Or ever thou had'st formed the earth and the world; before any thing was created; from everlasting to everlasting thou Page  357 art God. In speaking of this At∣tribute, I shall,

First, Give you the Explication of it.

Secondly, Endeavour to prove that it doth belong to God, and ought to be attributed to the Di∣vine Nature.

Thirdly, Draw some Corollaries from the whole.

First, For the Explication of it. Eternity is a duration with∣out bounds or limits: Now there are two limits of duration, begin∣ning and ending; that which hath always been is without beginning; that which always shall be is without ending. Now we may conceive of a thing always to have been, and the continuance of its being now to cease, tho' there be no such thing in the World: and there are some things which have had a beginning of their Being, but shall have no Page  358 end, shall always continue, as the Angels, and Spirits of Men. The first of these the Schoolmen call Eternity, â parte ante, that is du∣ration without beginning; the latter Eternity â parte post, a duration without ending: but Eternity abso∣lutely taken comprehends both these, and signifies an infinite du∣ration which had no beginning, nor shall have any end; so that when we say God is Eternal, we mean that he always was, and shall be for ever; that he had no beginning of Life, nor shall have any end of Days; but that he is from ever∣lasting to everlasting, as it is here in the Text.

'Tis true indeed, that as to God's Eternity, â parte ante, as to his having always been, the Scripture doth not give us any solicitous account of it; it only tells us in general, that God was before the world was, and that he created it; it doth not descend to gratifie our curiosity, in giving us any ac∣count of what God did before Page  359 he made the World, or how he entertaind himself from all Eterni∣nity; it doth not give us any distinct account of his infinite du∣ration; for that had been impossi∣ble for our finite understandings to comprehend; if we should have ascended upward millions of Ages, yet we should never have ascend∣ed to the top, never have arri∣ved at the beginning of infinity; therefore the Scripture, which was wrote to instruct us in what was necessary, and not to satisfie our curiosity, tells us this, that God was from everlasting, before the world was made, and that he laid the foundations of it.

So that by the Eternity of God, you are to understand the perpetu∣al continuance of his Being, with∣out beginning or ending.

I shall not trouble you with the inconsistent and unintelligible no∣tions of the Schoolmen; that it is duratio tota simul, in which we are not to conceive any succession, but to Page  360 imagine it an instant. We may as well conceive the Immensity of God to be a point, as his Eternity to be an instant; and as accord∣ing to our manner of conceiving, we must necessarily suppose the Immensity of God, to be an in∣finite Expansion of his Essence, a presence of it to all places, and imaginable space; so must we sup∣pose the Eternity of God to be a perpetual continuance, coex∣istent to all imaginable succession of Ages. Now how that can be together, which must necessarily be imagined to be coexistent to successions, let them that can con∣ceive.

Secondly, For the proof of this, I shall attempt it two ways.

I. From the Dictates of Natu∣ral Light and Reason.

II. From Scripture and Divine Revelation.

Page  361I. From the Dictates of Natural Reason. This attribute of God is of all other least disputed among the Philosophers; indeed all agree that God is a perfect and happy Being, but wherein that happiness and perfection consists, they differ exceedingly; but all agree that God is Eternal, and are agreed what Eternity is, viz. a boundless duration: and however they did at∣tribute a beginning to their He∣roes and Demons, whence come the Genealogies of their Gods; yet the Supreme God, they look'd upon as without beginning; and it is a good evidence, that this perfection doth clearly belong to God, that Epicurus, who had the lowest and meanest conceptions of God, and robbed him of as ma∣ny Perfections, as his imperfect Reason would let him, yet is for∣ced to attribute this to him. Tul∣ly de Nat Deor. l. 1. saith to the Epicureans, ubi igitur vestrum beatum & aeternum quibus duobus Page  362 verbis significatis deum? Where then is your happy and eternal Being, by which two Epithets you express God? And Lucretius, who hath underta∣ken to represent to the World the Doctrine of Epicurus, gives this ac∣count of the Divine Nature,

Omnis enim per se divûm naturae necesse est
Immortali aevo summa cum pace fruatur.

'Tis absolutely necessary to the nature of the Gods, to pass an Eternity in profound peace and quiet.

The Poets who had the wild∣est Notions of God, yet they con∣stantly give them the title of 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉: the heathen never mention the name of God without this Attribute. Dii immortales! Immor∣tal Gods! was their ordinary ex∣clamation; and they swear con∣stantly by this Attribute, deos te∣stor immortales; and to mention no more, Tully saith expresly, Nos deum nisi sempiternum intelligere quî possumus? How can we conceive of God, but as of an Eternal Being?

Page  363Now the Reason of this is evi∣dent, because it would be the great∣est imperfection we could attri∣bute to his Being; and the more perfect his Being were otherwise, the greater imperfection would it be for such a Being, to die; so ex∣cellent a Nature to cease to be; it would be an infinite abasement to all his other perfections, his Power, and Wisdom, and Good∣ness, that these should all be pe∣rishing. Nay, it would hinder se∣veral of his perfections, and con∣tradict their very Being; his self-ex∣istence; had he not always been, he had not been of himself; his neces∣sary existence; for that is not necessari∣ly, which may at any time not be, or cease to be what it is; and it would much abate the duty of the Crea∣ture; we could not have that assurance of his promise, and that security of the recompence of the next life, if the continuance of his Being, who should be the dis∣penser of them, were uncertain.

Page  364Now these Absurdities and in∣conveniences following from the denyal of this Perfection to God, is sufficient evidence that it be∣longs to him; for I told you the Perfections of God cannot be prov∣ed by way of demonstration, but only by way of conviction, by shewing the Absurdity of the contrary.

II. From Scripture and Divine Revelation. There are innumera∣ble places to this purpose which speak of the Eternity of God Di∣rectly, and by Consequence: By Conse∣quence, those words, 2 Peter 3.8. One day with the Lord is as a thou∣sand years, and a thousand years as one day, which words, however In∣terpreters have troubled themselves about them, being afraid of a con∣tradiction in them, yet the plain meaning of them is this, that such is the infinite duration of God, that all measures of time bear no proportion to it; for that this is the plain meaning, appears by this Page  365 90 Psalm, out of which they are cited, for a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday, when it is past, and as a watch in the night; that is, as the time past, as a few hours slept away, for that is the meaning of a watch in the night, that is as nothing; now St. Pe∣ter's conversion of the words, one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day, only sig∣nifies this, that the longest dura∣tion of time is so inconsiderable to God, that it is as the shortest, that is, bears no proportion to the Eternity of God.

But Directly, the Scripture fre∣quently mentions this attribute, He's called the everlasting God, Gen. 21.33. The Eternal God, Deut. 33.27. and which is to the same purpose, he that inhabiteth Eternity, Isa. 57.15. And this as it is attributed to him in respect of his Being, so in respect of all his other Perfections, Psal. 103.17. the mercy of the Lord is from ever∣lasting, to everlasting. Rom. 1. Page  366 20. his eternal power. 1 Tim. 1.17. the King eternal. Those Doxo∣logies which the Scripture useth, are but acknowledgments of this Attribute, Blessed be the Lord for e∣ver and ever. Neh. 9.5. To whom be glory, and honour, and do∣minion, for ever and ever. Gal. 1.5. and in many other pla∣ces.

Hither we may refer all those places which speak of him as without beginning; Psal. 93.2. Thou art from everlasting. Mich. 5.2. Whose goings forth have been from everlasting. Hab. 1.12. Art not thou from everlasting? O Lord! And those which speak of the perpetual continuance of his dura∣tion; Psal. 102.24, 25, 26, 27. Thy years are throughout all genera∣tions; of old thou hast laid the foun∣dations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of thy hands; they shall perish, but thou shalt endure; yea all of them shall wax old like a garment, and as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be chang∣ed; Page  367 but thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.

And those which speak of him as the first and the last; Isa. 43.10 Before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be any af∣ter me. I am the first, and I am the last, and besides me there is no God. And to mention no more, those which speak of his Being, as coexistent to all difference of time, past, present, and to come, Rev. 1.8. I am Alpha, and Omega, the beginning, and the ending, saith the Lord which is, and which was, and which is to come.

Thirdly, I shall from hence draw,

  • I. Some Doctrinal Corollaries.
  • II. Some Practical Inferences.

I. Doctrinal Corollaries, that you may see how the Perfections of God depend one upon another, Page  368 and may be deduced one from a∣nother.

1. Corol. From the Eternity of God we may infer that he is of himself. That which always is, can have nothing before it to be a cause of its Being.

2. Corol. We may hence infer the necessity of his Being. 'Tis necessary every thing should be, when it is; now that which is always, is absolutely necessary, be∣cause always so.

3. Corol. The Immutability of the Divine Nature; for being al∣ways, he is necessarily, and being necessarily, he cannot but be what he is; a change of his Being is as impossible as a cessation. There∣fore the Psalmist puts his Immuta∣bility and Eternity together. Psal. 102.27. But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.

II. By way of Practical Inference or Application.

Page  3691. The consideration of God's Eternity may serve for the sup∣port of our Faith. This Moses here useth as a ground of his Faith; Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place, in all generations, before the mountains were brought forth, &c. Psal. 62.8. Trust in him at all times, ye people. His Immensity is an Argument why all should trust in him, he is a present help to all; and why they should trust in him at all times, his Eternity is an Argument, Deut. 33.27. The eternal God is thy refuge, and un∣derneath are the everlasting arms. There are two Attributes which are the proper Objects of our Faith and Confidence, God's Goodness, and his Power, both these are Eternal; the goodness of the Lord endureth for ever, as it is fre∣quently in the Psalms: And his Power is Eternal; the Apostle speaks of his Eternal Power, as well as Godhead; Rom. 1.20. Isa. 26.4. Trust ye in the Lord for ever, for in the Lord Jehovah is ever∣lasting Page  370 strength. Isa. 40.28. The everlasting God, the Lord, the crea∣tour of the ends of the earth fainteth not, neither is weary.

We cannot trust in men, be∣cause there is nothing in man to be a Foundation of our Confidence; his good will towards us may change, his Power may faint, and he may grow weary; or if these continue, yet they that have a mind and a power to help us, themselves may fail; therefore the Psalmist useth this consideration of mens mortality, to take us off from confidence in man, Psal. 146.3, 4. Put not your trust in Princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help; his breath go∣eth forth, he returneth to his earth, in that very day his thoughts perish. Isa. 2.22. Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of? The greatest of the Sons of Men are but lying refuges to the everlasting God; they are but broken reeds to the rock of Ages.

Page  371And this may support our Faith, not only in reference to our own condition for the future, but in reference to our posterity, and the condition of God's Church to the end of the World. When we die we may leave ours and the Church in his hands, who lives for ever, and reigns for ever. The enemies of God's Church, and those who have the most malicious designs against it, what ever share they may have in the affairs of the World, they can but domineer for a while, they must die, and that very day their thoughts perish: But thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.

2. For the encouragement of our obedience. We serve the God who can give us an everlasting reward. The reward of the next Life is called Eternal Life, an E∣ternal weight of glory, 2 Cor. 4.17. Eternal Salvation, Heb. 5.9.. an Eternal Inheritance, Heb. 9.15. That place where good Men shall be rewarded is called, everlasting Page  372 habitations, Luke 16.9. a house Eternal in the heavens, 2 Cor. 5.1. As the promise of our future reward is founded in the Goodness of God, and the greatness of it in his Power, so the duration of it in his Eternity. Now what an en∣couragement is this to us, that we serve him and suffer for him who lives for ever, and will make us happy for ever? When we serve the great men of this World, tho' we be secure of their affection, yet we are uncertain of their lives; and this discourageth many, and makes men worship the rising Sun, and many times takes off mens eyes from the King to his Successor: but he that serves God, serves the King everlasting, as the Apostle calls him, who will live to dispence rewards to all those who are faith∣ful to him.

3. For the terrour of wicked men. The Sentence which shall be past upon men at the day of judg∣ment, is call'd Eternal Judgment, Heb. 6.2. because it decides mens Page  373 Eternal state; the Punishment that shall follow this Sentence which shall pass upon the wicked, is cal∣led, Everlasting punishment, Matt. 25.46. Everlasting fire. Matt. 25.41. Everlasting destruction, 2 Thes. 2.9. The vengeance of Eternal fire, Jude 7. The smoke of the bottomless pit, is said to ascend for ever and ever, Rev. 14.11. and the wick∣ed to be tormented day and night, for ever and ever. Rev. 20.10. Now as the punishment of wick∣ed men is founded in the Justice of God; and the greatness of it in his Power; so the perpetuity and continuance of it in his Eter∣nity. The Apostle saith Heb. 10.31. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God; because he that lives for ever, can punish for e∣ver; as the Eternal Demerit of sin feeds, and animates, and keeps a∣live the never dying worm, so the wrath of the Eternal God blows up the Eternal Flame.

How should this awaken in us a fear of the Eternal God! Sinners, Page  374 what a folly is it, for the pleasures of sin, which are but for a season, to incense that Justice which will Pu∣nish and torment you for ever! As good men shall have the ever∣lasting God for their Reward, and their Happiness; so wicked men shall have him for their Judge and Aven∣ger.

We fear the wrath of men, whose power is short, and whose breath is in their nostrils, who can afflict but a little, and for a little while. Dost thou fear man that shall die, and the son of man that shall be made as grass? and is not the wrath of the Eternal God much more ter∣rible? Luke 12.4, 5. And I say un∣to you, my friends, be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do: but I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear; fear him, who after he hath kill'd, hath power to cast into hell, yea I say unto you, fear him. The wrath of man is despicable, because it hath bounds and limits; the fury of man can but reach to the body, it can go no Page  375 further; it expires with this life, it cannot follow us beyond the Grave: But the wrath of the Eternal God doth not only reach the Body, but the Soul; it is not confin'd to this Life, but pursues us to the other World, and extends it self to all Eternity.

Fear him, who after he hath kill'd, hath power to cast into hell, that is, to inflict Eternal Torments; Yea, I say unto you, fear him.