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A Discourse Concerning The Being And Attributes Of God by Samuel Clarke

V. Proposition V. That the self-existent being must be eternal.

Though
the substance or essence of the self-existent being is in itself absolutely incomprehensible to us; yet many of the essential attributes of his nature are strictly demonstrable, as well as his existence. Thus, in the first place, the self-existent being must of necessity be eternal. The ideas of eternity and self-existence are so closely connected, that, because something must of necessity be eternal independently and without any outward cause of its being, therefore it must necessarily be self-existent; and, because it is impossible but something must be self-existent, therefore it is necessary that it must likewise be eternal. To be self-existent, is (as has been already shown,) to exist by an absolute necessity in the nature of the thing itself. Now this necessity being absolute, and not depending upon any thing external, must be always unalterably the same; nothing being alterable but what is capable of being affected by somewhat without itself. That being, therefore, which has no other cause of its existence but the absolute necessity of its own nature, must of necessity have existed from everlasting, without beginning; and must of necessity exist to everlasting without end.

As Of the manner of our conceiving the eternity of God. to the manner of this eternal existence: it is manifest, it herein infinitely transcends the manner of the existence of all created beings, even of such as shall exist for ever; that whereas it is not possible for their finite minds to comprehend all that is past, or to understand perfectly all things that are at present, much less to know all that is future, or to have entirely in their power any thing that is to come; but their thoughts, and knowledge, and power must of necessity have degrees and periods, and be successive and transient as the things themselves. The eternal supreme cause, on the contrary, (supposing him to be an intelligent being, which will hereafter be proved in the sequel of this discourse,) must of necessity have such a perfect, independent, and unchangeable comprehension of all things, that there can be no one point or instant of his eternal duration, wherein all things that are past, present, or to come, will not be as entirely known and represented to him in one single thought or view; and all things present and future be equally entirely in his power and direction as if there was really no succession at all, but all things were actually present at once. Thus far we can speak intelligibly concerning the eternal duration of the self-existent being; and no atheist can say this is an impossible, absurd, or insufficient account. It is, in the most proper and intelligible sense of the words, to all the purposes of excellency and perfection, interminabilis vitæ tota simul et perfecta possessio; the entire and perfect possession of an endless life.

Others With respect to succession. have supposed that the difference between the manner of the eternal existence of the supreme cause, and that of the existence of created beings, is this: that, whereas the latter is a continual transient succession of duration, the former is one point or instant comprehending eternity, and wherein all things are really co-existent. But this distinction I shall not now insist upon, as being of no use in the present dispute, because it is impossible to prove and explain it in such a manner as ever to convince an atheist that there is any thing in it; and besides, as, on the one hand, the schoolmen have indeed generally chosen to defend it, so, on the other hand, there are many learned men, of far better understanding and judgment, who have rejected and opposed it.

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