A parte ante and
Eternity has been said to be "a negative idea expressed by a positive
sense. It supposes a present existence, and denies a beginning or an end
of that existence."(1) I cannot admit this. No doubt the word denotes
negation of beginning or end, but this is but part of its meaning.
Every term is negative of something, for
every term excludes something. In this point of view eternity
denotes the negation not only of a beginning or an end, but of a
succession in time altogether. But it is a serious error to
regard it as merely or mainly a negation. That which is beyond
the possibility of measurement may nevertheless make a very
positive impression upon us, all the more positive according to
Barrow and Cudworth on that very account. And the mystery which man forbodes when
"He names the name Eternity"
is surely no negation except of the
Nature in which he can nowhere find
"That type of Perfect in his mind."
The stedfast and enduring presence
of all things to Him Who inhabiteth eternity has been called, as we have
seen, the nunc stans of eternity, and it is of this that many
commentators understand the "this day have I begotten Thee" of the
The thought of eternity is necessarily involved in that of God's
absolute Being and perfection, and the French Protestant version of the
Scriptures translates not unfelicitously the I Am Who Am (2) that was
uttered from the burning bush, by Je suis l'Eternal.
(1) FLEMING, Vocabulary of Phil., in voc.
(2) Not I am that I am, as in our present version.