The next attribute is, 'God is eternal.' 'From everlasting to everlasting thou art God' (Ps. 90:2). The schoolmen distinguish between aevun et aeternum, to explain the notion of eternity. There is a threefold being.
1. Such as had a beginning; and shall have an end; as all sensitive creatures, the beasts, fowls, fishes, which at death are destroyed and return to dust; their being ends with their life. 2. Such as had a beginning, but shall have no end, as angels and the souls of men, which are eternal a parte post; they abide for ever. 3. Such as is without beginning, and without ending, and that is proper only to God. He is semper existens, from everlasting to everlasting. This is God's title, a jewel of his crown. He is called 'the King eternal' (1 Tim. 1:17). Jehovah is a word that properly sets forth God's eternity; a word so dreadful, that the Jews trembled to name or read it; and used Adonai, Lord, in its place. Jehovah contains in it time past, present, and to come. 'Which is, and which was, and which is to come' (Rev. 1:8), interprets the word Jehovah; (which is) he subsists of himself, having a pure and independent being; (which was) God only was before time; there is no searching into the records of eternity; (which is to come) his kingdom has no end; his crown has no successors. 'Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever' (Heb. 1:8). The doubling of the word ratifies the certainty of it, as the doubling of Pharaoh's dream. I shall prove that God only could be eternal, without beginning. Angels could not; they are but creatures, though spirits; they were made; and therefore their beginning may be known; their antiquity may be searched into. If you ask, when were they created? Some think before the world was; but not so: for what was before time was eternal. The first origin of angels reaches no higher than the beginning of the world. It is thought by the learned, that the angels were made on the day on which the heavens were made. 'When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy' (Job 38:7). St. Jerome, Gregory, and venerable Bede understand it, that when God laid the foundation-stone of the world, the angels being then created, sang anthems of joy and praise. It is proper to God only to be eternal, without beginning. He is Alpha and Omega, the first and the last (Rev. 1:8), No creature can write itself Alpha, that is only a flower of the crown of heaven. 'I am that I am' (Ex. 3:14); that is, He who exists from and to eternity.
Use one: Here is thunder and lightning to the wicked. God is eternal, therefore the torments of the wicked are eternal. God lives for ever; and as long as God lives he will be punishing the damned. This should be as the handwriting upon the wall, it should 'make their joints to be loosed, etc. (Dan. 5:6). The sinner takes liberty to sin; he breaks God's laws, like a wild beast that breaks over the hedge, and leaps into forbidden pasture; he sins with greediness, as if he thought he could not sin fast enough (Eph. 4:19). But remember, one of God's names is Eternal, and as long as God is eternal he has time enough to reckon with all his enemies. To make sinners tremble, let them think of these three things: the torments of the damned are without intermission, without mixture, and eternal.
(1) Without intermission. Their pains shall be acute and sharp, and no relaxation; the fire shall not be slackened or abated. 'They have no rest day nor night' (Rev. 14:11); like one that has his joints stretched continually on the rack, and has no ease. The wrath of God is compared to a stream of brimstone (Is. 30:33). Why to a stream? Because a stream runs without intermission; so God's wrath runs like a stream, and pours out without intermission. In the pains of this life, there is some abatement and intermission; the fever abates; after a fit of the stone, the patient has some ease; but the pains of hell are intense and violent, in summo gradu. The damned soul never says, I am now more at ease.
(2) Without mixture. Hell is a place of pure justice. In this life, God in anger remembers mercy, he mixes compassion with suffering (Deut. 33:25). Asher's shoe was of iron, but his foot was dipped in oil. Affliction is the iron shoe, but mercy is mixed with it; the foot is dipped in oil. But the torments of the damned have no mixture. 'They shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture' (Rev. 14:10). No mixture of mercy. How is the cup of wrath said to be full of mixture! 'For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture: and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out and drink them' (Ps. 75:8). Yet in the Revelation it is said to be without mixture. It is full of mixture, that is, it is full of all the ingredients that may make it bitter; the worm, the fire, the curse of God, all these are bitter ingredients. It is a cup mixed, yet it is without mixture; there shall be nothing to afford the least comfort, no mixture of mercy, and so without mixture. In the sacrifice of jealousy (Nu. 5:15), no oil was put to it; so, in the torments of the damned, there is no oil of mercy to abate their sufferings.
(3) Without cessation, eternal. The pleasures of sin are but for a season, but the torments of the wicked are for ever. Sinners have a short feast, but a long reckoning. Origen erroneously thought, that after a thousand years the damned should be released out of their misery; but the worm, the fire, the prison, are all eternal. 'The smoke of their torment ascendeth for ever and ever' (Rev. 14:11). Panx gehennales puniunt, non finiunt [The torments of hell keep on punishing, they never end]. Prosper. Eternity is a sea without bottom and banks. After millions of years, there is not one minute in eternity wasted; and the damned must be ever burning, but never consuming, always dying, but never dead. 'They shall seek death, but shall not find it' (Rev. 9:6). The fire of hell is such, as multitudes of tears will not quench it, length of time will not finish it; the vial of God's wrath will be always dropping upon a sinner. As long as God is eternal, he lives to be avenged upon the wicked. Oh eternity! eternity! who can fathom it? Mariners have their plummets to measure the depths of the sea; but what line or plummet shall we use to fathom the depth of eternity? The breath of the Lord kindles the infernal lake (Is. 30:33) and where shall we have engines or buckets to quench that fire? Oh eternity! If all the body of the earth and sea were turned to sand, and all the air up to the starry heaven were nothing but sand, and a little bird should come every thousand years, and fetch away in her bill but the tenth part of a grain of all that heap of sand, what numberless years would be spent before that vast heap of sand would be fetched away! Yet, if at the end of all that time, the sinner might come out of hell, there would be some hope; but that word 'Ever' breaks the heart. The smoke of their torment ascendeth up 'for ever and ever.' What a terror is this to the wicked, enough to put them into a cold sweat, to think, as long as God is eternal, he lives for ever to be avenged upon them!
Here the question may be asked, Why should sin that is committed in short time be punished eternally?
We must hold with Augustine, 'that God's judgments on the wicked, occultu esse possunt, injusta esse non possunt, may be secret, but never unjust.' The reason why sin committed in a short time is eternally punished, is, because every sin is committed against an infinite essence, and no less than eternity of punishment can satisfy. Why is treason punished with confiscation and death, but because it is against the king's person, which is sacred; much more that offence which is against God's crown and dignity is of a heinous and infinite nature, and cannot be satisfied with less than eternal punishment.
Use two: Of comfort to the godly. God is eternal, therefore he lives for ever to reward the godly. 'To them who seek for glory and honour, eternal life' (Rom. 2:7). The people of God here are in a suffering condition. 'Bonds and afflictions abide me' (Acts 20:23). The wicked are clad in purple, and fare deliciously, while the godly suffer. Goats climb upon high mountains, while Christ's sheep are in the valley of slaughter. But here is the comfort, God is eternal, and he has appointed eternal recompenses for the saints. In heaven are fresh delights, sweetness without surfeit; and that which is the crown and zenith of heaven's happiness, is, that it is 'eternal' (1 John 3:15). Were there but the least suspicion that this glory must cease it would much eclipse, yea, embitter it; but it is eternal. What angel can span eternity? 'An eternal weight of glory' (2 Cor. 4:17). The saints shall bathe themselves in the rivers of divine pleasure; and these rivers can never be dried up. 'At thy right hand are pleasures for evermore' (Ps. 16:11). This is the Elah, the highest strain in the apostle's rhetoric. 'Ever with the Lord' (1 Thess. 4:17). There is peace without trouble, ease without pain, glory without end, 'ever with the Lord.' Let this comfort the saints in all their troubles; their sufferings are but short, but their reward is eternal. Eternity makes heaven to be heaven; it is the diamond in the ring. Oh blessed day that shall have no night! The sunlight of glory shall rise upon the soul and never set! Oh blessed spring, that shall have no autumn, or fall of the leaf. The Roman emperors have three crowns set upon their heads, the first of iron, the second of silver, the third of gold; so the Lord sets three crowns on his children, grace, comfort, and glory; and this crown is eternal. 'Ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away' (2 Pet. 5:4). The wicked have a never-dying worm, and the godly a never-fading crown. Oh how should this be a spur to virtue! How willing should we be to work for God! Though we had nothing here, God has time enough to reward his people. The crown of eternity shall be set upon their head .
Use three: Of exhortation. Study eternity. Our thoughts should chiefly run upon eternity. We all wish for the present, something that may delight the senses. If we could have lived, as Augustine says, a cunabulis mundil from the infancy of the world to the world's old age, what were this? What is time, measured with eternity? As the earth is but a small point to the heaven, so time is but, nay scarce a minute to eternity. And then, what is this poor life which crumbles away so fast? Oh, think of eternity! Annos aeternos in ente habe. Brethren, we are every day travelling to eternity; and whether we wake or sleep, we are going our journey. Some of us are upon the borders of eternity. Oh study the shortness of life and length of eternity!
More particularly think of God's eternity and the soul's eternity. Think of God's eternity. He is the Ancient of Days, who was before all time. There is a figurative description of God in Daniel 7:9: 'The Ancient of Days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool.' His white garment, wherewith he was clothed, signified his majesty; his hair, like the pure wool, his holiness; and the Ancient of Days, his eternity. The thought of God's eternity should make us have high adoring thoughts of God. We are apt to have mean, irreverent thoughts of him. 'Thou thoughtest I was such an one as thyself' (Ps. 50:21), weak and mortal, but if we would think of God's eternity, when all our power ceases, he is King eternal, his crown flourishes for ever, he can make us happy or miserable for ever, this would make us have adoring thoughts of God. 'The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat upon the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever; and cast their crowns before the throne' (Rev. 4:10). The saints fall down, to signify by that humble posture that they are not worthy to sit in God's presence. They fall down and they worship him that liveth for ever and ever; they do as it were kiss his feet. They cast their crowns before the throne, they lay all their honour at his feet; thus they show humble adoration to the eternal essence. Study God's eternity, it will make us adore where we cannot fathom. Think of the soul's eternity. As God is eternal, so he has made us eternal. We are never dying creatures; we are shortly entering upon an eternal state, either of happiness or misery. Have serious thoughts of this. Say, O my soul, which of these two eternities is like to be thy portion? I must shortly depart hence, and whither then shall I go, to which of these eternities, either of glory or misery? The serious meditation of the eternal state we are to pass into would work strongly with us.
(1) Thoughts of eternal torments are a good antidote against sin. Sin tempts with its pleasure; but, when we think of eternity, it may cool the intemperate heat of lust. Shall I, for the pleasure of sin for a season, endure eternal pain? Sin, like those locusts (Rev. 9:7) seems to have on its head a crown like gold, but it has in it a tail like a scorpion, verse 10, and a sting in its tail, and this sting can never be plucked out. Shall I venture eternal wrath? Is sin committed so sweet as lying in hell for ever is bitter? This in thought would make us flee from sin, as Moses from the serpent.
(2) The serious thoughts of eternal happiness would very much take us off from worldly things. What are these sublunary things to eternity! They are quickly gone, they salute us, and take their farewell. But I am to enter upon an everlasting estate; I hope to live with him who is eternal; what is the world to me? To those who stand upon the top of the Alps, in the great cities of Campania are small things in their eyes; so to him who has his thoughts fixed on his eternal state after this life, all these things seem as nothing in his eye. What is the glory of this world! how poor and contemptible, compared with an eternal weight of glory!
(3) The serious thoughts of an eternal state, either of happiness or misery, should have a powerful influence upon whatsoever we take in hand. Every work we do promotes either a blessed or cursed eternity; every good action sets us a step nearer to an eternity of happiness; every bad action sets us a step nearer to an eternity of misery. Oh what influence should the thoughts of eternity have upon our religious duties! It should make us do them with all our might. Duty well performed lifts a Christian higher towards heaven, and sets a Christian a step nearer to a blessed eternity.