Eternity As Non-Duration: Maurice, In American Theology -- By: G. F. Magoun

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 041:163 (Jul 1884)
Article: Eternity As Non-Duration: Maurice, In American Theology
Author: G. F. Magoun


Eternity As Non-Duration: Maurice, In American Theology

G. F. Magoun

The new attempt to expel the meaning of duration from the terms eternal and eternity is a copy of an English original. The late Rev. F. D. Maurice of London says that the well established signification of these words was imposed upon us by Locke’s philosophy.1 If this be so, if the idea of endless duration is a mere metaphysical fiction, instead of a common thought of plain men, it might be exploded by a counter philosophy. But the attempt was made as long ago as the time of Spinoza, and was never more than a mere attempt. In his Ethics, definition eighth, Spinoza says, “By eternity I understand existence itself (ipsam existentiam) in so far as it is conceived necessarily to follow from the sole definition of an eternal thing.” Here there is a manifest distinction implied between a thing and its existence, while existence and duration of existence are confounded with each other. How Spinoza could identify these last two as one passes comprehension. He certainly could not have meant by “eternal essence “(a phrase which he elsewhere uses) merely an existing essence, for an essence need only be conceived to be temporary, and then the word eternal could be used to indicate that which is not eternal! Maurice’s attempt to vacate the word of its meaning is even more violent than Spinoza’s, and has been adopted in some recent American speculations, which cropped out in the discussions respecting the Abbot Professorship at Andover, and in the late Old South Church Council. In his Essays (1853) Mr. Maurice asserts that “Eternity is not a lengthening out or continuation of time”; “they are generically differ-

ent.” Looked at logically, this language means to deny the validity of any such generic idea as duration, of which eternity and time are treated as species, — duration with and without end. If this is correct thinking, then temporal duration is the genus and there is no other species — i.e. no endless duration at all — the terms used by everybody to express this idea meaning something which is another genus possessing no meaning of duration whatever. This is much as if one should say that the genus animal and the species vertebrate are one and the same; that that species is exhaustive of the genus under which it stands; and that invertebrate is “generically different,” having no reference whatever to the possession or lack of a spinal column!2 Whether eternity is a “continuation of time,” i.e. whether the one species is composed of the other, as formally conceived,

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