Duration as Applied to God, 1885, Rev. J.J. Smith

Wilford's Microcosm, a magazine published 1881-1893 by E.B. Hall and Company, Boston and New York, reported on science and religion. The July 1885 edition on pages 289-290 presented the Reverand J. J. Smith's Duration as Applied to God insightful article Click to see this in Google Books, on the OpenTheism.org/timeline, and see a transcript below.

Scan of 1885 article, Duration as Applied to God by Rev. J. J. Smith

* Transcript of 1885's Duration as Applied to God: ("Thank you to both Joe Spears and C.H. for each transcribing this!" -A KGOV staffer)

Duration as Applied to God.
By Rev. J. J. Smith, A. M., D. D.

In the last March Microcosm is found a very well written article entitled “The Great Mystery,” to which I wish to call attention in a very friendly way for the purpose of pointing out an idea incidentally advanced by the writer, and which I have often seen advanced before, but which I believe to be radically and essentially false. It is this, that with the Almighty there is no past, and no future, but an eternal now. In the paragraph referred to are these words, “Touching the Infinite intelligence there is no past, and there can be no future.”

My first objection to this hypothesis is that it directly and most emphatically antagonizes the Word of God, and therefore cannot be true. It is by no means the view that he has given us of himself upon the subject. “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is and which was and is to come the Almighty.” He speaks, in reference to himself, most distinctly of the past and the future as well as the present. Many other passages of like import might be adduced if it were necessary, but this alone is sufficient for our purpose, as it is plain, positive and unequivocal. 

But, perhaps, it will be urged that God has used these forms of expression to accommodate himself to the imperfection of our intellects, and therefore it is to be understood as merely the language of accommodation. But where is the evidence of this? It is found neither in earth or heaven. Besides, if Duration with the Divine intelligence admits of no past or future, then one of two things must inevitably follow, namely, either that no such attribute as that of eternity belongs to God, or else there is no capacity in the human mind to receive it. In either case the Scriptures are lowered and greatly injured in their character, as a revelation from God to man. This is Manifest, because the declaration that he is “He who was and is and is to come,” etc., is not true literally, it is not true figuratively, for in that case the figure rests upon no basis, and consequently it can illustrate nothing, and therefore means nothing. 

My second objection to this theory that with the Divine being there is no past or future, is that it is contrary to reason, and therefore must necessarily be false. The only way that we can think of Duration is to think of it as continued existence, and continued existence must, in the very nature of things, be made up of successive moments. The mind can form the idea of Duration in no other way. It is plainly unreasonable to ask any man to believe any proposition that the mind cannot conceive as being possible, and that it intuitively rejects as involving a manifest contradiction. I can think of no greater absurdity than there is in affirming that a single moment (the nunc stans, the eternal now) can be made to stand thus still, and become coequal with eternity, and still be a moment. It is as absurd as it would be to affirm that a mathematical point can be made to coextend with all space without ceasing to be such a point.

We divide time into cycles, years, months, weeks, days, etc., down to seconds; because these are tangible periods of duration. To deny that they have such tangibility, is to deny the reliability of our senses, and thus to sap the very foundation of all our knowledge. It does not do away with this difficulty to affirm that duration is something distinct from these artificial measures of time. The question is still, is there not something in Duration when considered generally, or in time we consider especially, which corresponds with these artificial means and methods of measuring? To this, the answer must be affirmative. The same is equally true of surfaces. Although it can in the same way be affirmed that there is a distinction to be observed between the expanse of the ocean and the leagues by which it is measured; yet this distinction can in no way destroy or diminish the real existence of that surface. It is there all the same, whether measured or not. So with Duration. Admit the distinction between it and the measurement of it, it nevertheless flows on whether measured or not. But as there is a manifest correspondence between the surface of the ocean and the leagues by which it is measured, so there is also manifest correspondence between Duration and it's measurement, so far as it can be measured.

If the Supreme Being does not foreknow events as future before they occur, but regards them as actually existing from all eternity before they do exist, then with him they never had a commencement, but have actually existed from all eternity, which flatly contradicts his revelation to Moses, and which we consequently know to be absolutely false. 

Again, if with him there is no past and future, then in his mind all events that have ever occurred, and all that ever will occur, took place instantaneously, which we also know to be positively false. 

All who believe in a supernatural creation will, I presume, admit that in the first place there must have been the purpose upon the part of God to create our globe, together with all its vegetable and animal tribes, before he did actually create them, and that these - the purpose and the act - must have stood to each other in the relation of cause and effect, and consequently the act of creation was subsequent to the Divine purpose to create. This necessarily involves the idea of succession in the mind and acts of the Creator. 

Besides, as most events have occurred with various intervals between them, it is clear that if God does not understand them as successive in time and order, as they have actually occurred, then he does not understand some things in this respect as well as we do, nor does he understand any of them as they really and truly are in a historical point of view. As this necessarily implies and proves a very great defect in the Divine character, which cannot, for a moment, be admitted, we are inevitably driven to the conclusion that that the above theory is radically and positively false. That as events have occurred in succession, God's knowledge of them as actual events, or occurrences, must have been successive also. Nor does this foreknowledge and after-knowledge argue an imperfection in his character, any more than does the fact that he changes occasionally in his operation, working at one time and resting at another, or creating at one time and destroying at another, argue imperfection.

 A further objection to this theory, that with God there is no past or future, that he does not understand any distinction in the time of different events, is that it not only makes his knowledge about some things, or rather the relation of some events to each other, less perfect than even our own, but it makes it actually false, for it implies that the Divine Being had a knowledge of them as actually existing at a time when they did not actually exist, which involves a manifest falsehood. For instance, it implies that with God, our globe was created and destroyed in the same instant of time; which we know to be absolutely false, for we know that these are two distinct and separate events, not only in themselves, but especially in regard to time, one of which is already past and the other is yet in the future. As these absurdities can never be admitted, we are compelled to reject the theory, that with Jehovah, in his knowledge of actual events, there is no past, no future, as unscriptural, unreasonable, and absurd.

Paterson, New Jersey.