Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Richard Muller on Reformed "Uses" of Divine Infinity, Omnipresence, and Eternity

Excerpt from Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy;  Volume 3: The Divine Essence and Attributes (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 362–364.

"The Reformed orthodox writers also indicate several practical consequences that ought to be drawn from the doctrine of God’s infinity, omnipresence, and eternity: as is the case with the other topics belonging to the doctrine of God, meditation on eternity was not a matter of philosophical interest or purely rational inquiry for the Reformed orthodox. The doctrine had significant implications for piety, which can be gathered under three specific categories: comfort to the godly; terror to the wicked; and incentive to press on toward the goal of salvation.

First, the issue of comfort. In the promise of salvation, God offers an infinitely valuable reward—“for as God is infinite, such is the Happiness he bestows.” From God’s greatness or omnipresence, Perkins argues, it follows that he is “the knower of the heart” from whom nothing is hidden. “This omnipresence of God ought to render us sure of his divine assistance in all dangers, and diligent in religion through all our lives, since he is ‘not far from every one of us’ (Acts 17:27). It is said that he is wise who lives in this world as in a temple, and thinks of God as everywhere present.” Thus Leigh similarly states that God’s omnipresence has the value of teaching the godly “to be sincere and upright, because they walk before God” (Gen. 17:1). God is present with all people and understands their inmost thoughts: “this should curb them from committing secret sins, and encourage them to perform private duties, Matt. 6:6”

Since it is eternal God and not a temporally limited being who orders and guides all things, believers can be certain that the goal of drawing the world toward “eternal felicity” is within the power of God. Since, moreover, God is eternally the same, he is a constant guide “all the days of their life” who will “after death receive us to the everlasting enjoyment of himself, and revive our dust.” In our present condition, consideration of God’s eternity provides “a mighty advantage for the strengthening of our faith in pleading with God for the same mercies, which he hath formerly bestowed upon others, because he is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.” The contemplation of the eternity of God also draws the mind away from transitory things and points human beings toward their own “capacity of … endless blessedness” far transcending the limited blessings of the world: “remember, when you are tempted for wealth or honour to wrong your soul, that these are not the eternal riches.” “Canst thou not run with patience so short a race,” Baxter writes, “when thou lookest to so long a rest?”

Second—the negative side of the doctrine: it cuts against the complacency of the wicked and, if believed by them, fills them with terror concerning their destiny. The wicked, Manton writes, “may outlive other enemies, but they cannot outlive God, who abideth forever to avenge his quarrel against them.” For their sin of preferring the creature to the creator, earth to heaven, temporal things to eternal, the wicked are deprived both of the eternal favor of God (which they scorned) and the delights of the natural order (which they wrongfully desired): “How just is it for God to make them everlastingly to lie under the fruits and effects of their own evil choice!” Eternity “is a terror to the wicked; he shall ever be to make them everlastingly miserable; as heaven is an eternal Palace, so hell is an everlasting Prison.” It is a primary mark of the saving knowledge of God that it removes or abolishes vain confidence in the transitory and looks to the eternal and unchangeable God as the foundation of our trust and as the one on whom we can “depend … in all things.”

Third, the concept of eternity offers a practical support and stimulus to the life of faith. Inasmuch as “practical” knowledge directs the knower toward a goal, Christians need to recognize that “the truth of [God’s] eternal being is the object of our faith” just as “the apprehension of him as our chief good and felicity is the object of our love.” This is so of God’s eternity since, in a penultimate sense, our faith seeks as its object “our participated eternity” as the goal of “all our desires and labors … the expectation of [which] fortifieth us against all the difficulties of our pilgrimage, and so directeth us what to mind, be, and do.” “We must carefully and earnestly seek him, place our happiness in him that is everlasting; all other things are fleeting; if we get his favor once, we shall never lose it; he will be an everlasting friend; his truth and mercy remains forever [Psalm 117:2; 146:6].” God’s eternity, as an article of our belief (1 Tim. 1:16) and as the ground of our soul’s eternal happiness, is a proper subject for daily meditation.
God’s love and election are also eternal, and he will give eternal life to all believers. That which is eternal, is perfect at once; therefore he should be adored and obeyed, his counsel followed.
Negatively, Baxter could argue that “the infidel and ungodly man that looks not after an eternal end, destroys all the mercies of God, and makes them no mercies at all” inasmuch, for example, our creation and continued being is a mercy of God, but only as “it is in order to our eternal end.” The denial of God’s eternity, Baxter continues, is therefore an assault on the truth and significance of all Christian doctrine.