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THE INFINITE PAST.
We have now to contemplate the Infinite Past and the Infinite Future. Many may be inclined to rest satisfied with the first ideas which these expressions are calculated to raise, and they may believe that their further development would lead to results of little importance, while the attempt would be attended with great difficulty.
But let these words pass slowly before the eye of contemplation, and perhaps attention may suggest points for consideration which easily escape careless observation; and let us hope that the results drawn from a careful examination and full developement of the subject will induce us to look upon eternity with feelings of more than usual awe, and lead the mind to a more perfect comprehension of subjects calculated to inspire feelings of solemn admiration and hopeful confidence.
What is the Infinite Past? The conception generally entertained by those whose inclination leads them to the consideration of such questions, is that the Infinite Past represents a point of duration infinitely remote from the present, a point which is endeavoured to be made appreciable by the mind by the adoption of a negative mode of explanation, by the statement of that which is in reality a succession of points, not one of which truly represents the Being of which we are in search. The imagination is called upon
first to realise the idea of an instant of time at the greatest possible distance backwards from the present; and when we believe that success has attended this attempt, it is necessary to make a further effort in order to look upon the Infinite Past as a point still more remote." I have endeavoured to state shortly and fairly this mode of realising the idea ; and I think that even those most disposed at first to deny the correctness of the explanation so given will, after consideration, acknowledge that, however the most usual modes of atternpting to convey an idea of the Infinite Past may be varied,
& “We can only judge of time by a succession of impressions on the mind, and it is usually by supposing an infinite succession that we arrive at our notion of eternity.”Hind's History of the Rise and Progress of Christianity, vol. i. ch. v.
they must, when rigidly examined and dissected, end in the same result.
I find it impossible to realise the idea of this supposed point; it is to me one utterly incon. ceivable by the imagination, for, however disposed the mind may be towards the investigation, and however ardently it may wish for enlightenment, and however sincerely it may hope, and even believe, that success has attended its efforts, there must necessarily always exist this difficulty, — that to whatever remote distance in the past the imagination may travel backwards, and were it even then to proceed to a point, or to ten thousand points, each still further distant in the past, there must still be a point in the Infinite Past infinitely more remote. We have, in truth, been attempting continually to add to the duration of Being without beginning; of Being, the past duration of which is infinite, and therefore immeasurable and not susceptible of increase. Thus the Infinite Past cannot be represented by any point, real or imaginary; so that, while we have perhaps fondly indulged the hope that reason and examination would remain satisfied with the idea which we had been taught to form, reflection at length awakens us to the certainty that our success has been failure, and that our hopes have been as those of the “foolish man which built his house upon the sand.” Now this apparent inability to realise a correct idea of the Infinite Past, and the disappointment which has attended our attempt, cannot arise from the nature of the subject, for the actual Being we must admit to be real.
We have seen that the explanation of the Infinite Past, which we have just considered, not only does not convey an adequate idea of that which it endeavours to make plain, but that it gives us reason to believe that our eyes have been dazzled by a false and uncertain light. We will therefore endeavour to acquire a more satisfactory idea of the Infinite Past; but, before making the attempt, let us devote a few thoughts to the nature of Time.
Two meanings have been attached to the word Time, and between these we must carefully distinguish. One meaning is understood when the word is applied to those arbitrary divisions which we call days, years, &c., and which we have adopted in order that we may have a fixed standard to which we may refer as admeasurements of
limited amount of duration. It is when used in this sense that Locke calls time “the measure of duration,” not meaning thereby that a day or a year is the measure of indefinite duration, but rather of proportional duration; as an inch or a foot is not the measure of space or indefinite extension, but rather of proportional extension. Time used in this sense means one of those artificial divisions which are adapted to the powers and wants of man, and give us a " mode by which the human mind perceives the occurrence of events.” The other, which may be called the absolute meaning, is understood when the word is used to embrace that which is