Under this general theme consideration is properly given to eternity itself, eternity in relation to God, to time, and to "the gift of God [which] is eternal life."
1. Definition. No thought ever confronts the finite mind which is less intelligible than that of eternity, and it is probable the idea that eternity will never end is more comprehensible than that it never had a beginning. In fact, the human mind cannot grasp the extent of that which is eternal. Philosophers and theologians alike have met with defeat when attempting to portray eternity. A slight increase of apprehension may be secured when it is contemplated in its relation to the eternal God.
2. In Relation to God. Little will be gained in attempting to contemplate eternity as a mere negative idea, the absence of time. It is best considered as the mode of existence of the eternal God. Abundant testimony has been given in the Scriptures respecting the eternal character of God. He is never presented in the Bible as circumscribed by time. He may conform to time with its character of successions, but His own mode of existence is from everlasting to everlasting. He is Sovereign Designer and Ruler over all ages of time. Referring to Christ as very God and Creator of all things, Hebrews 1:2 declares that He programmed the ages. There is no reference here to Christ as Creator of material things, as later in verse 10, but rather to the fact that He originated and ordered the progression of all time-periods. The mode of existence which belongs to God is fundamental and basal, compared to which any other manner of existence such as that related to time may be considered something unusual or exceptional. To the finite creature, however, who is homed in time there is no other fashion of life than his own which is comprehensible to him. Such natural limitations should not blind the mind to divine revelation or to those conclusions which may be reached at least by the help of reason. It should be recognized that there are other modes of existence than that which is related to time, even though these cannot be comprehended in their essential features. An eternal existence belongs to the Creator; hence to that mode of life alone belongs ascendancy and supremacy. Thus the occurrence of a period of time with its finite creatures and its successions is properly to be rated as exceptional or inferior.
3. In Relation to Time. The prevalent notion that time represents an intercalation which has interrupted the flow of eternity, that it is "a narrow neck of land between two shoreless seas of eternity," seems much at fault. Such a conception involves the absurdity that eternity too may have an ending and a beginning. Whatever time may be and whatever its relation is to eternity, it must be maintained that no cessation of eternity has occurred or will. God's mode of existence remains unchanged. Time might be thought of as something superimposed upon eternity were it not that there is ground for question whether eternity consists of a succession of events, as is true of time. The consciousness of God is best conceived as being an all-inclusive comprehension at once, covering all that has been or will be. The attempt to bring time with its successions into a parallel with eternity or to give time the character of a segment in the course of eternity is to misconceive the most essential characteristic of eternal things.
4. Eternal Life. A sharp distinction must be made between human existence which by its nature continues forever and the gift of God which is eternal life. In the last analysis, humanity is not wholly conformed to time. Every human being will be living on forever, even after it has been decreed that time shall be no more. Thus humanity intrudes into eternity and must, in the end, conform to the eternal mode of existence. Each human being has a beginning. In this he is unlike God. Each human being, however, has no end of his existence. In this respect he is to some extent like God. That human beings have no end is a solemn thought; but on those who receive God's gift of eternal life the very life of God is bestowed. That life is a partaking of the divine nature. It is no less than "Christ in you, the hope of glory." Thus by regeneration all who believe become possessors of that which in God is itself eternal. In 1 Corinthians
13:12 it is declared, accordingly, that the believer one day will know even as now he is known of God, that is, the finite mind will be superseded by the mind of God. Even now it is said that he has the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). Little, indeed, may be anticipated respecting the coming transcendent experience of those who now possess eternal life when they shall enter into the experience of eternal life in full.
Chafer, L. S. (1993). Systematic theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.
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