Is Hell Eternal?
Or Will God's Plan Fail
By Charles Pridgeon
Chapter five: Eternity is Not Time
The Bible is emphatically a Book sent by God to help man in his life in this world. It must of necessity be a Book of time and for time, otherwise it would not comfort us in our sorrows, nor teach us the way of forgiveness of sins and the way of victory over the things of time and sense. The redemption of our Lord Jesus Christ, including His being made flesh; His life on earth; His death on the cross; His session at God's right hand; His coming again; His reigning till all enemies are subdued (1Cor. 15:28); and His handing over His completed work to the Father have all to do with time.
This does not mean that eternity does not exist in God, nor that eternity is not in Christ, nor that the seed of eternity is not brought into every one who receives Him; but the seed does not enjoy its fulness of development till our Lord hands over the finished product of His life and work to the Father.
Every one has it as an inherent belief, to a greater or less degree, that time will cease and eternity will begin; but, because we are still in the limitations of time, our thinking is so bound by time and sense that eternity, in its absolute sense, is not often considered, altho it always exists.
There can not, in the nature of the case, be any word in Scripture that means "endless time." "Time" is always connected with its cognate thought of "temporal" and "temporary." "Time" is always a relative term; "eternity," in any accurate sense, is always absolute. The difficulty is increased by popular speech. "Eternity" is used for time that does not end, but this is incorrect. If we are to have clearness of thought in this discussion and in the exposition of the Holy Scriptures, it is necessary to distinguish the absolute from the relative. In many instances the translators of the Bible have failed to do this, and most Bible teachers and theologians have also failed here. Even those who know and remark the difference, when it comes to the application of the same, largely neglect it. This is caused both by the bondage of usage and the difficulty to think clearly beyond the fallen temporal condition. In fact, if we desire to speak of eternity, so temporal is our condition that we may have to use expressions of time. For instance, we might say that there never will be "a time in eternity" when the creature will not be in full fellowship with God. But the term "time in eternity'' is incorrect, for there is no time in eternity, and yet if such a phrase was used, most would understand what would be meant. The failure properly to distinguish thoughts which are opposites has done immense damage to our right understanding of God and His Word.
The Bible is preeminently a book for time. When eternity, in its absolute sense, is reached we will not need the Bible, our blessed Chart which guided our bark through the great oceans of time. Time has a beginning and an end. Eternity is without bounds. Time has fallen out of eternity after the same manner as man; and this world is in a different state from that in which it was first created. The world has lost much of its spiritual condition. It has become gross, dense, material. It was originally of spiritual substance. Time is the state that is proper for such a fallen, divided and mixed condition. Time, as we have said, has as part of its meaning, "temporary." There is no such conception in the Bible (there may be in some of our translations) as "everlasting," or "eternal," in the sense of time. The very nature of the state called "time" is temporary. Whatever has a beginning must also have an end.
Again we repeat, there is no word in the whole Bible that can be accurately and consistently translated "endless time." Time not only implies temporary, but also implies the realm of the phenomenal. This does not mean that things of time have no real existence, but only that we get to know them by their appearances, or that which sense gives us. Their real substance is shrouded in mystery. Time, in its very nature, implies that the final state or condition has not been reached. All time will one day be converted into eternity. Time is allied to motion; eternity to rest. Time is made up of successive moments. The quality of eternity is its simultaneousness.
We may get the germ, the beginning and foretaste of eternity, in time, as we do when we trust God; but this is only the seed of eternity. No clocks will be needed in eternity. Sun dials have use only under the sun. There are no shadows in eternity. Eternity is the opposite of time. It signifies a new state of things, a different condition; it denotes timelessness, that is, the absence of time.
Time is the revolving circumference of a circle. Eternity is the fixt and unchanging center. Imagine a number of flies walking around the rim of a wheel that has been placed in a horizontal position. Each fly is present at a given point at a certain time. Each of them has its past back of it and its future before it. There are also some of the flies ahead of others and there are some following after. Each occupies a different relative position. Each is moving. We read of a certain species of fly that has two thousand five hundred eyes. We place one of these flies at the center of that wheel; without turning, it sees in all directions. Every fly on the rim of the wheel has its past, present and future. To the fly in the center, they are all equally present. God dwells in the eternal center; and all the past, present and future of time are equally present to Him.
Many think that the past is irrevocable. It is to us, but not to our God. There is no such thing as time succession to Him. He can deal with our past or our future as easily as our present, for it is all alike present to Him. He means to teach us that since He calls Himself the "I AM," He dwells in an eternal now, although this may be difficult for us to apprehend. There is enough of the ruins of our original state left in us to get some light from this astounding fact of God's eternity. This is what He means to tell us when the Word says that "with whom is no variableness, neither shadow which is caused by turning" (James 1:17, literal rendering). There is no temporal movement in God, no transitoriness, no shadows. He is a glorious, bright, unchanging Reality.*
* See Dr. Martensen's Christian Dogmatics (T. & T. Clark Edinburgh, 1871, page 93. This distinguished author presents a true and remarkable conception of the eternality of God. We do not accept all his proof texts as relevant.
The verse in 2Peter 3:8 is meant to teach us the same truth: "But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." It takes just such a temporal expression to convey the idea to us that time conditions do not prevail in God's absolute domain.
Our Lord Jesus Christ proclaimed His own eternality when He said, literally, "Before Abraham became, I am" (John 8:58). The creature and creation of God, in the nature of the case, can have no inherent eternality, but they have had and will have a derived and imparted eternality through regeneration, recreation, glorification, and unification through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The thought of a true and absolute eternity may be perceived even by those who are not Christians nor have lived in a light that has been made living by a Christian revelation. The reason that this may be so is because the law of opposites and correlatives is inherent in all normal minds. We need no proof when we say "down" that there must be an "up"; nor when we say "near" that there must be a "far"; dark implies light, etc. Notice that the correlative of "down" is not ''more down,'' that is, ''further down''; but it is its opposite, "up." In common speech, eternity is spoken of as "endless time"; but this can not be, in the nature of things; for when we say "time" we imply its opposite "eternity," which signifies a state or condition in which time does not exist any more than "up" exists in the word "down."
Over three hundred years before Christ, one of the best of the Grecian thinkers wrote:
"But He (God) resolved to make a moving image of eternity and, as He set in order the heaven, He made this eternal image having a motion according to number, while eternity rested in unity; and this is what we call time. For there were no days and nights and months and years before the heaven was created; but when He created the heaven He created them also. All these are parts of time, and the past and future are created species of time, which we unconsciously but wrongly transfer to the eternal essence; for we say, indeed, that He was, He is, He will be, but the truth is that 'He is' alone truly expresses Him, and that 'was' and 'will be' are only to be spoken of generation in time, for they are motions, but that which is immovably the same can not become older or younger by time, nor ever did or has become, or hereafter will be, older, nor is subject at all to any of those states of generation which attach to the movements of things of sense. These are the forms of time when imitating eternity and moving in a circle measured by number.
“Moreover, when we say that what has become has become, and what is becoming is becoming, and that what will become will become, and that what is not is not--all these are inaccurate modes of expression. But perhaps this is not the place in which we should discuss minutely these matters. Time then was created with the heaven, in order that being produced together they might be dissolved together, if ever there was to be any dissolution of them; and was framed after the pattern of the eternal nature, that it might, as far as possible, resemble it, for that pattern exists throughout all ages, and the created heaven has been, and is and will be in all time. Such was the mind and thought of God in the creation of time."*
*Plato's Timaeus, Jowett's translation, vol. 2, page 531.
Among the so-called Church Fathers and among the clearest thinkers of the Church, the true conception of eternity was recognized, tho it was not consistently applied to the interpretation of God's Word. Augustine makes the distinction in more than one place. He says in Tractate XXXVIII (John's Gospel) 10:
"Any thing whatever has not true being, if it change. If that is not which was, a kind of death hath taken place. Something is made away with there, that was, and now is not. Something is changed and is that formerly was not. O Truth, Thou only art. For in all the movings of the creature, I find two times, past and future, I seek the present, nothing stayeth. What I have said now, is not. What I have done now, is not. What I am going to do, as yet, is not. Past and future I find in all the motion of things. In the truth which abideth I find not past and future, hut only present, and this without fear or possibility of change. Take (as for example) the mutation of things: Thou wilt find Hath been and Will be. Take God and thou wilt find I am, where Hath been and Will be can not be. Then thou also mayest Be, mount beyond time. But who shall do this in his own strength? Thither let Him lift us, who said to the Father, 'I will that where I am, they also whom Thou hast given me may be with me'. Blest be God, this is His will."
Coming nearer our own times we will quote but one or two--e.g., F. D. Maurice:
"The word 'eternal', if what I have said be true, is a key word of the New Testament. To draw our minds from the temporal, to fix them on the eternal, is the very aim of the Divine economy. How much ought we then to dread any confusion between thoughts which our Lord has taken such pains to keep distinct? How dangerous to introduce the notion of duration into a word from which He has deliberately excluded it! And yet this is what we are precisely in the habit of doing: and it is this which causes such infinite perplexity in our minds. 'Try to conceive this', the teachers say, 'a thousand years, multiply these by a thousand, by twenty thousand, by a hundred thousand, by a million. Still you are as far from eternity as ever'. Certainly I am, quite as far. Why then did you give me the sum to work out? What could be the use of it except to bewilder me, except to make me disbelieve in eternity altogether? Do you not see that this course must be utterly wrong and mischievous? If eternity is the great reality of al, and not a portentous fiction, how dare you impress such a notion of fictitiousness on my mind as your process of illustration conveys? But is it not the only process? Quite the only one if you will bring time into the question--if you will have years and centuries to prevent you from taking in the sublime truth."*
*Quoted in The Spirits in Prison, by E. H. Plumptree, D. D., page 361 (Thomas Whittaker, New York).
And the great textual critic and exegete of the Word, Dr. B. F. Wescott, on page 215 of The Epistles of John, writes:
"In considering these phases it is necessary to premise that in spiritual things we must guard against all conclusions which rest upon the notion of succession and duration. . . . It is not an endless duration of time, but being of which time is not a measure. We have indeed no power to grasp the idea except through forms and images of sense."
Frances Ridley Havergal's "A Waking Thought" embodies some of the truth of the relation of time to eternity from the standpoint of redemption:
"Then Time will seem but a pebble cast
Into the ocean of Eternity,
Breaking for one short moment that pure light,
Which dwells upon its calm expanse of joy,
As into shiv'ring radiance, and shade-like circles,
Soon melting back into primeval brightness,
(Like that which was, when all created essence
Took but the forms of blended light and music,
In the glory of an infinite variety),
Through the translucent crystal of that sea,
It swiftly sinks to rest, within the depths
Of that great heart, like an aye-glistening
And treasured memory of things gone by,
Bearing, deep graven on its pale, clear front,
From a totally different standpoint we quote from one of our best weeklies (The Literary Digest) a part of its review of one of the most I recent scientific theories. We are not of necessity subscribing to this theory, but the reader will note a remarkable analogy to the teaching of this Chapter, drawn not from religious but from the scientific field:
"The term relativity refers to time and space; according to Galileo and Newton, time and space were absolute entities and the moving systems of the universe were dependent on this absolute time and space. On this conception was built the science of mechanics. The resulting formulas sufficed for all motions of a slow nature; it was found, however, that they would not conform to the rapid notions apparent in electro-dynamics.”
This fact led two distinguished professors (we now quote one of these professor's own words a referred to in the same review, issue of Dec.27, 1919),
“This led the Dutch Professor Lorenz and myself (Dr. Einstein) to develop the theory of special relativity. Briefly, it discards absolute time and space and makes them in every instance relative to moving systems. By this theory, all phenomena in electro-dynamics, as well as mechanics, hitherto irreducible by the old formulas--and therefore multitudinous--were satisfactorily explained.
“Till now it was believed that time and space existed by themselves, even if there was nothing else--no sun, no earth, no stars; while now we know that time and space are not the vessels of the universe, but could not exist at all if there were not contents--namely, no sun, earth, and other celestial bodies.”
Whether all the theories or findings of these distinguished scientists be true or false, we have not the slightest doubt that from the standpoint of both God's Word and nature, "time" is a relative term. This fact will illumine and, to some extent, revolutionize many of the accepted interpretations of Scripture; and, no doubt, it will do the same for natural science.*
We think that we have sufficiently established the ineradicable difference between Eternity and Time. The fruit of the application of this distinction will enrich our understanding of God Himself. The doctrine of the Godhead, designated as the Trinity, will be divested of some of its difficulties and will be wondrously enriched. The character of God will be unveiled and vindicated. God's purpose and plan in creation, redemption, and new creation will be more clearly apprehended. It will be necessary to examine the Scripture more carefully as to the real meaning of its words and phrases, carefully and prayerfully, for the consequences of such discrimination are far-reaching and of vital and practical importance; and the Word of God is always our final and infallible Court of Appeal.
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