"The Ages in the Scriptures"
By VLADIMIR GELESNOFF
For more than seven millennia generations of men, like shadows, have appeared and disappeared.
Whence came these countless millions of human beings, and whither do they go? This is the problem which has preoccupied the world's thought since the dawn of history. This is the question about which philosophies have theorized and religions dogmatized, philosophies striving to solve it metaphysically, religions presuming to settle it authoritatively.
Unquestionably the problem of Final Destiny is for mankind the question of questions. Nothing else equals it in practical importance. It vitally affects man's existence in this life and in the next. It concerns every individual and touches every problem of enduring interest. What is life to us if we do not know the end toward which we are borne on the wings of time? Crses, King of the Lydians, surrounded by everything that heart can wish and eye desire, asked the wise man if he did not consider him the happiest of mortals. The philosopher replied: "It is not possible to decide that one's life is truly prosperous and happy until we know how it terminates." This is preeminently true of man's existence. All that this world can give does not satisfy heart or mind, with the inborn instinct of a hereafter, apart from some reasonable assurance as to whether that hereafter is to be one of infinite weal or infinite woe. So long as this point remains uncertain, everything is precarious, peace is impossible. Life is a vapor that appears for a while and vanishes away. But there is a beyond. What is that beyond to be?
At the present time the whole civilized world is in a state of unrest. Scientific, historic and literary discussions of the last fifty years, no less than the varied movements in the bosom of Protestantism, have created much restlessness, uncertainty and dissatisfaction with existing formulas. Social, civil and religious life are all undergoing radical changes. Everywhere the tendency is to drift away from old moorings. Thinking people are alive to the great question of the day; and, especially, to questions relating to the Bible and the great truths of Christianity which our predecessors have sought to crystallize in creeds.
In the midst of this agitation, the great problem of Human Destiny comes to the front and has to be considered. Advance in Bible study for the past fifty years has greatly modified creedal views, and is rapidly changing men's conceptions of probable Destiny. Endless punishment is no longer accepted and proclaimed as it was; among those who resolutely adhere to the foundation truths of the gospel the conviction prevails, though many may not care to express themselves fully, that the doctrine in its old, legal, mechanical, sensuous form of statement is not true. In its creedal form, it is not believed by the people. The impression prevails, and conviction deepens, that the doctrine needs revision and restatement.
But to many minds the very idea of such a revisal suggests the rejection of the Bible, the putting of dishonor upon Jesus Christ, meandering into by-paths of heresy; just as if Christians had never made any progress in Bible knowledge, and are never expected to. While in every branch of knowledge revision and restatement is generally recognized as a necessity, why should creedal theology, which is of human origin, be exempt from the general rule?
Those who regard creeds as finalities fail to distinguish the ideal truth which by no means always coincides with its apprehension. All acknowledge this fact in other spheres. Natural laws are immutable. They have not changed with the shifting changes of human experience; but man's apprehension of them has changed with the advance of knowledge and discovery. Every branch of science has undergone material alterations; and it is clear that they are destined to experience further modifications, not to say complete reconstruction, as new facts are brought to light. It is no different with theology. God's revelation of the Gospel is one thing; man's understanding of it is quite another. While the former is as unchangeable as its Author, the latter is defective and therefore subject to such readjustment as Biblical facts necessitate. In the process of this reconstruction some will align themselves with dogma; in a rebound from tradition others will doubtless take a leap into the opposite extreme of error; but those who prize His Word above all treasures have nothing to fear. God's Word will bear the most searching scrutiny and will emerge from the crucible with added lustre. Only the dust of human lore which overlays the Bible will be discarded; while the gems will have new settings, and sparkle more brilliantly than ever. All that finite beings can ever know of God's infinite revelation must be infinitely less than infinite; and, as knowledge of God's Word increases, revisions of past ideas must follow.
It is the tendency of human nature to run in ruts. Nowhere is this tendency more marked than in the sphere religious. Without instancing heathendom, it must be obvious to a careful observer, that the one thought with most adherents of Christianity is to defend the tenets of traditional belief. Few care to admit that they have taken too much for granted; fewer still have inclination to test what they have received or courage to recant a fixed train of thought. Scripture is regarded not so much as a well of life, a source of knowledge, but rather as a vast arsenal of text-weapons for separate use in theological controversy. This system of religious training is characterized by the prevalence of the postulate method and the absence of the inductive. The various doctrines of Christianity have not been viewed as a series of subjects to be studied, but propositions to be proved, and this, of course, tends to secure a one-sided argument in their support. To assume the main conclusion in advance is to deny that investigation is necessary; it involves such committal to a theory as to make impartial study and research impossible.
The papers on The Ages have been written with the hope of throwing some light on the problem of Human Destiny, with which they are interrelated, by correcting some ideas generally taken for granted by students.
I was not, and am not now, a Universalist, because that system is based on sentimentality, which it exalts above God's Word. I dissociate myself from schemes of restitution, like Millennial Dawn; partly because it rests on imaginary premises, but chiefly because it is derogatory to the Person of Christderogatory because it minifies His Deity, disparages His Incarnation, and virtually denies His Resurrection. As for conditional immortality, it appears to rest on bad logic and worse exegesis.
In the course of our study on The Ages, views will be expressed and conclusions reached not in harmony with what is in vogue. But, if freedom of thought, and frank statement of conclusions that seem to follow, are to be sacrificed for any reason whatever, then it were better that the work should not have been undertaken. Truth alone is worth the seeking; and if, on so great a subject, we can accomplish no more than point out a more excellent way, our labor, though not a finality, will not be in vain. I do not like to differ, even in minor things, from those whom I esteem for their devotion to Christ and their valuable services in the cause of His truth; but to an honest mind, duty stands above all other considerations.
The biblical conception of the Ages has suffered in the process of translation. The prolific source of confusion has been the inconsistency in rendering the Hebrew and Greek words into English. The same term in precisely identical settings is frequently represented by a variety of English words conveying widely divergent concepts. Clearly, therefore, a study of the subject should be founded on the inspired original alone. Reference to versions or even the so-called "Authorized" may mislead and can only draw us back into the ancestral errors which they reflect and perpetuate. It devolves upon us, to understand aright the doctrine of the Ages, to discover the exact import of the original words translated "for ever," "everlasting," "for ever and ever." etc. To accomplish this, each occurrence must be studied, first in the light of the context, then in relation to other Scriptures bearing on the subject.
The Hebrew aulam is derived from the primitive root alam; to veil from sight, to conceal. A conspectus of the passages proves that aulam expresses duration, the whole time during which a person, thing, or state, exists. Needless to say, the adjective follows the meaning of the noun. It is an axiom of grammar that derivatives cannot have a greater force than the parent word. It may, therefore, be rendered by any term expressing the duration required.
Mankind began with Adam. As at present constituted, it will have an end. Hence, if aulam is used of persons, it expresses their whole life, or life-time; if a succession of generations, or the state of a people, mankind, or creation, a period of time. So self-evident is this that even translatorseager as they were to import everywhere the idea of endlessnesshave been forced to render it "ancient" (Prov. 22:28; Isa. 44:7; Jer. 5:15; 18:15), "from of old" (Gen. 6:4), "always" (Gen. 6:3; 1 Chr. 16:15; Jer. 20:17), "long"(Psa. 143:3; Eccl. 12:5; Isa. 42:14), "old time" (Josh. 24:2), "world" (Psa. 73:12; Eccl. 3:11), "the beginning of the world" (Isa. 64:4), "continually" (Lev. 6: 13 R.V.), "ancient times" (Psa. 77:5), "never" (Psa. 119:93). Had they dealt similarly with other analogous instances, many errors would have been obviated. Deferring the consideration of those passages which speak of the "everlasting" continuance of Israel as God's especial people for a future occasion, we propose to show, that even where aulam is represented by "forever," endlessness is not the thought.
The Hebrew servant whose ear was digged became a bondman "forever," that is, for life (Ex. 21:6; Dent. 15:17). A similar instance is found in Deuteronomy 23:6, where "for ever" is equivalent to "all thy days." So, too, when Jehovah says of leviathan:
the point is, Can Job tame him for life? (Job 41:4).
"For ever" in 1 Chronicles 22:10 covers the forty years of Solomon's reign; and in 1 Kings 8:13 and 9:3, the time when the temple was in existence.
In Nehemiah 13:1 the congregation read in the law of Moses that an Ammonite and a Moabite should not enter into the assembly of God "for ever." A reference to Deuteronomy 23:3-5 reveals the intensely interesting fact that this "eternity" is limited to the life-time of ten generations.
But still more startling the idea of endlessness does not inhere the term even when associated with Divine decrees and promises.
"One generation cometh, and another generation goeth, and the earth abideth for ever" (Eccl. 1:4). Psalm 78:69 and 104:5 voice a like sentiment. And yet other Scriptures foretell the passing away of the present heaven and earth to make room for a New Heaven and a New Earth (Mat. 5:18; 24:35; 2 Pet. 3:7-10; Rev. 21:1; Psa. 102:25, 26; Isa. 51:6; 65:17; 66:22). Therefore, the "for ever" of both Psalmist and Preacher is limited to the continuance of the present earth, from its making in Genesis 1:3-31 to its dissolution in Revelation 21:1.
In Jeremiah 5:22 Jehovah declares that He has placed the sand for the bound of the sea, by an "everlasting ordinance." However, as in the New Earth the "sea is no more" (Rev. 21:1), the "eternal" ordinance will become obsolete once the sea goes out of existence.
"Upon the land of my people shall come up thorns and briers; yea upon all the houses of joy in the joyous city: for the palace shall be forsaken; the populous city shall be deserted; the hill and the watch-tower shall be for dens for ever; a joy of wild asses, a pasture for flocks; until the spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness become a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest. Then judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness shall abide in the fruitful field. And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and confidence for ever" (Isa. 32:13-17). Verse 15 limits the use of the word in verse 14, for the desolations of the land are "for ever" only UNTIL the Spirit is poured from on high. Our Lord corroborates the prophet when declaring that "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, UNTIL the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:24).
Jeremiah says that God will cast off Israel from His presence, and bring upon them an "everlasting" reproach (Jer. 23:39, 40). That the reproach is not interminable is clear, for, a few verses farther down, he predicts that God will set His eyes upon them for good, and bring them back to their land (Jer. 24:6); Isaiah cries that the reproach of Israel shall be taken away from off all the earth (Isa. 25:8); and the apostle affirms that "a hardening in part hath befallen Israel, UNTIL the complement of the nations be come in; and so all Israel shall be saved" (Rom. 11:25,26).
We read that Jerusalem shall remain "for ever" (Psa. 48:8; Isa. 65:18; Jer. 17:25), and that God will make her an "eternal excellency, a joy of many generations" (Isa. 60:15). It is only necessary to remember that Jerusalem below will be displaced by the New Jerusalem which comes down out of heaven from God (Rev. 3:12; 21:2), and so it follows as a matter of logic and clear thinking that "eternal" is commensurate with "many generations."
Again, according to Ezekiel 37:26, God's sanctuary will be set in the midst of Israel "for ever." But, as the metropolis of the New Earth has "no sanctuary" (Rev. 21:22), "for ever" expires the moment God makes all things new.
The Sinai covenant is said to be an "everlasting" covenant (Lev. 24:8). Now, that covenant being contingent on Israel's obedience (Ex. 19:5, 6), repeal for defection was possible; accordingly, the term must not be construed to exceed the limit of its probable continuance in force. Indeed, Jeremiah distinctly foretold its supersedence by a new and better one (Jer. 31:31 ff); while the writer of Hebrews, quoting Jeremiah at length, expatiates on its evanescence. "For if that first covenant had been faultless, then would no place have been sought for a second. ... In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. But that which is becoming old and waxeth aged is nigh unto vanishing away" (Heb. 8:7, 13).
If, then, the Sinai covenant was temporary, it is self-evident that the system founded thereon must be equally so. Scripture verifies this inference. Though the Aaronic priesthood is called an "everlasting" priesthood (Ex. 40:15; Lev. 6:18; Num. 25:13), yet the Old Testament foresaw a changea setting aside of the Levitical order with the rising of a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7:11-17).
As regards sacrifices and Sabbaths, which were to be "observed for a statute for ever" (Ex. 31:16, 17; 2 Chr. 2:4; Lev. 16:31), it is plainly said they were "carnal ordinances imposed UNTIL a time of reformation" (Heb. 9:10).
As a fact, apart from the light shed on the Mosaic institutions by the Hebrew letter, their transitoriness is latent in the very language which decreed their establishment and maintenance. Priesthood and sabbath and sacrifice were "for ever" only "throughout their generations" (Ex. 27:21; 31:16, 17; 40:15). Generations come and go (Eccl. 1:4). How do they come? By birth. How do they go? By death. When death is swallowed up in victory, the coming and going of generations will cease, and the observance of the ordinances of the law will cease therewith. In Millennial times the ceremonial ritual is temporarily re-enacted (Ezek. ch. 40-48); feasts and new moons and sabbaths reappear (Isa. 66:23), for they are "shadows of the things that are to come" (Col. 2:16, 17). But, just as the Body is released from them now (Col. 2:17), so Israel and the nations are released from them on entering the new creation. John finds no vestige of altar or temple, priesthood or ritual, symbol or sacrifice, sabbath or holy day on the New Earth. They exhausted themselves and passed into oblivion with the old creation. This fact is confirmed by the testimony of the Lord Himself. In Matthew 5:17, 18, He affirms that, after a fulfillment to the very last tittle, the law is destined to vanish. When? When heaven and earth pass away. We find then that Moses and Christ, John and Paul, are in perfect harmony with each other.
By far the most striking and interesting passage is Ecclesiastes 3:11. "He hath made everything beautiful in its time: also He hath set eternity1 (A.V., "world") in their heart, yet so that man cannot find out the work that God doeth from the beginning even unto the end." The fact that "eternity" is connected with God's work within a fixed periodfrom the beginning even unto the endexcludes endlessness. The Preacher had been musing on the piecemeal "times and seasons" which make up man's history. The mournful mysteries and paradoxes of our existence are passed in review, each touched with that marvelous felicity of descriptive suggestion which is the chief charm of Ecclesiastes (Eccl. 3:1-8). The apparent incongruity of the whole, the strange alternation of opposite movements and forces, suggest the question, What profit hath he that laboreth in that wherein he laboreth? Returning to consider the travail which exercises the sons of men, he finds the dualism of the external world mirrored in the individual. God's mysterious workings in the universe, the strange admixture of good and evil, the conflict between light and darkness, have their counterpart in Adam's sons, for God has set the aulamthe age of this worldin their hearts. The perplexity of Ecclesiastes before the riddle of the universe and the enigma of human destiny finds solace in the thought that the function of human limitation is to acknowledge the Creator and instil confidence in His ability and wisdom. All appearances notwithstanding, His work is perfect: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it, and it is "forever, "that is, coextensive with the mystery of the existing condition of affairs.
The crowning proof that the idea of endlessness is foreign to aulam is afforded by the phrase "for ever and ever." The English reader may suppose the second ever" to be the same word as the first. But it is not. The Hebrew is va-ed. As the Septuagint translates it and still," and as the translators have so rendered it in scores of places, we will translate it "beyond." Now, if aulam meant endlessness, as some say it does, why reinforce it by adding "beyond"? Nor is this all. Further study discloses that even aulam Va-ed ("for ever and ever") does not refer to infinitude. The Psalmist says: "I will observe Thy law for ever and beyond" (Psa. 119:44). Now, as our Lord distinctly teaches the passing away of the law (Mat. 5:17, 18), it follows that law observance is over once the law is done away. The terminal point of the Ages is hid from the ancient prophets. Beyond the era of Israel's restoration they see dimly a farther stretch. But it is too distant to discern the faintest outline or catch a feeble glimmer of its glory. As a huge orb of light appears to a spectator myriads of miles away a mere tiny speck, remote futurity to the Hebrew seers is a far-off, vague, indistinct something which they style BEYOND. It was reserved for the Apostle to the Nations to observe the Age of Ages at close range and unveil its burden of effulgent glory in His marvelous unfoldings.
Our investigation, so far as it has gone, has demonstrated that aulam and aulam va-ed, though employed in varied ways, invariably denote terminable periods, with definite starting and terminal points. At this stage of our quest the question arises, What about those Scriptures where aulam and aulam va-ed refer to the Deity?
In discussing the passages where aulam and aulam va-ed refer to the Deity, we will confine ourselves to the consideration of the latter term alone. Our reason for so doing is obvious. It is a well-known axiom that the greater includes the less. So, if it can be shown that the stronger term expresses terminable duration, it goes without saying that the weaker and more restricted term does the same.
Aulam va-ed is employed in various ways. In relation to God it appears in two distinct connections:
It is otherwise found in the following associations:
Psa. 104:5 and 119:44 manifestly refer to terminable periods. The former text speaks of the present earth, whose passing away is repeatedly reiterated (Mat. 5:18; 24:35; 2 Pet. 3:10; Psa. 102:26). The latter relates to the law, which, we know, was ordained for the present heaven and earth; therefore, not the smallest item of it can be relaxed so long as they remain. But, when the dissolution takes place, the Heaven and the earth will vanish; and no place will be found for them. Then the law, also, will disappear together with the order of things for which it was appointed; for then the purpose for which it had been ordained will have been completely accomplished (Mat. 5:18).
Before taking other passages of this class, we will address ourselves to those relating to the Deity, taking up first the texts declaring that "Jehovah shall rule for ever and ever."
The key to these Scriptures is found in the quotation of Psalm 45:6 in the Hebrew letter, which runs as follows:
Let it be noted, the theme under discussion is the Kingdom of the Son. Now, turning to another Scripture bearing on the same subject, we obtain additional light on this point.
"Then cometh the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father. . . And when all things have been subjected unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him that did subject all things unto him, that God may be all in all" (1 Cor. 15:24,28).
Here, then, is express statement to the effect that the Kingdom of the Son will have a conclusion. At some remote time He delivers the Kingdom to God. This proves that the Hebrew aulam va-ed and its Greek equivalent, "unto the ages of the ages," convey the idea of terminable, though chronologically indefinite and unrevealed duration, and the added fact that no biblical term designating length extends beyond this star event.
Another passage fully bears out our deduction. We read elsewhere that His servants "shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 22:5). But since it is affirmed that "He shall abolish all rule and all authority and power" (1 Cor. 15:24), the reign of His servants expires with the abolition of all rule, which necessarily includes the friendly as well as the hostile.
It is well to remember, for the sake of clearness, that the aulam va-ed connected with the Law and the present Heaven and Earth expires with the advent of the New Heaven and the New Earth; whereas the aulam va-ed of Jehovah's dominion is of greater length and terminates at a farther point. This results from the following consideration:
The great eschatological disclosure in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 makes the abolition of all rule and authority and power simultaneous with the delivering up of the Kingdom to God. "Yet now Christ has been roused from among the dead, the Firstfruit of those who are reposing. For since in fact through a man came death, through a man also comes the resurrection of the dead. For even as in Adam all are dying, thus also in Christ shall all be vivified. Yet each in his own class: the Firstfruit, Christ; thereupon those who are Christ's in His presence; thereafter the consummation, whenever He may be giving up the Kingdom to His God and Father.... For He must be reigning until He should be placing all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy being abolished is death.... Now, whenever all may be subjected to Him then the Son Himself also shall be subjected to Him ... . that God may be All in all."
In examining the construction of the wonderful passage, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, it is manifest that our Lord's act of self-subjection to God in verse 28, or the "abdication"as we shall hereafter style it in the interests of brevity--is signalized by two auspicious events the abolition of all rule, and the destruction of the "last" enemy. From this circumstance emerges a weighty pointthe intimate connection between rule and enmity. The destruction of the latter leads to the repeal of the former. The conviction is thus forced upon us that dominion, both human and Divine, is a provisional institution necessitated by the presence of self-will and insubordination and destined to become obsolete once hostility is stamped out in a manner making its recurrence an impossibility.
We thus arrive at a simple solution of the aulam va-ed texts relating to Deity. They are concerned with those Divine attributes, and their manifestations, which have been called into play by the appearance of evil and whose exercise becomes unnecessary the moment evil disappears.
Once this truth is grasped, many otherwise perplexing Scriptures stand out and shine forth with sevenfold lustre. Take, for example, the 90th Psalm, that keystone passage on the "eternity" of God. It is addressed to "Adonai, "the All-Ruler (v.1). Now, since rule did not exist before sin invaded the universe and is abolished as soon as it leaves the scene, it is plain, without argument, that God could not be known as All-Ruler either before or after rule's existence when the filial relationship alone prevails.
The writer, as a fact, contemplates a circumscribed period"from" aulam "to" aulam when rule is an expression of His Godhood. Dominion implies authority to enforce, preserve, protect. It is roused to anger when its rights are disregarded and its prerogatives infringed: it asserts itself in vindicative acts when its authority is challenged. Its hand falls heavy on the rebel and the disloyal subject alike. Opponents are turned to "destruction" (v. 3); servants are "consumed" in His anger and "troubled" in His wrath (vv. 7, 13). Nevertheless, despite occasional outbursts of severity, His rule is benevolent, and so long as it is in force is the ground of confidence or "dwelling place" of His people. Psalm 91 is a later extension of Psalm 90 in harmonious language. The two unite in a common drift of thought. The former of these Psalms (90) details the exercise of Divine rule with its attendant judgments and chastenings; the latter (91) pictures the absolute security and immunity from danger found in unconditional submission thereto.
We are now in a position to understand the language of the Psalmist when he resolves to "trust in the mercy of God for ever and beyond" (Psa. 52:8). Mercy is the disposition to treat an offender or an enemy with less severity than he deserves in strict justice or might legally receive. It presupposes delinquency, transgression, disobedience, failure; for, where these are absent, mercy lacks scope and opportunity for display. To express the exercise of mercy in terms making it coextensive with the existence of offense, is but proof of the Bible's marvelous consistency, seeing it discloses a sinless past and anticipates a flawless future.
The evanescent nature of dominion throws light also on Israel's position as God's especial people. They were called out to be a royal people. In the age to come rule is to be centered in their hands and administered by them. But just as the revolt of mankind was the occasion for Israel's appearance on the stage of history as a nation monopolizing earthly blessing, just so the reconciliation of mankind to God will be the occasion for Israel's retirement from the place of special privilege. The distinction between Jew and Gentile founded on the physical rite of circumcision will vanish with the passing away of Israel's political supremacy. When His purposes in the Age-times have matured the distinctions which have obtained throughout their course will have survived their usefulness. Then all created intelligences will be welded into one great family, with God as the Father of all, above all, through all, and in all.
Psalm 21:4, where in answer to prayer Jehovah vouch-safed the King "length of days for ever and ever," presents no difficulty in the light of preceding considerations. The psalm, apparently a National Anthem, was designed to recall David's coronation. The "politics" and "knavish tricks" of enemies are not out of sight (8-12), and confidence in Jehovah's strength is expressed (13). In the era of Israel's restoration David will once more assume the supremacy he once held over Israel (Jer. 30:9; Ezek. 34:24; Hos. 3:5) and wield it until the appointed time for the abolition of rule arrives. Hence his continuance in office is stated in a manner agreeable to its transient character.
The above explanation is not repugnant to the Messianic aspect of the psalm. There is no question of the endlessness of His Manhood, the Risen Humanity, of the Lord. It is simply a matter of the King's preservation in office. Though God's Son is assured of the endless enjoyment of His humanity, there comes a timesome time in dim futuritywhen, having wielded the sceptre on God's behalf, crushed opposition, fended failure, He shall publicly deliver the sceptre and the crown, relinquishing the functions of Monarch because the very perfection He has introduced renders them unnecessary.
The consideration of the final destiny of the wicked must be deferred until the New Testament terms are examined. Meanwhile it is proper to remark that "for ever and ever" is predicated of Christ's reign and also of the duration of the lake of fire (Rev. 14:11; 19:3; 20:10). Hence there is not the slightest warrant for extending the duration of the latter beyond the limit of the former. Self-evident it seems, that since the same term is applied to the Kingdom of the Son, it is commensurate in length with the period during which the Lake of Fire is in existence. There is a conclusion to the Son's reign, there is also a conclusion to the operations of the Second Death.
It is in dealing with this most vital and intensely interesting subject that man's theology has done its worst. Orthodoxy lifts up a handful to the very pinnacle of bliss and then unrolls before their eyes the hideous vision of a god who to gratify the feelings of his own revengefulness with one hand sustains his creatures in endless existence while with the other he pours out liquid streaming fire of hellish torment upon their heads. Conditionalism crushes countless millions into dust and wipes them out of existence. Universalism makes light of sin and fills the courts above with law-breakers and profane persons.
To all these gloomy human reasonings Scripture opposes the grand doctrine of the reconciliation of "all things" (Col. 1:20). In the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10, 11). That will indeed be a gladsome spectacle, a sight pleasant for the eyes to behold, well fitted to elicit the applause of a wondering universe. The finale is not vindictiveness torturing weak, blundering, defenseless creatures ad infinitum; not omnipotence mercilessly grinding weakness into powder; not lawlessness forcing in a high-handed fashion an entrance into God's august abode, butreconciliation, perfect, absolute, universal.
It remains to point out that the Ages, or Aeons, are neither synonymous nor coeval with "Eternity." The current exegetical phrase, "eternity past and eternity future," is as meaningless as it is absurd. Like as God is omnipresent and has "neither beginning of days nor end of life," eternity is everywhere about us. In that vast, dateless, measureless, ever-flowing stream of continuity the Ages are a tiny parenthesis appointed for the evolution of a definite plan.
Scripture categorically asserts that the Ages had a beginning. One of the glories of God's Son consists in the fact that "through Him the ages were made" (Heb. 1:2). Moreover, the phrase, "before the times of the ages"3 (2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2; 1 Cor. 2:7) refers in a most explicit manner to a time when the Ages were not yet in existence.
These Aeons, or Ages, were laid out for the realization of a certain purpose, and when that purpose shall have materialized the means to it shall pass away, just as men remove the scaffolding when an edifice is completed. This purpose is noticed in Ephesians 3:11, where Paul informs us that the secret hitherto unknown and unknowable, which forms the burden of his letter, is in harmony with "the purpose of the ages which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." It is self-evident that if the Ages are never to cease, then this purpose is never to be attained. But "the dispensation of the fullness of the seasons" (Eph. 1:10), when all thingsin heaven and on earth-are headed up and welded into one in Christ, unmistakably points to the conclusion of the Ages when "the purpose of the Ages" will have come to full fruition.
Salvation and Punishment are inseparably bound up with the Ages, and have no reference to the time before their commencement or after their conclusion. There is no such thing as "Endless Punishment" taught in the Word. Instead of that we have the "Punishment of the Ages," and at the same time the "Redemption of the Ages." Where no sin exists, there can be neither punishment nor redemption.
If we see the truth that the Ages are to come to a conclusion, then we must likewise perceive that evil also is destined to come to an end; and that the dogma of endless suffering and endless sin is wholly without Scriptural support. It is a relic of Manicheism, a survival of pagan myths. The so-called "fathers" transferred them bodily into Christianity; their successors have made them an article of Christian faith and a test of "soundness" as to truth; translators imported them into the versions of the Bible by translating the Original Scriptures into the terms of their theologies and creeds.
The ringing declaration, the "last" enemy that shall be destroyed is death (1 Cor. 15:26), overthrows the whole structure of accepted, but unproved, theology. When the "last" enemy is abolished it is self-evident that none remains. Sin was allowed for wise ends, and when these are secured it must cease to exist.
The current Evangelical Theology involves in its system belief in the deathlessness of sin, the indestructibility of error, and the permanence of evil. That though there was a time in the history of the Universe when sin in any shape or form did not exist, when no cry of pain or sense of guilt darkened the all-extensive bliss and holiness of creation, yet since sin has once effected an entrance into such a scene, it has come in never to go out again, indestructible, unconquerable, ineradicable, endless. Absolute happiness and sinlessness have forever vanished like the phantom of a dream. Pristine perfectness is never again to be regained. The "eternal state" is a universe endlessly finding room for myriads of souls rolling and writhing in the burning agonies of ceaseless flame, eternally sinful, vile, and morally hideous. It pictures the final perfection (!) yet to be attained as having room for a vast cesspool of immoral and degraded beings, continually existing in opposition to God.
This system of doctrine, though as old as man, as venerable as the tradition, as hoary as the pyramids, as orthodox as anything in ancient or modern theology, is a misconception, a travesty of God's character, a caricature of His Wisdom, and must be relegated to the scrap heap of ancestral errors.
Gladly do we turn from this figment of natural reason to the grand, simple statements of the bare unadorned Word of God. It looks forward to a time when God shall be all in all, when heaven and earth shall be purged from every stain of sin's pollution. It anticipates that glad occasion when every heart shall beat in unison with the heart of God; every mind and will shall coalesce and harmonize with the Divine Wisdom and Purpose; every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; the Second Death shall be swallowed up in victory, and the victims of its rule shall come forth in resurrection glorythe redeemed of the Lord.
AT the very outset of our inquiry the reader must be informed that the words "everlasting," "endless," "eternal" represent the Greek words "aperantos," "akatalutos," "aidios," "aionios."
The first three words require but a passing notice.
"Aperantos," which some say is the strongest Greek term expressive of duration, occurs only once in connection with "genealogies" (1 Tim. 1:4).
"Akatalutos" is used only in Hebrews 7:16, and is translated "endless," though it really means "indissoluble." This meaning, Which appears in the margin of the R.V., is required by the context to provide the necessary antipode for "carnal." The point in question is character rather than duration.
"Aidios" appears in two instances. Its meaning is "perpetual.4" In Romans 1:20 we read of God's "everlasting power and divinity." It goes without saying that God's power and divinity are interminable; the apostle, however, is not so much concerned with the inherent properties of those unseen things of God as with their manifestation since the creation of the world, through created things. While His power and divinity are endless, their visible expression dates only from the creation of the material universe.
With regard to Jude 6, the context expressly limits its duration; for the chains that bind the angels that kept not their own principality are "aidian" only "unto the judgment of the great day."
A glance at any Greek concordance proves that the noun "Aion," or "age," is not the synonym of eternity. A study of each case would make a volume; so, leaving this task to the reader, we must content ourselves with adducing a few specimens to substantiate our assertion.
In the New Testament we frequently meet with the phrase "this age" (Mat. 13:22; Rom. 12:2; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 2:2). In two instances Paul refers to a mystery once hid from "ages and generations" but now revealed to the saints (Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:26). Now, since this secret is divulged in the course of "this age," but was concealed from "ages," it follows that the present age was preceded by other ages. Again, we read of "the age to come" (Mark 10:30; Eph. 1:21; Heb. 6:5). "This age" and "that age" are mentioned side by side and contrasted by our Saviour in Luke 20:34, 35, and elsewhere we read of "ages to come" (Eph. 2:7). Bordering upon "this present evil age," on either side of it, there lie other ages. Here is conclusive proof that an aion is a limited period; and that the totality of "all the aions" is itself terminable is proven by the repeated mention of a "before" and a "beyond" the ages.
The adjective "aionios," a derivative of "aion," carries within itself its own solution; for "aionios" is simply what belongs or relates to the "aions" "of the ages" or "age-long," hence it cannot carry a force or express a duration greater than that of the "ages" or "aions" of which it speaks. If therefore these "ages" are limited periods, some of which are already past, while others are yet to come, the word "aionios" cannot mean infinity. This fact does not in the least affect the true eternity of bliss of God's people; for that depends not upon the meaning of the word "aionios," but upon such explicit, unmistakable assertions as those declaring that such as attain to the resurrection from the dead "cannot die any more" (Luke 20:36), or "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creation, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38,39).
A scholastic maxim says that truth emerges sooner from error than from confusion. One is often reminded of this truth in thinking of certain theological tenets and the source they spring from. As an example of the confusion which has been introduced into men's minds by misapprehension and mistranslation of those terms we may instance such phrases as "world without end" (Eph. 3:21) and "end of the world" (Mat. 13:39), which convey conceptions that are conflicting and mutually exclusive. The contradiction is obtrusive. One text explicitly affirms what the other catagorically denies. One is made to declare that the world has no "end," while the other insists on its having an "end," so that one Scripture is arrayed against another.
Needless to say, flagrant and self-evident contradictions like the above which have found an entrance in our versions do not exist in the originals. Translators did not seem to appreciate or grasp the fact that fidelity and consistency could only be attained by employing a separate English word for every Hebrew, Chaldee or Greek word. The oversight of this foundation principle of translation is responsible for many prevailing erroneous ideas. For example, the English "world" has been made to do the service of two distinct Greek words"'aion" and "kosmos" which convey divergent, though related, ideas. Had these terms been represented by two English equivalents many a theological dogma would have never seen the light, many a heart-rending controversy would never have raged, and many so-called "mistakes and discrepancies" would never have given occasion to the caviller and scorner to point the finger of ridicule against the Bible.
Though Scripture often speaks of "the end of the 'aion' " (Mat. 13:39, 40, 49; 24:3; 28:20), it never speaks of "the end of the 'kosmos'." And yet is it not a fact a mournful, deplorable fact that the unbiblical phrase "the end of the world" has brought forth and nourished systems of eschatology which have wrought havoc among Christians? Moreover, "world without end" is the selfsame expression which the translators themselves have rendered "for ever and ever" in every other instance.
These and many other similar forms of expression in the Bible have been used with a purpose. And one cannot but regret that the august bodies which have given us the current translations should have displayed such looseness and inconsistency in rendering them; for surely the words selected by the Spirit of Truth must have a design, even where readers and translators lack the light to apprehend it.
FOR EVER AND EVER
We will first give a classified list of every occurrence of "for ever and ever" or "unto the ages of the ages" in the New Testament.
It appears in the following connections:
The Scriptures where "unto the ages of the ages" is predicated of dominion, with the solitary exception of Revelation 22:5, relate to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In discussing the "aulam va-ed" texts it was pointed out that the quotation of Psalm 45:6 in Hebrews 1:8 in conjunction with 1 Corinthians 15:24-proves that the Kingdom of the Son which is "for ever and ever" or "unto the ages of the ages" terminates when the Son delivers up the Kingdom to the Father. Another Scripture tells us when His Kingdom begins. With the sounding of the seventh trumpet great voices in heaven say:
"The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 11:15).
The kingdom of the world is now broken into a thousand independent states. But when the apocalyptic visions become history the rule centered in the hands of earthly rulers will be transferred to God's Christ.
Since Adam fell Jehovah has revealed and asserted His right to rule, and man has ignored or opposed it. When God's Son came offering the Kingdom to Israel, they defiantly shouted, "We will not that this man reign over us!" (Luke 19:14). "We have no king but Cæsar !" (John 19:15). The King retired to heaven whence He came. He is invisible at present. But in His own times God shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15). When the rejected Saviour is manifested in power and glory, all the nations come and worship before Him, acknowledging Him as King of the Ages (Rev. 15:3,4, R.V.).
Revelation 11:15 and 1 Corinthians 15:24 give us the time boundaries of the Kingdom of the Son. Between the Descent from heaven and the Abdication intervenes the "for ever and ever" of Christ's mediatorial reign.
The temporary character of rule has already been noticed. Its display and exercise is limited to the ages. Once the ages reach their destined conclusion the sceptre gives place to the Father's guiding hand. In perfect harmony with the transitory and finite character of rule is the title "King of the ages" (1 Tim 1:17; Rev. 15:3), which tells us that "Kingship" is co-extensive with the ages.
Our inquiry, thus far, dealt with texts where the Hebrew and Greek terms translated "for ever and ever" have reference to rule. We found that rule, called forth by the existence of opposition, is coeval with it; its introduction coincides with sin's entrance, its abolition, with the destruction of the last enemy. We also found that the Ages exhaust the display and exercise of rule, and that the title King of the Ages (Jer. 10:10; 1 Tim. 1:17) emphasizes and agrees with its transitory character. We proceed to examine the passages where the term appears in connection with glory. Glory is defined "as an attribute, quality, adjunct, characteristic, or circumstance by which a person or thing is glorified or made illustrious; occasion of praise; honorable boast" (Standard Dictionary). From this definition it is clear that God's glory is manifold; just as God's attributes and adjuncts, and the circumstances through which they receive expression, are manifold. Certain aspects of the Divine glory shone before the Ages (Jude 25); others receive expression through the Ages (2 Cor. 4:17; 2 Tim. 2:10; 1 Pet. 5:10); yet others come to view only after the Ages have run their course.
The context of the passages under consideration associates glory with redemption in its various phases and operationswith Christ giving Himself for our sins, to deliver us out of the present evil age (Gal. 1:4; 1 Tim. 1:16,17; Rev. 1:6; 5:13; 7:12); the power now workmg in the saints (Eph. 3:21); provision of need (Phil. 4:20); exercise of gifts for edification (1 Pet. 4:11); working in believers that which is well-pleasing in His sight (Heb. 13:21).
Clearly, the glory in the above Scriptures contemplates redemption as wrought in the Ages; for the obvious reason that deliverance from evil and provision of need are unnecessary where neither evil nor need exists redeemed men, perfected in the image of their Creator, have outgrown such gifts as are requisite at present in the same way as manhood outgrows the toys of infancy; indefectible creatures beyond the possibility of lapse and fall require no expedients to keep them in the path of obedience. The light afflictions, ordered and controlled by our Heavenly Father, work a more exceeding weight of aionian glory only so long as affliction exists; once affliction ceases, its workings cease also, though the fruits it yielded through the Ages will continue to be enjoyed.
Redemption antedates sin 's entrance (1 Pet. 1:20), and not till after sin's exit does it enter on its meridian path. Before the Ages redemption is potential: its beams fall upon a flawless universe untainted by sin. Beyond the Ages the increased volume of its light falls on a flawless universe emancipated from sin's thraldom.
The Ages reveal its scope and furnish a stage for its activities. The cross is the crisis or converging point of the Ages (Heb. 9:26). All things focus in it. Symbol, promise, prophecy, point to it and are exhausted and done away by it. Here past and future intermingle their beams and blend their glory. It vindicates God's justice, opens a channel for the outflow of His love, provides a basis for the fruition of His original purpose of grace, and removes the guilt and stain of sin from the universe.
In view of this we may speak of redemption glory as pre-aionian, aionian, post-aionian. Its inherent glory shone before the Ages (1 Cor. 2:7). During the Ages it acquires new excellencies by contact with, and triumph over, evil. Beyond the Ages it will blaze in the combined effulgence of glories inherent and acquired.
We now pass on to the title, "He Who liveth forever and ever." Its use is peculiar to Daniel and Revelation, and links the two books in a very special manner. It is found in Daniel 4:34 and 12:7; and in Revelation 4:9,10; 10:6; 15:7.
The first occurrence explains its significance and force. The fourth chapter of Daniel relates the extraordinary experience of King Nebuchadnezzar. Let it be noted, the special object of God's strange dealings was to teach him that "the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will." Upon the expiration of the decreed seven times of chastening, Nebuchadnezzar, recovering his understanding, said: "I praised and honored him that liveth forever (aulam); whose dominion is an everlasting (aulam) dominion; and his kingdom is from generation to generation; and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth" (Dan. 4:34, 35).
The trend of the narrative as a whole proves that Nebuchadnezzar does not refer to the life of God, but to the manifestation of Jehovah as a "living" God, as distinct from the dumb gods he had previously worshipped. God wished to teach Nebuchadnezzar that He rules in the kingdom of men. The mania was a means to bring this about. It fully accomplished the purpose for which it had been intended. Emerging from the ordeal, Nebuchadnezzar confesses that God's dominion is for the ages (aulam), and that throughout their course He is the Ruler and Disposer of the destinies of men and nations, and the title he uses on the occasion reflects the truth he learned.
It is striking that the title "He who liveth forever" is not met with elsewhere until it reappears in the Revelation in circumstances precisely analogous with Danielthe judgments of the day of the Lord and the Advent in power to assert His right in the kingdom of men.
During past Ages God kept Himself in the background. His interferences in the affairs of men have been few and far between, and, with rare exceptions, confined to one nation.
Since the days of the Apostles all visible signs have been withdrawn. The Heavens have been silent. Man has been allowed to work his pleasure without molestation. The earth, it seems, has been left to shift for itself. In the presence of crime He has remained strictly neutral and indifferent. Such attitude encourages sin. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is emboldened to do evil" (Eccl. 8:11). The wicked curse Him to His face and prosper. His very existence is doubted or denied.
The Apocalyptic visions transport us to the days verging on His manifestation. God is no longer silent then. His voice is heard; His judgments are seen; heaven and earth tremble at the signs of His approach. Then those who had worshipped the Beast will acknowledge, as did Nebuchadnezzar, "Verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth" (Psa. 58:11). Then it will be seen that the Most High Who so long kept Himself in hiding had been working through the Ages. Then it will be seen and acknowledged by all that God is not a principle, force, or law, but the Living One, the Ruler of the Ages.
We may note in passing that the related title "the living God" has always a direct or latent reference to idols and judgment on idolators, and is invariably connected with Jehovah's making Himself known. The first occurrence (Deut. 5:26) is connected with the giving of the Decalogue, when Israel "heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire."
In 1 Samuel 17 it appears twice (vv. 26 and 36) when David went out to slay Goliath "that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel." In Isaiah 37:4, 17 it is used against the reproach of Sennacherib, when God made himself known in Judah in such a marvelous way that the king of Babylon sent messengers to Hezekiah to inquire of the "wonder" that was done in the land (2 Chron. 32:31).
In Psalm 18:46-48 we read, "The Lord liveth. ... It is God that avengeth me from mine enemies;" etc. Exigencies of space forbid expansion. Enough has been said to show that "He who liveth forever and ever," and the related titled "Living God," refer to the acknowledgment of God as Ruler of the Ages. The Ages, like the days of Genesis, speak of a prior fall, and are devoted to remedial work. Salvation, rule, priesthood, aionian life, are restorative agencies operating during their course.
Our Saviour said: "And this is aionian life, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ" (John 17:3). Aionian life is part of the remedial plan of the Ages, and is designed to repair the ignorance and alienation caused by sin. To know the true God, who has sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world, and to know the Son as the Redeemer, mark and constitute the life which is peculiar to the Ages. Aionian life therefore is not, as is generally supposed, a life having neither beginning nor end; but rather a life, the distinctive feature of which is, that it has to do with a Saviour. The declaration "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for the ages," implies that through these Ages a Saviour is needed, and will be found. To receive that Saviour, and the Father whom He has declared, is the only means of fellowship with God during the Ages, when the vast mass of humanity is alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them.
In drawing this paper to a conclusion it may be well to notice one or two perplexing texts. "For the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). Here, it is argued, "aionian" must mean endlessness because it stands in antithesis to "temporal," i.e., pertaining to time. We wish to show that the facts of the case will not bear out this claim.
The word rendered "temporal" is proskairos. It occurs again in Matthew 13:21; Mark 4:17; Hebrews 11:25, where it is translated "for a while," "for a time," "for a season." That such is its true meaning is abundantly evident. The rocky ground hearer does not endure during the course of time, but "for a while"; a person does not enjoy the pleasures of sin during the course of time, but "for a season." The contrast in this passage is between things enduring for a while and those which last through the Ages.
"When he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet" (Heb. 10:12-14). By rendering diÍnekes5 "continually," as in Hebrews 7:3 and 10:1, the difficulty is removed, and the real force of the statement becomes apparent. The priests in the tabernacle were standing, offering "continually" sacrifices which could never make perfect them that draw nigh (10:1). But Christ, having offered one sacrifice which takes away sins, sat down "for a continuance" on the right bond of God, till his enemies are subdued under him. The contrast is between the continual standing of the priests whose work was never done and the session of Christ "for a continuance" having made expiation for sin.
In Romans 6:25, 26 we read of a mystery kept in silence through the age times (A.V., "since the world began; R.V., "times eternal"), and then of the God of Ages ("eternal God") by whose commandment that secret is now divulged among the nations. The word "aionios," twice used in the same sentence, must in each case have the same sense. As applied to "times," passing or past, aionian cannot mean neverending. The title "aionian God" shows Him in relation to the Ages working in grace to correct and remove the effects of the fall.
The Old Testament title El Aulam, the equivalent of the New Testament "God of Ages, "is found in Genesis 21:33; Isaiah 26:4; 40:28, where the context connects it with Jehovah's covenant-faithfulness and deliverance. He is the Rock of Ages. And so long as the conflict rages, so long as any refuge or support is needed it will be found in Him.
The whole series of the "for ever and ever" texts has been reviewed. It remains to emphasize the salient points that have emerged in the course of inquiry.
(1) The Greek and Hebrew terms rendered "forever and ever," "eternal," "everlasting," never refer to endlessness; but to a series of terminable periods known as Age-times.
(2) These Ages are periods in which God carries on remedial work, but they have a conclusion and pass away, when the purpose to be accomplished in them has been realized.
(3) The Ages are never synonymous with endlessness but always distinct therefrom.
To substantiate the tenet of unending agony its advocates can do no more than follow one another in the weary iteration of the worn out argument that since "forever and ever" is applied to the life of God, and employed of the believer's weal as well as the unbeliever's woe, it must perforce mean infinity.
The first claim, if it were true, would certainly be conclusive. But the fact is "forever and ever" is never applied to the life of God but, as has been shown, refers only and always to His making Himself known as the Living One.
The second claim, that "forever and ever" is associated with the hereafter of both believer and unbeliever, is true; but in the case of both it is limited to the span of the Ages, and has not the remotest reference to the final state of either. Therefore the dogmas of endless Agony and Endless Sin rest on purely imaginary premises and are without the slightest shred of biblical support.
Words are inadequate to describe the harm which has resulted from confounding the Ages with Eternity.
We have endeavored to draw attention to the necessity of keeping the two conceptions distinct. The subject has by no means been exhausted. We have only touched the fringe. Perhaps no line of Bible study promises a more rich harvest of results than a thorough study of the Ages.
Tune: St. Catherine
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