The New Testament Solution to the Question
Frederick William Grant
Facts and Theories as to a Future State
In the New Testament we find aion over and over again translated "world," and not badly, if we only think of worlds in time instead of worlds in space, but more intelligible to us if rendered "age." The "end of the world" in Matt. xiii., xxiv, xxviii. 20 is thus in all these places "the completion of the age." In Heb. ix. 26, it is "the completion of the ages." So we have "this world" and "the world to come," "the children of this world," "the princes of this world," and similar expressions frequently. So again we have "ages to come," as we have ages completed, and can look back to a time before these ages began.*
*Matt.. xii. 82, Luke xviii. 30, xx. 34, 1 Cor. ii. 6, Eph. ii. 7, Col i 26, 1 Cor. ii. 7 (before the ages).
Thus Scripture everywhere recognizes the fact of these successive ages, surely not purposeless divisions of time, but each a step in the accomplishment of divine counsels. We have in fact the very expression, and to it we shall have again to return, "the purpose of the ages" (Eph. iii. 11). The ages, then, are dispensational periods, whose existence and character are not unimportant things for the student of the ways of Him whose "going forth have been from of old, from everlasting." It is to the "King of (these) ages" that the apostle therefore ascribes "glory unto the ages of ages" (1 Tim. i. 17). Him they all serve in various harmony of the one everlasting anthem wherewith all His works praise Him their Maker.
Eternity in Scripture we need not wonder to find expressed in terms of these divinely constituted "ages." This is done in a number of different ways, hidden very much in our version by vague and dissimilar phraseology, which has little of the beauty and appropriateness of the inspired original. The word aion is used nearly eighty times in this way in the New Testament, and above seventy times the word aionios. We have thus nearly a hundred and fifty occurrences to test the Scripture use of these expressions. Surely we should be able to arrive at some satisfactory result.
Let us first look at the past ages. Of course from our point of view in time we can look at eternity as behind or before us. It is but one and the same eternity, of course; for there cannot in the nature of things be two: but to our conception there is a past and a future one. Let us gather up the expressions of the former first.
We find then that there are "ages" in the "ends" of which we are: for we read that "all these things happened unto them for types, and are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world (literally, the ages) are come" (1 Cor. x. 11). We may surely connect that with the passage before cited from Hebrews (ix. 26), that "once at the completion of the ages hath (Christ) appeared, to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself." These ages were the preparatory times of which we have been already thinking, when God by the ministry of condemnation and in other ways was shutting man up to the grace which Christ should show. Thus "when we were yet without strength in due time Christ died for the ungodly." This grace lay under the veil throughout these ages - there, but lacking full expression. The "ends of the ages" having come, that expression has been found; and thus the "types" of Israel's history, as well as the shadows of the law in a stricter sense, give to us their full weight of "admonition."
In Col 1. 26 again, we hear of a mystery hidden "from ages and from generations," and in Eph. iii. 9 find a similar expression. There need be no doubt that here we have the self-same ages as before. Nor again, when Paul speaks of hidden wisdom "ordained before the ages, to our glory" (1 Cor. ii. 7).
These ages then are plainly finite, and so is the whole course of them; but we have two other expressions which are different from these. In them aion is used in the singular, and in one passage at least eternity must be meant. "Known unto God are all His works from aion" (Acts xv - 18), where we cannot say "from the age." In the other passages the expression may seem less decisive: God has "spoken by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been from aion"; and similarly, "by the mouth of His holy prophets from aion" (Luke i. 70; Acts iii. 21); but in neither case would "the age" do at all. What age? "From the beginning of the world" might suit the context, but would be no translation: and outside that beginning of the world is what? Surely, eternity. In this sense then "from eternity" would suit, and all the occurrences would be in harmony.
Once more a similar phrase occurs in the words of the man to whom the Lord gave sight (John ix- 32): "From the aion was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of the blind," and here again the meaning is simply "it never was heard." Thus wherever aion is used in these expressions it cannot be spoken of a particular age or dispensation, but seems invariably to imply eternity.
This is all we have relating to the past. As regards the future we have more and various phrases, which we may here again classify accordingly as aion is used in the singular or in the plural. The plural form we shall look at first as being the most simple. We have here three expressions:
1. Simplest of all, in Jude 25, glory is ascribed to God "both now and to all the ages." There is plainly no reason to limit this.
2. More often we have, and less fully, "unto the ages." This occurs eight times. Six times in ascriptions of praise to God or to Christ (Matt. vi. 13; Rom. i. 25; ix. 5; xi. 36; xvi. 27; 2 Cor. xi. 31); once there is the statement Mr. Jukes relies on, and as to the force of which we shall presently inquire, - "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and to the ages" (Heb. xiii. 8); and once it is said of Christ, that "He shall reign over the house of Jacob unto the ages" (Luke i. 33). In none of these passages is there reason to question that a proper eternity is intended.
3. The third expression is a reduplicative form which plainly conveys a much greater impression of immensity: "to the ages of ages." And this is five times applied to the life of God Himself: He "liveth unto the ages of ages" (Rev. iv. 9, 10; v. 14; x. 6: xv. 7); once to the resurrection-life of Christ (Rev. i. 18); once to the kingdom of "our Lord and His Christ" (Rev. xi. 15); once to the reign of the saints (ch. xxii. 5); ten times in ascriptions of glory to God (Gal. i. 5; Phil. iv. 20; 1 Tim. i. 17; 2 Tim. iv. 18; Heb. xiii. 21; 1 Pet. iv. 11; v. 11; Rev i. 6; v 13 vii 12); twice to the torment of the wicked (Rev. xiv. 11; xx. 10); and once to the smoke of Babylon rising up forever (ch. xix. 3). These last passages we shall have again before us, but if the duration of these ages is the measure of the risen life of Christ, of God Himself, surely its force cannot be questioned.
In all these cases the plural form impresses us with the sense of vastness and immensity. In the cases we have now to consider the use of the singular conveys the idea, of course, of unity. Here again we have various expressions.
1. A very singular one is "the aion of the aion," where it is the duration of the reign of the Son of God: "Thy throne, O God, is for the aion of the aion" (Heb. i. 8), where we have the Septuagint rendering of the expression before noted as the Hebrew one for proper eternity (olam vaed). Here then it does seem that aion must, even in the Septuagint, have this later but acknowledged sense. Plato has it, it is owned; and Philo also an Alexandrian Jew, from the very birth-place of the Septuagint, although of a somewhat later date. Here the expression is used for eternity, and we can only translate "for the age (or perhaps, course*) of eternity." We have seen a similar use of aion for the past (Acts xv. 18).
*Aion is thus used in Eph. ii. 2, "according to the course of this world."
2. Again, we have an ascription of glory to Christ, "for the day of eternity" (aion) (2 Pet. iii. 18). Here once more a limited meaning can scarce be contended for.
3. Again, in Eph. iii. 21, we find, "Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus unto all the generations of the age of the ages." Here no one, I suppose, would doubt eternity to be meant. It may define what "age" is meant when aion is used alone: it is the "age" of the ages, the age in which all ages are summed up.
4. But the most common expression of all is that for which no more suited rendering can be found than "forever" - for the aion. It is used twenty-eight times; and not in a single instance can it be proved to have a limited sense. It too is used for the duration of the life of Christ (John xii. 34); of the abiding of the Spirit of God with His people (xiv. 16); of Christ's priesthood (Heb. vii.); the enduring of the word of God (1 Pet. i. 23), and of the doer of His will (1 John ii. 17); and of the believer's righteousness (2 Cor. ix. 9). It is used too for the duration of the portion of the ungodly, "blackness of darkness forever" (Jude 13, 2 Pet. ii. 17).
Amid all this varied phraseology not one passage can be shown where our common translation gives some equivalent of "forever," in which less than eternity can be proved to be meant. Mr. Clemance has indeed said: "An æon may have an end. Æons of æons may have an end. Only that which lasts through all the æons is without an end, and Scripture affirms this only of the kingdom of God, and of the glory of God in the church."* Canon Farrar quotes this with approbation; but he has not attempted to produce a single New Testament passage that I can find, to prove the opposite of my assertion here. Instead of this, he goes to the Old Testament for his proof, and of course quotes olam instead of aion. This amounts to a confession that the New Testament will not serve his purpose. Would he not have produced its testimony, if he could?
*Future Punishment, p. 86, quoted in the preface to Eternal Hope.
Dr. Beecher, too, as we have seen, avoids the New Testament. Mr. Oxenham in his letter has nothing to say concerning these expressions. Mr. Jukes, however,* comes boldly forward, as we have seen, with a distinct statement as to the nature and duration of these ages to come. To his views, therefore, we must direct our attention.
*And Mr. Cox, "Salvator Mundi," ch. v., vi.
The substance of them we have given before in his own words. The ages, he believes, are periods in which God is working in grace to meet and correct the effect of the fall. His rest is beyond them, not in them, when the mediatorial kingdom of Christ, which is for the ages of ages, is given up, and Christ, the Worker of the divine purpose in them, goes back to the glory which He had before the age-times, that God may be all, in all. Throughout these ages Christ is a Saviour needed and found, as much as "yesterday" and "to-day."
Now we have seen that over and over again it is asserted of God, that He "liveth for the ages of the ages," and so, too, of Christ as risen from the dead. Will Mr. Jukes say that His "behold, I am alive for the ages of ages" is not meant to convey the thought of the English version, "I am alive for evermore"? or that "God, who liveth for the ages of ages" means "God who liveth for the time during which He is showing grace"?
Again, glory is over and over again ascribed to God for the ages of ages or the age of ages, and not once (according to this view of the matter) for a proper eternity at all! How beyond measure strange that there should be no glimpse beyond these ages, during which the smoke of torment never ceases! How strange that just when that long, lingering purgation shall have come to an end, - when praise should be most rapturous, and joy complete, - that just then we should come to the end of all that Scripture contemplates of joy or praise, or the very life of God Himself, and not a note be heard, not a ray of glory shine out of the impenetrable eternity beyond! Who can believe this? Who can seriously claim it as a thing to be believed?
But we are told that Scripture itself thus speaks of the "purpose of the ages."* The phrase occurs, Eph. iii. 11, as the Greek of what in our version is "eternal purpose." But what is this purpose, as Scripture, not the Restitutionist, declares it? Is it not, so far as given in the passage produced, "the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the purpose of the ages"? There is no mention here of other beings than the angels and the church; the time for the wisdom of God to be thus made known is "now." Can Mr. Jukes show how this speaks of the recovery to God of those in an after-time cast into hell? If he can, at least he has not done it.
*So also Cox (Salv. Mun., p. 107): "In his epistle to the Ephesians he both expressly names God's determination to save men by Christ [all men?] ‘the purpose of the ages,' the end that was to be wrought out through all the successions of time; and distinctly asserts that this redeeming work will take ages for its accomplishment." Ages to come? Where?
But then "Christ's mediatorial kingdom is for the ages of ages, and after these are finished, He delivers it up." Let us see what is the truth of this.
Now sitting upon the Father's throne as Son of God, and having "all authority in heaven and earth," He comes as Son of man in glory to take His own throne as such."† It is plainly this kingdom which He delivers up to the Father (according to 1 Cor. xv. 24-28), having accomplished the purpose for which He took it. He reigns, says the apostle - until when? "Till He hath put all enemies under His feet." Is that conversion? If it is, words have no meaning. No; it is the subjecting by power those who could not be subdued by grace. Death is among these enemies, and "death, the last enemy, shall be destroyed." When? When death and hell (hades), having delivered up their dead, will be cast into the lake of fire. When Gehenna shall swallow up hades, and the second death put an end to the first (see Rev. xx. 13, 14). Then will the last enemy be destroyed, and all be under the feet of Christ. Then, therefore, will be the time when Christ will deliver up the kingdom to the Father.
†Comp. Rev. iii. 21; Dan. vii. 18; Matt. xxv. 81, etc.
But the ages of ages stretch on beyond this: for the torment for the ages of ages in the lake of fire begins even for the devil himself but at the close of the millennial reign (Rev. xx. 10). The kingdom which Christ takes to put down all enemies will be over. Death, the last enemy, will be destroyed. But the ages of ages roll on their unbroken course, and Christ's "reign for the ages of ages" will of course go on also.
It is a very common mistake Mr. Jukes has made, but it becomes a very serious one when made the foundation of a doctrine such as his. He has confounded the brief millennial reign in which Christ by power puts down His enemies with the everlasting reign of Christ as Son upon the Father's throne, which never can be given up. For faith He reigns now before that kingdom is come. All authority is His in heaven and earth. It will not cease to be His when that coming kingdom shall be delivered up to the Father, that God may be all in all.
And that coming rule, will it manifest as Mr. Jukes would intimate, a grace beyond the present - at least more prevailing grace than now? On the contrary, it is the rule of "THE ROD OF IRON,"* and the effect as to His enemies, not their being won by the grace of the gospel, but "dashed in pieces like a potter's vessel"
*Psa. ii. 8, 9; Rev. ii. 26, 27.
Now in Rev. xi. 15, to which Mr. Jukes refers, it is indeed said, "The world-kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ has come," and this does of course refer to the setting up of what is called the millennial kingdom; but it is looked at (in a very intelligible way) as the setting up of an authority which will never cease, a divine kingdom, "the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ," and so, when it is added, "and He shall reign for the ages of ages," this does not affect the truth that the mere human form of the kingdom will be given up. "He shall reign forever and ever." Though He leave the human throne to sit upon the divine, still "He shall reign." It is the everlasting pæan rightly then begun.
Certain it is that if as man He reign till all enemies be under His feet, and then deliver up the kingdom to the Father, and if death be the last enemy destroyed, - then the ages of ages of torment begin for most from this point, in stead of ending here. And Christ's reign for the ages of ages cannot end here either.
Thus Mr. Jukes' foundation is swept away. Another text upon which he relies, there is not even so plausible an excuse for misinterpreting. For when the apostle speaks of "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and for the ages" (Heb. xiii. 8), he is certainly connecting this either with the faith of the Christian leaders, of which he has spoken in the verse before, or with the "divers and strange doctrines" of the verse after, or with both. He is either showing the unchangeableness of Christ, as answering the confidence of His disciples' faith, or else that He is ever the same, to rebuke the divers and strange doctrines. In either case, there is no question of His being the Saviour of those who have rejected His salvation; and to translate the name by which His people know Him, in order to insist upon His being an Anointed Saviour to those who on the contrary refuse and reject His salvation, - is nothing less than bold perversion of a blessed truth.
Mr. Jukes' views on this point need not then detain us longer. But we have yet to consider the word aionios, "æonial," or eternal.
And it is here that we find the full phalanx of opposition to the commonly accepted meaning of the terms. Canon Farrar and Mr. Oxenham here make their stand, not perceiving that the battle is already gone against them irrecoverably. Messrs. Minton, Roberts, and others, their opponents in doctrine, coincide with them. But an answer to one will be at the same time an answer to all the rest. Aionios, as derived from aion, of course gets its meaning from this also. We have seen that aion has two meanings in the New Testament: one, that of "age" or dispensation, the other, of eternity in the commonly understood sense. We may expect then that aionios will reflect this double sense. And we shall find our anticipations verified by the fact. Let us first listen, however, to Dr. Farrar.
"I now come," he says, in the preface to his book, "Eternal Hope," "to aionios, translated rightly and frequently by ‘eternal,' and wrongly and unnecessarily by ‘everlasting.' I say wrongly on grounds which cannot be impeached. If in numbers of passages this word does not and cannot mean ‘endless,' - a fact which none but the grossest and most helpless ignorance can dispute, - it cannot be right to read that meaning into the word, because of any a priori bias, in other passages. All scholars alike admit that in many places aion can only mean ‘age,' and aionios only ‘age-long,' or (in the classic sense of the word) secular, which is often equivalent to ‘indefinite.' Many scholars who have a good right to be heard, deny that it ever necessarily means ‘endless' though it is predicted of endless things."*
*Doctors differ. Mr. Oxenham in his "Letter " says "that ‘endless' was one of (its) senses NO ONE THINKS OF DENYING." Sect. v., on Dr. Pusey's Sermon.
In a note he gives as his authority, so far as the New Testament is concerned, as to aion,† no reference, and as to aionios three (Rom. xvi. 25; 2 Tim. i. 9; Tit. i. 2). He adds, "He who said eternal fire used the word a few hours after in a sense that had nothing to do with time (J. xvii. 3)."
†By a clerical error aion and aionios - have changed places in the note.
This sense he mentions in his sermon on hell as implying "something ‘spiritual,' - something above and beyond time,* - as when the knowledge of God is said to be eternal life." He proceeds: - " So that when with your futile billions you foist into this word the fiction of endless time, you do but give the lie to the mighty oath of that great angel, who set one foot upon the sea and one upon the land, and, with hand uplifted to heaven, swore by him that liveth forever and ever, that time should be no more."‡
*Doctors differ here also. Mr. Cox, whose disciple Dr. Farrar mainly is, yet speaks on the other hand of aion and aionios as "words which, as I believe I can show you, so far from denoting that which is above time, or that which will outlast time, are saturated through and through with the thought and element of time " (Salvator Mundi, p. 100).
‡Dr. Farrar shows how he can trifle with Scripture by admitting in a note that possibly this may mean, - as it most certainly does mean - "that no further delay should intervene." If there be even a possibility of this, why argue (as above), from what is ‘possibly' not what he quotes?
In his excursus upon the word, at the end of the book, he tells us that -
"it is not worth while once more to discuss its meaning, when it has been so ably proved by so many writers that there is no authority whatever for rendering it ‘everlasting,' and when even those who like Dr. Pusey are such earnest defenders of the doctrine of an endless hell, yet admit that the word only means ‘endless within the sphere of its own existence,' so that on their own showing the word does not prove their point."
And he adds
"It may be worth while, however, once more to point out to less educated readers, that aion , aionios and their Hebrew equivalents in all combinations, are repeatedly used of things which have come and shall come to an end. Even Augustine admits (what indeed no one can deny) that in Scripture aion, aionios must in many instances mean ‘having an end,' and St. Gregory of Nyssa, who at least knew Greek, uses aionios as the epithet of an interval"
"That the adjective aionios is applied to some things which are ‘endless' does not, of course, prove that the word itself meant endless; and to introduce this meaning into many passages would be utterly impossible and absurd. . . . Our translators have naturally shrunk from such a phrase as ‘the endless God.'
The utter dearth of metaphysical knowledge renders most people incapable of realizing a condition which is independent of time - a condition which crushes eternity into an hour, and extends an hour into eternity. But the philosophic Jews and the greatest Christian Fathers were quite familiar with it. ‘Æon,' says Philo, ‘is the life of God, and is not time, but the archetype of time, and in it there is neither past, present, nor future.'"
This is Dr. Farrar's whole argument. It is not all he says, of course; but it presents fully his thoughts. We may now compare his thoughts with Scripture.
And it is remarkable how little his appeal is to the New Testament. He refers largely to the Old, that is, to the Septuagint version, but as to the New, three passages of an exceptional character, in each of which occurs the phrase æonial times" constitute really his whole appeal! We have seen, too, that as to the phrases in the New Testament for "forever," etc., he does not venture one single appeal! This is the final result after so much erudite research, out of near one hundred and fifty passages to be consulted, one phrase recurring in three of them is produced!
Dr. Farrar's will to produce more, if he could, need not be doubted. His learning is not for me to question. His mind is enlarged enough to apprehend that metaphysical eternity of which we shall have more to say by and by, but which the unmetaphysical part of mankind can so little realize, and which Dr. Beecher calls, somewhat otherwise interpreting the facts, "to common sense minds, nonsense." Yet after all, this is the result, after weighing (as we must give him credit for doing) one hundred and fifty passages, one phrase in three passages where aionios cannot mean "endless."
And let me put the force of that a little plainer; for it is a kind of argument we have before encountered in the mouth of some with whom Dr. Farrar would not perhaps like to be associated, but which needs to be made plain to be duly appreciated: -
Pneuma cannot be "spirit" in the first clause of John iii. 8; it ought not therefore to be "spirit" in the last part of the same verse.
Psuche is over and over again used for "life," where to translate it "soul" would be an impossibility. Therefore you cannot insist upon its being "soul" where the Lord speaks of man as being unable to kill it.
Let us put the parallel: -
Aionios cannot mean "endless" in a passage where it would read "endless times." Therefore it cannot mean this when God is spoken of as the "eternal God."
I can quite understand that Dr. Farrar will not own his argument in that shape, but its only shame with him is the shame of its nakedness. He has clothed it with fair words, which after all cannot prevent its halting badly.
Why does he not show us that aionios cannot mean "endless" in some of the passages in which we affirm it does, instead of taking up those in which we are as clear as he is that it does not? Why does he avoid the real issue, to create a false one? Dr. Farrar's animus evidently obscures his judgment, fatally to the argument he maintains. "Even Augustine," he tells us, "admits (what, indeed, no one can deny) that in Scripture, aion , aionios must in many instances MEAN ‘having an end.' " I do not believe myself the only one, by some thousands at least, who would deny it. Nay, I must believe that it is merely careless writing when Dr. F. affirms this. Aionios never meant "having an end" yet, and none should know it better than himself. It IS affirmed of things which have an end, and in those cases of course cannot mean "endless." No one will deny that: and that is all (I suppose) that he means to affirm.
A moment yet as to the Septuagint.
Dr. Farrar ignores the necessary change of meaning in words in lapse of time, and which Dr. Beecher's history of it (certainly from no point of view hostile to Dr. F.'s theory) so plainly shows as to the word in question. Even the Septuagint does not refuse the later meaning of aion by any means altogether, while the New Testament shows this later meaning almost superseding the earlier, as the time-sense in the Septuagint itself has superseded the earlier Homeric. It is well-nigh as vain to bring up the Septuagint to settle the case for the New Testament, as to bring up Homer to settle it for the Septuagint.
And, comparing the Old Testament with the New, where have you the leolain vaed* of the Hebrew reproduced in the Greek? That expression which does indeed imply a "beyond" to the olam is never used for the New Testament aion. Save only a word twice used (and where in one passage out of the two, people deny for it also that it means "everlasting "†) there is no other expression for this but aionios; no other for eternity but some phrase compounded of aion. The question is one of blotting or not every phrase for eternity out of Scripture.
*Dr. Farrar takes even this term as not implying true eternity; but. the one exception is merely a limitation from the nature of the thing spoken of, which in no wise shows a limitation elsewhere. If we speak even of the "everlasting" hills so often urged, does that make Dr. Farrar doubt what we mean by "everlasting"?
†Aïdios , Rom. i. 20; Jude 6.
I beg Dr. Farrar's forgiveness, I must modify that statement. He will allow us to say "eternal" if only by that we do not mean "everlasting." But does not he know that we of the less learned see no difference between the two? Of course I do not dispute his right to go back to derivations and to speak of ævum or of ætas, as he will. The derivation of a word is one thing; its actual use is another. Do we use eternal in any other sense than everlasting really? As I have said, it really comes to this, that the expression (in the sense we have received) must disappear out of the English language - for aught I know, out of every other too - as well as out of Scripture. Dr. Beecher will not let us have "everlasting" any more than Dr. Farrar will "eternal," and with just as good reason. So serious is the question. And we can only conclude that if learning and sense are so opposed as they seem to be, we may as well retain the latter and dismiss the former.
We might then perhaps as well return to simplicity and English, but we must not copy the example of those whom we have taxed with neglect of ascertaining the New Testament use of the word. We must seek ourselves to ascertain it; and out of 68 passages remaining to us, omitting the three produced by Dr. Farrar, we may surely discover the ordinary sense attaching to it.
But first, what of these three passages? what does the expression mean - "æonial times"? Does "æonial" there speak of limited duration? I think we may very fairly argue that it does not there speak of duration at all. "Times" is the word which there implies duration, and limited duration too, of course. Why then should another word be added to express the same thing?
That textual criticism deprecated so much by Dr. Farrar will help us here. We have before heard of a mystery "hidden from ages and generations," and now made manifest to the saints (Col. i. 26), and we have seen that the ages here are those of preparation for Christ's coming, and closed by His death; so that now upon us the ends of the ages are come, and we have the full admonition of what happened unto them as types. A reference to Rom. xvi. 26 will show that to these "æonial" or "age-times" the apostle refers: times which had the character of "ages" or of dispensations. This is what "æonial" here signifies: not the limited duration of the times, which as "times" are necessarily limited, but their being special, divinely constituted, times.
Æonial here then strictly means " belonging to the ages": it gets its meaning from the first sense of aion. But inasmuch as aion has the sense of eternity as well, we may expect to find it also signifying "eternal," "belonging to the age of ages." Let us see how far we can prove this meaning to be in aionios, and how far general in the New Testament this meaning is.
Now, one very plain passage, one would think, to show that it means "eternal," is that in which it is contrasted with what is temporal: "the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. iv. 18). Here limitless duration must be the contrast with the limited.
With this the "eternal weight of glory" of the verse preceding must be connected; and also "the house eternal in the heavens" of the following one.
So again in Philemon 15 the apostle writes: "For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldst receive him forever... a brother beloved;" and here the limited duration expressed in aionios is again contrasted with the limited "for a season."
Thus simply is it proved to have the sense "eternal." And why then should its force be doubted when we have it applied to God, to His "power" and "glory," to the "Spirit," to the kingdom of Christ, to the saints' "life," "inheritance," "habitations," "salvation," "redemption"? And this covers all the occurrences in the New Testament save those relating to the future judgment, and two others perhaps somewhat less decisive. Of these the "everlasting covenant" we need not doubt to be strictly such, only referring to the past, in our human way of speaking, the "covenant from everlasting"; while "the everlasting gospel" gives us a case of necessary limitation by the subject to which the term is applied, and which our English words, while incontestable as to their meaning, equally admit.
I do not see how the New Testament could give us much more assurance of "æonial" being (save where necessarily limited by the subject) "eternal" in the fullest sense.
But Dr. Farrar believes this is only because of "the utter dearth of metaphysical knowledge" which renders us "incapable of realizing a condition which crushes eternity into an hour, and extends an hour into eternity." We doubt sincerely if Dr. Farrar can realize it. "Eternity crushed into an hour," and that when time is eliminated from the thought, we believe to be simply a very gross absurdity. How can what is not time at all be "crushed into an hour"? And how can an hour which is "time," be extended into an eternity which is not? Perhaps we should get on no better with Philo and the Christian "fathers." We do think there is more of Plato than of Scripture in their thoughts as to this, and perhaps it is this at bottom which makes Dr. Farrar reject the New Testament "ages of ages" as being the true expression of eternity; for here, in pity to our human faculties it may be, but still the element of time is not, eliminated from the idea of eternity; eternity is just illimitable time. And we may thank God He does not write merely for metaphysicians, but for "babes."
But then again we read that aionios "is in its second sense something ‘spiritual' - something above and beyond time, - as when the knowledge of God is said to be eternal life." Does Dr. Farrar really mean that "eternal" here signifies "spiritual"? Or does he mean to refer it to that metaphysical eternity which may be crushed into an hour and be eternity all the same? If it be the latter I have said all that is needful; if the former, I scarcely need reply. Why should not aionios be "something" holy, because "eternal life" is that; or anything else almost by the substitution of which the obnoxious sense of eternity may be most thoroughly blotted out?
|« Previous chapter||Next chapter »|