CHAPTER III THE ENDLESSNESS OF THE AGES TO COME
GOD has written ETERNITY on the future, both of the saved and the lost. The shame of the one is forever, and so is the glory of the other (Dan. 12:2, 3); and just as righteousness shall mete out the shame, so shall grace mete out the glory. With the reception of the good news concerning the Son of God, there is connected an everlasting recompence of joy, just as with the rejection of these there is connected a retribution of undying woe. Indeed, if these good news be really what God represents them to be, and if it cost so much to furnish the facts on which these good news are founded, we cannot see how the belief of them should result in less than an eternal blessing, and the disbelief of them in less than an eternal curse. Whatever these good news can do either for or against us, according as they are welcomed or refused, we cannot conceive of their issues being finite or reversible.
There are frequent words and figures in Scripture, which in many ways and under various aspects bear witness to the truth concerning the eternity of the coming ages of blessing. Faith takes these words in their simple meaning, and refuses to accept such figures as exaggerations. Assuming that the Bible cannot contain the thoughts of God unless it contains his very words; and being quite sure that God would never trust a man, even though he might understand all mysteries and all knowledge, to translate divine thoughts into human words, FAITH receives all Bible words as divine, and therefore most simply and sacredly true.
Amongst those words which it specially delights to think of as real and undeceiving, are those which tell of eternity in its joys and satisfactions.
1. It thinks of the name which God takes to himself.
He calls himself the “eternal God” (Deut. 33:27)—the “eternal King” (1 Tim. 1:17).* He is said to be “from everlasting to everlasting” (Ps. 90:2). He is called “the eternity of Israel” (1 Sam. 15:29, margin). We read, “Jehovah shall endure for ever” (Ps. 9:7); and again, “Jehovah is King forever and ever” (Ps. 10:16). Of the SON we read that he is “the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever” (Heb. 13:8); and to him the Father speaks, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever” (Heb. 1:8). The SPIRIT is called “the eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14). Such are the names in which God speaks of himself; and there is something in these which makes us feel how abiding and endless those “ages to come” must be, in which this God is “all in all.” Faith loves to dwell upon the ETERNITY of the God to whom it has been linked. An eternal God implies an eternity of blessed being to all who are his. Nothing less than this can be included in such wondrous names. It is with such feelings that faith takes up the sweet singer’s words, and, looking round upon the frailty of created excellency, muses upon the endless being of the everlasting One—“They shall perish, but thou shalt endure; they shall all wax old as doth a garment: as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed; but thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end” (Ps. 102:26, 27).
2. It thinks of the EVERLASTING covenant (Is. 55:3; Heb. 13:20).
This covenant goes back into the ages that are past, and forward immeasurably info the ages to come. It stretches over and covers, with its infinite provisions of grace, the whole vastness of eternity. As the atmosphere compasses the earth about, so does the “everlasting covenant” compass the Church about, to secure and to bless it. The knowledge of this covenant, in its suitableness to the sinner, was that which first spoke peace to us, and made us feel that there was forgiveness with God. We received God’s testimony concerning it, and so it became a resting place for us in our weariness. Having found footing here, we looked around, and surveyed the fulness of our city of refuge. We saw its foundation to be grace.
We saw that, in addition to grace that was large and free enough to receive every fallen child of Adam, if they would but come, there was a superadded sovereign grace, to lay hold of those whom the Father had given to Christ in the ancient covenant—not one of whom would have availed themselves of the grace, had they not been thus laid hold of. We saw that in the covenant there was forgiveness, and life, and joy, not only here, but hereafter. We saw that it could not grow old or out of date, for it was the covenant of the eternal God. We saw that it could not be broken, for it was sealed with blood, and so made sure by righteousness. We saw that it must abide forever, in all its completeness, securing thereby to us, not merely a morning of joy, but an eternal day of glory.
3. It thinks of the EVERLASTING arms (Deut. 33:2).
Sometimes we read of God’s “holy arm” (Ps. 98:1); of his “mighty arm” (Ps. 89:13); of his “glorious arm” (Is. 63:12); of his “high arm” (Acts 13:17); of his “stretched-out” arm (Ps. 136:12): but, in addition to all these, we read of the “everlasting arm”—nay, the “everlasting arms.” That holy arm is for eternity. That mighty arm is for eternity. That glorious arm is for eternity. That high arm is for eternity. That stretched-out arm is for eternity. All is everlasting! It is with everlasting arms that we have to do. “His right hand doth embrace us; his left hand is under our head” (Song 2:6); and that embrace—that clasping—that upholding—is forever. To have these flung around us is all the assurance that we need for our security in the ages to come. For who shall untwine that eternal embrace, or unclasp those arms, or make them grow weary of enfolding us? It is the pressure of these arms that we feel about us when first we “taste that the Lord is gracious,” and understand the meaning of the free love which the cross exhibits.
Then the divine graciousness comes gently round us, like a mother’s arm, and as receivers of the Father’s testimony to his goodwill in Christ, we are “compassed about with his favour as with a shield” (Ps. 5:12). And then it is that we learn to reprove our own unbelief in Jehovah’s strength and grace—“Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known, hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth hot, neither is weary?” (Is. 40:27, 28.)
4. It thinks of the EVERLASTING gospel (Rev. 14:9).
It finds “good news” written everywhere over the Word of God. His messages are “tidings of good;” for the free love which is in his infinite bosom he has embodied in these tidings, and we have found that in listening to them we are listening to what makes us glad. These good news are the very light of our earthly path, and by means of their bright shining, these desert tents of ours are lighted up even in the darkest night. But these good news run on into eternity; for the “good things to come,” of which they brought us the report, are forever. What we have heard and believed, is not the gospel of one age, but of all ages—the “everlasting gospel”—the gospel of the long ages to come, as truly as of the brief ages that are past.
5. It thinks of ETERNAL redemption (Heb. 9:12).
In thinking of such an expression, it feels the assurance given by God that one captivity shall be all that we shall have to taste. No second Egypt, or Babylon! no new “house of bondage,” or land of exile! The one redemption is enough. It is a complete one, and it is an eternal one, for it is a righteous one. It did not bribe justice nor evade the law. It sought out the terms of justice, and complied with them. It took the law’s claims in full, and met them all. It gave life for life—the life of the righteous for the life of the unrighteous. By death we are redeemed—the death of the Prince of Life. By blood we are bought—the blood of God (Acts 20:28).
The life of Christ would have been nothing to a sinner without his death. The body of Christ would have been nothing to a guilty conscience without his shed blood; for sin claims a recompence, and until that recompence be seen to be actually paid, no guilty conscience can have rest. It is, then, by death and blood that we are redeemed, and thus our redemption is made secure. It is a buying back forever—a redemption, the fruits of which shall never come to an end, and the joys of which shall spread out over the whole eternal day.
6. It thinks of ETERNAL salvation (Heb. 5:9).
In consenting to let the Saviour do his work in us, we became saved ones. He saved us. He reversed our lost estate. “He sent from above, he took us, he drew us out of many waters” (Ps. 18:16). The work which he thus effected was meant to be an abiding one. In its nature it was stable; and from the way in which it was done, it admitted of no reversal. He who began the good work in us gave clear tokens that he meant to “perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). He saves us in such a way as to shut out the possibility of failure. Not only “until the day of Christ,” but onwards throughout all ages that follow, shall the work remain; for the apostle, in the above words, evidently means to say, that having been carried on “till the day of Christ,” it must be secure forever; that we, being once landed on the shore of the kingdom, must be safe for eternity.
He makes us feel that what we get is an “eternal salvation;” so that, whatever conflicts, or sorrows, or enemies, or snares, may here throw themselves across our path, our salvation shall not be less complete, or less eternal: for “he is able to save them to the UTTERMOST (not merely to the uttermost of extremity, but of time—for such is the meaning of the original word) that come unto God by him, seeing he EVER LIVETH to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). And it is written in the prophets, “Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation; ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded, world without end” (Is. 45:17).
To be thus “chosen to salvation” (2 Thess. 2:13)—to be saved eternally, without the very possibility of failure or of end—what joy is there in the thought! How it cheers and comforts! It takes off the edge of trial; it lifts off time’s sorest pressures.—“What! shall I who am partaker of an everlasting salvation sink down under any burden, however heavy, or give way to sick-heartedness in the day of evil?”
7. It thinks of the ETERNAL purpose (Eph. 3:11).
That purpose of the God only wise is the sure chain which binds us inseparably to him. His purpose! his purpose from eternity!—what a resting place for us in our tossings and changes! Of that purpose, we are the objects, and that purpose is from eternity to eternity! Jehovah thought upon us personally in the immeasurable ages past, and he will continue to think upon us in the unending ages to come! To be connected with such a purpose is no common security and gladness. Having “chosen us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4), he will not let go his hold of us in the ages to come. “His good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself” spreads over us eternally like a curtain of heavenly light—like a rainbow of beauty and of joy.
8. It thinks of the ETERNAL judgment (Heb. 6:2).
In taking Christ as our substitute and advocate, we confidently anticipate acquittal in the day when we shall all stand at the judgment seat of Christ. Faith, being “the substance of things hoped for,” teaches us to fore-date the judgment, and to count upon a sentence in our favour. Strictly speaking, the sentence of justification is not given until that day; and hence our being justified by faith may be said to be our counting upon being justified by the righteous Judge, in the day of his appearing. And so sure is the ground we rest upon—so simple is the promise of acquittal to all who will trust God for it—that we feel just as certain of our justification as if public sentence had already been pronounced.
Hence faith teaches us to say even now—far on this side of judgment—“I am justified,” just as it enables us to say, “I am saved.” This judgment, which faith anticipates so joyfully, as being quite sure, from what it knows of God, that there can be no condemnation for any trusting one, is final and irreversible. There lies no appeal from it to any higher or more ultimate tribunal. It is eternal judgment! It is judgment whose issues and sentences determine our condition in all coming ages.
There is much that is truly comforting in the thought of “eternal judgment.” To be justified forever! To have all wrongs righted forever! To be thus lawfully acquitted, and reinstated irrevocably in the favour of the Judge, so that law and justice can never again claim us as their victims—this is security such as unfallen Adam could not have had. Our sentence of acquittal shall be to us a far greater assurance of a justified eternity, than creation in innocence could have been. That “judgment”—being an “eternal” one—shall, through all ages, stand between us and the possibility of condemnation.
9. It thinks of the EVERLASTING truth (2 John 2).
These are blessed words—“for the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us forever.” There shall be no more seeking of truth, or groping after it, but a possessing of it. And if to be a “lover of truth” be a good thing, how much better to be a possessor of it, and that forever! The imperfect knowledge of the truth which we get here “makes us free” (John 8:32); what enlargement of our liberty shall the perfection of that knowledge give us! The “belief of the truth” pours peace into the soul; how much more of that unutterable peace shall fill us in the day when our belief shall be as complete and full as the truth which we shall then possess! For it shall be all truth, and no falsehood nor error; seeing it shall have its centre in Him who is THE TRUTH. Rooted in the truth—surrounded by the truth—overshadowed by the truth—dwelt in by the truth,—we shall know the difference between this present age of boasted enlightenment and these coming ages of everlasting truth.
10. It thinks of the EVERLASTING righteousness (Ps. 112:9; Dan. 9:24).
On righteousness the soul stands as on a sure rock; with righteousness is it clothed as with a garment; by righteousness it is protected as by a breastplate (Eph. 6:14). There is nothing more enduring than righteousness. No ages can alter or weaken it. Jehovah’s own righteousness is everlasting. He cannot cease to be “the righteous God who loveth righteousness.” And what less than an eternal righteousness can be theirs, who have by faith identified themselves with him who is Jehovah Zidkenu, “the Lord our Righteousness”? When the Lord would tell Israel the sure tenure by which they are to hold their heritage hereafter so that it cannot be lost, he says, “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their RIGHTEOUSNESS is of ME, saith the Lord” (Is. 54:17).
We get the righteousness simply in being willing to take it upon God’s terms—that is, freely; and having got that righteousness, we find that it not only secures our persons but our possessions also, throughout the everlasting ages. For just as God and we have become indissolubly one, so we and our heritage can never be parted. All that can be included in that word “heritage” thus becomes eternally ours—gladness within as well as glory without—for “the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever.”
11. It thinks of the EVERLASTING mercy (Ps. 103:17, & 136:1).
That the mercy of our God is “abundant,” we see in the cross, and taste in our own experience. “Abundant mercy” is the name which the apostle gives to it (1 Pet. 1:3). Less than this cannot be implied in the gift of God’s own Son; nor would less than this meet our case. But the continuance of this overflowing plenty is what we need to be assured of. We need not only to be able to say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,” but to add, “for his mercy endureth for ever.” Mercy, continued in the same abundance as when it first took hold of us—flowing onward, inexhaustibly, for ever and for ever—this is what we delight to hear of. It is with mercy that all our hopes, and joys, and consolations here, are associated; and the thought that, in the ages to come, this mercy would alter or be superseded by something else, would infuse suspicion into our expectations, and call up uncomfortable conjectures as to the future that lies before us.
“Everlasting mercy” settles every doubt, and lays every fear to rest. It is with the God of mercy that we shall have to do eternally, as truly as now. The God who took pity upon us in our sins, and freely forgave them all, is the God under the shadow of whose wing we shall rest for ever. It was to him, as the God of mercy, that our hearts first went up; and all our dearest thoughts of him during our pilgrimage are connected with his wondrous manifestations of mercy: so, over all coming ages shall that same mercy stretch itself, and we shall continue to recognise, in the King of the eternal ages, the God who drew us out of the horrible pit and out of the miry clay.
12. It thinks of the EVERLASTING holiness.
“He that is holy, let him be holy still,” that is, let him be holy for ever (Rev. 22:11). Forever holy! This is the word of Him who is faithful and true. From the moment that the blood was sprinkled on us, by our receiving God’s testimony concerning it, we were set apart for God,—we became his “saints” or holy ones. It was to this blood alone, and not to any fitness in us, that God had respect in setting us apart; and it was this blood that removed every objection that could be raised against us on the score of unworthiness. God looked at us, and then at the blood, and forthwith proceeded to set us apart according to his eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord. We fixed our eye on that blood on which God was looking, and the whole transaction was done. That which God saw in the blood removed all his objections; and that which we saw dispelled all our difficulties and fears. These objections can never rise up again: these fears can never revisit us. That which banished these at first has banished them forever. Our consecration is for eternity.
In correspondence with this outward setting apart, the internal purifying began and proceeded; for we were “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph. 1:4). The “inward man was renewed day by day.” Everything helped on the process. “All things wrought together for good” to us. Sorrow smote us only to “perfect that which concerned us,” and to make us “partakers of Jehovah’s holiness” (Heb. 12:10). And when we awake in the resurrection dawn, we arise to holiness, in all its completeness without and within. Our name even here was “Elect of God, holy and beloved” (Col. 3:12), “holy brethren” (Heb. 3:1); and such shall be our name forever, for “blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection” (Rev. 20:6). We have been “called with an holy calling,” even “as he who hath called us is holy” (2 Tim. 1:9; 1 Pet. 1:15). Nor shall that calling ever be reversed.
We have a share in the “holy covenant” (Luke 1:72), nor shall that covenant alter or be broken; for “the Lord forsaketh not his holy ones; they are preserved forever” (Ps. 37:28); their very death is precious to him (Ps. 116:15); and when the Lord returns, he comes “to be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe” (2 Thess. 1:10). It is as his holy ones that they possess the inheritance; for it is an undefiled “inheritance” (1 Pet. 1:4); nay, the apostle’s name for it is, “The inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12). It is as his saints that they are called to be “joyful in glory” (Ps. 149:5); and it is as his saints that they shall “take the kingdom and possess it forever, even forever and ever” (Dan. 7:18). It is as saints that they are the “habitation,” the “temple of the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. 6:10), and “holiness becometh that house forever” (Ps. 93:5); nor will he who has once taken up his abode in them, desert the dwelling which he has chosen for himself.
Thus on all sides faith sees itself surrounded with eternity. Each promise in the divine Word speaks of eternity. Each hope points to eternity. Each pardon that we receive has eternity inscribed on it. Each token of love tells of eternity. Each day’s fellowship with the Lord is inseparably linked with an eternal fellowship. The great God with whom we have to do is the everlasting one. The Son whose righteousness covers us, is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Holy Spirit is the “eternal Spirit.” There is not one word, one thought, one promise, one hope, one joy, that speaks of less than ETERNITY!
Feeling itself thus compassed about with eternity, how the spirit rises upward! How it gets ashamed of littleness in itself, and in others who are partakers of the same hope! How it expands its affections on every side,—passing beyond self and the things of self, and entering on other regions where it gets full play to its expanding powers! The realised glimpse of eternity takes it at once out of its contracted “beat;” and, instead of pacing round and round within a poor circle of its own, it learns that there are other interests precious, as dear to God, and as closely liked with the marvels of the ages to come, as its own could be. Getting beyond the narrowness of its own joys and sorrows, it learns somewhat to forget itself in the thought of others.
And thus occupied, not merely with one eternity, but with thousands of eternities like its own—the eternities of redeemed ones like itself—it gets above depression, and ceases to brood over its own fears and griefs. The screen has been thrown back that hemmed in its vision; it looks into the vista of immeasurable ages; it loses sight of things corruptible in the vision of the incorruptible; it learns to measure the things that are seen and temporal, by the things that are unseen and eternal.
Horatius Bonar, The Eternal Day, (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1854), 35–59.