On a warm summer evening in London, lines of curiosity-seekers formed, eager to find a seat in the auditorium in order to hear the much-anticipated debate between the well-known atheist Robert Ingersoll and the British preacher Dr. Joseph Parker. During the course of the debate, Ingersoll ruthlessly attacked the truthfulness of the Holy Scriptures, and in the most blasphemous of terms, denied the deity and the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. After some time, as was his manner, he paused—and gazing heavenward he threw out a challenge to the Eternal God, saying, “I have just vilified, assailed and profaned the name of Almighty God; I challenge You, if You exist at all, I call you to strike me dead upon this very spot”. With every fixed eye upon him, he then paused and casually walked to a chair and sat down; and pulling out a stop watch from his pocket he added, “I will give you five minutes”. As each minute slowly ticked off, he confidently announced to the crowd …four minutes left…three minutes…two minutes…one minute. Then he triumphantly stood up, and returning to the podium, he made his closing remarks to the audience. After speaking, he motioned to the front row of the vast lecture hall, where Dr. Joseph Parker was sitting, and invited him to respond to his dramatic rebuke of God. Joseph Parker slowly took his place behind the podium, and addressing the audience, he soundly refuted each of his opponent’s arguments. As he concluded, he turned to the learned atheist and graciously inquired, “And did the good gentleman think he could exhaust the patience, frustrate the grace, and thwart the infinite mercy of the eternal God in just five minutes?”
The Blessing of the Doctrine of the Eternity of God
If Robert Ingersoll would have known more of the eternity of God, he doubtless would have been humbled in His holy presence. And so is it also with us—those who have made the most progress in the spiritual life are those who have given greatly of themselves to know God. Those who have tasted of His infinite richness are those who have labored long in the school of the Attributes of God. Moreover, the God of the Scriptures loves to reveal Himself in terms of His divine attributes. To miss the importance of the divine attributes is to miss the revelation of God in all His glory. The Scriptures lay great weight upon the doctrine of the eternity of God. When God called Abram out of the ancient city of Ur and led him to a land from which would rise a great nation, it was there that God would reveal Himself to Abram. Near a well in the city of Beersheba God revealed Himself to Abram by the name “El Olam”, which means “the eternal God.” Some years later when Moses, dwelling in the backside of the desert, was commanded to return to Egypt to deliver the children of Israel from bondage, he asked, “Who shall I say sent me?” “And God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM; and He said, Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel , I AM has sent me to you” (Ex. 3:14). By this statement He expressed the self-sufficient, independent, and eternal existence of God. In the last book of the Bible, when the exalted Lord Jesus Christ gave the revelation of the “things which are and the things which shall be hereafter” to the apostle John on the isle of Patmos, He revealed himself by saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last…which is and was and is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8). Again, great emphasis is laid on the eternity of God.
The Importance of the Eternity of God
Have you ever taken the time to consider the importance of the truth that God is eternal? God is in control of every event of this life, despite the instability in this world, and the tragedies and trials that lie on every hand; and He has existed in eternity past and will exist in eternity to come. The Bible never tries to prove the existence of God or His origin, it simply assumes that He is and that He has always existed. As we open the Bible, we find these words simply stated, “In the beginning God…” (Gen. 1:1). He just is. And then it invites us to look at what He has done and what He will do. He existed before all else, and it was He that brought all things into existence. He is independent of any other being or cause. He is uncreated, unoriginated and without beginning or end. God is not bound by time, whether it be the successive unfolding of events, or time measured in minutes, hours, or days. There is no such thing as past, present, or future with God. He established time and can work within its framework, but He exists over and above it. He dwells in the eternal “present”. Isaiah counsels us to, “Remember the former things long past, for I am God and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done” (Isa. 46:9-10). Words depict, but cannot define, the immeasurable grandeur of the eternal God. A. W.Tozer describes the lofty nature of this divine attribute when he writes, “The mind looks backward in time till the dim past vanishes, then turns and looks into the future till thought and imagination collapse from exhaustion; and God is at both points, unaffected by either.” (1) The very thought of the eternity of God bows our hearts in humble worship. As the human mind seeks to grasp the endless existence of God against the backdrop of the vapor-like existence of man, one stands in awe and falls before Him in adoration. The hymn writer Charles Wesley has well written, “Glad thine attributes confess, glorious all and numberless”.
The Divine Attribute of the Eternity of God
To this discussion of the attributes of God we must add the self-sufficiency of God. Since God existed before time and space and before any created thing, He therefore is independent of all and sufficient in Himself alone. The proof for this fact is simply that He existed before anything else was in existence. This is not true of any other living thing. Every other thing is dependent upon other resources, such as water, food, and air for his very existence. This is not true of God. Indeed, if God was dependent upon anyone or thing, He would not be God. The apostle Paul used this very idea when proving the uniqueness of Christ above the idols of Athens, saying, “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life, breath, and all things” (Acts. 17:24-25). God does not need us, nor does He need our worship, our fellowship, or our service. He is complete in Himself without all of these. Yet in His love He has graciously planned to use us and to allow us to be part of His eternal plan. God does not need us, but we need Him. We are incomplete and unfulfilled apart from a personal relationship with Him. We find true significance and meaning in life only when we allow God to have the proper place in our lives. Since God possesses all things and desires to come into our lives and share all things with us, then it is in Him that we find all things that are needed to richly enjoy life. Paul stresses the richness of this truth when he writes, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete” (Col. 2:9). How foolish we are when we look to material things to satisfy the soul or this world’s entertainment to bring joy to the heart, when we can have all we need in Him, in whom we have been made complete. The Puritan sages have pointed out the importance of this truth in saying, “He who has everything in this world and Christ, has nothing more than he who has Christ alone.”
The Eternity of God and the Christian Life
The biblical truth of the eternity of God is a very practical doctrine when we grasp that we have been created for eternity, formed and framed to enjoy eternal blessings from the hand of the eternal One. When the Lord of glory breathed into the first parents the very breath of God, man was separated from animal, and the time-bound creature became an eternal soul. Do not misunderstand. We all will die, but we will not cease to exist. It is a solemn truth to consider; indeed, everyone who has ever lived will exist eternally, whether it be in heaven or in hell. Therefore, only that which we build into people’s souls, our own and others, will endure for eternity. Man strives to be remembered: politicians seek to have their names inscribed upon a bridge or building, athletes by the records they have broken, and businessmen by the financial empire they have established. But it is futile to live for things of this world. The Scriptures warn us that the world and all the works that are in it will be consumed by fire (2 Pet. 3:10). We, who are Christians, have something far better to live for than the temporal things of this world.
Living With Eternity in View
Therefore, the Christian must live his life with eternity in view. The moments we spend in the presence of “the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity”, are an investment toward “an entrance that shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:11). Earnest seasons of prayer spent before the throne of grace, crying out to God for the salvation of the souls of men, will yield an abundant eternal reward. Laboring in the gospel and pointing lost souls to the Saviour is a rich investment made upon earth which will only be fully realized in eternity. C. H. Mackintosh writes, “The only real life is to live in the light of eternity—to use all we possess for the promotion of God’s glory and with an eye to the everlasting mansions. This, and only this is life in earnest.” (2) Because God is eternal, then no endeavor on earth has higher priority than knowing Him and loving him, worshiping Him, and serving Him. The earnest follower of Christ would do well to keep the Christian maxim before him, “Only one life will soon be past; only what is done for Christ will last.” For the Scriptures declare : “The only Potentate, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen” (1 Tim. 6:16). “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisable, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim. 1:17).
1. A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, (New York, Harpers and Row, 1971), p. 45
2. As quoted in William MacDonald, True Discipleship, (Kansas City, KS, Walterick, 1975), p. 112