Eternity is one of the most solemn and heart searching subjects in the Bible. As creatures, we often think only of the things of time, but the Scriptures bring before us not just what lies beyond the present, but beyond even time itself. Eternity is a sobering thought, and one which we would all do well to ponder.
The subject is one which even the most intelligent can only take in a little. We have no mind to grasp it fully, and yet we must not neglect to consider the matter. Just as there is an extremity in the heavens above us which the most powerful telescope cannot penetrate, so there are heights and depths about the subject of eternity which mortal man can never comprehend. Yet we readily admit that we can learn something from the cosmos, even if we cannot learn everything. In the same way, there is something to be learned about eternity—and it becomes us to learn it, because God has taken the trouble to make it known to us. It would be folly to shut our minds to divine revelation. Astronomy is marked to a very great degree with imagination and speculation, but when we come to the subject of eternity these things have no place whatsoever. We must always approach it with the Bible in our hands. The moment we depart from God’s Word in considering eternity and the future state of man, then we are sure to fall into error. We must abandon all preconceived notions as to what we think God’s character ought to be, and our thoughts on what He should do with man after death. Our place is simply to bow to what is written. God is “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, and whose name is Holy” (Is. 57: 15), and, as such, His is the only voice that must be heard.
We live in a world where all things are temporary and passing away. Everything around us is decaying, dying, and coming to an end. Even you and I are passing. We are all in the departure lounge, whether eminent or unimportant, gentle or cruel, rich or poor, old or young. We are all going and will soon be gone. Beauty is only temporary. Sarah was once the fairest of women and the admiration of the court of Egypt, and yet a day came when even her husband said “give me a possession of a sepulchre with you, that I may bury my dead from before me” (Gen. 23: 4). Strength of the body is only temporary. David was once a mighty man of valour, the slayer of the lion and the bear, the champion of Israel against Goliath and yet a day came when even he had to be nursed and ministered to like a child (see 1 Kings 1: 1-4). Wisdom and power of the brain are only temporary. Solomon was once a marvel of knowledge, and the kings of the earth came to hear his wisdom, but in his latter days he played the fool and allowed his wives to turn away his heart after their gods (see 1 Kings 11: 2). Humbling and painful as these truths may sound, it is good for us to realize them and take them to heart. The houses we live in, the riches we accumulate, the professions we follow, the plans we formulate, the relationships we enter into—they are all only for a time. Oh that we might pay attention to the voice of Scripture: “The heaven and the earth shall pass away, but my words shall in no wise pass away … the fashion of this world passes … we look not at the things that are seen, but at the things that are not seen; for the things that are seen [are] for a time, but those that are not seen eternal …Thou in the beginning, Lord, hast founded the earth, and works of thy hands are the heavens. They shall perish, but thou continuest still; and they all shall grow old as a garment, and as a covering shalt thou roll them up” (Matt. 24: 35; 1 Cor. 7: 31; 2 Cor. 4: 18; Heb. 1: 10-12).
Eternity is the one thought that ought to awaken the conscience and search the heart of anyone who is living only for this world. Oh reader, be careful what you are doing! Awake to see things in their true light before it is too late! The things you live for now are all temporary and passing away. The pleasures, the recreations, the profits and the earthly callings which now absorb your heart and mind will soon be over. They are poor fleeting things that cannot last. You cannot keep them, and you must leave them, for we “brought nothing into this world” and “neither can we carry anything out” (1 Tim. 6: 7). What says the Word of God? “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6: 20) and “seek the things [which are] above, where the Christ is” (Col. 3: 1, 2). Never forget that “the world is passing, and its lust, but he that does the will of God abides for eternity” (1 John 2: 17).
The very same things ought to cheer and comfort every true Christian. Your trials, crosses, and conflicts are all temporary. They will soon come to an end, and even now they are working for you “in surpassing measure an eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4: 17). Receive your affliction patiently, bear it quietly and look upward, forward, onward, and far beyond the troubles of this scene. Fight the good fight under a steadfast conviction that it is only for a little while and that your rest is not far off. Carry your daily cross, while always remembering that “the things that are seen [are] for a time” (2 Cor. 4: 18). The cross will soon be exchanged for a crown, and you will sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God.
Without exception, we are all moving towards a world where everything is eternal. That great unseen state of existence which lies beyond this life is unending. Whether it is happy or miserable, whether it is a condition of joy or sorrow, we know that in one respect it will be utterly unlike anything in this world—it will be forever. There will be no change and decay, no end, no goodbye, no morning and evening, no alteration, and no annihilation. Whatever there is beyond the present scene, when the last trumpet has sounded and the dead are raised, will be endless, everlasting, and eternal for “the things that are not seen” are “eternal” (2 Cor. 4: 18).
We cannot fully comprehend this condition. The contrast between now and then and between this world and the next, is so very great that our feeble minds cannot grasp it all. Yet how we live our lives in this world brings consequences in the next that are so momentous that they almost take away our breath, and we shrink back from looking at them. And yet, God, in His grace, has told us all we need to know about eternity, and for our own peace, safety and happiness it is incumbent on us to listen to what He has to say. Scientists, philosophers, and religious teachers can add nothing of value to the divine revelation in our hands.
For one thing, let settle it in our minds that the future happiness of those who are saved is eternal. However little we may understand it, divine blessing is something that will have no end. It will never cease, never grow old, never decay, and never die. “Thou wilt make known to me the path of life: thy countenance is fulness of joy; at thy right hand are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11). Once they arrive in paradise, the saints of God will never leave. Their inheritance is “incorruptible and undefiled and unfading” (1 Pet. 1: 4). Their warfare is finished, their fight is over and their work is done. Never again will they hunger and never again will they thirst. They are not there yet, but they are travelling on towards an eternal glory that far outweighs all their struggles here, journeying towards a home which will never be broken up, a meeting without a parting, a family gathering without a separation, and a day without night. Faith will be swallowed up in sight, and hope in possession. They will see as they have been seen, and know as they have been known, and “shall be always with [the] Lord”. We are hardly surprised when the apostle Paul adds “So encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4: 17, 18).
Let us also settle it in our minds that the future misery of those who are lost is also eternal. I am aware that this is an awful truth, and flesh and blood naturally recoil from the contemplation of it, but I am one of those who believe it is clearly revealed in Scripture, so I dare not keep it back from souls. To my eyes eternal future happiness and eternal future misery must stand side by side. I fail to see how you can distinguish the duration of the one from the duration of the other. If the joy of the believer is forever, then the sorrow of the unbeliever is also forever. If heaven is eternal, then so is hell. I cannot reconcile the concept of a temporal punishment with the language of the Bible. The advocates of the theory talk loudly about love and kindness, and say that eternal damnation does not harmonize with the merciful and compassionate character of God, but what do the Scriptures say? Whoever spoke such loving and merciful words as the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet whose are the lips which three times over describe hell as where the fire is “unquenchable” and the “worm dies not” (Mark. 9: 43–48)? Who is unacquainted with Paul’s words about love in 1 Cor. 13, and yet he is the very Apostle who says that “those who do not obey the glad tidings of our Lord Jesus Christ ... shall pay the penalty [of] everlasting destruction from [the] presence of the Lord” (2 Thess. 1: 8, 9). Love again, is a thread that runs all through all John’s Gospel and Epistles, and yet he also speaks explicitly of the reality and eternity of future agony (see Rev. 20: 10–15). What will we say to all these things? Will we be wiser than that which is written? Will we allow the dangerous principle that words in Scripture do not mean what they appear to mean? Is it not far better to put our hands over our mouths and say, ‘Whatever God has written must be true’, that “Yea, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous [are] thy judgments” (Rev. 16: 7)?
Let us distinctly understand that every blow struck at the doctrine of eternal punishment is an equally heavy blow to the eternity of heaven’s bliss. It is impossible to separate the two things. No ingenious theological definition can divide them. They stand or fall together. The same language is used, the same figures of speech are employed. If we take away the fear of an eternal hell from sinners, then we also remove the joy of an eternal heaven from believers. We must not be wise above that which is written. No love of liberality, so–called, must induce us to reject anything that God has revealed about eternity. Men sometimes talk exclusively about God’s mercy, love and compassion as if He had no other attributes, and leave out His holiness, His purity, His justice and His hatred of sin. Let us beware of falling into such a delusion. Low and inadequate views of the absolute vileness of sin, and of the indescribable purity of the eternal God, are fertile sources of error about man’s future state. Let us think about the mighty Being with whom we have to do: “Jehovah, Jehovah God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy unto thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but ...” (and there is a ‘but’) “by no means clearing [the guilty]” (Exod. 34: 6, 7, my emphasis). Again, “Jehovah is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great loving–kindness. Jehovah is good to all; and his tender mercies are over all his works ... Jehovah upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all that are bowed down ... Jehovah is righteous in all his ways, and kind in all his works. Jehovah is nigh unto all that call upon him, unto all that call upon him in truth. He fulfilleth the desire of them that fear him; he heareth their cry, and saveth them. Jehovah keepeth all that love him”. Nothing can exceed the mercifulness of this language! But what a striking fact it is that the passage goes on to add the solemn conclusion “and all the wicked will He will destroy” (Ps. 145: 8, 9, 14, 17–20)!
How great is the contrast between our lives down here and the unseen world of eternity! The life that we live on the earth is short and soon gone. “We spend our years as a [passing] thought … What [is] your life? It is even a vapour, appearing for a little while, and then disappearing” (Ps. 90: 9; James 4: 14). Lying before us when we leave this world is an endless eternity, a sea without a bottom, and an ocean without a shore. “One day with [the] Lord [is] as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet. 3: 8). In that world there will be no more time. But short as our life is here, and endless as it will be in eternity, the life we now live will have a tremendous impact on eternity: our future state depends entirely then on what we are in the present. It is written, God will “render to each according to his works: to them who, in patient continuance of good works, seek for glory and honour and incorruptibility, life eternal. But to those that are contentious, and are disobedient to the truth, but obey unrighteousness, [there shall be] wrath and indignation, tribulation and distress, on every soul of man that works evil … but glory and honour and peace to every one that works good” (Rom. 2: 6–10). In case any should think that the apostle is teaching salvation by works, pass on a few verses to where he speaks about the natural state of man: “there is not one that practises goodness, there is not so much as one” (Rom. 3: 12). No, it is only those that have been born again and are obedient to the truth who can ever practise goodness in the eyes of God. Thus if we are not saved in this world, we shall not be saved in the next, and if we are lost in time, we shall be lost in eternity. How vital these matters are—and how pressing! Life is short and very uncertain. None of us knows what a day may bring forth. Business and pleasure, making and spending money, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage—all these will soon be over and done with forever. What then, O traveller to that eternal world, are you doing for your immortal soul? Are you prepared to meet God?
Let me speak more particularly to those of my readers who are believers. How much attention do you pay to spiritual matters? I ask, because if we profess to believe in eternal blessing with Christ, then we ought to live out our profession. We are to be growing now “in grace, and in [the] knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3: 18) for there will no growth in the hereafter. Paul says, “Be not deceived: God is not mocked; for whatever a man shall sow, that also shall he reap. For he that sows to his own flesh, shall reap corruption from the flesh; but he that sows to the Spirit, from the Spirit shall reap eternal life: but let us not lose heart in doing good; for in due time, if we do not faint, we shall reap” (Gal. 6: 7–9). We need to remember this and make good use of our time, because once it is gone it is gone forever. Hunger and thirst after the things of God, for eternity will be filled with them, and contain none of the worthless trivialities of this present life. Flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. Beware of mere formality in your Christianity, and never allow divine things to be thoughtlessly treated or lightly and irreverently handled. Read your Bible in the conscious knowledge that it the most important thing you will ever read. Harbour no grudges with God’s people, and settle matters of dispute in love and in righteousness while you have time, knowing that the judgment seat of Christ hastens on. Treat every gathering of God’s people as if it were the last, for they are only “until he come” (1 Cor. 11: 26)—let sleepy Bible–readings and perfunctory prayer meetings be no more! The bridegroom cometh, let us go forth to meet him! Remember that we are but strangers and pilgrims here, and that we are journeying to an eternal world. All else must be secondary.
One final thought. Does the concept of eternity sit easy with you? Does it fill you with fear and trepidation—or joyful anticipation? The believer has Christ, and has life. He can look around at the temporary things and see change and decay everywhere and yet have no fear. He has got treasure in heaven, “where neither moth nor rust spoils, and where thieves do not dig through nor steal” (Matt. 6: 20). He can look forward to the eternal things and feel calm and composed. His Saviour has died and risen for him, and has prepared a place for him in the Father’s house. When he leaves this world he will have a crown of glory, and be forever with his Lord. O I do hope that this is your portion in eternity too!