Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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February 2012  •  Volume XIII, Issue 22


The Eternal God (2)

Last time, we saw that God’s eternity is His being without beginning, without ending and without succession. God has a different relationship to time than we do (Ps. 90:4; II Peter 3:8), since God is before (and, hence, outside and above) time (I Cor. 2:7; II Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2), as the One who created time. Two texts from Hebrews especially prove this last point. Hebrews 1:2 asserts that God by Christ "made the worlds," literally "made the ages" and so time. Hebrews 11:3 states, "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God." "The worlds," here, are literally "the ages." God created not only a universe of space, as many texts teach, but also time, as Hebrews 1:2 and 11:3 affirm. We could say that Jehovah made a space-time universe.

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). God created the universe and with it He created time. So Genesis 1:1 records the beginning of space and the beginning of time. Time is a creature made by the Almighty. Therefore, there is no time (a creature) in God (the Creator), since everything that is in God is God, for God is perfectly one or simple. Jehovah is infinitely exalted above time, as the One infinitely exalted above all creatures.

Now let us consider one of Paul’s greatest doxologies: "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen" (I Tim. 1:17). "The King eternal," here, is literally "the King of ages" and, hence, the ruler of time. He is not subject to time. He is the sovereign king over time, creating time (as the One who preexisted it) and ruling over time in His providence and according to His eternal decree. Let us worship Him! "Now unto the King [of ages] ... be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen."

Moses, the author of Psalm 90, was the one to whom God revealed Himself on Mount Sinai as "I Am That I Am" (Ex. 3:14), the meaning of Jehovah. No creature can declare "I Am That I Am" for, before he finishes the sentence, he will not be what he was. Time passes in the very utterance so that a man or angel who pronounced these words would be older than he was before he spoke. You see, man, as a creature, is limited by time, the succession of moments. How unlike God we are! God can say, and says, "I Am That I Am" because there is an absolutely perfect identity between the first "I Am" and the second "I Am" in the sentence. For in God there is no time, no succession of moments. In Psalm 90, Moses holds, and is teaching, that God is without beginning and without ending (2) and without succession. After all, Jehovah (Ex. 3:14) is the divine name used in Psalm 90:13: "Return, O Lord, how long?"

The truth that God is without beginning, without ending and without succession is extremely important for several glorious truths about our covenant Father. The first divine attribute one could mention in this regard is God’s unchangeability. In the Most High, there is "no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). The Almighty declares, "I am the Lord [i.e., Jehovah], I change not" (Mal. 3:6). But if God were in time (as some standard outside Him), He would grow older with time. If time were in God, there would be a succession of moments in His Being. Thus, God would change for He would age. Only as One who is truly eternal (without beginning, without ending and without succession) can God be unchangeable.

God’s unity or oneness or simplicity is a second divine perfection that requires His eternity. God’s simplicity means that He is absolutely one in His Being. But if God were not without succession, then He could be divided into two: all of time past to the present and the present into endless time future. Moreover, each of these two parts could be "split" into many more parts! Only as eternal (without beginning, without ending and without succession) is God, and can God be, one or simple.

Third, God’s omniscience—His perfect knowledge of everything, instantly and without having to reason things out in stages in His mind—requires His eternity. If there were time or succession of moments in God, then time would be involved in His knowing and thus He would not be omniscient, knowing everything instantly.

Moving from God’s attributes to His Persons, we note that God’s eternity provides us with a simple way of proving the Deity of the Son and the Spirit. II Peter 3:8 alludes to Psalm 90:4 with reference to the Son: "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years." Christ Himself declared, "Before Abraham was, I am [not merely was]" (John 8:58). Being eternal, Jesus is God. The Holy Ghost is also God for He is called "the eternal Spirit" (Heb. 9:14). Since the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are eternal, there are three divine Persons in the one Godhead. As the Athanasian Creed puts it, "The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal." This is the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

God’s eternity is vital for the personal relationships within the Trinity. The Son is eternally begotten by the Father, and the Spirit is eternally breathed forth by the Father and the Son. But if there were time in God, then some time would have elapsed before the Father begat the Son and before the Father and the Son breathed forth the Spirit. Then the Father would be (slightly) older than the Son and the Son would be (slightly) older than the Spirit. This would be (at best) subordinationism in the Trinity! Indeed, Arius the heretic would be right: there was (a time) when the Son was not! However, the truth is that God is infinitely exalted above time and time is not in God. The Son is generated eternally and the Spirit proceeds eternally—outside and above time. Thus, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are fully co-eternal. Clearly, the classic view of divine eternity is necessary for the truth of God’s attributes and the Holy Trinity. It is in this light that we must understand the references to God’s eternity in our creeds, especially the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed and the Belgic Confession (e.g., Articles 1, 8-11). Let us admire and serve our eternal, timeless Triune God!  Rev. Stewart

Becoming All Things to All Men

"In my reading I came to Acts 21:26 and found it a bit puzzling why Paul should take a vow, particularly one that involved an offering (presumably not a bloody one)." The verse referred to by the questioner says, "Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them."

The context in which this passage is found is a rather interesting one and has prompted many to conclude that Paul severely compromised his theological position by engaging in the activities described in this passage. His position with regard to the keeping of Jewish law, as outlined in the letters to the Galatians and the Romans, is clear enough. Justification is by faith alone without the works of the law. This position seemed to be abandoned under the pressure of the many Jews in the church at Jerusalem. He, it is claimed, engaged in various activities that the law required.

So some conclude that, when confronted with the converted Jews in the church in Jerusalem who were still keeping various precepts of the law, and not willing to offend James and the elders of the church in Jerusalem, and frightened by the prospect of persecution (which came immediately after this event), Paul decided that the best course of conduct was to give in to the suggestion of the elders from the Jerusalem church and compromise the position he defined in his letter to the Galatians when he did battle with the Judaizers.

While admittedly this passage is not very easy to explain, one immediately senses that such conduct would have been wholly contrary to the character and commitment of the apostle. We have only to read what Paul endured on behalf of the gospel as recorded in II Corinthians 11 to know with certainty that, when the truth of the gospel was at stake, his courage never faltered and his willingness to suffer was never in doubt.

Yet we must explain the passage. The context describes Paul’s visit to Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey. He had with him the money that was collected in Asia Minor, Macedonia and Achaia for the poor saints in Jerusalem (I Cor. 16:1;  II Cor. 8-9). He undoubtedly turned this over to the deacons in the church in Jerusalem.

Large numbers of converts from the ancient Jewish religion had been brought to faith in Christ and were members of the Jerusalem church. Although they firmly believed that salvation was to be found only in the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross, they had difficulty, as did the apostles themselves (Acts 3:1; 10), in tearing themselves away from some of the traditions and practices of the law that had been observed for some 1,500 years. Some of these practices were still being observed by the Jewish converts, not because they believed that their salvation was dependent on them, but because they were part of the heritage of the Jews for such a long time.

Something similar can be found in the Orient. While among the unconverted the practice of visiting the graves of one’s ancestors to worship them is common practice, many of those who believe in Christ still visit the graves of their ancestors, not to worship, but as an act of respect by practicing the customs observed in their families. Many similar practices are retained in the celebration of the Chinese New Year among Christians, although the idolatrous aspects of the practices have been completely abandoned. All these things belong in the area of Christian liberty. My wife and I have joined in some of these practices with our fellow saints.

Ugly rumours had circulated among the Jewish Christians in the years Paul had been on the mission field. Whatever may have been the source of these rumours, their general claim was that Paul despised the laws of Moses and taught the Gentiles to do the same. This rumour was, of course, patently false. Paul had done nothing of the sort, but had insisted that the Jewish converts might not, as they did in Galatia, make the observance of them a condition for salvation.

To prove that these rumours were false, the elders in the church at Jerusalem suggested to Paul that he follow a certain course of conduct that was a Jewish practice. It was customary among Jewish converts to take upon themselves Nazarite vows: no strong drink, no cutting the hair or shaving, no touching of dead bodies (Num. 6). The vows were usually made for a definite length of time, and the reasons for taking them were varied.

Four men who had taken Nazarite vows were present in the church. They had fulfilled the days of their vows and were ready to have their heads shaved and to make the necessary sacrifices to demonstrate that their vows were fulfilled. But apparently they did not have the money for the sacrifices—further proof of the poverty of the Jerusalem church. The elders suggested that Paul identify himself with them, pay the costs of the sacrifices, and go with them to pay for and make the necessary sacrifices.

Paul himself did not take this vow that bound the four men to taking vows for one reason or another (cf. Acts 18:18). Nor did he have any objection to going through the process of being released from the vow, even though it involved seven days of purifying one’s self and making sacrifices. If such conduct would help bring about unity in the church of Jerusalem and quell the false rumours that circulated in the church, to engage in these activities in the area of Christian liberty was all for the good.

What we do not know, for the text is silent, are the answers to these questions: 1) Where did Paul obtain the money to pay for the sacrifices? 2) What kind of sacrifices had to be offered? As the questioner suggests, they were undoubtedly unbloody.

This is what Paul means in I Corinthians 9:20-23: "And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you."  Prof. Hanko

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