Continuity of Time and Eternity
by A. Wynne Acton
In the spiritual sense of the Word there is no idea of time - all is in the eternal present. That sense is not concerned with "the former things of old," or with "the things that are not yet done," for in it the past and the future are both together as a one in the present. God is ever present, and His Divine love is always, every least moment of time, fully and perfectly accomplishing His Divine purpose.
Nevertheless, while man lives on earth time is of prime importance. In our lives there is a beginning, a progression, and an apparent ending. Life itself is above the realm of time, but in this world there are fixed times and seasons, during which we are continually passing out of old states and entering into new ones. Thus man's life is both within the sphere of time and above it, and regular progressions of earthly times provide the opportunity of being prepared for eternal life.
In the letter of the Word both the spiritual and the natural idea of the eternal God are presented. On the one hand, we see Him as ever one and the same, continually establishing His counsel and accomplishing His will; on the other hand, the letter speaks of what God has done in the past, and of what He will do in the future. So it can speak of the "ancient times" and of "the things that are not yet done" as though they were quite distinct, and yet imply that they are one and the same. Likewise, when the Lord refers to Himself as "Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end; who is, and who was, and who is to come," He is using terms pertaining to time; and yet they clearly refer to the one unchanging, eternal God.
Both of these points of view - the temporal and the eternal - are necessary for man during his earthly life. While our spiritual mind can behold the continuity of our lives in relation to the eternal, the natural mind must concern itself with the temporal things of this earth. Only from this double viewpoint may we have a balanced perspective from which to regard the varying states and circumstances of our own lives, of the development of the world in which we live, and of the growth of the church.
Our regeneration consists in so regulating our temporal life, our day to day existence, that it may be brought into accord with the eternal purpose of God. To encourage us in this endeavor the Lord said, "Remember the former things of old." At the time these words were spoken, the former greatness of the Jewish Church under David and Solomon had dwindled, and the people seemed to be at the mercy of their more powerful neigh hors. In such straits the prophet admonishes them to recall how the Lord had fulfilled His promise to make the seed of Abraham into a mighty nation by miraculously delivering them from the powerful Egyptians, feeding and protecting them in the wilderness, and at length establishing them in the land of Canaan. In the days of adversity they were to recall the wonders of the Lord's past leading, and thus renew their confidence in the Divine leadership. Thus also must we be encouraged, in the time of doubt and trial, to strive against the adversity of the times and the many obstacles which beset our path, confident in the remembrance of His ever-present leadership.
Our text also directs our minds to the future - to the "things that are not yet done." After earnest reflection on the past, in which we shall have seen our many weaknesses and failures, we must look forward with fresh determination and hope to the new things which the Lord will create. We must allow the constantly present spiritual hope which the Lord inspires within all men to strengthen our steps in the way of eternal life. In this way do we use properly the regularly changing seasons and years of this world to receive a never changing spirit within.
In our constantly changing states we have need to recall that before God all things are present, that from His one end in creation we may have a central and controlling purpose in our lives - the reception of His eternal life, ever one and the same. Throughout our varying natural states this spiritual purpose must be present within, causing the apparently unrelated and diverse efforts of our worldly lives to be governed by an internal continuity. Although we are not consciously aware of this continuity and oneness of life, yet we know that it is so before the eternal God, whose counsels ever stand, and whose pleasure is ever done, in all ages and in all lands.
In thus looking to the eternal we are not to withdraw our minds from the idea of time on this earth, for the Word continually directs our attention to it - to the things that have been, and to those which will be. On the contrary, the temporal and passing things of our daily lives become of the greatest importance in the effect they are having upon our spirits, in the way that they are shaping what is eternal. Thus, from the eternal viewpoint, nothing in our lives is insignificant, for every least external is contributing its part to the continuity of the whole. Each new state that we enter is a result of what has been, and our development therein is the determining factor in what will be. Before the Lord all such states are a one, however diverse they may appear to us externally, and through them all He seeks to lead us to that dwelling-place in heaven for which He has created us.
Apart from our individual lives, it is of use to recall this oneness and continuity of life in a world in which all things seem to be in a constant state of change. However much external ways and customs change, nations and leaders come and go, wars and rumors of wars arise, we must realize that the Divine is accomplishing its purpose every least moment, by preserving those spiritual and natural conditions in which men may use their God-given faculties of rationality and freedom as means of building a heaven from the human race. Our natural concern about worldly developments will indeed remain, and it is right that this be so that we may do our duty as responsible citizens; but any feelings of deep anxiety and hopelessness are removed by the assurance that all things which the Lord permits to happen in a changing world are present before Him as one, and that He can direct them toward the fulfillment of His one end in creation.
The same is true in regard to our thought concerning the church and its progression. The establishment in His second advent of that eternal church which is to be the crown of all the churches was foreseen and pro vided for from first creation. It was present with the Divine before time commenced, but it could descend and be effective in the world only after man had been prepared by a long series of temporal developments. But since this eternal church was in the will of the Divine from creation, the evils and falsities of men could in no wise prevent its establishment when the time was ripe. It is the state of this church that is the end which the Lord declares from the beginning; declaring from ancient times the things that are not yet done. Surely we may receive great comfort in this thought, knowing certainly that if we do our part the Lord will provide for the establishment and progress of His church.
This end has now been accomplished in the full revelation of Himself in His Divine Human, and the men and women of the New Church are privileged to be invited to have this end fulfilled in themselves by bringing their lives into conformity with the Divine pattern now revealed. As individuals, and as a church, we shall have to go through many vicissitudes; our faltering faith will bring states of doubt, and our selfish loves will bring times of discouragement and temptation. Amid these temporal trials let us recall that God is eternal and that He sees our lives, and the development of His church, as one continuous whole - the past and the future being together in the present. Let, then, a full response to His Divine guidance be our constant intention and purpose - the inwardly integrating purpose of our lives; that He may direct all the temporal states through which we pass, from infancy to old age, as a continual preparation for the performance of our eternal use in His heavenly kingdom. And let us acknowledge, in the words of the Writings, that "the Lord every moment, and every fraction of a moment, regards the eternal in His foreseeing and providing everyone's place after death. This the Lord does because the entire future is to Him the present, and the entire present is to Him the eternal" (DP 333)
-New Church Life 1956;76:417-420