THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE BIBLICAL HISTORICAL
THE PRE-CREATION ETERNITY
" The sense which one ran fathom is not the sense."
God is the one, eternal, absolute Spirit (John 4: 24). Spirituality, unity, and eternity are of the very essence of His being, and He Himself is the sum of all highest, most perfect life. But as such He is at the same time the most real of all realities, self-determining Ego, conscious Personality, indeed, eternal super-personality, and all finite attempts by the human intellect to explain His infinite being are eternally vain.
Therefore "proofs" of the existence of God cannot be given. The Scripture itself never once attempts it. For the idea of God transcends all human means of thought, and the mere attempt of a dust-begotten creature even to wish to "demonstrate ' God (!!) is nothing else than a childish over-estimate of self, yea, the boundless presumption of small-mindedness and morbid delusion. God as God is the eternal and infinite, and as such can never be the thought-problem of human mole-like speculation.
Nevertheless the so-called "proofs " of God have a value not to be underestimated. Even for Kant the teleological and the moral evidence had significance. They prove that faith in God is consonant with reason, and make the visible world a witness and symbol of the eternal. They compel the thoughtful mind to a final unavoidable alternative: Either our thinking rests on an unescapable chimera, or God exists, and then our thought is the expression of an unconditioned all-embracing reality.
God must exist: this is the testimony of universal Nature:
as the Cause of all, thc primal basis of the world: this belief is required when we look into the past, and inquire as to the origin, the "whence" of all existence. This is the "cosmological" proof of God (Aristotle, Cicero, Leibnitz, Schleiermacher).
as the world's Master-Builder, of consummate artistic skill and beauty: this belief is required when we look into the present and recognize the order, the "how" of all existence (Rom. 1:20; Psa.104:24; 94:9). This is the "physico-theological" proof of God (Socrates, Aristotle, Leibnitz, Wolff).
as the One Whose plans give purpose and goal to the world: this belief is required when we look into the future and inquire as to the meaning, the "whither" of all existence. This is the "teleological" proof of God (Socrates, Plato, Philo, the Scholastics). telos (Greek) = goal.
God must exist: this is the testimony of the human soul:
as the highest conception of thc understanding-for how indeed could the highest of thoughts be unreal? This is the "ontological " proof of God (Anselm).
as the supreme Lawgiver to the will (or conscience)-for how can the moral law have come into being without a legislator? This is the "moral" proof (Kant).
as the only Giver of full happiness to the emotions-for why does the soul find no rest till it rests in God? This is the "psychological" proof (Tertullian, Augustine, Schleiermacher).
Thus all things on earth witness to His existence: the world without and the world within us, the outer and the inner man. Without Him the world is only an "all-devouring grave" an "eternal cud-chewing monster," a giant organism, which down to the smallest and minutest details is, indeed, regulated with exactness and with a purpose, but in its vastness and totality has as its very motto that it is without goal and without purpose. Without Him all value in the world is only unreal fancy, and the basis of all that is full of meaning is for ever that which is without meaning. No; in view of the existence of unsearchable wisdom in the entire universe the unbelief that denies God is only a phrase devoid of thought, a brainless, dull-minded stupidity. Only "the fools say in their heart: There is no God" (Psa. 14:1).
God is love (I John 4:16). Love is the deepest element of His life, the innermost fount out of which His nature eternally flows forth, the creative centre that begets all His working and ruling.
But love is a trinity. Augustine has said: "If God is love, then there must be in Him a lover, a Beloved, and a Spirit of love; for no love is conceivable without a Lover and a Beloved." Now in men there may be a love-bond in which a duality of persons -and in that duality precisely-finds its satisfaction; but nevertheless the conception of love itself always involves a trinity: because
it always proceeds from the Lover:
it always moves toward the Beloved:
it always intertwines the two together through the common Spirit of Union;
"Where love is there is trinity" (Ubi amor, ibi trinitas: Augustine).
Thus far human thought can grope its way. But the fact that three persons of the Godhead actually correspond to these three fundamental conceptions of thc idea of God, this only the revelation of the eternal God Himself can make known. "The Father is the One out of Himself existing, the Son is the One to Himself attaining, and the Spirit the One in Himself moving God." The Father is the Lover, the Son the Beloved, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Love.
Three divine Persons and yet one God: the Son, by nature equal with the Father and yet voluntarily subordinate to Him (I Cor. 15:28), Cause of all causes and yet Himself uncaused- truly here are mysteries upon mysteries. Here the finite spirit stands for ever before the riddle of the infinite. Even in endless eternity finite thought, conditioned by space and time, never can attain to the sphere of God beyond space and time. For like can be discerned only by like and thus God only by God.
This divine mystery is one revealed by stages in the sacred history. First God revealed His unity, and this in express contrast to the polytheistic environment and polytheistic inclinations of the Old Testament covenant people (e.g. Ex. 20:1, 2; Isa. 45: 5, 6). Only after the lapse of centuries, when faith in the unity of God could no more be uprooted in Israel (which came to pass six centuries B.C. through the captivity in Babylon, after which polytheism was no more a temptation to Israel) God revealed in the new covenant the plurality in the unity. For is Jesus of Nazareth more than a prophet, is He in His nature God, then here a Divine duality reveals ttself; and is the Spirit of God not merely a force but a Divine Person, then here the Divine tri-unity reveals itself.
In the New Testament this tri-unity stands forth for the first time at the baptism of Jesus (Matt. 3: 16, 17), and then especially in the Great Commission and the command to baptize (Matt. 28: 19). Hence also the many "trinitarian" passages in the New Testament (e.g. II Cor. 13: 1,; I Pet. 1:2; II Thess. 2: 13, 14; Eph. 2: 18-22; Heb. 9: 14). The word "trinity" (tri-unity is better than trinity) is indeed not in the Scripture, but the fact is, as is shown in the foregoing. All philosophical speculations concerning the content of "the trinitarian problem" are, however, to no purpose and mostly from an evil source. (Consider the Trinitarian controversies of the fourth to sixth centuries. Arius).
What did God do before the foundation of the world?
This question has received very different answers. Some have simply declared it to be unjustified (Luther); others have attempted to explain it philosophically (Origen). The Bible takes a middle course, in that it at the same time conceals and reveals, and with divine condescension clothes its information as to the eternal and super-temporal matters in the form of thoughts from the realm of creation and space (e.g. Isa. 43: l0).
For God Himself as the eternal there is no limit of time, no sequence of "before" and "after." He surveys all times at once, and therefore to Him the world in all its extensions is already eternally present. His creative word did indeed give to it its temporal, historical beginning, but in His thought it was already present from eternity, without a beginning and timeless. But of this organic connexion of eternity and time, as generally of God's whole thinking, no creature is able to form any conception.
In this sense the Bible gives a sevenfold answer to the question as to what God did prior to the foundation of the world.
i. Before the foundation of the whole universe God had been in eternal loving intercourse with His Son. Already " before His works of old" He possessed the eternal "Wisdom" (Prov. 8: 22, 23), the "Word" which later appeared in Christ (John 1: 14). Thus, "in the beginning," this Word was already "with God," present eternally with Him in the intercourse of a mutually responsive fellowship 1(John 1:2). And the Father loved the Son, who afterwards testified on earth, "Thou lovedst me before the foundation 2of the world" (John 17: 24). "And now glorify thou me, Father, with thyself, with the glory which I possessed with thee before the world was" (John 17:5). So then the Son was with the Father
the eternal Word (John 1: 1,2),
the eternal Wisdom (Prov. 8: 22, 23),
the eternally Beloved (John 17: 24),
the eternally Glorious (John 17:5).
1Schon damals "im Anfang" war dieses Wort "zu Gott bin," stand ewig mit ihm in hinstrebendem Gemeinschaftsverkehr(John 1:1). English, usually equal to any demand, cannot here give the full force by any literal translation. The German "zu Gott bin" and "hinstrebendem" gives the force of the Greek accusative with pros(pros ton Theon) in this passage, that is motion towards an object: the Father and the Son, in the whole mental and moral being of thought and affection, ever moving towards each other in the activity of Deity. Westcott's note is valuable. Of the pros in verse 1 he says: "The idea conveyed is of being(in some sense)directed towards and regulated by that with which the relation is fixed (John 5:19). The personal being of the Word was realized in active intercourse with and in perfect comunion with God....This life...was realized in the intercommunion of the divine Persons when time was not." English expresses the same idea of moral motion in such a phrase as "I was drawn to him". (Trans.)
2Thoroughly false is the translation "downfall" sometimes offered of the Greek word katabolee, used here and in ten other places. The word in question never has this meaning in the Greek language. The proper meaning is "The laying down of the foundations, founding, establishing" (comp. II Macc. 2: 29; Heb. 6:1; Josephus, Porphyry, Polybius, Plutarch). The sense of the word has nothing to do with the happenings in gen. 1:2.
ii. Before the foundation of the earth-world God had created the angels and the stars. Therefore He says to insignificant man: "Where wast thou when I founded the earth? . . . Who has laid its corner stone, when the morning stars shouted for joy all together and all God's sons exulted?"(Job 38: 4, 7; comp. 1: 6; 2:1).
iii. Before the foundation of the world God settled the counsel of salvation for the individual. Therefore before the beginning of the world He already wrote their names in the Lamb's book of life (Rev. 13: 8; 17: 8); indeed, prior to all creation He had appointed them in love unto sonship and holiness (Eph. 1:4,5). But therewith "before all time" He also promised them life (Tit. 1:2), and therefore, from the standpoint of God as above time, His grace is thus given to us "before the times of the ages" (II Tim. 1:9).
iv. Before the foundation of the world God conceived the counsel of salvation for the church. Already from eternity that amazing structure the "body" was determined by the Redeemer. Therefore " from before the ages " the Christ-mystery was already hidden in God "that those of the nations should be fellow-heirs and fellow-members of the body and fellow-partakers in Christ Jesus of His promise through the gospel" (Eph. 3: 9, 6).
v. From the foundation of the world God had prepared the kingdom for His own. Therefore will the King say one day to those on His right hand, "Inherit the kingdom which is prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 25: 34), and therefore is the hidden wisdom of the mystery already "before the ages" appointed to our glory (I Cor. 2: 7).
vi. Before the foundation of the world God had appointed His Son to be the Mediator of the pre-determined counsel of salvation. The Son is the Lamb, without blemish or fault, before-known, prior to the foundation of the world being laid (I Pet. 1:20).
Christ is the Mediator of world-creation: "for in him has everything been created which is in the heaven and on the earth" (Col. 1:16; Rev. 3: 14; John 7: 3)
Christ is the Meditator of world preservation: for " He upholds the all through his almighty Word." (Heb. 1: 3; Col.1: 17).
Christ is the Mediator of world-redemption: for "it was the good pleasure of the whole fulness to dwell in him and through him to reconcile all things unto himself." (Col.1: 19, 20; Eph. 3: 11; 1:4; Heb. 1:2; I Pet. 1: 20).
Christ is the Lord of world-judgment: for "the Father has committed all judgment unto the Son" (John 5:22).
vii. But from eternity the Son was willing to carry out the work of redemption. Therefore His later death on the cross was an offering of Himself to God "through the eternal Spirit" (Heb. 9: 14), that is, through His eternal Spirit through which Christ performed all His other works also, and in which finally He presented Himself to the Father, in obedience unto death, which death, although carried out in time, is nevertheless an act above time.
So behind all the course of time, there stand eternal realities. Endlessness flows into time, even as time shall at last flow again into eternity. Thus, according to the eternal plan, the Father chose the Son in advance as the Redeemer, and determined to "send" Him into the world which was to be saved as the highest, inexpressible "gift" John 3: 16; II Cor. 9: 15); and at the same time, and according to the same eternal plan, He appointed to Him, as the Mediator of the salvation, the host of the redeemed as His "inheritance" (Psa. 2: 8).
Thus the Son became the gift of the Father to the world, and the world, so far as it is redeemed, became the pre-temporal gift of the Father to the Son (John 17: 6, 9, 24). Therefore, also, could the Son, in His high priestly prayer, designate those who, at the time He was on earth, had not yet been born again, but who should later come to believe, as those whom the Father had then already given to Him (John 17: 24; comp. 20), and Paul could say, "Whom He justified them he also glorified" (Rom. 8 30).
The historical unfolding of this eternal decree of redemption, thus conceived in God, becomes in time the covenants and testaments of God with mankind; of which the goal is the "eternal covenant" which the blood of God's Son has dedicated (Heb. 13:20). "Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me may be with me where I am." (John 17: 24.)
But all these mighty words stand in the Scripture not for the satisfaction of curious inquisitiveness, nor even only for the intellectual completion of our picture of the history of the world's salvation, but in order to show us the greatness of the Divine love. Even before all the ages of time the Highest concerned Himself with your glory and with mine. Before the sea raged and swelled, before the earth was built or its foundations were sunk, yea, before those morning stars exulted and those sons of God shouted for joy, God, the Almighty, even then had thoughts on me. On me, the worm of the earth, who have given Him so much trouble and labour with all my sins; on me, He Who is God, the Ancient of days. Truly these are depths not to be fathomed, and which the heart of every man despairs .of being able to describe in words. Here we can only bow and worship, and lay our life at the feet of Him, the All-loving.
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