Understanding The Bible
Complete Original Text of "Dispensationalism Made Simple" by Clarence E. Mason
Copyright permission of this original 1979 version has been granted by the family of the late Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr., with special thanks to Elizabeth (Mason) Givens. An updated version is in print and available through :
Word Of Life Fellowship,
Inc., Schroon Lake, NY
cover and copyright information - 1976
Take A Lamb To Church Last Sunday?
Mason, Jr., B.A., Th. M., D. D.
Fond Memory - 1976
TABLE OF CONTENTS
|DISPENSAIONALISM MADE SIMPLE|
|TWO BASIC PRINCIPLES|
|WHO “INVENTED” DISPENSATIONALISM?|
|TWO FALLACIOUS ACCUSATIONS|
|THE STAIRSTEP CHART|
|WHAT IS A DISPENSATION?|
|EVALUATION AND DISCUSSION OF THESE DEFINITIONS|
|NOW, TWO HELPFUL SOLUTIONS|
|FINALLY, TWO ILLUSTRATIONS|
DISPENSATIONALISM MADE SIMPLE
Did you take a lamb to church with you last Sunday? Did you see anyone else with a lamb? Well, if anyone did NOT take a lamb to church, he is a dispensationalist whether he knows it or not! This is the simplest proof of dispensationalism.
Our forefathers in the early church wrote much about a time of great tribulation, about satanic monsters (which they usually called antichrists), and about the personal return of our Lord Jesus Christ to this earth with attendant, marvelous results. But they did not codify their views. They had too much else on their minds, chiefly getting out the gospel. For another thing, they were to busy dying to draw dispensational charts!
One of the most amazing situations in all church history of doctrine is the stubborn persistence and almost frantic fear with which large groups of Christendom in the present day view dispensationalism. This runs all the way, from suspicion that something is wrong with us, to extreme, loud-mouthed, and unreasoning rejection of our position. A few years ago (1957) I reviewed (for Dallas Seminary’s Bibliotheca Sacra) the fantastic claim of Professor John Wick Bowman that of the many heresies confronting the church today, the most dangerous heresy was dispensationalism, more so than Jehovah’s Witness, Christian Science, or the occult – to name a few. This writer is no obscurantist from Peckerwood Creek or Horsehollow Junction making these categorical accusations. One might pass that off as uninformed ignorance. But Bowman had carefully studied the Scofield Bible and eruditely rejected it. Only this March (1974) another able scholar (Vos) classified us dispensationalists with subtle teachers of error in his article in a religious journal. Typical also is the following quote from another writer (Kuiper):
“It would have warmed the cockles of the heart of any Christian Reformed minister to hear how closely these candidates for ordination were questioned about two errors which are extremely prevalent among American fundamentalists, namely Arminianism and the Dispensatoinalism of the Scofield Bible. The Assembly wanted to make sure that their prospective members were not tainted with such anti-reformed heresies (italics mine).”
This is not simply regrettable. It is inexcusable and mendacious in the case of scholars. Certainly each of us can and must answer to God for views of Scripture, but to label Bible-exalting and Bible-believing men as heretics is beyond the pale of legitimate debate.
The fact that makes the whole thing strange is that every major doctrinal family of Christendom is on record creedally as believing in the two basic principles upon which dispensationalism rests, namely
As to the first of these, certainly no group is so foolish as to urge that all truth was put in Adam’s stewardship, or announced through Abraham or even Moses. Indeed, even a superficial reading of the Gospels emphasizes that our Lord Jesus Christ made no bones about the fact that He had added to, but by no means completed, the revelation of God. Witness Christ’s own words on the night before the crucifixion, at the very close of His ministry, as recorded in John 16:12-15 (freely rendered):
"I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them NOW, Nevertheless, when He the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all the truth; for He shall not speak out from Himself (as the Source), but whatever He shall hear (from Me, the risen Lord) THAT shall He convey to you; and He shall show you things to come. He shall glorify me; for He shall receive revelation from Me and pass it on to you. All things that the Father hath are Mine; therefore, said I, that He shall take of Mine and shall display them to you."
Plainly, our Lord is speaking about the same thing as Luke is saying by the Holy Spirit in Acts 1:1, where he says, in essence:
"The Lord is not dead. He is very much alive. And, as I wrote in the Gospel bearing my name of all that Jesus BEGAN to do and to teach, I am now in this book (of Acts) going to tell you about what the Risen Lord has continued to do in these 'Doings of our Lord by the Holy Spirit through His apostles.' And I am alerting you that the Risen Lord, who began His expanded revelation during His earthly ministry, is CONTINUING to TEACH by the Holy Spirit through the apostles in the epistles and the book of Revelation, as He promised in the Upper Room Discourse" (John 16:12-17).
Implicit in these words is our
Lord's announcement and pre-authentication of a substantial body of truth that
EVEN He had not thus far revealed in His earthly career. Hence, truth is an
EXPANDING revelation from era to era until the Scriptures are completed.
This very fact establishes the second of these principles upon which dispensationalism and all the creeds of Christendom rest, namely, the eras vary precisely because there IS an expanding revelation which requires the recognition that truth is NOT static but dynamic, not "a fountain sealed," but springs of water flowing out to a thirsty world!
First, consider this fact pragmatically. Let us draw the earth-time line and observe God's expanded revelation. For a starter, does anyone feel that things were the same after Adam sinned as they were before he sinned?
Even the Westminster Confession, the 39 Articles of the Church of England, and the Lutheran Augsburg Confession labor this point. Are we not incontrovertibly observing a vast transition which requires a new era of God's dealings with man? Dr. Alva McClain, one of the early teachers in Philadelphia College of Bible and founder of Grace Seminary, has given us the best explanation I have heard about this change of dispensation due to the fall. Hear him:
"Man sinned by entering the realm of moral experience by the wrong door, when he could have entered it by doing right. So man became as God through a personal experience of the difference between good and evil, but unlike God in gaining this experience by choosing the wrong instead of the right." (New Scofield Bible note on Gen. 3:7)
Thus, this marked a major transition in the career of mankind, "a transition from theoretical to experiential knowledge of good and evil." Man was never the same after that. A great pivot of history has occurred. Certainly no Bible believer could or would deny this. It is a fact - a demonstrable fact. Man is now under a further and new stewardship of light with its attendant responsibility. Things are different - immensely different!
Second, by the same token, look at the other end of the spectrum, as per this chart:
No one would deny that there is another major change, inherent in the transition from time to eternity, regardless of just which view he may hold as to the name of the era or the condition of man in the last era of time before the transition into eternity.
Third, let us look at the flood:
Again, there is indubitably a vast difference between the condition of man before the flood, when God put a mark on Cain lest any man should slay him, and the condition of things after the flood, when God categorically commanded that the sanctity of human life (as a gift from Him) must be guarded and defended by the dictum that "whoso sheddeth man's blood, by mankind (i.e. society corporately) shall that murderer's blood be shed." Here we have an absolutely new thing: plainly the institution of capital punishment with man acting at God's command and as God's agent in this new era.
Fourth, now look at the transition which is brought about by the return of our Lord Jesus Christ which, according to us millennialists, will be preluded by flaming judgment on international gangsters, leading to His institution of the 1000 year reign. Earth's Golden Age. All millennialists agree there will be a vast change between the Tribulation and the Millennium:
Fifth, swinging the pendulum of time backward again and pursuing the matter further, the call of God to Abram, accompanied by significant covenant promises to him and his seed, not to mention that awesome occasion when God came down to quaking Sinai and with stentorian trumpet tones announced His holiness, both add dimensions to truth never before revealed:
Sixth, the Letter to the Hebrews labors the differences between the era before the death and resurrection of Christ and the era brought about by His ascension and present ministry at the right hand of His Father's throne (not His own. Rev. 3:21). Year by year, there had been continual remembrance of sin by those Divinely ordained but temporary and non-conclusive sacrifices, which could atone (cover) but never "take away sins"- sacrifices that looked forward typically to that "once for all sacrifice" of Christ which could and did "take away" sin. "Observe chart 6:
Seventh, finally, to those who accept our Lord's own prophecy that there will be a period of Great Tribulation, unique in history, another dramatic transition is implicit in those terrifying events when the bulk of mankind moves out of the Church Age into Tribulation horrors at the return of Christ to the air to call away His true Church - His blood-bought bride - from the earth, when He shall say "Arise my love, my fair one, and come away":
In the light of the transitions cited above, it will be seen that the conception that the only major transition in man's history is to be found in the "before Christ" and "after Christ" contrasts of the Letter to the Hebrews is both naively unscriptural and logically unscholarly. Yet, in large measure, this is the posture of the world of Reformed Faith exponents, who set themselves up as the scandalized opponents of us poor, illiterate, misguided, dangerous radicals who have never read anything except Scofield notes, instead of recognizing us for what we are -honest, earnest, qualified Bible expositors who accept dispensationalism as the key, the only correct and proper key, to accurate biblical interpretation.
But, as Ryrie points out in Dispensationalism Today, it comes as a distinct shock to a great many - particularly in professors' chairs in colleges and seminaries - that anyone bright enough to earn a graduate degree could be stupid enough to succumb to dispensationalism. Indeed, many like Ladd say, orally and in print, essentially this: "In the days of my ignorant childhood, I heard my pastor espouse dispensationalism, and it sounded sensible; but when I became a man, I put away childish things."
Yet, if one simply puts in a series the perfectly obvious changes of eras delineated above, he would come up with a minimum of six or a maximum of eight ages in which the truth of God was expanded by further revelation and activity on God's part. Look at this chart, coordinating the usual Scofield position with the contrasts discussed previously in this study:
The easy recognition of transition sequences seems perfectly factual and natural as one goes through the Bible. Yet much has been written to suggest that Scofield concocted some sinister system after his conversion as a 36 year old drunken lawyer. The more knowing suggest he got his scheme from a friendly St. Louis pastor who helped him get started in the Christian life (James H. Brookes). But sophisticated opponents, like Talmage Wilson, claim that the whole idea can be traced back to that horny-headed Plymouth brother eccentric named John N. Darby. The latest libel fostered by MacPherson and a handful of others audaciously claims that Darby got some of his ideas, like the pretribulation rapture of the church, from an erratic, 17 year old girl tongues speaker in the Irvingite movement in England.
It is strange indeed, that "scholars" (in quotes) should be so careless with historical fact that they will keep on announcing, categorically, charges like these as though they were gospel truth. Actually, a casual examination of the last chart will demonstrate a very obvious and natural trip through the Scriptures, recognizing the Divinely announced transitions from one era to the other as inherent in God's expanding of His revelation to man.
Rather than one "inventor" of dispensationalism, a study of the matter will show that MANY men have, through the centuries, in their study of the Bible sponsored these ideas as being the way God did it. Their terminology may have varied, but the basic principles were amazingly close to each other.
For instance, Augustine kept working on these matters and came up with something that sounds clearly like our view of a succession of ages, before he painted himself into a corner by following the old Jewish rabbis well-intended, pious, but unscriptural Septa-Millenary theory, which was never received by Christ or the apostles. (That fantasy was that the world would run 6000 years, corresponding to the six days of creation, followed by the final 1000 year Kingdom Age, pictured by the seventh day Sabbath following the six days of creation.) Listen to these words from Augustine which sound like overtones from Ironside, Larkin, Scofield, Gaebelein, Walvoord, or Ryrie - words like these (italics mine):
The divine institution of sacrifice was suitable in former dispensations, but is not suitable now. For the change suitable to the present age has been enjoined by God, who knows infinitely better than man what is fitting for every age, and who is, whether He give or add, abolish or curtail, increase or diminish, the unchangeable Governor as He is the unchangeable Creator of mutable things, ordering all events in His providence until the beauty of the completed course of time, the component parts of which are the dispensations adapted to each successive age, shall be finished, like the grand melody of some ineffably wise master of song, and those pass into eternal contemplation of God who here, though it is a time of faith, not of sight, are acceptably worshipping Him. For as the man is not fickle who does one thing in the morning and another in the evening, one thing this month and another in the next, one thing this year and another next year, so there is no variableness with God, though - in the former period of the world's history - He enjoined one kind of offerings, and in the fatter period another, therein ordering symbolical actions pertaining to the blessed doctrine of true religion, in harmony with the changes of successive epochs without any change in Himself.
For in order to let' those whom these things perplex understand that the change was already in the divine counsel, and that, when the new ordinances were appointed, it was not because the old had suddenly lost the divine approbation through inconstancy in His will, but that this had already been fixed and determined by the wisdom of God to whom in reference to much greater changes, these words are spoken in Scripture: "Thou shalt change them, and they shall be changed: but Thou art the same." It is necessary to convince them that this exchange of the sacraments of the Old Testament for those of the New had been predicted by the voices of the prophets. For thus they will see, if they can see anything, that what is new in time is not new in relation to Him who appointed the times, and who possesses, without succession of time, all those things which He assigns according to their variety to the several ages! Similarly, Augustine says:
If it is now established that that which was for one age rightly ordained may be in another age rightly changed, - the alteration indicating a change in the work, not in the plan, of Him who makes the change, - the plan being framed by His reasoning faculty, to which, unconditioned by succession in time, those things are simultaneously present which cannot actually be done at the same time, because the ages succeed each other.
Far from Scofield, Brookes, or Darby being the inventor of dispensationalism, look at the scheme of things developed in the 17th century by a Frenchman named Pierre Poiret (1646-1719), a good 150 years before Scofield and about a hundred years before Darby. Here is Poiret's dispensational scheme (using the French word Oeconomy which, like our English word economy, is taken directly from the Greek and given our form of letters. The Greek word means "stewardship"):
Pierre Poiret - The Oeconomy (Stewardship) of:
|I.||Infancy, to the Deluge|
|II.||Childhood, to Moses|
|III.||Adolescence, to the prophets, or about Solomon's time|
|IV.||Youth, to the time of the coming of Christ|
|V.||Manhood, "some time after that" (i.e., the church era)|
|VI.||Old Age, "the time of his (man's) decay" (i.e., church apostasy and tribulation)|
|VII.||Renovation of all Things (i.e., Millennium)|
Poiret explains, "I do not pretend
precisely to determine the Number nor Duration of these Periods, but it is
obvious unto all, however, that the World has passed through Periods of this
Looking very much like Scofield, Isaac Watts, the great hymn writer's outline was:
Isaac Watts - Dispensations of:
|I.||The Dispensation of Innocency; or, the Religion of Adam at first|
|II.||The Adamical Dispensation of the Covenant of Grace; or, the Religion of Adam after the Fall|
|III.||The Noachical Dispensation; or, the Religion of Noah|
|IV.||The Abrahamical Dispensation; or, the Religion of Abraham|
|V.||The Mosaical Dispensation; or, the Jewish Religion|
|VI.||The Christian Dispensation|
Watts comments: The public
dispensations of God towards men are those wise and holy constitutions of
his will and government, revealed or some way manifested to them, in several
successive periods or ages of the world ... The dispensations may be
described as the appointed moral rules of God's dealing with mankind, considered
as reasonable creatures and as accountable to him for their behavior, both in
this world and in that which is to come. Each dispensation may be
represented as different religions, or forms of religion, appointed for
men in the several successive ages of the world.
Watts' dates are 1674-1748, slightly after Poiret but long before Darby and Scofield.
Time and space do not permit a rundown of others, like John Edwards (1639 - 1716), Jonathan Edwards (1703 - 1758), and Canon Fausset, of the famous commentary team of Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown. Fausset's dates are 1821-?, and it is of particular interest that, except for Brown, the much acclaimed commentary was originally, not only premillennial but also dispensational. Some Reformed revisor almost completely obliterated any hint of dispensations and emasculated the approach in the original six volumes, later condensed into one.
These men above are cited to make it crystal clear that they and many others had dispensational schemes long before the purported "inventors." (Even Charles Hodge, in his great Systematic Theology, lists four dispensations and alludes to another, although he treats them more as time eras, rather than true dispensations. He also foresaw a future for literal ISRAEL.")
The whole thesis of opponents of dispensationalism, a thesis even held by illogical, antidispensational premillennialists as well as the reformed theologians, may be summed up in two points:
As to the first of these theses, I
have already shown above, and adequately, that the idea that dispensationalism
is of recent origin is patently untrue to fact. Yet every book and speaker who
denounces dispensationalism labors this point.
But consider the distortion which this bad logic would make necessary if we applied it, for instance, to the modern missionary era, which all hold began approximately with William Carey around 1790. The early church was explosively missionary. Then Romish apostasy set in and missions became dormant. Much as we would like to think that the Reformation logically spawned modern missions, the awkward fact is that Luther and Calvin and Knox did not lift a finger to revive missions. It remained for the activity of the Danish Halle University men, followed closely by William Carey, to bring in the modern missionary movement with strong pleadings and dramatic personal implementation of their new-found convictions. The time was approximately equidistant between Luther and today, a good two hundred years after Luther and about the time of the founding of our United States government (c. 1790). Does anyone dare follow the logic of this first favorite argument against dispensationalism ("untrue because new") and rule out the scriptural validity of the modern missionary movement?
As to the second charge, namely, that no one would come to this view unless someone had tampered with him and given him a "bum steer;" that no one would ever arrive at dispensationalism from a study of Scripture alone, I call attention to the striking experience of Dr. Albert Schweitzer. No one could ever accuse him of being taught dispensationalism by Harnack and his peers. Schweitzer's experience makes a strong and strange witness for the fallacy of the second charge while, at the same time, giving striking witness to our claim that different men in different eras in different countries came to the same views through the study of Scripture alone. (Indeed, there is no indication that either Darby or Scofield had ever read or even heard of Pierre Poiret:)
Here are the facts. Like all European young men of his day, Schweitzer was drafted into military service for two years. Although Harnack and his other professors had scoffed at any idea of a literal kingdom of Christ upon the earth, settling for some sort of ethereal rule of Christ over men's hearts now, Schweitzer came to a different conclusion. Here are the facts'. He took with him into his military service no book but his Greek New Testament, which he constantly read. After two years, studying nothing but that Greek Testament, he categorically said: "The New Testament undoubtedly says that Jesus believed in and taught an eschatological kingdom on earth in the future.” However, true to his distorted view that the Bible was not inspired, he added: "Of course, Jesus was mistaken. But that is what the New Testament teaches, without a doubt;"
Question: Who was the John N. Darby who misled Schweitzer?
WHAT IS A
At this point we must zero in on the question. What is a dispensation? We've talked all around it. What IS it? The word used is the Greek word transliterated "economy," which - as I said before - is used by both the French and English, as for instance, in "political economy." It literally and simply means "a stewardship." Jesus uses it eight times in His parables on stewardship in Luke's Gospel. Peter uses it once (1 Peter 4:10), and Paul uses it the remaining seven times in his epistles. There can be no doubt as to the meaning. It is a stewardship of something for which a person is responsible.
The second thing to observe is that it has no LANGUAGE connection with the time word "age." They are two distinct words. Yet it is simply a matter of fact that, with the passage of time and thanks to the widespread use of the Scofield Bible, the word has come to mean dictionarily, theologically, and - to the average Christian -practically the same thing as the word "age." I feel this is unfortunate, but language is made by peoples' general use.
Here is Scofield's definition of a dispensation: "A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God" (italics mine).
It is to be regretted that this definition is both misleading and inadequate, and much of the prejudice against dispensationalism has come from this diluted definition. I have read perhaps two dozen major attacks on dispensationalism, as well as once-over-lightly slurs, which almost inevitably start with the snide remark that since he did not even know what the word oikonomia (oikonomia) means, Scofield disqualifies himself from any further consideration on the subject. One could wish that Scofield had debated with reformed doctrine men on the public platform, so that a more careful definition would have been placed in this monumental work which has opened the eyes of millions to God's dispensational program in the world!
You can imagine what a problem
this meant to the Revision Committee for the New Scofield Bible. We were
very aware of the superficiality of this overeager argument against the Scofield
Bible, but we could not very wisely say, bluntly: "Scofield was wrong," and call
it the Scofield Bible. We would have warmed tile hearts of Scofield’s enemies
and dismayed his friends, many of whom had never had occasion to hear the word
oikeonomia debated. Yet we had to explain this apparent discrepancy and
show what Scofield really meant did not hinge on philology.
Although all nine of the committee worked on all the Bible, there were special assignments given individuals, which were then carefully considered by the whole committee, voted up or down, or revised. One of my assignments was to suggest revisions for the notes on dispensations and covenants. I was to suggest definitions which would basically maintain the Scofield position while more adequately explaining his view to friends plus answering opponents. Needless to say this was difficult!
If you will examine the notes in both the Old and the New Scofields, you will find substantial expansions and refinements of the old notes on dispensations and covenants. The resulting decision was to combine both ideas of time AND stewardship of light in the definition of dispensation, while making sure that people saw that the primary use of the word in the original was a stewardship of responsibility, although that responsibility was inextricably related to time (age). We felt satisfied that fair critics would now see that they were not correct in assuming Scofield did not see, what he actually did see - namely, a stewardship of responsibility of God's light as related to and usually introducing a new age.
Among earlier, fuller, definitions of dispensation, it is interesting to quote Scroggre and Ironside, as helpful examples. Scroggie said:
The word oikonomia bears one significance, and means "an administration," whether of a house, or property, of a state, or a nation, or as in the present study, the administration of the human race or any part of it, at any given time. Just as a parent would govern his household in different ways, according to varying necessity, yet ever for one good end, so God has at different times dealt with men in different ways, according to the necessity of the case, but throughout for one great, grand end; (Don't you hear overtones of Augustine, Watts, and Poiret?)
Ironside put it this way:
An economy (oikonomia) is an ordered condition of things… There are different economies running through the Word of God. A dispensation, an economy, is that particular order or condition of things prevailing in one special age which does not necessarily prevail in another.
DISCUSSION OF THESE DEFINITIONS
However, helpful as these definitions are, they also raise problems. There is no clear differentiation between TIME and TEACHING, between age and dispensation. To equate the two tends to mislead a Bible student into two awkward and improper conclusions:
1. The misconception that when an age ends, the dispensation also ends.
This compartmentalizes the Bible and has led our opponents to feel that we are saying that God "fried and tried" through a series of hermetically sealed eras, mutually exclusive from one another. This has led to the charge that we teach different methods of salvation in different ages, a very threadbare argument against dispensationalism. But worse, it tends to deny any real unity in God's purpose through the ages. To counter this, see my note on "Dominion" at Genesis 1:26 in New Scofield Bible, which the men felt corrected this popular misconception. Helpful as they are, the wordings of the Scroggie and Ironside definitions of "dispensation" fail to indicate the progression of God's revelation through the ages. It fails to make clear that, although not all the Bible is TO us (today), all the Bible is FOR us:
The charts below contrast the compartmentalized erroneous view with a progressive sequence of tied-in expanding truths, suggested by over-lapping ovals. The ovals emphasize that the purpose of God is one and that the method of salvation is ALWAYS the same, by grace through faith plus nothing, however gradually the light of God may have been revealed. The correct view is a series of overlapping cycles like this:
rather than hermetically sealed unit compartments, making the ages unrelated to each other, thus:
2. The second misconception of the old wordings is to give the false impression that, during any given age, all the people of the world were uniformly and without exception given responsibility for that stewardship of light, by which revelation a new era or age was instituted. This misconception has led to all types of confusion.
For instance, although all the nations were promised ultimate blessing through THE Seed, our Lord Jesus, in the revelation on the Abrahamic Covenant, plainly there was no direct and basic sense in which the great mass of the Gentiles were directly made recipients and custodians of the Covenant. Indeed Abram was called OUT FROM the Gentiles; By the same token, the Law was never given to the Gentile world. It was introduced clearly by the words: "Hear, 0 Israel! Except in unfortunate hymns, when were Gentiles ever called Israel? Certainly never in Scripture; Yet, it is strange that these two dangerous misconceptions have been perpetuated generally, even in the dispensational camp. The average dispensationalist simply does not know what to say when faced with these two problems.
Perhaps I may now helpfully give my definition of "dispensation," not as adapted in the New Scofield to meet the need previously described, but as I see it head on. There is nothing like a class to hone a sharp wording. I asked students, two years in a row in my Eschatology course, to write their personal definition of a dispensation. This brought stimulating ideas. I found myself adding a key word or phrase here or there, as students sought to solve the problem. I dropped or changed some of my words or phrases. This was the refined result (unfortunately quoted only in part by some writers):
"The word dispensation means literally a stewardship or administration or economy. Therefore, in its biblical usage, a dispensation is a divinely established stewardship of a particular revelation of God's mind and will which is instituted in the first instance with a new age, and which brings added responsibility to the whole race of men or that portion of the race to whom the revelation is particularly given by God."
"Associated with the revelation, on the one hand, are promises of reward or blessing for those responding in the obedience of faith while on the other hand there are warnings of judgment upon those who do not respond in the obedience of faith to that particular revelation."
"However, though the time period (age) ends, certain principles of the revelation (dispensation or stewardship) are often carried over into succeeding ages, because God's truth does not cease to be truth, and these principles become part of the cumulative body of truth for which man is responsible in the progressive unfolding revelation of God's redemptive purpose. Some of these principles are carried over intact (as, e.g. conscience, human government, Abrahamic covenant) and some are passed on adjusted (law, church) to the age(s) which follow(s)."
Now, what is the solution to the idea that the time period does NOT end the light which God had previously revealed? I worked out an idea and discussed it with J. Dwight Pentecost to obtain his reaction (when he was teaching Eschatology in Philadelphia College of Bible). He heartily approved but made an excellent suggestion, namely, that since God's revelation is expanding with the succession of the ages, why not make the chart go up like stairsteps? The chart which resulted from discussion between Pentecost and me is the stairstep chart which has been placed on facing pages 14-15, spread for easy reading. Observe that it shows the "dispensation" (teaching) continues after the "age" (indicated by rectangular box) has concluded.
This chart shows that truth does
not cease to be truth because an age change has taken place, but men may now be
related to that truth in a different way. I shall say more about this aspect
later, but it would be helpful at this point, in clarifying typical fuzzy
thinking about the state of the heathen, to quote Ironside: (check stairstep
For the heathen world, there has been no advance in dispensations since the days of Noah, as is clear from Romans 2:12.
Yet we often hear untaught people cry out: "How could a just God condemn people for not believing a gospel they have never heard?" The simple answer is: "He does not! 'Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?' (Gen. 18:25)." As the chart shows, men are condemned for rejecting the light for which they are stewards, as Paul labors to clarify in Romans 1 and 2, where he states that men did not wish "to retain God in their knowledge"; hence "they were therefore without excuse." And, as Romans 2:12 affirms, "For as many as have sinned apart from the law shall also perish apart from the law (i.e. the pagans); and as many as have sinned under the law shall be judged by the law" (i.e. Jews).
As one who trained eight years for missionary work but was not privileged to enter it, I cannot be accused of not being missionary-minded. But the average missionary appeal puts God in a very bad light, due to overstatement and distortion; For instance, a favorite verse usually quoted is: "How shall they hear without a preacher?" (Rom. 10:14). But many fail to add what God adds: "But I say. Have they not heard? Yea verily, their sound went into all the earth and their words unto the ends of the world." And, the apostle continuing to quote Psalm 19, adds: "There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard." This is not anti-missions, but pro-missions. God has commanded us to take the gospel into all the world, for this is in direct harmony with His program from the creation. God has never left Himself without a witness. He has preached a 24 hour a day sermon ever since creation; People are not condemned for what they have not heard but for rejecting what they have heard. They are condemned for rejecting the light God has given them -whatever that light may be - the light of nature, of conscience, of protecting the sanctity of human life as God-owned and God-given, of the need for repentance from sin and sacrifice therefore, or if and when they hear it - for the fuller light of later ages.
One other matter. Many earnest students of Scripture have wondered if the word "dispensation" - a stewardship of light - should be equated with "covenant," because very often a new age is introduced by a stewardship of light which turns out to be one of the major covenants. The answer is: however similar they may be and however attractive the equating may beckon, a careful study shows synonymity to be impossible. An adequate example in rejecting the theory is to be seen in the fact that, although there is one age - the Israelitish - between Sinai and the cross, there are three major covenants (not one) revealed during that one age, namely. (1) the Mosaic, (2) the Palestinian, and (3) the Davidic covenants.
CHART ILLUSTRATING THAT THE LIGHT OF PREVIOUS "DISPENSATIONS" CONTINUES ON INTO THE AGES WHICH FOLLOW
The BOX indicates the time period or AGE. Although the time period (age) ends, the stewardship of light (DISPENSATION) continues intact (as, e.g., conscience, human government, Promise/Abrahamic Covenant) or adjusted (Law, Church), all comprising the cumulative body of truth which compose the Holy Scriptures.
|Dr. Clarence B. Mason|
|Chart of Dispensations|
|The Cumulative Body of Truth Which Composes the Holy Scriptures|
|9. Eternity: God's Rule extends into the Eternal Kingdom|
|8. Divine Rule: (Kingdom) All dispensations converge here|
|*7. Judgment: (70th Week of Daniel) Judgment continues. Christ rules with Rod of Iron|
|6. The Church: All redemption preaching flows from The Cross|
|5. Law: To Israel only in primary application. Moral principles continue to those only to whom light of law comes, whether Jews or Gentiles (Romans 2:12-15; 1 Timothy 1:8-10)|
|4. Promise: Covenant continued beyond Abraham with his posterity (Israel nationally) and his spiritual seed whether earthly (Jews) or heavenly (Church, composed of Jews and Gentiles, Galatians 3:27-29)|
|3. Human Government: All mankind responsible then and in all ages since (e.g., Romans 13)|
|2. Conscience: All mankind under moral responsibility (conscience) then, and in all ages since (Romans 2:15)|
|*1. Innocency: Adam only, after Fall man was no longer innocent, so dispensation of innocency did not continue.|
*There is a little difference of opinion among dispensationalists about these two periods (marked with asterisks), as to whether one or both or neither should be included. If we consider No. 1 and No. 7 are included, then we have eight dispensations (not the usual seven). Eight would mark God's new beginning. If we omit both, we would have six (the number of man's incompleteness). If we omit No. 1 and include No. 7, we have the usual seven (the number of completeness) but by a different combination.
A proper understanding of dispensational principles clears up many misunderstandings of Bible truth. The second suggested solution will be the Law's relation to the Church, but to get the background clear, we must first see the Law's relation to Promise, as it is delineated in the Abrahamic Covenant. Look at this chart:
TEMPORARY only "UNTIL the seed should come" (Gal. 3:17, 19)
We see that the Law was an
added thing, according to Galatians 3:19. It did not take the place of, nor
abrogate, nor dilute the promise of God to Abraham and his seed. It was taken
over into the Israelitish AGE intact. Observe: (1) it was never a rival
means of justification (3:21): "If there had been a law given which could have
given life, verily righteousness (i.e. justification) would have been by the
law." (2) The law as never a means TO life, but a way of life for
a people already in covenant relation to God through blood. Indeed, as
Paul said, "I do not frustrate the grace of God; for if righteousness come by
the law, then Christ's death was simply superfluous," as Arthur S. Way's version
graphically translates it (GAL. 2:21). Further, Romans 10:5 has been badly
misinterpreted. It does not say of the law that "the man that doeth these things
shall live BY them," Rather it says (literally): "The man that doeth these
things shall live IN them"...i.e. in that sphere that protects him from
contamination of a pagan world all around him.
Why then was the law given? Galatians and Romans abundantly explain. It was a temporary provision to show the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and indeed "to make sin exceeding sinful" by characterizing it - through definite rules - as transgression (rebellion against the commands of God). It was NEVER anything else, as Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 3:7 and 9, but "a ministration of condemnation and death." The law never gave merit badges for obedience. It effectively clobbered those who disobeyed. And since all disobeyed, all came under condemnation, as Paul summarizes in Romans 3:1-20,23.
It is not only important to see that the law was never given to the Gentiles. It is even more important to understand that the law was NEVER given to the Church as a rule of life. It is true that all Scripture is ours for light and profit and equally true that every commandment, except the Sabbath, is recast in the beseechings of grace in the epistles, but that is just the point. The principles of truth abide; but the approach and implementation often vary drastically, as in this case. ALL the Bible is FOR us who compose the Church, but not all the Bible is TO us of the Church!
This issue is probably the most misunderstood and thus thorny misinterpretation of the Bible in Christendom today. This is true, not only among people of Reformed faith persuasion (a la Westminster Confession), but among fuzzy dispensationalists as well. They properly wish to avoid the appearance of dishonoring God's holy law, but in doing so a substantial portion of the dispensational camp flipped over backwards and landed in an untenable morass of interpretation. There seems to be a general tendency to adopt the Reformed view that only the ceremonial law has been done away, but "the moral law" - whatever that is - remains intact as our code of life in the Church age.
This is not only an unfortunate conclusion but a dangerous one, as witness the Seventh Day Adventists. The average Christian simply cannot answer their argument that if we are supposed to keep nine of the commandments, by what authority do we have the right to omit the remaining one, the Sabbath? Didn't the same God give all ten? All this stems from the unscriptural popular division of the law into three divisions: (1) the moral (Decalog); (2) the ceremonial; and (3) the civil. This division may be helpful in clarifying different aspects of THE ONE law, but it is a gratuitous assumption for which there is no biblical warrant. It dismembers the law into three parts, which can no more be done than to split a man into body, soul, and spirit and expect him to continue to live; One remembers such passages as James 2:10: "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is GUILTY OF ALL," for the good reason that he sins against the ONE God who expressed His will to Israel in ONE entity - THE Law:
The usual urging for continuing the believer under the "moral" law is smashed completely by the logic of the Spirit through Paul in such passages as 2 Corinthians 3, where in successive verses the Law is said to have been "abolished," and "done away." To say this refers to the ceremonial "part" of the law is to play right into the hands of the Seventh Day people and destroy our most effective argument against them. For, observe carefully, the precise statement is that it was what was "written and engraven IN STONE" that was done away and abolished (2 Cor. 3:7); Since when was any portion of the ONE Law "written and engraven in STONE" except the Decalog?! This should be the sufficient and final answer to misguided, nostalgic Christians who think they are distinguishing the things that differ while hugging the wrong husband. For it is precisely this problem and mistake that Paul exposes in Romans 7 where he says we "were made dead to our old husband (the Law) in order that we might be married to the Risen Christ, our NEW Husband (v. 4)." (Observe, it does not say the law is dead, but we have been made dead to the law.) Even Paul stumbled at this point and had to learn better. He explains that his whole trouble was that he was delighting after the old husband (the law, v.22) when he should have been delighting in his new Husband, Christ. The result was that the old husband (the law) could not deliver him from the old master (Sin) to which he felt chained as to a putrifying corpse, getting more nauseating each day. Only when he turned to his NEW Husband ("I thank God through Jesus Christ," v. 25a) did he get deliverance from the flesh (the old master) and the ability to walk in newness of life. Christians who are concerned about the Law should realize that to be married to Christ and live with Moses BREAKS the Law!
One final passage (almost
universally ignored by those who say they want to know) is found in 1 Timothy
1:3-11. Evidently Timothy was meeting this same problem-in Ephesus and Paul
tells him how to deal with it. He instructs him on the UNLAWFUL use of the Law
as well as the LAWFUL use of the Law. And it isn't what most people think;
Categorically he says: "These desire to be teachers of the Law, but they
understand neither what they say nor whereof they affirm. But we (you and I,
Timothy) know the Law is good IF a man use it LAWFULLY (vv.7-8)."
What is the UNlawful use of the Law? Paul tells us: "Knowing this, that is Law is NOT for a RIGHTEOUS (i.e. saved) man" (v.9): That is the exact opposite of the very thing that people of the Reformed faith and uninstructed dispensationalists keep saying when they insist that Christians today are under the "moral" Law. Paul said "no." To say otherwise is to contradict the Scripture. This is the UNlawful use of the Law. This is not this writer's opinion but the Holy Spirit's revelation. The Law said it's last word to us at the cross when we died in Christ. It said "condemned!"
What then is the LAWFUL use of the Law? It is to throw God's holy light on sinners, condemn them, convict them, and show them they need to turn to Christ as Savior. In this age, the Law is NOT for the righteous but for the unsaved, "the LawLESS and disobedient" (v. 9). The apostle then proceeds to summarize the 10 commandments:
SUMMARY OF THE 10 COMMANDMENTS
|Laws 1 § 2||No other gods and No image||"for the ungodly and unholy and sinners" (those who have "missed the mark")|
|Laws 3 § 4||No profanity of God's Name or Day||"for profane" - those who profane God's name|
|Law 5||No dishonor but honor to parents||"for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers" (the opposite of honoring them).|
|Law 6||No Murder||"for murderers (manslayers)"|
|Law 7||No illicit sex||"for whoremongers (fornicators) and perverts" (i.e. defile themselves with mankind" - i.e. homosexuals, lesbians, catamites)|
|Law 8||No stealing||"for stealers of people (kidnappers)" and of things.|
|Law 9||No lying||"for liars and perjured persons"|
|Law 10||No coveting||"for defiled and whoremongers" (i.e., those who "covet" their neighbor's wife") or anything else (if there be any other thing contrary to sound doctrine)|
All of this is "according to
the glorious gospel of the blessed God, committed" to Paul's and our "trust" (v.
11); The first message of the gospel, which is good news for the unsaved, is the
bad news that people are hopelessly lost because they have sinned against a holy
God. The LAW is a message of condemnation and death (cp. 2 Cor. 3). So the Law
is for sinners, for the unsaved. Therefore, it is, in no sense of the word, the
rule of life for the New Testament believer of the Church age. It is "NOT for a
righteous man." Its function in this age is to convict sinners. This is the
first aspect of the gospel.
Now, look again at the stairstep chart. I am not saying the Old Testament is done away. Truth is always truth. But I am saying that the Law is not the Christian's code of life. Of course, everything in God's word, as well as in the Law, which is illuminating and of ethical, moral, and spiritual value, which God sees is FOR us. He reissues and restates TO us in the beseechings of grace in the New Testament Epistles. The Law said, "Do this and I will bless you." Christ, through the apostles, says (in the Epistles): "I HAVE BLESSED you; therefore, do good:" He heightens -not lowers - the standard; Indeed, He gives us a standard that only an omnipotent Holy Spirit can keep (e.g. "love as I love;). And that is the genius of this age and of our high position in Christ - to walk as heavenly citizens upon the earth under our OWN set of regulations (the Church" s),-energized by the Spirit. Needless to say, anyone who does this lives FAR ABOVE and BEYOND the Law's standards. For instance, the fruit of the Spirit is love and love is the fulfilling of the Law. If the admission price is $1 and we put down $5, we will get in.
I travel to the College over the beautiful West River Drive along the Schuylkill River. In the morning, the traffic is one way toward the city and in the evening the traffic flows the opposite direction, monitored by appropriate regulatory sign-laws. I travel under two different "dispensations" in no disharmony with God or man; There are Laws of Grace as well as Laws of Moses:
The story is told of an English business man who lived in Berlin. He was well acquainted and had many German friends. Just before World War I broke, he was tipped off by one of these friends that he should transfer his assets into gold and flee the country. He barely made it to Holland before the war storm broke. However, on arriving in Britain with his ample earnings, he was startled by the fact that none of it was negotiable. The coins had the insignia of Kaisar Wilhelm: So he had to take them over to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and have them reminted with the image of George V. What was appropriate to one time and place was not appropriate to the other, although what he had in each case was undeniably gold. He was under a new dispensation. The gold had to be adapted to his new administration/house-rule/economy /dispensation.
Another illustration emphasizes that differences in the Bible often hinge around who is being addressed. God does not write a new Bible with every change in His dealings. A salesman worked for a large company that had a factory, office force, and sales force. He came in late one afternoon to leave a report of a trip he had made and to get things needed for a trip from Philadelphia to Washington. Just as he was about to leave, a secretary handed him a booklet and said: "Here is the company's book of regulations. Your boss asked me to tell you to read it carefully and follow the instructions in detail.”
He tossed it in his bag and did not think of it again until he got on the Metroliner the next morning. When he opened the booklet, he happened to open it to the section that gave instructions to factory workers. To his dismay he read: "Appear promptly at the south gate at 7 a.m., clad in neat overalls, ready to begin your assigned task."
He said to himself: "This is terrible. I am in the wrong place." He rushed up to a conductor and told him that he had to return to Philadelphia immediately. "Where is the first stop?" "Wilmington," was the reply. Getting off at Wilmington, he caught the first train back to Philadelphia, rushed to the basement of a large department store, bought some overalls and a blue shirt and work shoes, and puffed up to the south gate, full of apologies. The gateman looked at him with amazement. "Who are you? I haven't seen you before. What are you doing here and so late?" Pulling out the handbook, the salesman pointed to the place that gave the instructions I have cited. A whimsical look spread over the face of the gateman, and he said:
"Man, you're all mixed up. You've evidently got the wrong section. What part of the organization are you in? Salesman?; Look at the top of this page. It says "Factory Workers." There is a section for them, and a section for you Salesmen, and a section for the Office Workers. Next time the company puts out a handbook, find out what is addressed to you, and what is not, or you may land in the cafeteria kitchen;"
We smile at this deserved rebuke.
But that is just the mistake that most Christians make. They think that because
it is the same company (Heaven) and the same boss (God), anything He says is
addressed TO them, whereas the Bible is addressed to THREE large groups, the
Jew, the Gentile, and the Church of God (1 Cor.l0:32). It is not humorous that
some are running to the south gate when they should be selling in Washington or
Pittsburgh: Confusion would reign in any company if the employees were as
careless in reading their handbook as Christians are in reading their handbook
(the Bible). And there can be some painful results. I was at a funeral this week
where the well-intentioned pastor, who needed his head worked on, read from
Psalm 103, "Who healeth all thy diseases." The corpse died of cancer; Why would
he not know that Israel were an earthly people with earthly promises and the
Church are a heavenly people on earth with no earthly guarantees?
Wake up: God has well-established areas of administration. Make sure you are acting in accordance with His administration (dispensation) in THIS age of the Church!
As Augustine says: "Distinguish the ages and the Scriptures agree:" The Scriptures are not confused nor confusing. Why should we be, especially when indwelt by the Divine Author, the Holy Spirit, who will guide us unto all truth?!