of The Kingdom
In this article Brother Philip Mauro also gives a clear outline of the fundamentals of the Gospel.
This is a Christian Classic.
WHAT AND WHENCE?
FOR some of our readers a definition of modern dispensationalism will be a necessity, and for all it will be a convenience. It has been defined as "that system of doctrine which divides the history of God's dealings with the world into periods of time, called "dispensations'." And it is an essential tenet of the system that "in each dispensation God deals with man upon a plan different from the plan of the other dispensations. . . . Each dispensation is a thing entirely apart from the others, and, when one period succeeds another, there is a radical change of character and governing principles." (Rock or Sand, Which?, by Matthew Francis).
For example, we are told that the present era is "the dispensation of Grace," and the last preceding was "the dispensation of Law"; and therefore the teachers of the new system strain their ingenuity to show that there was no grace in the preceding "dispensation," and there is no law now; whereas in fact there is all the law of God now that there ever was, and there was abundance of the grace of God in the "former times."
In the elaboration of this crude system of error, the greatest harm has been done to the revealed truth of God concerning this present era of the Gospel. According to the prophecies of the Old Testament and the apostolical scriptures of the New as they have always been understood heretofore, this is the long looked for era of the Kingdom of God, foretold by the prophets. As Peter stated it, "All the prophets from Samuel, and those that follow after as many as have spoken, have likewise"--he had just referred to Moses--"spoken OF THESE DAYS" (Acts 3:24); and in his first Epistle he declares that the things now reported by those who preach the gospel with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, are the very things, including the salvation of souls, that were ministered in times past by the prophets; and that it was the very same "Spirit of Christ that was in them," Who now empowers the gospel preachers (I Pet. 1:9-12).
Likewise Paul emphatically declared that in all his preaching (which even the extremist dispensationalists acknowledge as belonging to this era of grace) he had said "none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come"(Acts 26:22).
But according to "dispensational teaching" this age is "a mystery," a gap of unmeasured length intervening between the past era of the natural Israel, and a future era in which (so it is taught) that apostate nation will be reconstituted and its earthly glories will be restored and enhanced. We are told that "this gospel era was not in the view of the prophets at all;" and this is maintained despite the plain statements of Scripture just cited above and of others to the same effect.
One of the unhappiest of the results of this violent wrenching of the "things the angels desire to look into" from the place to which the word of God assigns them, is that "the Kingdom of God" in its entirety, including "the gospel of the Kingdom" (Mat. 24:14; Acts 20:25; 28:31) has been transferred bodily from this present age, and "postponed" to an hypothetical and mythical "dispensation" yet to come. This surely is a matter of such importance as to demand the most earnest attention of every saint of God; for it does violence to both the Old Testament and the New.
A RADICAL SYSTEM OF DOCTRINE
It will be readily seen therefore, that we have here to do with a system of teaching which, whether true or false, is of the most radical sort. Hence if true, it is most astonishing that not one of the Godly and spiritual teachers of all the Christian centuries had so much as a glimpse of it; and if false, it is high time its heretical character were exposed and the whole system dealt with accordingly. And inasmuch as it contradicts what every Christian teacher, without a known exception, has held to be the indisputable truth of Scripture concerning the Gospel of God and the Kingdom of God, it clearly belongs in the category of those "divers and strange doctrines," against which we are specially warned (Heb. 13:9). For it is undeniably diverse from all that has been hitherto taught the people of God, and it is altogether "strange" to their ears. This I deem worthy of special emphasis, and hence would ask the reader to keep constantly in mind the fact of the absolute novelty of dispensationalism. For here is modernism in the strictest sense; and it is all the more to be feared and shunned because it comes to us in the guise and garb of strict orthodoxy.
WHENCE CAME THIS MODERN SYSTEM?
As regards the origin of the system: the beginnings thereof and its leading features are found in the writings of those known as "Brethren" (sometimes called "Plymouth Brethren," from the name of the English city where the movement first attracted attention) though it is but fair to state that the best known and most spiritual leaders of that movement--as Darby, Kelly, Newberry, Chapman, Mueller and others, "whose names are in the Book of Life" " never held the "Jewish" character of the Kingdom preached by our Lord and John the Baptist, or the "Jewish" character of the Gospels (especially Matthew), or that the Sermon on the Mount is "law and not grace" and pertains to a future "Jewish" kingdom.
From what I have been able to gather by inquiry of others, (who were "in Christ before me") the new system of doctrine we are now discussing was first brought to the vicinity of New York by a very gifted and godly man, Mr. Malachi Taylor, (one of the "Brethren") who taught it with much earnestness and plausibility. That was near the beginning of the present century, either a little before or a little after. And among those who heard and were captivated by it (for truly there is some strange fascination inherent in it) was the late Dr. C. I. Scofield, who was so infatuated with it that he proceeded forthwith to bring out a new edition of the entire Bible, having for its distinctive feature that the peculiar doctrines of this new dispensationalism are woven into the very warp and woof thereof, in the form of notes, headings, subheadings and summaries. There is no doubt whatever that it is mainly to this cleverly executed work that dispensationalism owes its present vogue. For without that aid it doubtless would be clearly seen by all who give close attention to the doctrine, that it is a humanly contrived system that has been imposed upon the Bible, and not a scheme of doctrine derived from it.
A REVIVAL OF ANCIENT RABBINISM
Then as to what this modern system of teaching is, it will be a surprise to most of those who love the Lord Jesus Christ to learn that, in respect to the central and vitally important subject of the Kingdom of God, twentieth century dispensationalism is practically identical with first century rabbinism. For the cardinal doctrine of the Jewish rabbis of Christ's day was that, according to the predictions of the prophets of Israel, the purpose and result of the Messiah's mission would be the re-constituting of the Jewish nation; the re-occupation by them of the land of Palestine; the setting up again of the earthly throne of David; and the exaltation of the people of Israel to the place of supremacy in the world.
Now, seeing that a doctrine is known by its fruits, let us recall what effect this doctrine concerning the Kingdom of God had upon the orthodox Jews who so earnestly believed it in that day. And in view of what it impelled those zealous men to do, let us ask ourselves if there is not grave reason to fear its effect upon the orthodox Christians who hold and zealously teach it in our day? The effect then was that, when Christ came to His own people, proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand, but making it known that that Kingdom did not correspond at all to their idea of it; when He said, "My Kingdom is not of this world," and taught that, so far from being Jewish, it was of such sort that a man must be born of the Spirit in order to enter it, then they rejected Him ("received Him not") hated Him, betrayed Him and caused Him to be put to death.
Now let it be carefully noted in this connection, that the apostle Paul, referring to what had been done to Jesus by them "that dwelt at Jerusalem and their rulers," said that the reason for their murderous act was "because they knew Him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day", and furthermore, that "they have fulfilled them in condemning Him" (Acts 13:27). This plainly declares that it was because the Jewish teachers had misinterpreted the messages of the prophets, that they were looking for the restoration of their national greatness, instead of that which the prophets had really foretold, a spiritual Kingdom ruled by "Jesus Christ of the seed of David raised from the dead" (2 Tim. 2:18).
Have we not therefore, good reason to fear disastrous consequences from the fact that the teachers of the new dispensationalism say the Jewish rabbis were right in their interpretation of the prophecies, that the kingdom foretold by the prophets is an earthly kingdom of Jewish character, and that in fact Christ's mission at that very time was to restore again the earthly Kingdom to Israel? And why then did He not do it? The answer the dispensationalists give to this crucial question is one of the strangest features of the whole system. They say, in effect, that Christ was ready to do it, and that He would have done it, but that when He "offered" them the very thing they were ardently expecting, they (most inconsistently, it would appear) "refused the offer," whereupon it was "withdrawn" and the kingdom "postponed to a future dispensation." And when we ask for the citation of a single Scripture that mentions the alleged "offer," or its "refusal," or the alleged "withdrawal" and "postponement," not a reference is produced. And particularly, when we press the vital question, what, in case the offer had been accepted, would have become of the Cross of Calvary, and the atonement for the sin of the World, the best answer we get is that in that event, "atonement would have been made some other way." Think of it! "Some other way" than by the Cross!
Now, in view of the above facts, I do most positively insist that, whatever the conclusion one may reach after an examination of the whole subject, there is to begin with, and because of the facts just stated, a very heavy "burden of proof" resting upon those who advocate this novel and radical system of teaching. And specially I insist that, as regards the doctrine of a future restoration of national Israel, with the accompaniment of supreme earthly greatness and dominion, there are two relevant facts that should receive our most serious attention: first, that that doctrine was the very cornerstone of the creed of apostate Judaism in its last stage, and the prime cause of their rejection and crucifixion of Christ; and second, that it made its first appearance among Christians near the end of the nineteenth century. These facts may not settle anything; but certainly they do impose a heavy "burden of proof" upon those who now teach that the apostate Jews were right in their interpretation of the prophets (whose "voices," the apostle declares, "they knew not," Ac. 13:27) and that Christian teachers and expositors for nineteen centuries were all wrong.
SOME PRESSING QUESTIONS
Moreover, because of the springing up in our midst of this new system of doctrine, certain questions of the deepest interest to the people of God are pressing for an answer at this time. Among them are the following:
Was it any part of the work of Christ to revive and reconstitute the Jewish nation? to re-establish that people in the land that was once theirs? to revive their system of worship, etc.? Did He come to reinstate the bondwoman and her son in the family of Abraham? and to make the son of the bondwoman to be heir with the son of the free woman? Did He come to raise up again, and to make permanent, that "middle wall of partition" between Jew and Gentile, or to take it away entirely and forever? Did He come to restore the "shadows" of the old covenant, or to abolish them? These are questions of surpassing importance, and they press for settlement at the present time. We are deeply convinced that one of the most urgent matters for the Lord's servants and people in these last days is to grasp the truth that there is absolutely no salvation of any sort whatever, no hope for any human being, except "through the blood of the everlasting covenant;" that there is nothing but the abiding wrath of God for those who do not stand upon the terms of that covenant; and especially that there is absolutely "no difference" in God's sight, and in His future plans, between Jew and Gentile.
It is my purpose, in the pages that follow, to seek the scriptural answers to the above, and other questions of like import.
DISPENSATIONS" VIEWED IN THE
LIGHT OF SCRIPTURE
LET us at this point inquire what, if any, support the Bible lends to the basic idea of modern dispensationalism, namely, that God has divided all time (past and future) into seven distinct and clearly distinguishable "dispensations;" and that in each of those "dispensations" He deals with mankind upon a special plan and upon peculiar principles that differ from those of all the others.
WHAT IS A "DISPENSATION"?
And first, as regards the meaning of the word itself, it is easily to be seen, that the Biblical meaning thereof is radically different from that assigned to it by the "Scofield Bible," where it is stated that:-- "A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect to some specific revelation of the Will of God" (note to Gen. 1:28).
But in our English Version of the Scriptures the word "dispensation" is not in a single instance used to designate a period of time.Paul says, "A dispensation of the gospel is committed to me" (I Cor. 9:17); that is to say, the gospel had been entrusted to him to be dispensed by him. And the word has a like signification in other passages, all its occurrences being in the writings of the apostle Paul. Thus in Ephesians 1:10 is a reference to "the dispensation of the fulness of the times"; and the apostle is there speaking of that which God had purposed to administer or dispense in these last days. ("The fulness of the time," according to Galatians 4:4, is the era when "God sent forth His Son.").
Again in Ephesians 3:2 Paul speaks of "the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward"; the meaning being that the ministry given him was to dispense the grace of God to the Gentiles.
And lastly, in Colossians 1:25 he refers to "the dispensation of God," that had been given him, "to fulfil the word of God"; the reference being to that which God had made him responsible to administer or dispense, in fulfilment of the word of God concerning His previously concealed purpose as to the salvation of the Gentiles. These are all the occurrences of the word.
In the English Version of the Bible, therefore, the word "dispensation" means always administration, or stewardship. Our English word "economy" comes directly from the Greek word rendered "dispensation" in the four passages above referred to. It is to be deplored that a biblical word of definite signification should have been chosen for the purpose of this new system of doctrine, and a radically different meaning assigned to it.
Then further we are told, in the words of a prominent dispensationalist, that each of these seven distinct periods of time has "a character exclusively its own," being "wholly complete and sufficient in itself," that it "is in no wise exchangeable for the others, and cannot be commingled." That is to say, each "dispensation" has its own peculiar and distinguishing characteristics, insomuch that, when one succeeds another, there is a complete and radical change in the character and principles of God's dealings with the world. So say the dispensationalists; but I find in the Scriptures no evidence to support the statement. On the contrary, I find that, in every age and era, God has accepted those who believed Him and refused those who disbelieved Him. Salvation has always been "by grace, through faith," and upon the ground of the sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Adam and Eve and Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and David were one and all saved precisely as we are.
WHY SEVEN DISPENSATIONS?
And now, what warrant is there for the statement that "seven such dispensations are distinguished in the Scripture" (Scofield Bible, note to Gen. 1:28)? And how does the Scripture distinguish them?
The correct answer is that there are no "such dispensations distinguished in the Scripture." The method by which they have been arrived at is purely arbitrary, fanciful, and destitute of scriptural support; the method being to select arbitrarily some epoch, such as the Exodus, and say "here began a new dispensation." But obviously the number seven is entirely arbitrary; for it is possible, by the method described, to divide human history as recorded in the Scriptures into any desired number of "dispensations." One is at liberty to take any and every important era, as the beginning of the era of the Judges, of that of the Israelitish kingdom, that of its division into two parts, the Assyrian captivity, the return from Babylon, the destruction of Jerusalem, the preaching of Christ to the Gentiles (Acts X), and say, "Here began a new dispensation"; and he would have for his dispensational scheme all the warrant that our dispensationalists have for their's--that is to say, none at all.
And if one who searched the Scriptures for indications of dispensational divisions were to assert that there was one dispensation that extended from Abraham to David, another from David to the Babylonian captivity, and another from the Babylonian captivity to Christ, he might refer to Matthew 1:17 as lending support to his scheme; whereas for the dispensational system set forth in the Scofield Bible there is no semblance of any scriptural proof.
In laying out its scheme of the seven dispensations the Scofield Bible makes the first to be the dispensation of "Innocence," and has not much to say about that. The second we are told, is that of "Conscience," which began, our authority asserts, at the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden. But where is there a scrap of evidence to support the idea that this period was distinguished in any special way as regards God's dealings with men, from later times? or that "conscience" figured in it any more conspicuously than in other periods? To fulfil the definitions given by the dispensationalists themselves, it is necessary that "conscience" should characterize this period exclusively; for there must be "no commingling." But the fact is that nothing is said in the Scriptures, either directly or by implication concerning the human conscience during that period of history, or concerning man's being left in those remote times to the voice of his conscience; whereas, on the other hand, much is said in the New Testament about the part conscience is to have in shaping our conduct in this gospel era, and as to the importance of having a "good conscience," a "pure conscience," a "conscience void of offense"; and about what we are to do "for conscience' sake."
Thus the whole system breaks down at this initial stage; for manifestly it is impossible to confine the operations of the human conscience to the comparatively unknown period that extends from the fall of man to the flood.
Third Dispensation. This is said to embrace the period extending from the flood to the call of Abraham; and we are told that this was the dispensation of HUMAN GOVERNMENT. (Scofield Bible, note to Gen. 8:20). But upon what evidence, I ask, can it be asserted that God was in any special sense (much less in an exclusive sense) dealing with the world, during that era of time, through the medium of "human government"? The fact is that there is no mention at all of human government during that period. The only recorded event belonging to it is the building of the tower of Babel; and there is no indication of human government in connection with that event. The building of that tower was not begun, continued or ended at the command of a human governor. On the contrary, what we read is that:-- "It came to pass as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick . . . and let us build us a city, and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name" (Gen. 11:1-4).
There is no trace of human government here. But now, in this gospel era, we are specially commanded to be in subjection to human governmental authorities,--kings, rulers, and magistrates of lesser degree; and are instructed by the Scriptures that "the powers that be are ordained of God," and the civil magistrate is "the minister of God" (Rom. 13:1-4; Tit. 3:1; I Pet. 2:13, 14). Is not this quite enough to show that the scheme of seven distinct dispensations is the product of the human imagination, and destitute of biblical support? Are we not justified in concluding without going further into the subject, that the reason why the discerning Bible students of past centuries did not find the seven dispensations in the Scriptures is that they are not there?
But let us nevertheless pursue the interesting subject a little further, and give heed to what is said concerning
The Fourth Dispensation. This, according to the same authority, was the dispensation of "Promise" (S.B. note on Gen. 12:1); and it extended from the call of Abraham to the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai. This period embraced the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. In it occurred the multiplication of their seed in Egypt, the afflictions they endured in that land, their miraculous deliverance out of it by the hand of Moses, and the giving to them of the law of God with the "statutes and judgments," which prescribed for that people the worship of God and defined their relations and duties to one another. Now I ask, wherein was that period in any special sense the "dispensation of Promise"? There were indeed promises given to the fathers of Israel during that period; but there had been promises given previously, notably that grand, all-embracing, most glorious promise recorded in Genesis 3:15, concerning the Seed of the woman; a promise that includes both "the sufferings of Christ," the coming Redeemer of the world, and also "the glories that should follow." There was also the world-embracing promise given to Noah (Gen. 9:9-17). And there were also promises in profusion in subsequent times, as for example in the era of "the law and the prophets." And it is needless to say that the New Testament Scriptures simply abound in "exceeding great and precious promises."
So there is not the slightest warrant for marking off the centuries during which the natural descendants of Jacob were being multiplied into a nation, and making that era a "dispensation" specially characterized by divine promises.
The Fifth Dispensation. This is said to be the dispensation of "Law," and it is put in the strongest possible contrast to the next succeeding "dispensation," that of "Grace." And further we are told that "This dispensation [of Law] extends from Sinai to Calvary; from the Exodus to the Cross; from Ex. 19:8, to Matt. 27:35" (S. B. notes).
Here is where some of the most serious evils of dispensationalism come clearly into view; for the aspersions which the teachers of that system cast upon the holy law of God constitute in their totality a complete and grievous misrepresentation thereof; and in certain extreme instances they assume the character of slanderous vilification. But before glancing at some of these, let it be noted that the much maligned "dispensation of law" is said to have embraced the entire lifetime of our Lord--"from Ex. 19:8 to Matt. 27:35"; for it is one of the points upon which the dispensationalists mainly insist, that the Gospels belong to the era of law, and not to that of grace; which I am bold to say is palpable and pernicious error. For as regards the termination of the era of the law, we have the word of our Lord that "The Law and the prophets were"--not until Calvary, but--"until John; since that time the kingdom of God is preached" (Lu. 16:16). And in agreement with this it is written: "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).
These Scriptures declare in the plainest terms that the life and words and works of our Lord "in the days of His flesh," including the "Sermon on the Mount" (concerning which we have something special to say) belong, not in the twilight era of the law of Moses, but in the full daylight era of "grace and truth." They also make it plain that the era of "the Kingdom of God" followed immediately upon that of "the law and the prophets"; and further that the era of "the Kingdom of God," and that of "grace and truth" are one and the same. And this a matter of special importance because, as I expect to point out in some detail later on, the humanly concocted scheme of the "seven dispensations," which we are now considering, has had the effect of blotting out, for those who accept it, the illuminating truth which the Scriptures reveal concerning the Two Covenants, "the old covenant," whereof Moses was the mediator, and "the new covenant" whereof Jesus Christ is the Mediator. For the Bible clearly distinguishes those two covenants and the eras to which they respectively belong; and moreover, upon that difference depends truth of the highest value. Therefore, one object I have in view, in exposing the unfounded character of dispensationalism, is to clear the ground for the presentation of the truth concerning "THE TWO COVENANTS" (Gal. 4:24).
But apart from the palpable error of placing our Lord's life and ministry in the era of law as distinguished from that of grace, the strongest exception is to be taken to the teaching that grace was entirely absent from the era of law, even as law is said to be absent from the era of grace; this being a two-fold error. And in this connection I would particularly like to ask those who hold that view, and who place the ministry of Christ in the dispensation of law, was not His ministry a ministry of grace? and were not His words "words of grace"? I wonder that this grievous teaching does not evoke bursts of indignation from those who love the Lord and who are accustomed to go for their comfort to the Gospels.
This brings us to what the "Scofield Bible" teaches concerning the holy law which God gave at Mount Sinai to the people He had delivered out of the "iron furnace" of Egypt. And first I call attention to these extraordinary statements: "It is exceedingly important to observe . . . that the Law was not imposed until it had been proposed and voluntarily accepted" (Note on Ex. 19:3). "At Sinai they (Israel) exchanged Grace for Law. They rashly accepted the Law" (Note on Gen. 12:7).
Here we have in brief the teaching (which is amplified in the writings of this new school of theology) that Israel was given an opportunity to choose between Law and Grace, that they were put under the law of God by their own choice; and further that they chose "rashly," and hence made, " not a bad choice merely, but--one that was fatal, if so be that the differences between Law and Grace are what the dispensationalists aver.
As to this I say, first of all, that it is palpable error. For no choice was presented to Israel between Law and Grace, or between Law and any alternative. On the contrary, it was an essential part of God's plan in taking them out of Egypt, which He accomplished by signs and by wonders and by a mighty hand, that He might have a people who should be the custodians of His law. Thus, Psalm 105 recites the fact that the giving of the law was in fulfilment of God's covenant with Abraham (vv. 8-10). And it goes on to recall how He delivered them out of Egypt by the hand of Moses and Aaron, led them by the pillar of cloud and fire, gave them food in the desert and water out of the rock; and all to the end "That they might observe His statutes and keep His laws" (v. 45).
It is quite plain from the account given in Exodus, and also from references to the wondrous event in many later Scriptures, that the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai was God's act alone; and also that it was an act of grace and goodness. The reason He gave them His "fiery law" was because "He loved the people." Yet the teaching of the "Scofield Bible" is that the people of Israel made a fatally bad choice in consenting to be under the law of God. The statement that "they rashly accepted the Law" implies that they acted without due consideration, and did not know what they were doing or what would be the consequences of their rash choice. And this necessarily implies that God acted unfairly toward them; that He took advantage of their ignorance concerning what it meant to be "under the law," that He thus led them into a deadly trap from which it was impossible thereafter for them or their posterity to extricate themselves.
But nothing could be farther from the truth. For the gift of law to Israel was both a distinguished honor and an unspeakable benefit. It gave them the knowledge of the true God; it gave them a way of access to Him for worship and for obtaining mercies and blessings; it gave them a sanctuary, a priesthood, acceptable sacrifices--including a sin-offering--and promises such that, by meeting the fair and reasonable conditions, they might have been a "peculiar treasure" to God and "a kingdom of priests and an holy nation" forever (Ex. 19:4, 5). Therefore, if it be asked, "What advantage then hath the Jew," over all other nations in the world? the inspired answer is, "Much every way: Chiefly because that UNTO THEM WERE COMMITTED THE ORACLES OF GOD" (Rom. 3:1).
Most certainly the Scripture last quoted could never have been written if Israel had been put under law by their own choice, and if their choice had been a bad one; for it declares that the Jew, so far from being put at a disadvantage, enjoyed much advantage and in every respect; and that the chief of all their advantages was that unto them had been committed the oracles of God---the law and the prophets.
This subject, however, is too large and too important to receive proper notice at this stage of our inquiry. So we reserve it for further consideration later on.
The Sixth Dispensation. The sixth place in the dispensational scheme we are examining is assigned to Grace. And well may we rejoice that "the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared" (Tit. 2:11). But it is quite another thing to say that God's Grace characterizes this era exclusively; that Law and Grace cannot be commingled; and that "They are as far asunder as Mount Sinai and the place called Calvary, and can no more mingle than the iron and clay of Nebuchadnezzar's dream-statue."
The truth in this regard is that there was grace during the era of the Law, and that there is law during this era of the Gospel; that the New Covenant is the completion of the Old; and that the Gospel of God finishes the work that was begun by the Law of God. It would seem from the language our Lord used in Matthew 5:17 that He had this very error in view; for His words were "Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." And likewise Paul, in the question he asks and answers concerning the Gospel: "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law."
Further consideration of this subject likewise must be deferred to a later chapter; so we will only add that the great difference between the past era and the present in respect to the law is that then the law of God was engraved upon tables of stone, whereas now it is written upon the hearts of His redeemed people (2 Cor. 3:3; Heb. 8:10).
The Seventh Dispensation. This, according to the most commonly held dispensational scheme, will be the Millennium; though some give a dispensational place to a supposed "great tribulation," or "time of Jacob's trouble," which they hold to be yet to come. But inasmuch as our present concern is not with any conjectural dispensations yet in the future, we shall pass this part of the general subject by without comment.
THE LAW AND THE GOSPEL
THE Bible distinguishes--not seven dispensations, each having a character exclusively its own, but two great eras of God's dealings with mankind; the first of which was preparatory to the second, and the second of which is the completion of the first. Their scriptural designations are:
First: The Old Covenant; or the Law and the Prophets; or simply, the Law.
Second: The New Covenant; or the Kingdom of God; or simply, the Gospel.
This division is not man-made, artificial, conjectural; for it comes to us plainly marked in the structure of the Bible itself, which is composed of two grand divisions, the Old Testament, and the New Testament. (And it should be noted that the word "Testament" is one of the renderings of a Greek word that is sometimes, as in Hebrews 8:6-10, and should be always, translated "Covenant").
Furthermore those two grand divisions of the Bible are clearly marked and separated, the one from the other, by the long stretch of time that intervened between them, there being a period of four hundred years between the last Book of the Old Testament and the first events (Luke I) recorded in the New. GOD HAS SPOKEN: TO THE FATHERS---TO US.
This scriptural division of God's dealings with men into two great eras is referred to in a number of passages. I have already cited Luke 16:16, "The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the Kingdom of God is preached," and John 1:17, "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." Another passage that clearly distinguishes them and also sheds light upon the whole subject is Hebrews 1:1, 2, "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son."
By this passage we learn that God has spoken in two different eras: (1) "in time past," and (2) "in these last days." Here we have something certain, and therefore we can safely build upon it. How valuable is the information that these days of the Gospel of Christ are "the last days"! But the dispensationalists must explain away the meaning of these words because, for one reason, their scheme provides for at least one dispensation after the termination of the Gospel era. There are, however, other passages that confirm and settle the meaning of this one. Thus Peter, speaking of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, said: "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel: And it shall come to pass in the last days saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh" (Acts 2:16, 17); which plainly locates the day of Pentecost in the era which God's Bible calls "the last days."
Likewise the same apostle writes concerning Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God, without blemish and without spot, saying: "Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you." (I Pet. 1:19, 20). And the apostle John says with characteristic brevity and emphasis: "Little children, it is the last time" (I John 2-18).
Then we have the words of Paul who, referring to
the things that befell the Israelites in the wilderness, said: "Now all
these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our
admonition upon whom the ends of the world (lit, the ends of the ages)
are come" (I Cor. 10:11). And again it is written concerning the first
coming of Christ that "now once in the end of the world hath He
appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb. 9:26). It is
worthy of special note that this last passage contains the adverb of time, "now,"
emphasizing the fact that the period of our Lord's coming and of His
sacrifice belongs to "the end of the ages." We recall that the
"Scofield Bible" places it in the era of the law, and does so for the
purpose of separating His words (and particularly His Sermon on the Mount) from
us, God's children, and allocating them to an imaginary Jewish Kingdom of a
supposed future dispensation. How satisfying to the heart, and how fatal to this
modernistic and pernicious error are the words of Hebrews 1:1, 2, quoted above,
which plainly declare that God "hath in these last days spoken UNTO US by
THE LAW OF MOSES AN UNSPEAKABLE BLESSING TO ISRAEL
And now as regards the character of God's dealings with those who were under the Law and the character of the Law itself, it is difficult indeed to account for and more difficult to speak calmly of, the terms of disparagement and strong repugnance in which the leaders of the dispensationalists express themselves when speaking of the Law of God. Of our Lord it was prophesied that He should "magnify the law and make it honorable," but the aim of many of His ministers in these days seems to be to belittle the law and make it detestable. Take a few specimens from the writings of prominent dispensationalists: "The Law is a ministry of condemnation, death, and the divine curse." So says the Scofield Bible (notes to Gal. 3:24). But does God's Bible speak that way? We shall see. And another leading dispensationalist declares that, "The law was the instrument of condemnation, and only that." In fact, the leaders among the dispensationalists seem to take a delight---not as did the Psalmists, "in the Law of the Lord" (Ps. 1:2), but---in inveighing in terms of strongest reprobation against it. In support of this view of the Law, reference is commonly made to certain passages in Galatians, and also to the seventh Chapter of Romans, which are misinterpreted in such a way as to cause them to render a semblance of support to that view. But before we examine those passages let us get the testimony of Scripture, which is clear and unequivocal, as to what the character of the Law actually is. We have already cited the testimony of Moses that the Law delivered at Sinai was God's love-gift to the people (Deut. 33:3). It is further stated in that inspired record of "the blessing wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death," that "they sat down at Thy feet; every one shall receive of Thy words" (v. 3). And he goes on to say: "Moses commanded us a law," and that that law is "the inheritance of Jacob" (v. 4).
A number of passages earlier in the Books of Moses reveal that the law was given as a means of life. Thus, in Deuteronomy 4:1, Moses exhorts Israel to hearken to the statutes and judgments which (he says) "I teach you for to do them, that ye may live." (And to the same effect see Leviticus 18:5.) And concerning God's law he says: "For this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear these statutes and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. . . . For what nation is so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law" (Deut. 4:6-8). Thus the Law of God was given the people of Israel to be their life; and it constituted their wisdom, their understanding, and their greatness in the sight of all other nations. And a little farther on Moses says: "And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive. . . . And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments." (Deut. 6:24, 25). And he tells them that it was because the Lord loved them that He had redeemed them out of Egypt; and that "He is the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments" (Deut. 6:8, 9). Thus, they were to love Him, because He first loved them; and they were to manifest their love by keeping his commandments. And is it any different now? Is it not written, "We love Him, because He first loved us" (John 4:19)? And does not our Lord say to us, even as he said to them "If ye love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15)?
Finally, before leaving Moses, we call attention to Deuteronomy 30:11-20, where he tells the people that the commandment which was to be their life, was not hidden from them (for God had revealed it to them) nor was it far off. It was not in heaven, neither was it beyond the sea; but it had been brought very nigh to them that they might hear it and do it. "And His commandments are not grievous" now (I John 5:3); nor were they grievous then. For on that occasion Moses gave as the great commandment of the law, "to love the Lord thy God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments" (cf. Matt. 22:37). And he repeats in verse 20 the exhortation that they would "love the Lord," and "obey His voice"; and for the reason that "He is thy life, and the length of thy days."
According to Paul, the word which Moses had said was "nigh" unto them, not afar off (in heaven or across the sea) was the very same "word of faith which we preach" (Rom. 10:8-13); citing in proof thereof two O.T. passages: "Whosoever believeth in Him shall not be ashamed" (Isa. 28:16); and "Whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved" (Joel 2:32).
Likewise Peter testifies that the things ministered by the prophets during the era of the Law are the same that are now proclaimed by those who preach the Gospel (I Pet. 1:12). We are not saying, of course, that it is not a far better thing to be under Grace than under Law; for truly God has "provided some better thing for us" (Heb. 11:40), but we are seeking the testimony of God's Bible as to the character of His law, which the "Scofield Bible" grievously maligns; and its testimony as to just what it meant to the Israelites to be under the law of God instead of being left to their own ways, as were the heathen all around them. And we have seen that Moses, the mediator of that Old Covenant, declared to them repeatedly that, in the possession of the law of God they were unspeakably blessed, and chiefly in that it provided a way of life for all who set their hearts to obey it. Looking a little further we note that the Book of Psalms opens with a glowing reference to the blessedness of the man whose "delight is in the law of the Lord," and who meditates in it "day and night" (Ps. 1:2). And there are other passages, not a few, which testify that the law of God was a thing in which the heart of man could (and therefore should) find delight, and find also profitable meditations continuously (Job. 23:12; Ps. 119:70, 77, 92, 174).
Now as to the effects of the law, so far from it being true that it was "the instrument of condemnation and only that," or "a ministry of condemnation, death, and the divine curse," the testimony of the Holy Spirit is that "the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul"; and that "the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes" (Ps. 19:7, 8). And the same Psalm declares as to the value of the commandments and judgments of the Lord, that they are "More to be desired than gold. Yea, than much fine gold"---more intrinsically valuable than great quantities of the richest treasures of earth---and that, so far from being distasteful and obnoxious, they are "sweeter also than honey and the droppings of honeycombs" (v. 10, marg.).
The writer of Psalm 119 adds his testimony that there are wondrous things to be seen in the law (v. 18); that it was better to him "than thousands of gold and silver" (v. 72); that he loved it beyond his power to express (v. 97); that by its precepts he got understanding, and learned thereby to hate every false way (v. 104); and that "great peace have they which love thy law; and nothing shall offend them" (v. 165).
Solomon too bears witness that "the commandment is a lamp, and the law is light" (Prov. 6:23); and that "the law of the wise is a fountain of life" (13:14). Light and life were surely there for all who sought them; and many sought and found. Solomon also records the words, "Keep My commandments and live, and my law as the apple of thine eye" (7:2).
Isaiah, in foretelling some of the glorious things that Christ (whom God designates in that passage as "My Servant") should accomplish, says that God had given Him "for a light of the Gentiles"; and that "He will magnify the law and make it honorable" (Is. 42:6, 21). Is not this a rebuke to those who traduce the law and make it despicable? Likewise during the Babylonian captivity God, in recounting the great things He had wrought for Israel and His many acts of mercy on their behalf, emphasizes the giving of the law as one of the chief of them, saying: "And I gave them my statutes and showed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them" (Ezek. 20:11).
Also through Hosea, God, in recounting the offences of Israel, said: "I have written to him the great things of My law; but they were counted as a strange thing" (Hos. 8:12). And through the very last of the prophets of Israel, and in almost the last words of his message, God calls to them: "REMEMBER YE THE LAW OF MOSES MY SERVANT, WHICH I COMMANDED UNTO HIM IN HOREB FOR ALL ISRAEL, WITH THE STATUTES AND JUDGMENTS" (Mal. 4:4).
Is it possible in the face of these testimonies to maintain that the law was imposed" upon Israel because of their own improvident choice? that "At Sinai they exchanged Grace for Law; they rashly accepted the law"? or that "The Law is a ministry of condemnation, death, and the divine curse," an instrument of "pitiless severity"? If not, shall we allow these false and derogatory things concerning the holy, life-giving and soul-enlightening law of our God to be any longer preached and taught amongst us without earnest protest on our part?
This is a serious matter indeed; and therefore I
trust that my readers may be moved to join in a solemn protest against the
further publication and sale of a book that many unwary children of God accept
as a "Bible," and which contains so grievous a misrepresentation
"amounting to a vilification" of the holy Law of God.
WHAT THE NEW TESTAMENT SAYS CONCERNING THE LAW
But it will be asked whether God's servants under the New Covenant, the apostles of our Lord who have been taught by Grace, do not give a different character to the Law, from that ascribed to it by Old Testament writers. We have quoted the words of Christ that He came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them; and also Paul's word to the same effect, that the purpose of the Gospel is to "establish the Law." Further our Lord declared that "the weightier matters of the law," which the Pharisees had omitted, are "judgment, mercy, and faith" (Matt. 23:23).
The apostle Paul also, whose words are cited as authority for the teaching we are now examining, speaks clearly and forcefully to the same effect. He says that "the righteousness of God," which is now manifested apart from the law (i.e. by the gospel) was "witnessed by the law and the prophets" (Rom. 3:21). Further he declares that "the commandment" was "ordained TO LIFE"; that "the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good"; and that "the law is spiritual" (Rom. 7:10, 12, 14); which testimonies carry the more weight because they are found in that very passage which is supposed to teach things derogatory to the law.
But does not Paul say that the law brought death and a curse? that those who are under the law are under a curse? and that no one can be justified by the law? The reply is that the law is indeed a two-edged sword, bringing life to those who submissively receive it and who set their heart to obey it; but bringing death and condemnation and a curse to those who despise it, or who only profess respect for it with the lips while in their hearts they continue unchanged in their own ways. But precisely the same thing is true of the Gospel. For the ministry of the gospel, like that of the law, while a ministry of "life unto life" to all who with humility receive and submissively "obey the gospel," is likewise a "savour of death unto death" to all who refuse it, or neglect it, or who profess with the mouth, but continue unchanged at heart (2 Cor. 2:16). For the word of Christ is salvation and life to all who receive it; but concerning him that receives not His words He Himself has said: "The word that 1 have spoken"---the very word that was given for his salvation---"the same shall judge him at the last day" (John 12:48). Precisely so is it with the commandment of God; for in that very passage Christ declared that "His commandment is life everlasting" (v. 50).
Indeed, the consequences threatened to "them that obey not the gospel" are represented as being even more severe than those threatened to them who refused obedience to the law (2 Thess. 1:7-10). And in Hebrews 10:28, 29 it is put this way: "If he that despised Moses' law died without mercy;---of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God"--etc.
Returning to Paul, we note that after saying that "the commandment was ordained unto life," he immediately adds that he "found it to be unto death" (Rom. 7:10). Why so? Because Paul was a Pharisee. He had been thoroughly indoctrinated into rabbinism, one of the cardinal doctrines of which was this very teaching as to the earthly and "Jewish" character of the Kingdom which has become the cornerstone of modern dispensationalism. He had been schooled in a barren orthodoxy. He was "called a Jew," and made his "boast of the law" (Rom. 2:17, 18, 23); but he had yet to learn that "He is not a Jew"---though "called a Jew"--"who is one outwardly; . . . but he is a Jew who is one inwardly" (vv. 28, 29).1 Of course to such it will be found that the law was "unto death"; and precisely so with the gospel. But all who were like Ezra, of whom it is recorded that he "prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it" (Ezra 7:10) have found that it was indeed "ordained unto life." Paul clearly states the principle here involved when he says, "But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully" (I Tim. 1:8). And the same is true of the gospel as well.
Then as regards the statement often heard in these days, that those who were under the law were under a curse, what Paul says is that "as many, as are of the works of the law are under the curse" (Gal. 3:10) which is quite another thing. For Paul is here remonstrating with those who were relying for their salvation upon the rites and ceremonies (the "works") of the law, upon circumcision, keeping of days and the like. "A man," he says, "is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 2:16). So it was under the Law precisely as now under Grace. And it should not be necessary to say that a man can no more be saved by Christian rites and observances (baptism, the Lord's supper, keeping holy days etc.) than by those of Judaism. So the apostle declared in another place, saying, that "Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore?" (Was it because righteousness was unattainable by the law? Not at all; but) "Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law" (Rom. 11:7); and as we have seen from the word of Christ Himself, faith is one of "the weightier matters of the law"; and of course no amount of "the works of the law" will serve instead.
Continuing in Galatians, Paul asks whether they had received the Spirit "by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith" (3:2); and whether he himself, who had ministered to them the Spirit and had wrought miracles among them, had done it "by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith" (v. 5). And then he declares that--so far from what the dispensationalists teach as to there having been a complete change in the principles of God's dealings with men--God acts now upon precisely the same principles as of old, "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness." And adds as a corollary: "Know ye therefore, that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham" (v. 7).
This verse clearly identifies those who are to inherit the promises made "to Abraham and his seed" (v. 16), and it completely rules out the natural descendants of Abraham. The last verse confirms this; for there we read, "And if ye be Christ's then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (v. 29). And this, as most impressively shown by the "allegory" in the next chapter, makes it evident that there remain no unfulfilled promises of blessing for the natural Jews as such. To this I hope to return.
Further in chapter III of Galatians, Paul takes up the question whether the law is against the promises of God" (v. 21). According to dispensational teaching the answer would be "yes." For, as we have seen, the so-called "dispensation of promise," which embraced the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and their descendants for several generations, terminated at Mt. Sinai where Israel "rashly accepted the law"; and thereupon a new dispensation (the law, with its ministry of condemnation, death and the curse, and with a character and ruling principles totally different) was inaugurated. Thus it is clearly the teaching of the Scofield Bible that the law is against the promises of God. But Paul rejects with indignation the idea that "the law" is in anywise contrary to "the promises of God," saying: "God forbid" (v. 21); and he goes on to show that the law had a great purpose to fulfill introductory to the coming of the One who was to accomplish eternal righteousness and to be the Fountain of eternal life to all the world. For he says: "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster"; and what for? "to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (v. 24). And he adds: "But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster" (v. 25). So far, therefore, from speaking with disparagement of that divinely-given "schoolmaster," or saying that his ministry was useless and worse, he shows that it was most necessary and important. It did not vacate the previously given promises. It did not introduce a new era characterized by contradictory principles; but "It was added" (to what God had previously done) "because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made" (v. 19). And a further purpose of the law, in preparation for the gospel, was "that every mouth might be stopped, and ALL THE WORLD BECOME GUILTY BEFORE GOD" (Rom. 3:19).
Following further the teaching of Galatians, we find that the law as given from Mt. Sinai on tables of stone was suited to an immature stage of God's dealings with the world (Gal. 4:1-4); and that the subsequent giving of the law into the hearts of a blood-washed people by the Holy Spirit (vv. 5-7) was the mark of the mature or adult stage of the same living person (so to speak). And from this we learn that the gospel, so far from being antagonistic to the law, sustains with respect thereto the same relation that the adult period of a man's life bears to his childhood.
And in this connection, the pertinent lesson for our present purpose is that "the works of the law" against which Paul was warning the Galatians (the observing of "days and months, and times, and years," (v. 10) and circumcision (5:2, 6), belonged to the childhood stage of God's dealings with His people. And it was for that reason that though they served useful purposes for a certain period, they were to be laid aside as outgrown things, now that "the fulness of the time was come (v. 4). As Paul said in another place: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, 1 put away childish things" (I Cor. 13:11)--not, be it noted, because they were detestable or reprehensible, but simply because they were outgrown, and would be a hindrance to the duties of manhood.
We see therefore, that the very passages that are used now-a-days to breed feelings of aversion toward the law of God, and to make it appear as something wholly antagonistic to the gospel, teach the very contrary; namely, that the law was a stage of the divine work preliminary to that of the gospel; or in other words, that the law and the gospel are complementary stages of one and the same great work of God.
For the truth in this regard is, as has been taught all through the Christian centuries, that the law was a necessary part of God's great plan of Redemption even as is the Gospel. And as an excellent specimen of what enlightened servants of Christ, men who were mighty in the Scriptures, had always taught concerning the relation of the Law to the Gospel (before dispensationalism was invented) I quote the following from Bernard's celebrated work, The Progress of Doctrine.
"A principle that is contended for and secured (by Christ's apostles in their teaching) is that the Gospel is the heir of the Law; that it inherits what the Law had prepared.
"The Law, on its national and ceremonial side, had created a vast and closely woven system of ideas. These were wrought out and exhibited by it in forms according to the flesh "an elect nation, a miraculous history, a special covenant, a worldly sanctuary, a perpetual service, an anointed priesthood, a ceremonial sanctity, a scheme of sacrifice and atonement, a purchased possession, a holy city, a throne of David, a destiny of dominion. Were these ideas to be lost? and was the language that expressed them to be dropped when the Gospel came? No! It was the heir of the Law. The Law had prepared these riches; and it now bequeathed them to a successor able to unlock and diffuse them. The Gospel claimed them all, and developed in them a value unknown before. It asserted itself as the proper and predestined continuation of the covenant made of God with the fathers, the real and only fulfillment of all that was typified and prophesied; presenting the same ideas which had been before embodied in the narrow but distinct limits of carnal forms in their spiritual, universal, and eternal character.
"The body of types according to the flesh died with Christ; and with Christ it arose again, a body of antitypes according to the Spirit. Those who were after the flesh could not recognize its identity; those who were after the Spirit realized and proclaimed it. The change was as great, the identity was as real, as in that mystery of the resurrection of the body which the same preachers showed; in which the earthly frame must lay aside the flesh and blood which cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, and must reappear; dead and raised again; another and yet the same; 'sown in weakness and raised in power, sown in dishonor and raised in glory, sown a natural body and raised a spiritual body.'"
1. In passing let it be noted that, by the light of this verse, it may be seen that all the promises of God which read to Israel or to the Jews, are for the true "Israel" (Rom. 9:6; Gal. 6:16), and the real Jews. See the passage herein on "ISRAEL HATH NOT OBTAINED; BUT THE ELECTION HATH OBTAINED IT." .
TO THE 2ND SECTION