BY C. R. STAM
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1: The Principles and Dispensations of God
Chapter 2: Prophecy and the Mystery
Chapter 3: The Two-fold Aspect of the Mystery
Chapter 4: The Unfolding of the Mystery
Chapter 5: The Last Days
Chapter 6: The Ministries of the Twelve and Paul Compared
Chapter 7: Peter and Paul as Witnesses
Chapter 8: Peter and Paul as Builders
Chapter 9: Petrine and Pauline Authority
Chapter 10: The So-called Great Commission
Chapter 11: Good News
Chapter 12: The Dispensational Place of Miracles and Baptism
Chapter 13: Paul's Early Ministry
Chapter 14: The Relation Between Prophecy and the Mystery
Chapter 15: The Lord's Supper
Return to Library
Great strides have already been taken in dispensational Bible study by such men of God as Darby, Scofield and Larkin, but it would be a mistake to suppose, as some seem to, that the ground has now been completely covered, for in "rightly dividing the Word of truth" the field is as large as the Book itself. Indeed, for the past years the need for another systematic book on dispensationalism has been increasingly felt as it has become evident that the popular writings now in existence on the subject fall short in at least one significant respect; namely, their failure to present clearly and consistently the distinctive character of Paul's message and ministry as the apostle of the present dispensation.
Most of our Bible teachers have seen to a limited degree the distinction between Paul's ministry and that of the twelve, but have taught at the same time that Paul labored under the so-called "great commission" given to the other apostles, that the church of this age began at Pentecost with Peter and the eleven, that "the gospel of the grace of God" was proclaimed before Paul, etc. This failure to grasp fully the distinctive character of Paul's apostleship has contributed much to the confusion that exists among fundamental believers and has left a great deal still to be clarified for those who desire "the full assurance of understanding."
The re-discovery of Paul's special place in God's program, and the increased emphasis laid in late years upon what he calls "my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery," have provided God's people with the key to many problems which, because they have remained so long unanswered, have caused the great dispensational Bible conferences of a generation ago to all but disappear.
In the study of the dispensations we enjoy true Bible analysis. We take the Book apart1, so to speak; not to cast any of it aside, but to examine its separate parts and to note the differences.
But we also enjoy true Bible synthesis in the study of the dispensations and see the perfect harmony of the whole Word of God. Many Bible schools advertise courses in Bible synthesis which really amount to nothing more than brief summaries of its sixty-six books. Any such course should be characterized as synopsis, not synthesis. Bible synthesis is a systematic study of the progressive unfolding of God's revelation and of the development of His dealings with men, as well as of the unity of His purpose in those dealings. It is a study of the dispensations in their relation to each other. Hence no study which denies or ignores the doctrine of dispensations is true Bible synthesis.
The present volume does not deal with the dispensations consecutively but rather with dispensationalism in its relation to God's message and program for today. Capital letters are used in some Scripture quotations to emphasize connections which might otherwise be overlooked. While single clauses are frequently quoted, we have not, we trust, used these in violation of their true sense in the light of their contexts. Sub-headings have been liberally used as an aid to clear thinking and at the close of each chapter we have added a list of twenty questions as a further help to the Bible student to consider and retain what he has read.
We gratefully acknowledge the help of others in the preparation of this volume. Of these, three have submitted doctrinal criticisms: Pastor Charles F. Baker of Milwaukee and Pastor Donald Elifson of Chicago; both well qualified to deal with dispensational matters, and Pastor J. C. O'Hair of Chicago, who has probably contributed more to the recovery of dispensational truth than any man living today. We do not, of course, imply that these brethren, necessarily endorse every detail of this volume as it now appears, but their criticisms have been prayerfully considered and many of their suggestions have been adopted.
Though we have sought to make this book as comprehensive as possible, it is not presumed to be exhaustive for, as we say, the field of dispensational study is as great as the Bible itself. Should there still be some time remaining before the Lord returns to catch His own away, the Spirit will enlighten the hearts and minds of others to see what we have missed and other writers will doubtless improve upon what has here been written.
As we send these studies forth we humbly pray that they may prove a substantial contribution to our readers' understanding and enjoyment of the Scriptures, and a distinct help in their service for Christ.
As the days grow darker may God lead us all further into
the light of His truth so that we may be more
intelligently and effectively used, "to the glory of His grace."
CORNELIUS R. STAM.
February 1, 1951
ALL CHARTS BY CORNELIUS R. STAM
ARTIST: WAYNE A. WEBB
RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD
"Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth."
* * * *
Those who seek to teach the Word rightly divided frequently encounter the objection that "All [or every] Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable . . ." (II Tim. 3:16). It is argued from this passage that it is dishonoring to God to divide the Bible into dispensations and emphasize the differences between them, since it is all for us, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22.
Does this mean, then, that II Tim. 2:15 and II Tim. 3:16 contradict each other? Surely they do not. The fact is that, written only a few paragraphs apart, by the same author, to the same person, about the same Book, these two verses complement each other. II Tim. 2:15 explains how God's workman may get most out of the Bible, while II Tim. 3:16 declares that all of it was given for his profit. All Scripture is indeed profitable when "rightly divided," but when wrongly divided or not divided at all, the truth is changed into a lie and becomes most unprofitable. Thus II Tim. 2:15 is the key to II Tim. 3:16 and to the understanding and enjoyment of the Word of truth.
One difficulty is that multitudes of Christians shrink from the effort involved in studying the Scriptures with a view to rightly dividing them. And, alas, their spiritual leaders often encourage them in their lethargy.
Some years ago we heard a preacher exclaim: "Some say, 'This is for the Jew and that is for the church. This is for us and that is not for us.' I take a whole Bible!"
Did he mean that we should not distinguish between God's program for Israel in Old Testament times and His program for the body of Christ today? Certainly not, but it sounded so. Did he mean that those who do thus divide the Word do not believe the whole Bible? No, but he gave that impression. He discouraged his hearers from endeavoring to rightly divide the Word of truth by implying that those who do so discard parts of the Bible as not for them. And this preacher was representative of a large proportion of the spiritual leaders in the church today.
Is it any wonder that the Christian masses use the Bible merely for devotional reading and often neglect even that? How can they be expected to have an interest in the study of the Scriptures when their leaders themselves fail to set the example? And one need but look about him to see the delinquency here. Where are the Bible teachers of yesterday? What has happened to the great Bible conferences that were held all over the land? How many pastors teach the Word to their congregations? And the missionaries and evangelists: is there not a widespread feeling that they do not need to study the Scriptures too thoroughly since "their business is to win souls"?
As a result, the vast majority of believers really understand very little of God's Word. They know the basic facts of salvation but seem quite satisfied to remain ignorant of precious truths which, if they but searched to find them, would make them workmen whom God could approve, not needing to be ashamed of their service for Him.
But rather than study to attain to a better understanding of the Word and become proficient in its use, many actually boast that they are satisfied with "the simple things"!
And this after all the earnest prayers of Paul that believers might have the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ (Eph. 1:17), that they might know what is theirs in Christ (Eph. 1:18-23) and comprehend the breadth and length and depth and height of it! (Eph. 3:18). This after all his labor and strife and conflict that they might have "the full assurance of understanding" (Col. 1:28-2:2). This after all his prayers that they might "be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding" (Col. 1:9). This after his stern rebuke of those carnal babes to whom he could preach no more than Christ crucified; whom he had to feed with milk alone because they were not able to digest solid food! (I Cor. 2 and 3).
Slothful Christians often consider themselves quite spiritual merely because their emotions are easily aroused. They boast of their contentment with "the simple things" while they should be ashamed of their indifference to the written Word of God. They claim great devotion to God, yet neglect the one great means of knowing Him better. They profess fervent faith in Him, yet scarcely trouble to find out just what He has said. They do not, like David, meditate upon God's Word day and night nor, like the prophets, "enquire and search diligently" as to its true meaning.
The results of this attitude toward the Word are appalling, for such may trust Christ for salvation, but beyond this they exercise, in most cases, a blind, superstitious faith that cannot but dishonor God. Feelings are taken for facts and their own wishes for God's Word. They go into wrong paths, saying, "But I prayed very earnestly about it and now feel perfectly at peace." They say, "The Lord spoke to me," and refer to some feeling rather than to some passage of Scripture consistently applied. Thoughtlessly they say, "If it's in the Bible I believe it," yet as they read the Bible they take to themselves only what warms their hearts and leave the rest unapplied, not knowing exactly why.
But those who boast of their contentment with "the simple things" and oppose dispensational Bible study on the ground that all the Bible is for us, have certainly missed the fact that all Scripture was given that the man of God might be perfectly fitted and fully equipped for his work (See II Tim. 3:17).
There is a great difference between the "child of God" and the "man of God" and no one who remains an infant in the truth can be approved as a workman for God or as a soldier of Jesus Christ, for the workmen God approves must know how to rightly divide the Word of truth and the soldiers He honors must know how to wield the Sword of the Spirit.
We can sympathize with those who have begun to study the Bible dispensationally and have found it confusing. The study of almost any subject is confusing at first, but as we persevere we begin to understand and to reap the fruits of our toil. Indeed, to any thoughtful person the Scriptures must continue to be confusing until he learns to rightly divide and so to understand them. And what joy can compare with that of coming into a fuller understanding of God's Word?
It is written concerning the great spiritual revival under Ezra, when the law was read and explained to the people of Israel:
"And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, BECAUSE THEY HAD UNDERSTOOD THE WORDS THAT WERE DECLARED UNTO THEM" (Neh. 8:12).
On the resurrection morning two disciples trudged wearily toward Emmaus, heart-broken because their Master had been crucified. They did not understand that according to the prophetic Word He must suffer and die before entering into His glory. Then the Lord Jesus Himself drew near and, unrecognized, explained this to them from the Scriptures until they understood and believed and rejoiced.
"And they said oneto another, DID NOT OUR HEART BURN WITHIN US, WHILE HE TALKED WITH US BY THE WAY, AND WHILE HE OPENED TO US THE SCRIPTURES?"(Luke 24:32).
Studying the Bible dispensationally may seem confusing at first but actually it dispels confusion, explains difficult problems, reconciles seeming contradictions and lends power to the believers ministry.
If I should step inside a modern United States Post Office all would doubtless seem very confusing to me. But it would be a mistake to suggest piling all the mail neatly in one corner and handing it out promiscuously to all corners as some would do with the Bible. The postal employees must "rightly divide" the mail so that each person receives what is addressed to him. What seems like confusion to the novice is really a simplification of the work to be done in getting each person's private mail to him.
It is granted that in the Bible even that which was addressed to those of other dispensations is given to us for our learning and profit, but we must not confuse this with our own private mail or make the mistake of carrying out instructions meant particularly for others.
While I am reading mail addressed personally to me, a friend may hand me, for my interest or information, mail addressed to him. His mail and mine may all prove informative and profitable, but I must still be careful not to confuse the two, expecting to receive things promised to him or carrying out instructions addressed to him.
Thus all the Bible is for us, but it is not all
addressed to us or written about us, and if we would really understand
and enjoy it; if we would really know how to use it effectively in service
for Christ, we must be careful always to note who is addressing whom, about
what and when and why.
THE PRINCIPLES AND
DISPENSATIONS OF GOD
One of the first lessons the Bible student should learn is the difference between the principles and the dispensations of God.
The opponents of dispensationalism have often charged us with teaching, for example, that under the Old Testament men were saved by the works of the law, whereas today they are saved by grace through faith.
This charge is at least misleading, for no thinking dispensationalist would teach that the works of the law in themselves could ever save, or even help save, anyone.
We understand clearly that "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20). Nor do we suppose that the works of the ceremonial law had any essential power to save. We have not forgotten that the Scriptures also teach that "it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins" (Heb. 10:4).
We have no illusions as to man's utter inability to please God by works as such in any age. Man has always been saved essentially by the grace of God, through faith. There could be no other way to be saved. This is a fixed principle to which Hebrews 11 bears abundant testimony and it should be self-evident to those who accept as facts the utter depravity of man and the infinite holiness of God.
But this does not alter the fact that God's dealings with men and the stated terms of acceptance with Him have changed again and again down through the ages and that faith in Him would therefore be expressed in different ways. Hebrews 11 also bears consistent testimony to this fact.
Faith would most assuredly approach God in God's way at
any time, and to seek to gain acceptance with Him in any other way would,
of course, be unbelief and self-will. Thus, while works never
did or could save as such, they did once save as expressions
THE PRINCIPLES OF GOD
A principle, as we have used the word above, is a settled rule of morality or conduct. We respect men with principles; men who stand for the right, whatever the cost. God, of course, has the very highest principles and never deviates from them. He always did and always will hate sin. Sin always was and always will be contrary to His holy nature. In no age has this been any less so than in any other age. In like manner, God always did and always will delight in righteousness, mercy and love. God never has and never will deviate in the slightest degree from these principles.
The principle of law or justice, for example, has continued unchanged through the ages. No matter what the dispensation, when wrong is done God's sense of justice is offended. This may be simply demonstrated by three Scriptural examples:
Cain lived before the dispensation of the law by Moses. Cain murdered his brother Abel. Was this right or wrong? Did he get into trouble over it? He did, although the written law had not yet been given.
David lived under the law of Moses. He also committed murder. Was this right or wrong? Wrong, of course, and he also got into trouble over it.
You and I live after the law, under the dispensation of grace. Suppose we should commit murder, would that be right or wrong? Would we get into trouble over it-- with God? Would the fact that Christ bore our sins on Calvary, make murder any more right? Would God look upon it as less sinful because it took place under the dispensation of grace?
You say, in the case of the true believer today, the full legal penalty for the sin would still have been borne by Christ and, though he knew it not, David too was forgiven on this ground. But does not the very fact that David's sins and ours were paid for, rather than overlooked, prove that the principles of law and justice remain fixed?
The principle of grace is equally unchangeable. This may be simply demonstrated by one passage of Scripture: Rom. 4:1-6:
Abraham lived before the dispensation of the law. How was he justified? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness" (Rom. 4:3).
David lived under the law. How was he justified? "David also describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works" (Rom. 4:6).
You and I live after the law, under the dispensation of grace. How are we justified? "To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Rom. 4:5).
Now in the cases of Abraham
and David, works were required for salvation, whereas in our case
works for salvation are distinctly forbidden; yet it is clear from
the passages above that Abraham, David and we were all saved essentially
grace through faith and that works as such have never had any saving
THE DISPENSATIONS OF GOD
WHAT IS A DISPENSATION?
While the principles of God have to do with His character, His nature, the dispensations of God concern His dealings with those under Him, especially with man.
Many people have been frightened away from dispensationalism by the length of the word itself, especially since some who seek to rightly divide the Word have been called Ultradispensationalists! The root of this long word, however, has a very simple meaning, for the word dispense means simply to deal out. The word dispensation, then, means the act of dispensing or dealing out, or, that which is dispensed or dealt out. There are medical dispensaries for example, where medicines are dispensed to the poor. Sometimes these dispensations are conducted on a particular day of each week. Now such a dispensation of medicine may take a full twelve hours each week, but it does not follow from this that a dispensation is a period of twelve hours! Yet there are some who, when they think of dispensations, can think of nothing but periods of time! Indeed, one of the greatest Bible teachers of the past generation defined a dispensation as follows: "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."
This is incorrect, for a dispensation is not a period of time but the act of dealing out or that which is dealt out. The Bible teacher above referred to doubtless meant that a dispensation covers a period of time.
The word dispensation is not a mere theological term. It is used many times in the Bible, though not always translated thus. In Eph. 3:2, for example, Paul writes of "the dispensation of the grace of God, which is given me to you-ward." Just as the dispensation of the law was committed to Moses (John 1:17), so the dispensation of the grace of God was committed to Paul.
The organic meaning of the original word for dispensation (oikonomia) is house management, though its usage conforms closely to the English word dispensation. Sometimes this word is translated stewardship in the Authorized Version. This is interesting because the word steward (oikonomos), rather than meaning servant, as some have supposed, means house manager. The steward was the head servant, the one into whose hands the management of the house was committed. He dealt out the money for the household necessities, dispensed the food and clothing to the servants and children, paid the wages, etc. All was entrusted to him to dispense faithfully and wisely. He was the appointed dispenser of his Lord's goods and of the business of the household.2
Thus we read in Luke 12:42:
"And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward [oikonomos] whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season?"
In Luke 16:1,2, where again the words oikonomos and oikonomia are translated steward and stewardship, we have the same idea:
"And He said also unto His disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.
"And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? Give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward."
In I Cor. 9:16,17 this same word is again translated dispensation, but once more it conveys the same idea:
"For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for NECESSITY IS LAID UPON ME; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel!
"For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward; but [even] if against my will [I MUST do it, for] A DISPENSATION OF THE GOSPEL IS COMMITTED UNTO ME."
Note that in each of these cases the idea of responsibility is involved. It was "a faithful and wise steward" the Lord sought to set over his household. The rich man discharged his steward because he had wasted his goods. Necessity, or responsibility, was laid upon Paul because "a dispensation of the gospel" had been committed to him.
One of the clearest passages of all in this connection is found in I Cor. 4:1,2, where the Apostle Paul says:
"LET A MAN SO ACCOUNT OF US AS OF THE MINISTERS [SERVANTS] OF CHRIST AND STEWARDS [DISPENSERS] OF THE MYSTERIES OF GOD.
"MOREOVER, IT IS REQUIRED IN STEWARDS THAT A MAN BE FOUND FAITHFUL."
Let us get this meaning of
the word dispensation clearly fixed in our minds. When we
see that a dispensation involves responsibility rather than merely
denoting a period of time, we will, if sincerely desirous to be in the
will of God, seek to understand clearly and to carry out faithfully, the
dispensation of the grace of God committed to us.
CHANGES IN THE DISPENSATIONS
It must be evident to the most casual reader of the Scriptures that a great change in God's dealings with man took place at the fall. Previous to that Adam and Eve had enjoyed unbroken fellowship with God, dwelling in blissful innocence in the beautiful garden of Eden.
But now all was changed. Sin had caused a separation from God. Adam and Eve were driven from the garden. A sense of blameworthiness overcame them which, from then on, was to play a large part in their actions. Ashamed, now, to appear before God as they were, they had to be clothed. Adam had to earn a living for himself and his family by hard toil and Eve was to bring forth children in sorrow. Worst of all, sin had entered into the world, and death by sin. All this, of course, involved a change in man's responsibilities to God and to others.
From this point on God's dealings with men changed again and again. Human Government was instituted after the flood, with Noah (Gen. 9:6), the dispensation of promise began with Abram (Gen. 12:1-3), "the law was given by Moses" (John 1:17), "grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17) and was dispensed by Paul, the chief of sinners, saved by grace (Eph. 3:1-3).
The foregoing are some of the most prominent dispensational changes to date, but these may be sub-divided and there are still others to come.
Thus, while the principles of God never change, His dispensations, His dealings with men, do change from time to time. This includes even the terms of acceptance with God. At first blood sacrifices were required (Gen. 4:3-5, Heb. 11:4); then, later, circumcision was added (Gen. 17:14); then obedience to the whole Mosaic law was demanded (Ex. 19:5, 6, Rom. 10:5); then "the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (Mark 1:4, Acts 2:38) and today it is
"TO HIM THAT WORKETH NOT, BUT BELIEVETH ON HIM THAT
JUSTIFIETH THE UNGODLY; HIS FAITH IS COUNTED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS" (Rom. 4:5).
Note carefully that while God refuses works for salvation today, He required them under other dispensations. This was not, as we have explained, because works in themselves could ever save, but because they were the necessary expression of faith when so required.
Tradition has it that men have always been saved through faith in the shed blood of Christ; that even those who lived before the cross had to look forward in faith to the death of a coming Christ for salvation.
It is high time that this false notion, so deeply rooted in the minds of even sincere believers, be shattered, for it does not have one single line of Scriptural support.
Let us not be misunderstood. It is true that all the saints of past ages were saved through the merits of Christ's shed blood, but not through their faith in that shed blood. Those of past ages were expected to believe only what God had thus far revealed, or what He had revealed to them. In other words, they were saved simply because they trusted God and believed what He said. The full plan of salvation has since been unfolded, but the Scriptures make it crystal clear that these believers were saved without even understanding that Christ would die for them.
I Pet. 1:10,11 alone makes this clear:
"OF WHICH SALVATION THE PROPHETS HAVE INQUIRED AND SEARCHED DILIGENTLY, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:
"SEARCHING WHAT, or what manner of time, THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST WHICH WAS IN THEM DID SIGNIFY, WHEN IT [HE] TESTIFIED BEFOREHAND THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST, AND THE GLORY THAT SHOULD FOLLOW."
Mark well, they did not search merely concerning the "manner of time," i.e., the character of the times, during which these things should transpire. They searched and inquired diligently to discover "WHAT . . . the Spirit . . . did signify," ie., what He meant, "when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow." And the next verse goes on to explain that God revealed to them that they were ministering, not to themselves, but to those of a future time.
Could anything be clearer from this than that they did not even understand what the Spirit meant when He predicted the sufferings of Christ? How, then, could they have been saved through faith in His shed blood?
An indignant opponent of dispensationalism once asked us: "Do you mean to tell us that Moses commanded the building of the tabernacle with its gate and curtains, its brazen altar and layer, its table of shewbread, its golden lampstand and altar of incense, its ark of the covenant and mercy seat, and did not tell them that all these were types of Christ and His finished work?"
Our reply was simply, "What saith the Scripture?" Is there any hint whatever that Moses told them that these things pointed to Christ or that he even had any idea of this himself? We now know that these things were typical of Christ and His work of redemption, and rejoice to see that God had this in mind all the while; that the cross was neither an accident nor an afterthought, but this revelation is conspicuously absent from the Old Testament record. There is no hint that Moses even knew, much less taught, that these things were typical of Christ.3
If it is true that Moses and the prophets knew and understood about the coming death of Christ and had to trust in His shed blood for salvation, would this not also be true of the twelve apostles? Yet they had labored with Christ Himself for a considerable length of time, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, before He even began to tell them that He must suffer and die, and when He did tell them Peter rebuked Him for His "defeatist" attitude!
Matt. 16:21,22: "From that time forth began Jesus to show unto His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
"Then Peter took Him, and began to rebuke Him, saying, Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee."
Later, when He told them again that these things must come to pass as predicted by the prophets, they did not have the slightest idea what He was talking about. This fact is impressed upon us by a three-fold emphasis in Luke 18:34:
1. "AND THEY UNDERSTOOD NONE OF THESE THINGS:
2. "AND THIS SAYING WAS HID FROM THEM,
3. "NEITHER KNEW THEY THE THINGS WHICH WERE SPOKEN."
By this time they had been associated with Christ preaching the gospel of the kingdom and working miracles, for at least two years, yet they did not even know that He would suffer and die. Does this mean that none of them were saved? Certainly not. It simply confirms what Peter says about the prophets searching and inquiring diligently what the Spirit, who spoke through them, meant when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow.
It may surprise some of our readers to find that even after the resurrection, at Pentecost, Peter himself did not see in the death of Christ what we see in it today. He now knew about the crucifixion, of course, as a historical fact, but he did not base any offer of salvation upon it. Indeed, he blamed Israel for it and when his hearers were convicted of their sins and asked what they should do, he replied:
"REPENT, AND BE BAPTIZED EVERY ONE OF YOU IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS . . ." (Acts 2:38).
Was this because he was out of the will of God or blinded by unbelief? No; he was "filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:4). It was simply that the "due time" had not yet arrived to make these things known.
This brings us again to the importance of a recognition of the distinctive ministry of Paul. It is not until Paul that we have what is properly called "the preaching of the cross." It is he who first says:
"BUT NOW THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD WITHOUT THE LAW IS MANIFESTED . . .
"Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe . . .
"BEING JUSTIFIED FREELY BY HIS GRACE THROUGH THE REDEMPTION THAT IS IN CHRIST JESUS:
"Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation THROUGH FAITH IN HIS BLOOD, to declare HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS THAT ARE PAST,4 through the forbearance of God;
"To declare, I say, AT THIS TIME, His righteousness: that He might be just, and THE JUSTIFIER OF HIM WHICH BELIEVETH IN JESUS" (Rom. 3:21-26).
This is what the Apostle Paul meant by
"THE FAITH WHICH SHOULD AFTERWARDS BE REVEALED" (Gal. 3:23).
This is what he meant when he wrote of Christ:
"Who gave Himself a ransom for all, TO BE TESTIFIED IN DUE TIME.
"WHEREUNTO I AM ORDAINED A PREACHER, AND AN APOSTLE, (I SPEAK THE TRUTH IN CHRIST, AND LIE NOT;) A TEACHER OF THE GENTILES IN FAITH AND VERITY" (I Tim. 2:6,7).
But this will be further discussed in a later lesson. All we are seeking to establish here is the fact of progressive revelation and the utter unscripturalness of the tradition that those who lived before Christ were saved by looking forward in faith to His finished work.
This is not only established in a negative way in the Scriptures; it is also established in a positive way. It is not merely made plain that the saints of past ages did not understand about Christ's death, but in many cases we are told exactly what they did know and believe to find acceptance with God.
We have stated that Hebrews 11 makes it clear that salvation has always been the reward of faith. There is one constant that runs all down through the chapter: "By faith . . . By faith . . . By faith." At the introduction to the long list of acts of faith wrought by individuals, we read that "By it [faith] the elders obtained a good report" and that "without faith it is impossible to please [God]" and the whole long list closes with the statement: "These all . . . obtained a good report through faith" (Verses 2,6,39).
But there are variables in Hebrews 11 too, for in almost every case these heroes of faith believed some different revelation of God and expressed their faith in some different way. But nowhere in this list of saints do we read of one who was saved by faith in the death of a coming Christ. It is we who now know that they were saved through the death of Christ. And when Christ is preached to us, we show our faith by ceasing our works and accepting with humble thanks what He has done for us.
In Heb. 11:4 we are told precisely how Abel obtained divine witness that he was righteous:
"BY FAITH ABEL OFFERED UNTO GOD A MORE EXCELLENT SACRIFICE THAN CAIN, BY WHICH HE OBTAINED WITNESS THAT HE WAS RIGHTEOUS, GOD TESTIFYING OF HIS GIFTS; and by it he, being dead, yet speaketh."
This agrees with the record in Gen. 4:4,5:
"And the Lord had respect unto ABEL AND to HIS OFFERING,
"But unto CAIN AND to HIS OFFERING He had not respect."
There is not one word here about faith in the death of Christ. Abel obtained witness that he was righteous because he brought the required sacrifice and God testified, not of his faith in Christ, but of his gifts.
In Heb. 11:7 we are further told exactly how Noah became an heir of "the righteousness which is by faith."
"BY FAITH NOAH, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, PREPARED AN ARK, to the saving of his house [from the flood]; BY WHICH HE CONDEMNED THE WORLD AND BECAME HEIR OF THE RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH IS BY FAITH."
Could anything be plainer than this? How did Noah become an heir of the righteousness which is by faith? By trusting in the death of a coming Christ? No, by believing what God had said about the flood, and building an ark.
And so on down the chapter. Each of these elders obtained a good report because he believed God's word to him.
What about Abraham, God's great example of faith? How was he justified?
"What saith the Scripture? ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD AND IT WAS COUNTED UNTO HIM FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS" (Rom. 4:3).
But what had God said that Abraham believed? Had God told him about a coming Christ who would die on a cross for him? Read the record and see, for this passage in Romans is quoted from Gen. 15:5,6:
"And [the Lord] brought him forth abroad, and said, look now toward heaven, and tell [count] the stars, if thou be able to number them: and He said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
"AND HE BELIEVED IN THE LORD; AND HE COUNTED IT TO HIM FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS."
Again we ask: could anything be plainer than this? Is there one word here about the death of Christ? Certainly not. God simply promised here to multiply Abraham's seed, and Abraham believed God and trusted Him to keep His word. It was this simple faith in God that God counted to him for righteousness. We now know that it was on the basis of the coming death of Christ that God could justly do this, but that was not yet revealed to Abraham.
Later God gave the law and demanded perfect obedience for acceptance with Him (Ex. 19:5,6, Rom. 10:5). He knew, of course, that no man could keep it perfectly, but He knew too that true believers would earnestly seek to keep it and He would honor their faith in Him. Also, He had Christ in mind to pay the penalty for a broken law so that His righteousness might be imputed to those who had taken His word seriously.
That He had the plan of redemption in mind all the while is indicated by the fact that He had them put the covenant of the law in a coffin5 and met them, through their high priest, at the blood sprinkled mercy seat, but He did not explain the significance of all this to them. He must first demonstrate historically man's utter inability to keep God's holy law.
We know, for example, that David was really saved by God's grace, not by his own feeble works, but suppose he had proclaimed salvation "without the law" or, like Paul, had said: "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days" (Col. 2:16)! He would soon have been forced to abdicate his throne and would have been put to death for despising the written law of God.
Again we are told exactly how John the Baptist's hearers received the remission of sins. Was it by faith in the death of Christ, who had by then already appeared on the scene? Read the Scriptures and see:
"John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach THE BAPTISM OF REPENTANCE FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS" (Mark 1:4).
If these words do not mean what they say, then the Scriptures serve no purpose whatever as a revelation from God to man.6
Suppose while John preached the baptism of repentance for remission of sins, some Israelite had risen to say: "To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Rom. 4:5)! He would have been taken out and stoned in accordance with the law.
Yes, and on the positive side we are even told how the 3,000 at Pentecost found the remission of sins:
"Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
"Then Peter said unto them . . ."
What did he say? Note it carefully. Did he say: "Christ died for your sins. Simply trust Him and eternal life is yours"? He did not. His entire Pentecostal address will be searched in vain for any such statement. Indeed, Peter's hearers had become convicted because he had charged them with the guilt of Christ's death. And when they asked what they must do, Peter replied:
"REPENT, AND BE BAPTIZED EVERY ONE OF YOU IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS, AND YE SHALL RECEIVE THE GIFT OF THE HOLY GHOST" (Acts 2:37,38).
This was in perfect conformity with the requirements of the so-called "great commission," which the church of today seeks, in a half-hearted way, to carry out:
"And He said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel7 to every creature.
"HE THAT BELIEVETH AND IS BAPTIZED SHALL BE SAVED; BUT HE THAT BELIEVETH NOT8 SHALL BE DAMNED [CONDEMNED]" (Mark 16:15,16).
We are aware that some, to uphold their own baptism theories, have interpreted this to mean, "He that believeth and is saved ought to be baptized," but such wresting of the clear words of Scripture cannot but displease God and pervert our understanding of His program.
On the positive side, as on the negative, we again wait for the raising up of Paul before we learn of "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24), "the dispensation of the grace of God" (Eph. 3:1,2) and "the preaching of the cross," i.e., as glad news to be accepted by faith for salvation (I Cor. 1:18,23, Gal. 6:14, Rom. 3:25,26).
It is evident, then, that the saints of past ages were
not all saved by believing the same things, for God did not reveal the
same things to them all. Indeed, even the stated terms of salvation
were changed from time to time.
It is one of the first principles of sound Bible interpretation not to anticipate revelation, yet how many unconsciously do this! They read the Old Testament and the gospel records as though the saints of those times must have understood all about the death of Christ as it is presented in Romans, Galatians and Ephesians!
Think a moment: Had Abel understood about the death of Christ for sin, would a blood sacrifice have been required of him? Should he not, in such a case, have rested in the complete redemption to be wrought by Christ? Would not the bringing of a blood sacrifice, in such a case, have indicated unbelief rather than faith?
Now that the death of Christ
has been proclaimed for salvation, does God command us to offer
animals in sacrifice? Suppose we should offer such sacrifices only
as symbolic of His death, to help us worship Him better, would that be
merely unnecessary or would it be wrong? In the light
of Paul's epistles it would, of course, be wrong.9
Yet many have a hazy idea that those who lived before Christ offered their
sacrifices with the full understanding that they typified the death of
Christ on Calvary. The fact is that these types were not understood
until after the Antitype had appeared. We now rejoice,
as we consider them, in the proof that God had Calvary in mind all the
while; that the death of Christ was not an accident or an after-thought.
But God was teaching one lesson at a time: first the shadows, then the
substance; first the sacrifices, then later, Christ the great, all-sufficient
THE HARMONY BETWEEN
THE PRINCIPLES AND DISPENSATIONS
But do not the principles and the dispensations of God conflict? No indeed. Men in every age have been saved simply by believing God and approaching Him in His appointed way. When works were required for salvation, they did not save as such, but only as the required expression of faith. With the Old Testament saints the bringing of the required sacrifices, etc., constituted "the obedience of faith." With us, resting in the finished work of Christ for salvation is "the obedience of faith." See Rom. 1:5, 6:17, 15:18, 16:26, Heb. 5:9, 11:8.
When God says, "Offer an animal in sacrifice and I will accept you," what will faith do? Faith will offer an animal in sacrifice, of course. Abel did this and was accepted, not because the blood of beasts can take away sins, but because he approached God in God's way. This is "the obedience of faith."
In the case of Cain we have a clear indication that God is not satisfied with mere works, as such, for Cain offered a more attractive-looking sacrifice than Abel, but was rejected because he did not bring the sacrifice which God had required (Gen. 4:5).
When God says: "Build an ark and I will save you and yours from the flood," what will faith do? Faith will build an ark, of course. And when Noah did this he showed his faith in God and "became an heir of the righteousness which is by faith."
When God says, "Obey my voice indeed and you will be Mine," what will faith do? Faith will try earnestly to obey. You say: But they could not obey perfectly, therefore would be rejected by God. We reply that we have already proved that works in themselves cannot save. It was only as Israelites recognized the law as the Word of God to them and therefore sought to obey it that they were saved. Such an effort to keep the law represented "the obedience of faith."
When God says, "Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins," what will faith do? Just one thing: repent and be baptized. We know that oceans of water cannot wash away one sin, yet when John the Baptist and Peter preached repentance and baptism for remission not one of their hearers would have interpreted their words to mean: "Trust in the death of Christ for salvation." Indeed, when God required water baptism for salvation the only way to manifest faith was to be baptized, and those who refused to do so were condemned for their unbelief:
"But the Pharisees and lawyers REJECTED THE COUNSEL OF GOD AGAINST THEMSELVES, BEING NOT BAPTIZED OF HIM" (Luke 7:30).
But when God says, "BUT NOW the righteousness of God without the law is manifested" (Rom. 3:21); "To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Rom. 4:5); "Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24); "In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. 1:7); "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us" (Tit. 3:5); "Not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8,9)-- when God now says this, what will faith do? Faith will say, "This is the most wonderful offer ever made by God to man. I cannot refuse it. I will trust Christ as my Savior and accept salvation as the free gift of God's grace."
So the dispensations of God in no way conflict with His principles, for the Old Testament saints, though saved instrumentally10 by works, were saved essentially by grace through faith." But now the righteousness of God without the law has been manifested (Rom. 3:21). It was "testified in due time" through the Apostle Paul (I Tim. 2:6,7). He says it was given to him to "declare, I say, at this time, His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of Him which believeth in Jesus" (Rom. 3:26). Thus, to bring works to God for salvation today would be unbelief.
A prominent opponent of these truths has argued that truth is horizontal, not vertical, i.e., that it runs on through the ages unchanged and unchangeable. This is true. Truth is horizontal, but the revelation of truth is vertical, i.e., God has revealed truth to man, not all at once, but a little at a time, historically. Noah knew more of God's revelation than Adam, Abraham than Noah, Moses than Abraham, the twelve than Moses, Paul than the twelve.
Thus too, the principles of God are horizontal;
they go on unchanged through every age. But the dispensations are
and follow one after another as God imparts new revelations to man.11
1. What is a dispensation?
2. What other word (besides dispensation) is sometimes used in the Authorized Version to translate oikonomia?
3. Prove by Scripture that the moral law could not, in itself, save from sin.
4. Prove by Scripture that the ceremonial law could not, in itself, save from sin.
5. In what sense did works once save?
6. Were men of past dispensations saved by the death of Christ?
7. Was this preached to them?
8. Were they offered salvation by faith in the death of a coming Christ?
9. Prove by Scripture that salvation by the blood of Christ, apart from works, was not proclaimed in Old Testament times.
10. Draw a chart or state in geometrical terms the difference between truth and the revelation of truth.
11. Explain how the dispensation of law did not violate God's principle of saving men by grace through faith.
12. Would it be wrong today to observe ordinances once required for salvation?
13. Would it be wrong to observe an ordinance once required for salvation, if we acknowledged that it had no saving value?
14. Prove this by Scripture.
15. What statement by our Lord concerning baptism has been changed by most Fundamentalists to make it correspond with their views on baptism?
16. Through whom did God first begin to dispense His message and program for today?
17. Prove this by Scripture.
18. Could any Old Testament person, refusing to bring sacrificial offerings, be saved?
19. Could any under John the Baptist or at Pentecost, refusing to be baptized, be saved?
20. Give Scriptural examples.
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