THE DISPENSATIONAL GOSPELS
Dispensationalism stands or falls upon rightly dividing the Word of truth (2 Tim.
2:15). Dr. Charles C. Ryrie put it succinctly: "The essence of
dispensationalism ... is the distinction between Israel and the Church" (Dispensationalism
Today, p. 47).
Dispensationalism is in danger of falling because of a
careless dilution of her life-sustaining distinctions. One factor is the seminary teaching
that the Church has a part in Israel's earthly-kingdom New Covenant (Jer. 31:31,33; Ezek.
36:26,27; 37:14). But a far more pervasive error is that of failure to distinguish between
Jesus' earthly Gospel for Israel, and His heavenly Gospel for the Church.
For too long the Church has been subjected to a Synoptic,
kingdom Gospel that was never intended for her. She is thereby diverted from her heavenly
Gospel and position in the One "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and
knowledge" (Col. 2:3).
Mr. John N. Darby, the father of systematized
Dispensationalism (and much more), lamented over the condition of the Church 100 years
ago, which condition persists to this very day--circa 1991.
It is a chief burden for me as regards the Church that
they are as persons outside; not inside, entered through the rent veil, abiding in the
light of the Father's countenance and gazing upon the Lord Jesus Christ in His own divine
perfectness with the eye that the Holy Spirit gives (2 Cor. 3:18). This is my daily, if
not hourly, grief. (Doctrine, Vol. 7:185)
DR. JOHN F. MacARTHUR
-- The Gospel According to Jesus is quoted in
red italic text. Let us
seriously consider a present-day grief that concerns the Church, and each one of us as a
member of that Body.
Several years ago I began to study and preach through
the Gospel of Matthew. As I worked through the life and ministry of our Lord, a clear
understanding of the message He proclaimed and the evangelistic method He used
crystallized in my thinking. I came to see Jesus' Gospel as the foundation upon which all
N. T. doctrine stands. Many difficult passages in the Epistles became clearer when I
understood them in that light.
This book grew out of seven years of study in the
Gospels. As I have immersed myself in the Gospel Jesus taught, I have become acutely aware
that most of modern evangelism--both witnessing and preaching--falls short of presenting
the biblical evangel in a balanced and biblical way. On a disturbing number of fronts, the
message being proclaimed today is not the Gospel according to Jesus. (Introduction, p. 15)
Note well the startling statement,
"I came to see
Jesus' Gospel as a foundation upon which all N.T. doctrine stands." This
is gross Covenant error! Christianity cannot go back prior to the Cross for anything
as its basis. The throne of heaven is the foundation of the Church, from whence she
began at Pentecost.
As for the comment, "... the message being
proclaimed today is not the Gospel according to Jesus," we can praise the Lord
for that--it had better not be!
-- At the outset we must establish just what Dr. MacArthur purports the Gospel according
to Jesus to be.
No passage in all Scripture attacks modern-day
easy-believeism with more force than Matthew 7:13,14. It is the conclusion of the
Sermon on the Mount, and it amounts to the Savior's own presentation of the way of
This passage crushes the claim of those who say the
Sermon on the Mount is not Gospel but law. In fact this is pure Gospel, with as pointed an
invitation as has ever been presented. Here, in the culmination of all He has said
in the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord demands that each person choose between following the
world on the easy well-traveled road, or following Him on the difficult road. You
will not find a plainer statement of the Gospel according to Jesus anywhere in Scripture.
Dr. MacArthur's particular error here lies in his applying
Jesus' kingdom Gospel for earthly Israel to the heavenly Church! He has followed his
many Covenant mentors in thinking that there is but one Gospel, and but one
salvation. Furthermore, he expresses the strong bias of Covenant theologians toward
Dispensationalism and its leaders.
Some dispensationalists have seen "the Gospel of
the kingdom" that Jesus proclaimed (Matt. 4:23) as distinct from "the Gospel of
the grace of God" (Acts 20:24). Also that the substance of this "Gospel of the
kingdom" is "that God purposes to set up on earth the kingdom of Christ... in
fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant" (New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1366).
Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote that the Gospel of the
kingdom was for the nation of Israel only "and should in no way be confused with the
Gospel of saving grace" (Grace, Zondervan, p. 132).
Another early dispensational writer declared that the
Gospel Jesus preached had nothing to do with salvation but was simply an announcement that
the time had come to set up the kingdom of Christ on earth (Clarence Larkin-Rightly
Dividing the Word, p. 61).
All this may fit neatly into a particular
dispensational scheme, but Scripture does not support it. We must not forget that Jesus
came to seek and to save the lost, not merely to announce an earthly kingdom. When Jesus
proclaimed His kingdom, He was preaching salvation. (p. 89)
Yes, He was preaching salvation, i.e., kingdom
salvation--a far cry from spiritual birth as a new creation in Christ Jesus, who is our
Life (Col. 3:3).
On this page alone, in one fell swoop, Dr. MacArthur
sweeps aside such dispensational leaders as Dr. C.I. Scofield, and members of his Scofield
Reference Bible Editorial Committee, such as Dr. E. Schuyler English, Dr. Wm. Culbertson,
Dr. Charles Feinberg, Dr. Clarence Mason, Dr. Alva McClain, and Dr. John Walvoord. Also
Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, and Clarence Larkin.
DR. LEWIS SPERRY CHAFER --
Grace - The Glorious Theme -- In this invaluable classic, Dr. Chafer
reveals clearly that Dr. MacArthur is erroneously applying Israel's kingdom Gospel to the
The Messianic rule of God in the earth was the theme of
the prophets; for the prophets only enlarge on the Covenants which guaranteed a throne, a
King, and a kingdom, over regathered Israel, in the land which was sworn to
Abraham. The good news to that nation was the "Gospel of the kingdom,"
and should in no wise be confused with the Gospel of saving grace (Acts. 20:24) (p. 132).
In His public ministry He took up the message of a King.
At His entrance into Jerusalem He was hailed as Israel's King. At His trial before Pilate,
He claimed to be a King. He died under the accusation, "This is Jesus, the King of
The first ministry of Christ was, then, to Israel as her
King. In this He appeared, not as a personal Saviour, but as Israel's long expected
Messiah/King; not as a sacrifice by which a Church--the spotless Bride--might be purchased
to Himself from among the nations; but as the Son of David, with every right to David's
throne over Israel, at Jerusalem, in the land of promise.
In the Synoptic Gospels, there is, therefore, no record of
any step toward the formation of the Church, or any reference to that great purpose,
until, from His own nation, His rejection as King was evident.
According to the Synoptic Gospels, the early teachings of
the King were regarding that nation, and were in no wise related to the great results
which would afterward be accomplished through His death and resurrection in the calling of
His Church from all nations of the earth. He likewise related the same fulfillment of
every Covenant with Israel to the time of His return to earth (pp. 132-134).
Referring to the first section of the Gospel of Matthew
(chaps. 1-12), wherein the Gospel of the kingdom is preached to Israel, it will be found
that this precise message of the kingdom Gospel was first announced by the forerunner,
John the Baptist (Matt. 3:1-3); it was announced by the King Himself (Matt. 4:17); and by
His disciples (Matt. 10:5-7).
Embedded in this context, wherein only the Gospel
of the kingdom is in view, and completely bounded by the records of these proclamations,
is the Sermon on the Mount, which is the Manifesto of the King (Matt. 5:1 to 7:29).
In this Manifesto, the King declares the essential character
of the Messianic kingdom, the conduct which will be required in the kingdom, and
the conditions of entrance into the kingdom. This kingdom rule of life is purely
legal, both in its inherent qualities and by its own claim. "Therefore all these
things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is
the law and the prophets" (Matt. 7:12) (pp. 138-140).
The teachings of grace are perfect and sufficient
in themselves. They provide for the instruction of the Christian in every situation which
may arise. There is no need that they be supplemented, or augmented, by the addition of
precepts from either the law of Moses, or the teachings of the kingdom (p. 149).
The teachings of the kingdom are found in portions
of the Psalms, the kingdom prophecies of the O.T., and the kingdom teachings of the
Synoptic Gospels. These teachings are complete and sufficient to direct the life of the
children of the kingdom in every condition that may arise under the rule of the King.
There is no need that these teachings be supplemented, or augmented, by additions from
either of the other governing systems (p. 151).
The teachings of the kingdom presented in the Sermon on
the Mount (Matt. 5-7), are in exact accord with the OT predictions regarding the kingdom,
and are almost wholly in disagreement with the teachings of grace (p. 161).
According to both OT and NT, righteousness and peace
are the great words of the kingdom. The "Sermon on the Mount" is the expansion
of the full meaning of the personal righteousness which is required in the kingdom. The
great words in this present dispensation are believe and grace. Not once
do these words appear in connection with the kingdom teachings in the Sermon on the Mount
This is in sharp contrast to the blessings in the exalted
heavenly position of the Christian which he instantly attains [obtains] through Christ the
moment he believes. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath
blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ"
(Eph. 1:3) (p. 165).
When the human obligation is presented first (Sermon), and
divine blessing is made to depend on the faithful discharge of that obligation, it is of
and in conformity with pure law. When the divine blessing is presented first
(Pauline Epistles), and human obligation follows as a result, it is of and in conformity
with pure grace (p. 182).
There is a dangerous and baseless sentiment abroad which
assumes that every teaching of Jesus must be binding during this dispensation simply
because He said it.
The fact is forgotten that Christ, while living under,
keeping, and applying the law of Moses, also taught the principles of His yet future
kingdom; and, at the end of His ministry, and in relation to His Cross, He also anticipated
the teachings of grace. If this three-fold division of the teachings of Christ is not
recognized, there can be nothing but confusion of mind and consequent contradiction of
truth (p. 179).
The teachings of the law, the teachings of grace,
and the teachings of the kingdom, are separate and complete systems of divine rule
which are perfectly adapted to the varied conditions of the three great dispensations (p.
Every teaching of the kingdom which contemplates the
responsibility of the individual is, in like manner, based on a covenant of human works,
and is therefore, legal. This may be observed in all the kingdom teachings of the OT, and
the kingdom teachings of the Synoptics (p. 183).
The laws of the kingdom are related only to the yet future
kingdom conditions which shall be in the earth under the power and presence of the King,
when Satan is bound, creation delivered, and all shall know the Lord from the least unto
All harmony of truth is shattered when there is the
slightest commingling of the principles of law and grace. Grace alone now reigns
through Christ to the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (p. 234).
YES, AND NO
-- When it comes to such vital subjects as the Gospel, and Salvation, we encounter a
right, and a wrong.
Nicodemus would have understood this reference to the
OT water of purification, which was sprinkled on the altar and sacrifices in most of the
rituals. Being a scholar, no doubt Nicodemus remembered Ezekiel 36:25 and the promise of
the New Covenant: "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you." Two verses later is
the promise, "I will put My Spirit within you" (vs. 27).
These statements bringing the ideas of water and the
Spirit together, sandwich another promise: "I will give you a new heart, and put a
new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a
heart of flesh" (vs. 26) (p. 41).
When the heart is redeemed, Christ gives a new heart
(cf. Ezek. 36:26) (p. 96).
When speaking of the Gospel according to Jesus, it is
correct to refer to Israel's New Covenant, since that is the heart of His kingdom Gospel.
"A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you, and cause
you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My ordinances, and do them ... and ye shall
live, and I shall place you in your land" (Ezek. 36:26,27; 37:14).
The fatal flaw, not only in the theology of this book, but
the majority of our seminary leaders, is to apply Israel's New Covenant in any way
to the Church. Dispensationalism dies to the degree that Israel and the Church are merged.
-- But the Blood! All salvation is based upon the shed Blood of Calvary. It is true
that the salvation of the Christian and the salvation of the kingdom Jew both depend upon
the Blood of the Cross. But there is neither similarity nor comparison between them!
The kingdom Jew is given access to the land, and the
Messianic kingdom, via the Blood. The heavenly Christian has his position in the Holiest
of All--he is seated in the heavenlies, now! "Having therefore, brethren,
boldness to enter into the Holiest by the Blood of Jesus, by a new and living way,
which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh" (Heb.
But the indwelling Spirit! It is also true that the
kingdom Jew will be indwelt by the Spirit of God. And for what purpose? "And, I will
put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My
ordinances, and do them" (Ezek. 36:27).
As He promised through Jeremiah 31:33, "I will make a
new covenant with [whom?] the house of Israel, and the house of Judah ... I will put My
[theocratic kingdom] law in their inward parts, and write it upon their hearts."
The infinite, incomparable contrast is that the indwelling
Spirit of Christ brings the very life and nature of the glorified Lord Jesus Christ into
the Christian--as his very Christian life! He does not produce the works of the law, but
rather the gracious fruit of the Spirit, the lovely characteristics of the divine/human
life of the Lord Jesus. Yes, the very "law of the Spirit of life in Christ
Jesus" (Rom. 8:2).
Most dispensationalists, along with Covenant theologians,
fail to realize that there are two Gospels, each dependent upon the Blood of the
Cross. One is earthly, the other is heavenly. And both Gospels are "according to
Jesus." The one was ministered by Him on earth, in His humiliation, prior to the
Cross, exclusively for Israel and her earthly kingdom.
The other--and it is altogether "new creation" other--was
ministered to Paul by the glorified Lord Jesus Christ; after Calvary, from heaven,
exclusively for His chosen heavenly Body, His beloved Bride.
It is a mistake of the worst sort to set the teachings
of the Apostles over against the words of our Lord and imagine that they contradict one
another or speak to different dispensations. The Gospels are the foundation on which the
Epistles build. The entire book of James, for example, reads like a commentary on the
Sermon on the Mount (p. 214).
-- The Church's source is in heaven, and she was manifested on the earth at Pentecost.
She will return to her eternal abode in heaven at the Rapture. She has no
relationship with anything prior to the Cross.
It should be obvious to all what happens to those who
consort with Synoptic-centered Covenant theology. The Lord Jesus Christ does not
contradict Himself--neither Himself nor His Word. He simply introduced something
heavenly and altogether new in giving His glorious Gospel to Paul. "According to the
glorious Gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust" (1 Tim. 1:11).
Paul's heavenly Gospel is exclusively for the Church. One
need not go to Israel for anything. Why should a glorified one leave his abode in
the new heavens, to live on the renewed earth? To reign, yes, but not to be a kingdom
dweller. The Bride shares the throne with her Bridegroom, whether in heaven or on earth.
Paul's Gospel is, "For I delivered unto you first of
all that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the
Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day
according to the Scriptures; and that He was seen... (1 Cor. 15:3-5).
The heavenly Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ begins
with His death; not with His earthly life, as Covenant theology teaches.
"Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but
if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:24).
"But I make known to you, brethren, that the Gospel
which was preached by me is not after man. For I neither received it of man,
neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal.
"For I [the glorified Lord] have appeared unto thee
[Saul] for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which
thou hast seen, and of those things in which I will appear unto thee" (Acts 26:16).
The glorified Lord Jesus directly communicated with Paul
not only the great fundamental truths of the heavenly Gospel, but totally new revelations
concerning His Body: identification with Christ crucified, buried, resurrected, and
ascended, the heavenly position and life of the Church, the co-heirship and co-reign of
His beloved Bride, and much more. Dr. Chafer wrote, "The Church is the purpose of God
in the present dispensation, and His supreme purpose in the universe" (Systematic
Dispensationalism has the responsibility of clearly
proclaiming the great differentiation between Jesus' kingdom Gospel prior to Calvary, and
His post-Cross, heavenly Gospel.
Paul preached the gospel according to Jesus. In fact
his defense of his apostleship was based on the claim that he received his gospel directly
from Jesus (Gal. 1:11,12). He summarized his entire ministry on these words: "I did
not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision....."
-- All the while the Lord Jesus' heavenly (Pauline) Gospel in content and position is
infinitely above the kingdom Gospel that He gave for earthly Israel.
Those who do not center in the truths which the
ascended Lord communicated directly to Paul will not know who and where they
are in Christ, nor what their part is in the purpose of God. Neither will they know
their privileges and responsibilities. Those who are ignorant of, and not centered in, the
Pauline Gospel as set forth exclusively in his Church Epistles, are constantly astray in
their interpretation of the Gospel, to say nothing of Church truth.
If Paul's heavenly Gospel were not other than that
of Jesus' earthly kingdom Gospel to Israel, he would naturally have been instructed by the
apostles who had been with Jesus all during His earthly ministry. But on the contrary, the
apostles had to be taught by Paul concerning much of the new, heavenly truth.
" ... even as our beloved brother, Paul, also
according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his Epistles,
speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to be understood, which
they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto
their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:16). Be warned, all those who would wrest, rather
than rest and rightly divide! There is a heavy penalty involved in forsaking
dispensationalism for Covenant theology.
DR. WM. R. NEWELL
Paul vs. Peter, o.p. -- Saul already stood
in clearer light regarding the Risen Lord Jesus than did the other apostles; for they had
known Him primarily in His humiliation, and they were messengers to Israel, of whom is
Christ "as concerning the flesh" (Rom. 9:5). [" ... though we have known
Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more" (2 Cor. 5:16)].
But Saul's first vision of Christ was as the Glorified
One, the Son of God, in ascension glory. Paul, we may say, never saw aught after his
conversion "but the glory of that light" that burst into his life from the
glorified Lord. See Acts 22:11; Phil. 3:7-10.
We do not mean that the other apostles did not recognize
Jesus as Son of God. They had, long since (Matt. 16:16; John 1:14; 2:11; 20:28, etc.). But
their first testimony at Jerusalem and to Israel had been of the Messiahship and Lordship
of Jesus as Israel's King.
But Paul received his teaching from heaven, from
the Lord Jesus Christ, rather than from Jesus on earth in His Jewish connections. Paul's
Gospel has nothing Jewish about it. He had been so completely taken out of Judaism and all
connections with "old things" that the Jews would never acknowledge him again.
And the Jewish Christians constantly misunderstood him
[even as,they do now. Today the "Messianic Jews" gravitate to Jesus' kingdom
Gospel--as do many others!]. Such liberty as Paul had come into was totally unknown before
[and has been all too little known since!]." (pp. 11, 12)
Paul had no connection whatever with the apostles before
him, whether in his conversion or in the revelation of the heavenly Gospel to him. "I
went up (to Jerusalem) by revelation and communicated unto them that Gospel which I
preached among the Gentiles" (Gal. 2:6). The Lord Jesus, according to His Gospel,
said, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt.
"But of those who seemed to be somewhat (whatever
they were, it maketh no matter to me; God accepteth no man's person)--for they who seemed
to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me. But, on the contrary, when they
saw that the Gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the Gospel of the
circumcision was unto Peter ... they gave to me ... the right hands of fellowship"
The heart of the Pauline Gospel is that the old Adam life
is condemned in death, and another Adam, even the glorified Lord Jesus Christ, is revealed
in us as our Life, by the Spirit of Christ. The Father identified us with Christ at the
Cross, making us positionally dead unto sin, and made alive unto God. "I have
been crucified with Christ: I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" (Gal.
"But God forbid that I should glory, except in the
Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the
world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but
a new creature." "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation"
(Gal. 6:14,15; 2 Cor. 5:17).
Wm. R. Newell continues:
In His earthly ministry to Israel the Lord Jesus gave none
of the great heavenly truths for the present Church dispensation. He but mentioned the
Church, giving no explanation. Nor were these vital truths revealed to the Twelve
Just as God chose Moses to be the revelator to Israel of
the Ten Commandments, and all connected with the Law dispensation, so He chose Saul of
Tarsus to be the revelator of those exclusive truths connected with our Lord's death,
burial, resurrection, and His ascended, glorified Person.
And all the "mysteries," or "secrets,"
revealed to the Church in this dispensation by the Holy Spirit were revealed to Paul. He
is the exclusive unfolder of that great company of God's elect, called the Church, the
Body and Bride of Christ (p. 4).
The word "cross" does not appear in James,
Peter, and John. Paul is the messenger of what God did at Calvary on our behalf. It
pleased Him to choose Paul to be the great proclaimer and revealer of just what
the Gospel is for this dispensation.
You can evaluate a man's ministry by this rule--is he Pauline?
[Take note, all ye Pulpit Committees!] Does his doctrine start and finish
according to those statements of Church truth proclaimed by the Apostle Paul? (p. 6).
-- What about Dr. MacArthur's kingdom Gospel--the basis for Lordship Salvation? He starts
in a past law/kingdom dispensation, and would have Paul and his grace dispensation revert
to and build upon that!
James, Peter, and John are not at variance--not
in the least! They are given certain things by the Spirit of God to say to certain classes
of people ["to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad"; "to the
sojourners scattered throughout Pontus. . .."], and they say it, and it is true; just
as scriptural as Paul's words, and they do not conflict with Paul. Their words are
included in the statement that "all Scripture is profitable..." (2 Tim. 3:16)
Nevertheless, Paul is the declarer of the Gospel to us.
Take Romans to Philemon out of the Bible and you are bereft of Christian
doctrine. For instance, if you were to take Paul's Epistles out of the Bible, you cannot
find anything about the Church, the Body of Christ, for no other apostle even mentions the
Body of Christ.
You cannot find the exact meaning of any of the great
doctrines, such as Propitiation, Reconciliation, Justification, Identification,
Redemption, or Sanctification. Nor can you find what is perhaps the most
tremendous fact of every Christian life, that of personal union with the Lord Jesus Christ
at the right hand of the Father in glory! Paul is the divinely chosen opener to us of
truth for this dispensation of the Church.
Dispensationalism is sick, and has no one to blame
but its leaders. If they had stood up with Paul and the glorified Lord Jesus Christ,
against all Covenant comers, a tragedy such as this would not be in the making.
"Now unto Him who is able to do exceedingly
abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto
Him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.
Amen" (Eph. 3:20,21).
Classic, Traditional, Neo-, Progressive, Post-Acts 2, etc.
Here is a collection of resources for anyone interested in understanding what
dispensationalism is and what it isn't.