THE DISPENSATIONAL GOSPELS

Miles J. Stanford


INTRODUCTION -- 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.

*** JESUS' GOSPEL ***

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!

WHICH GOSPEL? -- 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 salvation.

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. (p. 179)

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 heavenly Church.

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 Jews."

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 (p. 164).

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. 181).

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 the greatest.

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.

NO COMPARISON! -- 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. 10:19,20).

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).

*** PAUL'S GOSPEL ***

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).

HEAVEN-BASED CHURCH -- 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. 1:11,12).

"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 Theology, IV:54).

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....."

INFINITELY ABOVE -- 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. 15:24).

"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" (Gal. 2:6,7,9).

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. 2:20).

"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 Apostles.

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).

WRONG WAY! -- 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) (p. 6).

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).


 

DISPENSATIONALISM, Pauline, 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.

 


MJStanford

Home | No Frames | HH Devotional | Testimony | Memorial | Wikipedia | Search | Order Books | Email

Best viewed in Explorer 6+ or Netscape 6+, 1024x768 screen display, 16 bit color or higher, and JavaScript on

20MB ( 800+ pages of text)          Copyright 1996-2006 withChrist.org         Last updated:  January 02, 2006

(Materials by Miles J. Stanford are republished here under exclusive permission from the author.)