All human works are imperfect, and mine are no exception. Hardly had my paper under the title "The Truth About Dispensational Truth" in our October, 1955, issue been despatched for printing when a further inquiry called for further elucidation of the matter. Some of this paper is taken from my reply.
My antipathy to the word "dispensation" extends only to its usage in such terms as "Dispensational Truth." There are no such things as "dispensations" in the sense of clear-cut periods of time characterized each by its own special and temporary truths and system of God's government. The word should be avoided as far as possible because it has been so spoilt by misuse. What I am convinced is the truth of the matter is set out in the following nine paragraphs.
(a) Righteousness out of faith was given to Abraham and never withdrawn; so it is now, and has been all along, in operation for those who have faith as Abraham had. There is no other way of attaining righteousness.
(b) Covenant was then given to Abraham. It, too, has never been withdrawn; hence Paul's actions in Acts 15-20 and his ministry to Israel and to individual Jews. The reason why it is not in operation now is not any supposed withdrawal of it, but the absence of any Covenant People on which it can operate. Once the barrier to their existence, that is to say, the Body, ourselves, is removed, covenant will operate again of its own accord; though in due course it will assume a new, and its final, form in the New Covenant.
(c) The Law was given to Moses, and likewise has never been withdrawn. It does not operate so far as we are concerned simply because we are not under it.
(d) And this continuity applies to reigning grace also. When all those capable of being called to receive it have done so and are themselves withdrawn in accordance with 1. Thess. 4 : 13-17, it will fade-out on earth; but it will continue potentially because the death of God's Son will still remain a fact of history; so, one day, grace will again reign on earth. The potentiality of its existence on earth remains; and always will; but it can operate only when the right conditions exist. Furthermore, in my book, "The New Covenant," I have contended that the causes which eventuate in reigning grace in this present period will make possible the very special out pouring of grace which characterizes all we are told of the New Covenant.
(e) All so-called dispensational changes are not changes in what is true, so that it is true before the change, but not necessarily true after it. Neither are they withdrawals of anything which God has previously dispensed. Instead, they are simply changes of circumstances on earth. These change; but God's gifts, once given to His people of any sort on earth, do not change in nature.
(f) For example, Pentecost was the unlocking of the Kingdom, first to Israel, then to the Gentiles. When that was accomplished; its purpose for the present period was completed. Yet it remains, for that was not the completion of its whole purpose. It does not manifest itself now in the Pentecostal gifts, because something else has come into the picture, so to speak, with which these gifts are not compatible: namely, Ephesians truth. Yet the Kingdom door has not been relocked, as some erroneously assert. Grace reigns. This it could not have done if God's Kingdom had remained closed to the Gentiles; for grace cannot reign where covenant holds sway. But the cause which has produced reigning grace now will make possible the New Covenant then. In present conditions the reign of grace makes possible the formation of the Body. This, with each member having his own special function and some members higher or lower than others existed in this mode at first, because Ephesians truth had not modified the Body into a Joint-body. In that opening period while interim conditions were in force, it existed in a temporary interim form.
(g) Ephesians truth will vanish when we are snatched away; but it will remain as a fact of history; and I have no doubt that when the New Covenant is concluded it will be found that some, at least, of its glory will be laid on the same special foundations as Ephesians truth. It is no coincidence that the word epouranion, best translated celestial, occurs in Hebrews nearly as often (six to seven) as in the whole of the Prison Epistles. This is as far as I care to go in my present understanding of the matter; but it calls for earnest consideration. I am not suggesting that Ephesians truth is anything other than the special, peculiar, possession of ourselves, for it is not. Our place among the celestials is something altogether transcendent and lifts us and our expectation far above anything terrestrial. I am simply suggesting that once this special and highest of all truth has held some place on earth, it must leave a permanent mark, even when those to whom it belongs have been snatched away to their celestial destiny. To make certain, so far as is humanly possible, that there shall be no misunderstanding about this; I declare again my assured conviction that our calling among the celestials is absolutely unique and has no counterpart at any other time.
(h) Each new revelation dispensed, each new dispensation, in the sense of some new thing dispensed: the grace and the truth which came with Jesus Christ, Pentecost, Paul's Evangel, Ephesians Truth—each of these in turn modified everything else given before, but they did not annul anything.
(i) When judgment comes to the earth, it will not be because grace will have been withdrawn, but simply because it will have been rejected wilfully and with open eyes. We perceive this in progress in some measure in the world now; and I see no reason why there should not be some very great and visible display of grace which will seal the world's condemnation before God's wrath falls. Our progress during the last century in bringing forth lost truths from Scripture, and perhaps further and greater progress to come, may not bring the revival of faith for which we must all pray. Instead their rejection or neglect may serve only to deepen the world's guilt; and it may well be that the tremendous demonstration of reigning grace in our snatching away will prove to be this great display, which I suggest may crown it all and, by the way the world receives it, precipitate the terrible judgments to come.
I have put my points in this paragraphed form in order to facilitate subsequent discussion, which I hope may be widespread and helpful. I realize that it will all be novel and startling, and even shocking to many readers. It certainly would have startled and shocked me ten years ago; and I was quite startled when the idea first dawned on me that the second C.V. Note to Rom. 1:17 is seriously in error (see The Differentiator for October, 1954, pp. 219, 220). Yet once we realize that God does not do away with any of the blessings which He dispenses, we are delivered from a serious source of worry and dismay. Somehow, most people find it very hard indeed to throw off the idea, so characteristic of degenerate savages, of a god or crowd of gods even more cruel and savage than themselves which demand satisfaction of their lust to injure humanity and which must somehow be propitiated. We of all men ought to know better. Some have suggested that there are demons like that, but God emphatically is not. Once we truly appreciate that God is love, we must naturally be unwilling to suppose that God should want to withdraw any blessings once given. He must at times modify them in accordance with His plans of government; at times they must necessarily be overshadowed by His judgments on the world; but that they are ever taken away is not only hard to believe but even harder to reconcile with the facts of Scripture.
I regret having to repeat myself, but the matter is so important that such repetition is justified. The second C.V. Note to Rom. 1 : 17 reads:—"When the law failed utterly, and Israel was far gone in apostasy, the prophet fell back upon God's unconditional promises, and made the memorable statement 'The just by faith shall live' (Hab. 2:4). Now that Israel is again apostate, this rule once more supersedes the law." :r would ask those who believe this Note to explain how, for instance, Joseph, husband of Mary the mother of Jesus Christ, became righteous? (Matt. 1:19). Was he righteous out of faith as Abraham was? If so, how did he manage it during a period when the Law (which he definitely was under) had, according to this Note, superseded God's unconditional promises? Or was he righteous out of law-works; in which case, how did he manage to get round the universal truth that by law-works no flesh shall be made righteous before God? (Rom. 1:20). The C.V. hides the truth here by telling us that Joseph was "just," but the Greek is plain that he was righteous. Justice does not come into it.
Significantly, no proof of any sort of this C.V. Note is submitted. Nevertheless, I must in fairness confess that I never detected the absence of any proof till recently; and there can be no doubt that its author never detected it either. It must have seemed to him as it did to me too obvious to call for proof. We ought to find this very instructive. To judge and condemn error itself is a right and a duty imposed on all of us by our standing as God's People; but to judge and condemn those who have the misfortune to fall into error is quite another matter. It is a sin, indeed an act of hypocrisy as well; for not one of us is immune from the same liability to offend or free from the guilt of having offended. Only those who wilfully blind themselves and refuse to make amends when their errors are demonstrated plainly from Scripture itself should be held blameworthy.
Long ago, in a private letter to me, the late Mr. John Smorthwaite made the point that the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus demanded a fresh revelation, and that it came—in Romans.
I am ashamed to say that, until recently, I failed to grasp the point he was making. In fact, I was foolish enough to suppose that he had gone completely astray. But he was right! His ripe wisdom and insight had perceived that the disclosure of the truths of Romans was a necessary sequel to the overwhelming series of events which had preceded the call of Paul. There had to be a fresh revelation, for a dead end had been reached.
Whenever such a dead end comes, God dispenses some fresh blessing. Nearly all will agree that Romans truth is essential for us now; but what few realize is that it is to be essential for Israel after us. I am not referring so much to Romans 5-8, though the knowledge of it will doubtless be necessary, as to Romans 1-4 and 9-11, which will be absolutely vital to those of them who pay attention to Peter's proclamation of Acts 2 and 3 and repent and seek God's righteousness. How can they find it unless someone tells them, and where is it told except in Romans 1-4? We regard this great revelation as ours, and ours it is primarily; but to regard it as ours exclusively is a fearful presumption, as Paul warns us in this very epistle (Rom. 11:19-24).
Here emerges the great importance of Mr. Smorthwaite's remark. The fresh revelation of Romans had to come. At one blow this by itself kills the idea of the "Full Dispensationalists" that Israel could have accepted Messiah at Pentecost and gone straight on to the fulfilment of Joel's prophecy and the Day of the Lord. But, more than that, it fits in perfectly with what I am declaring now: that each good dispensed by God remains ever afterwards in some form or other. As I have said before, no good once achieved is ever lost.
I do not supposed I would have understood Mr. Smorthwaite's remark even now had the facts about God's dispensing not forced themselves on my attention. Now the two together give us a wonderful insight into the truth. This must not only be a source of profound joy, but a means of further enlightenment in due time.
We are undoubtedly quite correct in regarding the economy introduced by the call of the Apostle Paul as being an interval in God's earthly plans, in that it halts the flow of Israel's prophetic times and fills the present period while Israel are 'lo ammi.' Yet this does not mean, or even imply, that it forms an interval in God's complete plans. On the contrary, it is an integral part of them, foreseen and prearranged by His wisdom from the very beginning. Somehow, we have got to hold both truths side by side; and I venture to declare that this paper will prove to be a statement of the essential link between them. In our examination of the details of covenanted blessing and of uncovenanted blessing we have first to consider each separately. When we have mastered this study, and gained some understanding of the way they alternate in God's plans; we come into a position to study His plans as a whole. This study is the first step to understanding them in that way; so I would urge all our readers to give it their most serious consideration.
R. B. WITHERS Last updated 27.12.2005