THE ERROR OF DISPENSATIONALISM
Dispensationalism is a modern method of mishandling the Scriptures—for modern it certainly is, being quite unknown to Christendom till little more than a century ago, and only within recent years being adopted by those who are outside the narrow circle where it originated—is based upon 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Very little or nothing at all is said upon the first two clauses of that verse, but on the third one, which is explained as “correctly partitioning the Scriptures unto the different peoples to whom they belong.” These mutilators of the Word tell us that all of the Old Testament from Genesis 12 onwards belongs entirely to Israel after the flesh, and that none of its precepts (as such) are binding upon those who are members of the Church which is the Body of Christ, nor may any of the promises found therein be legitimately appropriated by them. And this, be it duly noted, without a single word to that effect by either the Lord or any of His Apostles, and despite the use which the Holy Spirit makes of the earliest Scriptures in every part of the New Testament.
So far from the Holy Spirit teaching Christians practically to look upon the Old Testament much as they would upon an obsolete almanac, He declares, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the (Old Testament) Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).
Not satisfied with their determined efforts to deprive us of the Old Testament, these would-be super-expositors dogmatically assert that the four Gospels are Jewish, and that the Epistles of James and Peter, John and Jude are designed for a “godly Jewish remnant” in a future “tribulation period,” that nothing but the Pauline Epistles contain “Church truth,” and thousands of gullible souls have accepted their ipse digit—those who decline so doing are regarded as untaught and superficial. Yet God Himself has not uttered a single word to that effect.
Certainly there is nothing whatever in 2 Timothy 2:15, to justify such a revolutionizing method of interpreting the Word: that verse has no more to do with the sectioning of Scripture between different “dispensations” than it has with distinguishing between stars of varying magnitude. If that verse be carefully compared with Matthew 7:6, John 16:12 and 1 Corinthians 3:2, its meaning is clear. The occupant of the pulpit is to give diligence in becoming equipped to give the different classes of his hearer “their portion of meat in due season” (Luke 12:42).
To rightly divide the Word of Truth is for him to minister it suitably unto the several cases and circumstances of his congregation: to sinners and saints, the indifferent and the inquiring, the babes and fathers, the tempted and afflicted, the backslidden and fallen.
While there be great variety in the teaching of the Word, there is an unmistakable unity underlying the whole. Though He employed many mouthpieces, the Holy Scriptures have but one Author; and while He “at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets” and “hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son” (Heb. 1:1,2), yet He who spoke by them was and is One “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (Jam. 1:17), who throughout all ages declares: “I am the Lord, I change not” (Mal. 3:6).
Throughout there is perfect agreement between every part of the Word: it sets forth one system of doctrine (we never read of “the doctrines of God,” but always “the doctrine”: see Deut 32:2; Prov 4:2; Matt 7:28; John 7:17; Rom. 16:17, and contrast Mark 7:7; Col. 2:22; 1 Tim. 4:1; Heb. 13:9) because it is one single and organic whole. That Word presents uniformly one way of salvation, one rule of faith. From Genesis to Revelation there is one immutable Moral Law, one glorious Gospel for perishing sinners. The Old Testament believers were saved with the same salvation, were indebted to the same Redeemer, were renewed by the same Spirit, and were partakers of the same heavenly inheritance as are New Testament believers.
The Bible consists of many parts, exquisitely correlated and vitally interdependent upon each other. God so controlled all the agents which He employed in the writing of it, and so coordinated their efforts, as to produce a single living Book. Within that organic unity there is indeed much variety, but no contrariety. Man’s body is but one, though it be made up of many members, diverse in size, character, and operation. The rainbow is but one, nevertheless it reflects distinctly the seven prismatic rays, yet they are harmoniously blended together.
So it is with the Bible: its unity appears in the perfect consistency throughout of its teachings. The oneness yet triunity of God, the deity and humanity of Christ united in one Person, the everlasting covenant which secures the salvation of all the election of grace, the highway of holiness and the only path which leads to heaven, are plainly revealed in Old and New Testament alike. The teaching of the prophets concerning the glorious character of God, the changeless requirements of His righteousness, the total depravity of human nature, and the way appointed for restoration therefrom, are identical with the Apostles’ teaching.
If the question be raised, Since the sacred Scriptures be a strict unit, then why has God Himself divided them into two Testaments? perhaps it will simplify the matter if we ask why God has appointed two principal bodies to illuminate the earth—the sun and the moon. Why, too, is the human frame duplex, having two legs and arms, two lungs and kidneys, etc.? Is not the answer the same in each case: to augment and supplement each other?
But, more directly, at least four reasons may be suggested.
First, to set forth more distinctly the two covenants which are the basis of God’s dealings with all mankind: the covenant of works and the covenant of grace—shadowed forth by the “old” from Sinai and the “new” or Christian one.
Second, to show more plainly the two separate companies which are united in that one Body which constitutes the Church of which Christ is the Head, namely redeemed Jews and redeemed Gentiles.
Third, to demonstrate more clearly the wondrous providence of God: using the Jews for so many centuries to be the custodians of the Old Testament, which condemns them for their rejection of Christ; and in employing the papists throughout the dark ages to preserve the New Testament, which denounces their idolatrous practices.
Fourth, that one might confirm the other: type by antitype, prophecy by fulfillment.
“The mutual relations of the two Testaments. These two main divisions resemble the dual structure of the human body, where the two eyes and ears, hands and feet, correspond to and complement one another. Not only is there a general, but a special, mutual fitness. They need therefore to be studied together, side by side, to be compared even in lesser details, for in nothing are they independent of each other; and the closer the inspection the minuter appears the adaptation, and the more intimate the association. . . .The two Testaments are like the two cherubim of the mercy seat, facing in opposite directions, yet facing each other and overshadowing with glory one mercy seat; or again, they are like the human body bound together by joints and bands and ligaments, with one brain and heart, one pair of lungs, one system of respiration, circulation, digestion, sensor and motor nerves, where division is destruction” (A. T. Pierson, from Knowing the Scriptures).
So WHAT does it mean to ‘RIGHTLY divide the Word’?
TO RIGHTLY DIVIDE THE WORD OF TRUTH is for the occupant of the pulpit to give diligence in becoming equipped to give the different classes of his hearers “their portion of meat in due season” (Luke 12:42).
TO RIGHTLY DIVIDE THE WORD is for the preacher to minister it suitably unto the several cases and circumstances of his congregation: to sinners and saints, the indifferent and the inquiring, the babes and fathers, the tempted and afflicted, the backslidden and fallen.
A word from C.H. Spurgeon
“No promise is of private interpretation. Whatever God has said to any one saint, He has said to all. When He opens a well for one, it is that ALL may drink. When He openeth a granary- door to give out food, there may be some one starving man who is the occasion of its being opened, but ALL hungry saints may come and feed too.
Whether He gave the word to Abraham or to Moses, matters not, O believer; He has given it to thee as one of the covenanted seed. There is not a high blessing too lofty for thee, nor a wide mercy too extensive for thee. Lift up now thine eyes to the north and to the south, to the east and to the west, for all this is thine. Climb to Pisgah’s top, and view the utmost limit of the divine promise, for the land is all thine own. There is not a brook of living water of which thou mayst not drink. If the land floweth with milk and honey, eat the honey and drink the milk, for both are thine. Be thou bold to believe, for He hath said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
A SURE TEST FOR SOUND DOCTRINE
Alas, also, real servants of God, sound teachers, have now almost disappeared from the earth. 2Tim 4:3 is now fulfilled before our eyes, men ‘will not endure sound doctrine’. They will still tolerate what is called evangelism, they will listen eagerly to a talk on ‘the signs of the times’ (made up of sensational items culled from newspapers with a little scripture ingeniously fitted in to give respectability), they will listen to missionary addresses, but sound doctrine they will not endure!
Hence we have, in that divine declaration, an infallible test by which the poor child of god may measure things in the Babel of tongues now going on in Christendom! That test is this: anything which is endured today in the religious world cannot be sound doctrine; anything which is approved of, well attended, popular, is not ‘sound doctrine’.
Where God works, he always does so consistently with his own Word. What I mean by that is this: when he raises up, equips, and sends forth one of his servants, that servant will necessarily preach the Word, and denounce all that is opposed to the Word: hence, his message is bound to be unpopular, in fact hated by all who are not regenerated. Was it not thus with the Old Testament prophets? Would even the Israelites of their day endure sound doctrine? Would they do so when the Lord Jesus preached it? Would they when the Apostles taught it? Would they in the time of Luther and Calvin? And poor, fallen human nature is the same now!
Mark it well, my dear friend, that the people to whom the Old Testament prophets, Christ and the apostles preached were not irreligious! No, indeed far from it! They were very religious: but they were determined to have religion of their own, which suited them, and they would not tolerate anything which condemned them. So it is now. [Letter to Lowell Green, August 19, 1934]
THE ELECT ARE NOT ‘MADE’ CHILDREN BY THE NEW BIRTH, BUT ARE GOD’S CHILDREN LONG BEFORE CHRIST DIED FOR THEM.
Believers have “received the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father”: they have received that unspeakable Gift which attests and makes known to them their adoption by God. Before the foundation of the world God predestined them “unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself’ (Eph. 1:5). But more-the elect were not only predestined UNTO the adoption of children-to actually and openly enjoy this inestimable favor in time-but this blessing was itself provided and bestowed upon them in the Everlasting Covenant of grace, in which they not only had promise of this relationship, but were given in that Covenant to Christ under that very character. Therefore does the Lord Jesus say, “Behold I and the children which God hath given Me” (Heb. 2:13).
It is to be carefully noted that God’s elect are spoken of as “children” PREVIOUS to the Holy Spirit’s being sent into their hearts: “Because ye ARE sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts” (Gal. 4:6). They are not, then, made children by the new birth. They were “children” before Christ died for them: “he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one THE CHILDREN of God that were scattered abroad” (John 11:51, 52). They were not, then, made children by what Christ did for them. Yea, they were “children” before the Lord Jesus became incarnate: “Forasmuch then as THE CHILDREN are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same” (Heb. 2:14). Thus it is a great mistake to confound adoption and regeneration: they are two distinct things; the latter being both the effect and evidence of the former. Adoption was by an act of God’s will in eternity-regeneration is by the work of His grace in time.
Had there been no adoption, there would be no regeneration: yet the former is not complete without the latter. By adoption the elect were put into THE RELATION of children; by regeneration they are given a NATURE suited to that relation. So high is the honor of being taken into the family of God, and so wondrous is the privilege of having God for our Father, that some extraordinary benefit is needed by us to assure our hearts of the same. This we have when we receive the Spirit of adoption. For God to give us His Spirit is far more than if He had given us all the world, for the latter would be something outside Himself, whereas the former is Himself! The death of Christ on the Cross was a demonstration of God’s love for His people, yet that was done without them; but in connection with what we are now considering, “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:5).
Wondrous and blessed fact that, God manifests His love to the members of His Church in precisely the same way that He evidenced His love unto its Head when He became incarnate, namely, by the transcendent gift of His Spirit. The Spirit came upon Jesus Christ as the proof of God’s love to Him and also as the visible demonstration of His Sonship. The Spirit of God descended like a dove and abode upon Him, and then the Father’s voice was heard saying, “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”- compare John 3:34, 35. In fulfillment of Christ’s prayer, “I have declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be IN THEM” (John 17:26) the Spirit is given to His redeemed, to signify the sameness of the Father’s love unto His Son and unto His sons. Thus, the inhabitation of the Spirit in the Christian is both the surest sign of God’s fatherly love and the proof of His adoption.
MAKING YOUR CALLING AND ELECTION SURE
“Give diligence to make your calling and election sure”! [2Pet 1:10]
This exhortation, then, is addressed to LIVING SAINTS AND NOT TO DEAD SINNERS. To teach that the unregenerate can do anything at all toward securing their calling and election, is not only colossal ignorance, but it gives the lie of God’s Word. When they are delivering a divine message, the FIRST DUTY of God’s ministers is to draw very definitely the line of demarcation between the Church and the world: it is failure at this point which causes so many children of the Devil to claim relationship with the people of God.
Attention to the context will almost always make it clear to whom a passage pertains: whether to the children of men in general or to the children of God in particular. The simplest and most effectual way of making this plain to their hearers, is for them to carefully delineate the characters (the identifying marks) of the one and of the other—note how the apostle followed this very course in the first four verses of the epistle.
To discover that God’s purpose of grace is restricted to an elect people, is alarming to one who has imagined that He loves all mankind alike. To be made to seriously wonder if I am one of those whom God chose in Christ before the foundation of the world, raises a question which it is not easy to answer satisfactorily; and to be made to diligently inquire into my actual state, to solemnly examine myself before God, is a task which no hypocrite will prosecute; yet is it one which the regenerate will not shrink from, but on the contrary will pursue it with earnest zeal and fervent prayers to God for help therein.
It is not (as some foolishly suppose) that the one who is now so seriously concerned about his spiritual condition and eternal destiny is in such alarm because he doubts God’s Word. Far from it: it is just because he believes God’s Word that he doubts himself, doubts the validity of his Christian profession. It is because he believes the Scriptures when they declare the Lord’s flock is a “very little one” (Greek, Luke 12:32), he is fearful that he belongs not to it. It is because he believes God when He says, “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness” (Prov. 30:12), and that finding so much filth in his own soul, he trembles lest that be true of him. It is because he believes God when He says “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9), that he is deeply exercised lest he be fatally deluded. Ah, my reader, the more firmly we believe God’s Word, the more cause have we to doubt ourselves.
To obtain assurance that they have received a supernatural call from God, which has brought them from death unto life, is a matter of paramount concern to those who really value their souls. Those to whom God has imparted an honest heart abhor hypocrisy, refuse to take anything for granted, and greatly fear lest they impose upon themselves by passing a more favorable verdict than is warranted. Others may laugh at their concern and mock at their fears, but this moves them not. TOO MUCH IS AT STAKE FOR SUCH A MATTER TO BE LIGHTLY AND HURRIEDLY DISMISSED. They know full well that it is one which must be settled in the presence of God, and if they are deceived, they beg Him to make them aware of it. It is God who has wounded them, and He alone can heal; it is God who has disturbed their carnal complacency, and none but He can bestow real spiritual rest.
There is a class of professing Christians who entertain no doubts whatever about their salvation, who are fond of saying, “as well look to an iceberg for heat or into a grave to find the tokens of life, as search within ourselves for proofs of the new birth”. But is it not akin to blasphemy to suggest that God the Spirit can take up His residence in a person and yet for there to be no definite evidences of His presence.
It is not the making of our calling and election sure GODWARDS, but MANWARDS. Nor is it something future which is here in view: it is the present enjoyment to ourselves of our calling and election, and of evidencing the same to our brethren. By heeding the exhortation of verses 5-7 I am to prove my calling and election, and demonstrate the same to the Church. A man may tell me he believes in election and is sure that he has been called of God, but unless I can see in his character and conduct the spiritual graces of verses 5-7 then I have to say of him (as Paul did of the Galatians) “I stand in doubt of you.” Here, then, is the meaning: make steadfast in your own conscience your calling and election, and make good to others your profession, by walking as a child of God.
HOW may a real believer ascertain that he is one of God’s elect?
Why, the very fact he is a genuine Christian evidences it, for a believing into Christ is the sure consequence of God’s having ordained him to eternal life (Acts. 13:48). But to be more specific. How may I know my election?
FIRST, by the Word of God, having come in Divine power to the soul, so that my self-complacency is shattered and my self-righteousness renounced.
SECOND, by the Spirit’s having convicted me to my woeful, guilty, and lost condition.
THIRD, by having had revealed to me the suitability and sufficiency of Christ to meet my desperate case, and by a divinely given faith causing me to lay hold of and rest upon Him as my only hope.
FOURTH, by the marks of the new nature within me: a love for God, an appetite for spiritual things, a longing for holiness, a seeking after conformity to Christ.
FIFTH, by the resistance which the new nature makes to the old, causing me to hate sin and loathe myself for it.
SIXTH, by sedulously avoiding everything which is condemned by God’s Word, and by sincerely repenting of and humbly confessing every transgression thereof. Failure at this point will most surely and quickly bring a dark cloud over our assurance, causing the Spirit to withhold His witness.
SEVENTH, by giving all diligence to cultivate the Christian graces, and using all legitimate means to this end. Thus, knowledge of election is cumulative.
[Taken from A.W. Pink’s ‘The Doctrine of Election’]
NO MAN STANDS ANY LONGER THAN HE IS UPHELD BY DIVINE GRACE
The Lord is very jealous of His honour and will not share His glory with another. His people profess to believe that as a cardinal truth, yet they are apt to forget it. They, too, are human, and prone to hero-worship, prone to idolatry, prone to render unto the creatures that to which the Lord alone is entitled. Hence it is they so frequently meet with disappointment, and discover their beloved idol is, like themselves, made of clay. For his own people, God has chosen “the foolish things of this world,” the “weak things,” the “base things” and “things which are not” (mere “nobody’s”), “that no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Cor. 1:27-29).
And he has called sinful though regenerated men, and not holy angels, to be the preachers of His Gospel, that it might fully appear that “the excellency of the power” in calling sinners out of darkness into His marvelous light lies not in them nor proceeds from them, but that He alone gives the increase to the seed sown by them: “so then neither is he that planteth (the evangelist) anything, neither he that watereth (the teacher), but God” (1 Cor. 3:7).
It is for this reason that God suffers it to appear that the best of men are but men at the best. No matter how richly gifted they may be, how eminent in God’s service, how greatly honored and used of Him, let His sustaining power be withdrawn from them for a moment and it will quickly be seen that they are “earthen vessels.” No man stands any longer than he is supported by Divine grace. The most experienced saint, if left to himself, is immediately seen to be as weak as water and as timid as a mouse.
“Man at his best state is altogether vanity” (Ps. 39:5). Then why should it be thought a thing incredible when we read of the failings and falls of the most favored of God’s saints and servants? Noah’s drunkenness, Lot’s carnality, Abraham’s prevarications, Moses” anger, Aaron’s jealousy, Joshua’s haste, David’s adultery, Jonah’s disobedience, Peter’s denial, Paul’s contention with Barnabas, are so many illustrations of the solemn truth that “there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good, and sinneth not” (Eccl. 7:20).
Perfection is found in Heaven, but nowhere on earth except in the Perfect Man.