The Principles and Dispensations of God
by Pastor Marvin Duncan
Most Bible teachers have seen, to a limited degree, the distinction between Paul's ministry and that of the Twelve Apostles, but have taught at the same time that Paul labored under the so-called "great commission" given to the Twelve Apostles; that the church of this age began at Pentecost with Peter and the eleven; that the "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 program, and the increased emphasis laid in the last few years upon what he calls "MY GOSPEL, EVEN THE PREACHING OF JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO THE REVELATION OF THE MYSTERY" (Romans 16:25) has 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 apart (2 Timothy 2:15), so to speak; not to cast ANY of it aside, but to examine its separate parts and to note the differences (Philippines 1:10). ("APPROVE THINGS THAT ARE EXCELLENT' in this verse means TEST THE THINGS THAT DIFFER). But we also enjoy true Bible SYNTHESIS in 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 it's 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. In our study of the Principles and Dispensations of God, we will not deal with the dispensations consecutively but rather with Dispensationalism in it's relation to God's message and program for today.
Rightly Dividing The Word Of Truth
( 2 Timothy 2:15)
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.." (2 Timothy 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 the Bible is ALL for us, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21. Does this mean, then, that 2 Timothy 2:15 and 2 Timothy 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. 2 Timothy 2:15 explains HOW God's workmen may get the most out of the Bible, while Second Timothy 3:16 declares that ALL of it was given for the workman's 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, 2 Timothy 2:15 is the KEY to 2 Timothy 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, their spiritual leaders often encourage them in their lethargy.
Some years ago I 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 the WHOLE Bible!" Did he mean that we should NOT distinguish between God's programs for ISRAEL in the Old Testament times and His program for the BODY OF CHRIST today? Certainly not, but it sounded as if this was what he meant. 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 is 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 not too man years ago? 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 (Ephesians 1:17) that they might KNOW what is theirs in Christ (Ephesians 1:18-23), and COMPREHEND the breath and length and depth and height of it! (Ephesians 3:18). This after all his LABOR and STRIFE and CONFLICT that they might have "THE FULL ASSURANCE OF UNDERSTANDING" (Colossians 1:9). This after his stern rebuke to 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! ( 1 Corinthians chapters 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 themselves to find out JUST WHAT HE HAS SAID. They do not, like David, mediate upon God's Word day and night nor, like the prophets INQUIRE, AND SEARCH DILIGENTLY (1 Peter 1:11) as to it's true meaning.The results of this attitude toward the Word of God 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.
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. 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 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 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" (Romans 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" (Hebrews 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 chapter 11 bears abundant testimony and it should be self-evident to those who accept as fact the utter depravity of a man and the infinite holiness of God.
But this does not alter the fact that God's dealing 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 eleven 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 serve as EXPRESSIONS OF FAITH.