By Charles H. Welch
Three names stand out in the early pages of Genesis - Adam, Noah and Abraham. The scriptural fact that Noah is represented as a type of the ‘Second Adam’ is set out under the heading ADAM (p. 31), and again is referred to under the heading NOAH. The composition of the book of Genesis and the position of Abraham in the eleven generations which compose the bulk of the book of Genesis is given under GENEALOGY. In the present analysis, these items will be briefly summarized so that as full an examination of the dispensational place of Abraham can be given as space will permit.
The eleven generations of Genesis are ranged on either side of that of Terah, the father of Abraham, and as Abraham stands midway between Adam and Christ, it will be seen that he occupies a most important position in the outworking of the purpose of the ages. The name of Abraham was originally Abram, a Chaldee name meaning ‘high and exalted father’, this was afterward changed by God to the Hebrew Abraham ‘father of nations’ (Gen. 17:5). The name Abram occurs sixty times in the Old Testament, all of which except two references, namely that of 1 Chronicles 1:27 and Nehemiah 9:7, are found in the book of Genesis from Chapters 11 to 17. It is by the name Abraham that the patriarch is referred to in the New Testament.
It is a point to be kept in mind, when the dispensational place of the Abrahamic covenant is the theme, that Abraham is mentioned in the four Gospels, The Acts, Romans, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Hebrews, James and 1 Peter, but is entirely absent from the epistles written by Paul after Acts 28, namely Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, Titus, 1 and 2 Timothy.
The outworking of the purpose of God had already been associated with Adam and with Noah in the book of Genesis, but in both cases Satanic opposition had involved the earth in a curse or destroyed it by a flood. Subsequent to the flood had come another attack, this time the rebellion at Babel, and immediately following the confusion of tongues, comes the call of Abraham and the first great promise (See BABYLON p. 104, and its place in the purpose). The name of Abraham is associated with a Covenant, a Promise, a Doctrine, a Gospel, and two Callings, earthly and heavenly.
Following this ‘everlasting covenant’ which was made unconditionally by God, is ‘the covenant of circumcision’ which Abraham and his seed should ‘keep’. This also is called ‘an everlasting covenant’ (Gen. 17:13). This covenant is afterward extended and called the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exod. 2:24).
The Abrahamic Covenant
We have endeavoured to show that the setting aside of Israel as a nation completely altered the dispensational dealings of the Lord (see ACTS 28, p. 26). We will now seek to show that prior to the revelation of the mystery hid in God the blessing upon the Gentiles as well as the Jews was Abrahamic and Millennial in character, and that Gentile believers were blessed through Israel or not at all.
The epistle to the Romans, while containing doctrine
as true to-day as when first written, contains also dispensational
teaching which has passed away with the Pentecostal period. The
following list will give some idea as to the prominent position which
the Jew occupied before Acts 28, as compared with the epistles written
When it is observed that the three occurrences after Acts 28 are all negative statements, referring back to the past, the contrast will be more clearly seen than ever.
To the Jew first (Rom. 1:16; 2:10)
The use of this expression in Chapter 2:10 shows that it is not merely stating the historical order of preaching, but shows us the place of precedence assigned to the Jew. This is characteristic of the Millennial Kingdom, as a reference to Isaiah 60 and 61; Zechariah 8:23; 14:12-21, etc. will show. As long as Israel were a people and Jerusalem their city, so long as they retained the covenant position, and saved Gentiles came up to Jerusalem to worship; the Gentiles were linked with the believing Remnant by baptism, as the channel of their blessing.
Romans 3:1 anticipates an objection arising out of the very fact of this Jewish pre-eminence, that might be expressed thus: ‘If what you say is true, where is the hitherto recognized pre-eminence and profit of the Jew and circumcision?’ The answer is, ‘Much every way’. But in verse 9, when the Jew would make his dispensational privilege a ground of merit, when he asks, ‘Are we better than they?’ the answer is, ‘No, in no wise’. Dispensational privilege did not alter the Jew personally, and when we come to consider Romans 11 we shall see that to be deprived of it does not alter one’s standing in Christ.
‘Is He the God of the Jews only?’ (Rom. 3:29) goes to show the strong Jewish element even in the Church at Rome.
Romans 9 to 11 deal more particularly with the dispensation obtaining from Acts 2 to 28. The Jewish objection of 3:3 recurs again in 9:6. The objection of 3:29 is again met in 9:24. Chapter 10:21 shows the attitude of the Lord during the ‘Acts’ period, which culminated in their rejection and the destruction of the city.
We now arrive at Romans 11. This chapter has been very sadly misunderstood; and to understand it is, in large measure, to understand the peculiar dispensation that covered the period of The Acts. Expositors, who have been clear about the subject of the ‘Mystery’, have felt a difficulty with regard to this chapter because they assumed that the dispensational position of Romans (which was before Acts 28) was the same as that of Ephesians (which came after Acts 28). The figure of the olive tree, and the Gentiles as wild olive branches, is certainly not the same as the ‘One Body’.
To avoid apparent contradiction, the passage has been interpreted of the Gentile as such, whereas it but states the same truth as Galatians 3, namely, that believing Gentiles up to Acts 28 were blessed with faithful Abraham - the father of many nations. The Remnant of Israel, saved from apostasy by electing grace, formed the Olive Tree, into which the believing Gentiles were grafted. This Remnant is called the ‘first fruit’ (verse 16), a pledge of the harvest of ‘all Israel’ of verse 26. The Gentiles addressed are said to have received ‘salvation’ (verse 11), to ‘stand by faith’ (verse 20), and to partake with the saved Remnant ‘of the root and fatness of the olive tree’ (verse 17).
We feel sure that no Bible student who understands grace will say that the pagan world, the Gentiles as such, did then, or do now, ‘stand by faith’ or enter into any of the blessings set forth in Romans 11. The apostle further calls the Gentile addressees ‘brethren’ (verse 25). If once we perceive that Abrahamic blessing, and kingdom anticipations, were the characteristics of the period covered by the Acts (as it will be once again when the kingdom is set up on earth) no difficulty will remain, and the transitional portions of Romans, Galatians and Corinthians will be better understood.
We must not read into Romans 11 that which had not then been revealed, namely, the ‘One Body’ of Ephesians. Some have a difficulty with verses 21 and 22, because they feel that if this passage refers to saved Gentiles it contradicts such a passage as Romans 8. To be clear as to this point it must be remembered that dispensational privileges must be distinguished from personal standing. With regard to the former - they may be lost; with regard to the latter - it is indefectible.
A comparison of Romans 11 with Galatians 3 will be helpful just here. The ‘gospel’ was never a ‘mystery hidden away from the ages and generations’, but was preached before unto Abraham; we must beware of confounding the gospel with the Mystery.
The New Jerusalem was a part of Abrahamic blessing, certainly of Abraham’s
faith (see Hebrews. 11:14-16). After Acts 28 instead of a heavenly city
which comes down from heaven, we have ‘heavenly places in Christ’, and
the ‘citizenship which is in heaven’ (Eph. 1:3 and Phil. 3:20, Greek).
For a fuller understanding of allusions to OLIVE TREE, to ACTS 28 (p. 26), and to PENTECOST see under these respective headings. See also SEED and STAR SEED and SAND SEED. This covenant with Abraham must not be confused with that made 430 years afterward with Israel at Sinai, as the argument of Galatians 3:15-20 makes clear. This covenant is especially defined as being a covenant of ‘promise’, in which there were no contracting parties, but One only, God, Who made the unconditional promise that forms the basis of the Abrahamic covenant. This aspect of the subject is more fully discussed under PROMISE.
It is therefore clear that we must not confuse the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles, which was never a secret, and which is the basis of such an epistle as Romans, with calling of the Gentiles during the dispensation of the Mystery, which is the theme of the epistle to the Ephesians.