By Charles H. Welch
Purpose. We have considered the meaning and place of the word Dispensation, and have likewise given considerable space to. the references in Scripture to the Ages, and both Ages and Dispensations are vehicles of Purpose.
THE BIBLE A BOOK OF PURPOSE
Having considered the fact that there are many and great differences in the various dispensations, it will be well to observe that all these different lines of truth are united, inasmuch as God is working out a mighty purpose, affecting heaven and earth, and that these changes of dispensational dealings instead of indicating experiment or caprice, are so many links in a wondrous chain. (See PLEROMA.) None but a superficial reader of the Bible will assume that the Scriptures are given to explain everything, or to answer all the inquiries of the human mind.
There are some things which God kept secret for thousands of years, never revealed until He committed them to the Apostle Paul (see Eph. 3). There are some things concerning which we are told hardly anything. Take for example the Bible record of Satan. His first introduction into the page of Scripture is as a fallen being (Gen. 3). No explanation is offered, no reason is given. We start the record of the purpose of God as pertains to man with a revealed yet unexplained fact. As it is with Satan's beginning, so with the last we hear of him. In Revelation twenty he is put into the lake of fire there to be tormented unto the ages of the ages. What happens to him at the end of that period Scripture does not say.
The nearer Scripture approaches that section of God's purpose that is connected with Israel, the plainer and more definite it becomes. Israel's history fills the bulk of the Bible. The Nations have a comparatively small space, while the Church occupies a small portion of the New Testament. Things in heaven, the spiritual powers, are concerned with the great purpose unfolded in the Word, yet we know very little of what their place in that purpose will be.
There are many references in the Scriptures to the fact of a purpose, and it may be well for us to establish this before we proceed to inquire into details. Romans 8:28; 9:11, Ephesians 1:11 and 2 Timothy 1:9 are sufficient to show that the salvation of men is part of a purpose. The word prothesis means "a placing before", and indicates a well-considered plan. That this plan or purpose is unalterable Ephesians 1:9 and Jeremiah 51:29 will be sufficient to prove. The words in 2 Timothy 1:9, "before the world began", are not strictly true as a translation. The original reads pro chronon aionion and should be rendered "before age-times". Another occurrence of this same expression is found in Titus 1:2, where a somewhat parallel doctrine is discovered. Before the age-times, then, the purpose of God was formed, and in harmony with this is the teaching that the members of the One Body were "chosen in Him before the foundation of the world". Not only is it important to see that the purpose or plan of God was made before the age times, but that the very ages themselves are a necessary part and platform for the unfolding and ripening of that purpose. Ephesians 3:11 (A.V.) speaks of an "eternal purpose". Now while the thought in these words is very majestic, the teaching of the passage is not strictly rendered by them. The word "eternal" is an adjective, whereas in Ephesians 3:11 it is not the adjective aionios that is used, but aion, "age". The true rendering of the passage, therefore, should be, "according to a purpose of the ages".
The Bible is occupied with that purpose. The Bible spans the ages. What was before the ages, and what lies beyond, is not strictly within the scope of the Book. Men labour to explain and emphasize eternity. Philosophy may burden the mind with the effort to grasp "that which has neither beginning nor end, that which has neither centre nor circumference", but the Bible does not. Scripture commences with, "In the beginning God". From that basis, the Scriptures unfold the purpose of the ages.
Having surveyed the Scriptures with regard to the fact of the purpose, we next consider some passages which relate to its fulfilment. Here at once we learn that the accomplishment of God's purpose does not rest with the creature, but with God Himself. Ephesians 1:11 is emphatic on this:
Isaiah 46:9-11 also shows that the Old Testament equally with the New demonstrates this fact:
We will not multiply passages; the Bible is insistent on this grand fact that God Who purposes is the God also Who fulfils. This was the secret of Abraham's faith, for it is recorded in Romans 4:17-21:
Nothing is so strengthening to faith, even in the small details of life, as this glorious fact that God is the fulfiller of His own will.
The next truth we would bring to notice is that the great centre of the purpose of the Ages is the Lord Jesus Christ. Going back into the past we find that creation is the work of the Son of God. John in chapter one of his Gospel speaks of Christ as the Word, Who was God (verse 1), Who became flesh, the only begotten of the Father (verse 14), and says:
Hebrews 1:10 says of Him:
Colossians 1:16 speaks further of the creation, not only of visible but of invisible and mighty beings in the heavens, yet all the creatures of the Son of God. The first man Adam is "a figure of Him that was to come" (Rom. 5:14), and is placed in contrast with "the last Adam", Who is a life-giving Spirit, "the Second Man" Who is the Lord from heaven (1 Cor. 15:45-47). The promise of the seed of the woman (Gen. 3) finds its fulfilment in the Person and Work of the Son of God. All typica1 events and institutions, such as the Ark built by Noah, and the Passover Lamb, the Tabernacle, the Offerings, the Priesthood, all find their anti-type and fulfilment in Christ.
Every prominent figure of the Old Testament prefigures either Christ or Antichrist. We have only to think of men like Joseph, David, Moses, Pharaoh and Joshua to see how fully this can he demonstrated. However stupendous may have been such interferences with the course of nature as the Flood, the redemption from Egypt, the giving of the Law from Sinai, or however important such events as the fresh start after the Flood, the entry into Canaan, the setting up of David's throne, yet all these events but lead on to one point called by God "the fulness of the time", marked by the most wonderful event made known to men:
So the purpose unfolds, ever revealing more and more the central place that the Son of God holds in its development, until we read of its fruition and full accomplishment when the Son, having brought the purpose of the ages to a glorious consummation, hands over to the Father a perfected kingdom, that "God" (not specifically the Father or the Son) may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:24-28).
Not only have we the fact, the fulfilment, and the glorious centre of this purpose, but we further learn that all creatures are in some way agents in the mighty plan. So far as mankind is concerned it is divided into three classes, two of them racial and one spiritual. First, we have the two national divisions of Jew and Gentile. Israel's agency in the great purpose may be summed up in three particulars: (1) a chosen people, (2) a city (Jerusalem), and (3) a king (David typically, but Christ really). The Church, the spiritual agency, made up of an election from Jew and Gentile, constitutes the third agency. These three divisions run their appointed ways without fusing, but are drawn near together by two great outstanding events, namely, the First and Second Coming of Christ.
Satan works along lines that closely resemble the working of God in some particulars, and his activities constitute a great opposing feature, overruled and made to contribute finally to the outworking of the purpose of the God of all grace. The one great purpose of God is displayed under varying forms again and again:
If we leave the cosmic platform and limit ourselves to the human plane, the purpose is again displayed in Genesis three:
Leaving the wider circle of the human race we notice the story of the nations:
This is as far as Genesis takes us. Exodus now expands the theme, but confines itself to the fortunes of the one nation Israel. The same order is observed.
Up to the book of Exodus, the purpose of God can be demonstrated by concentric circles, cosmic, racial and national. With the redemption of Israel, the elective character of the purpose takes shape, which, as the N.T. shows, issues in an election, from among Jews and Gentiles, first as heirs of the promise to Abraham, and joint heirs with him of the heavenly calling, and then of a church who se calling and constitution was unknown until revealed to the Apostle Paul, the steward of this great Mystery. One suggestive feature is the way in which the Greek word prothesis is translated. The word occurs twelve times. In Acts, Romans, Ephesians and 2 Timothy it is translated "purpose", but in Matthew 12:4, Mark 2:26, Luke 6:4 and Hebrews 9:2 it is combined with the word "bread" to give the word "shewbread".
This typical feature suggests that in the purpose of God the redeemed are ever before His face, even though in themselves they may wander as did Israel, from the path of righteousness, even though the ten tribes seemed to be "lost", there were never less than twelve loaves on the table of shewbread. Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for every purpose under the heaven (Eccles. 3:1,17; 8:6), and Jeremiah declares that every purpose of the Lord shall be performed (Jer. 51:29) and in Isaiah the Lord says, "as I have purposed, so shall it stand" (Isa. 14:24). The fact that the word "according to" is associated with the purpose of God (Rom. 8:28; 9:11, Eph. 1:11 and 2 Tim. 1:9) shows that the calling and the election of both Israel and the Church is in harmony with this Divine purpose of the Ages.
One of the most illuminating words employed in the Scriptures in connexion with the Purpose of the Ages is the word PLEROMA and we draw the reader's attention to the articles and chart bearing that name.