E. W. Bullinger
III. The One Great Requirement of the Word:
"Rightly Dividing" It.
iv. Rightly Dividing the Word as to its Dispensational Truth and Teaching.
This part of the great Requirement of the Word flows from, and, at the same time, depends upon a thorough understanding of the Times and Dispensations themselves. When these are rightly divided then it will be easy for us to keep the truth pertaining to each quite distinct. There are whole departments of Truth which belong exclusively to one or other of these Dispensations, and not to the rest.
If we take a truth which belongs to one Dispensation and interpret it of another it will lead not only to confusion in the mind, to discordance in the Word, and uncertainty as to the truth; but it will lead to disaster in the life. For, if the Word be not understood, there will be no enjoyment in the study of it; consequently, the reading of it will be neglected, and we shall cease to feed upon it; our spiritual strength will grow weak and we shall be unfit for God's service, beside being a misery to ourselves.
Not only, therefore, must we rightly divide the Word of truth as to its Times and Dispensations, but as to its Truth and Teaching also: we must learn to appropriate each truth to the particular Dispensation to which it belongs. Unless we do this we shall not "grow in knowledge": for we are to increase in knowledge as well as in "grace" (2 Peter 3:18). To do this we must empty ourselves of all Tradition. We must question all that we have thus received; and be prepared to unlearn what we have previously been taught by man if it does not recognize this great requirement of the Word of truth.
If we think we know, it will be impossible for us to learn. If a vessel be full it is impossible for its contents to be increased. We must make room for this blessed increase by continually replacing what we have learnt from man with what we learn from the Lord. And even if what we have learned from man does agree with the Word, then we must be prepared to learn it over again, direct from the Word, so that the Truth may hold us, instead of our holding the Truth.
There are six distinct departments in which the truth of the Word has to be rightly divided in order to obtain its Teaching in connection with the Times and Dispensations.*
In order to keep this Dispensational truth and teaching rightly divided
We must not take Truth belonging to ONE
PART of a PAST Dispensation and read it into ANOTHER PART of the PAST. The whole of the four Gospels belongs to the Old Dispensation; to the special period of Time during which the Kingdom was proclaimed and afterward rejected.
Truth pertaining to the proclamation period is not truth for the rejection period.
(a) Matth. 10:5-6; and Matth. 28:19-20
But this is not quite the principle which pertains to and governs modern missionary operations. Then there must be something wrong somewhere. Either this command remains in force and modern Missions set it at naught, and are carried on in defiance of it; or, there must be some explanation which shall exonerate such contumacy.
If it be said, in defence, that there are later commands, such as "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15); then this is to argue (1) that the Word of God either flatly contradicts itself as to the fundamental principle of the missionary work; or (2) that some division must be made between the two commands.
But this latter is all that we are contending for. Only, the division which we would make does not ignore either command, but gives each its own due and proper place, significance, and importance. It does not exalt one at the expense of the other, but assigns to each its own appropriate sphere.
The former command, "Go not," etc., was given in connection with the proclamation of the King and the kingdom: but, when both had been rejected, and the King was about to be crucified, then this command was no longer appropriate to the changed circumstances.
Another command could then be given, "Go ye," instead of "Go not."
Both were equally true. The one was true as to its special reference to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; the other is true as to its general reference to all. But both commands were given in the past Dispensation.
(b) Luke 9:3; and Luke 22:35-36
But when the kingdom had been rejected, and the King was on the eve of being crucified, these commands were formally abrogated by the Lord Himself, as being no longer suitable to the changed circumstances. The Lord repeats them, and asks whether they did not find His promise true: "When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye anything? And they said, Nothing."
Those two words "But now" announce the fact that even in that same Dispensation, with only a brief interval of time between them, those two commands are to be rightly divided.
The whole principle for which we contend is wrapped up in those two words "But now." According to this principle, that which belongs to one part of the past Dispensation, must not necessarily be interpreted of another part of that same Dispensation. How much more then must the truth and teaching of the different Dispensations themselves be carefully divided: when not only different circumstances prevail, but where the whole sphere has changed: not only where the people dealt with are different, but where the principle on which they were dealt with by God is changed.
And yet, in spite of these two examples from Matthew 10 and Luke 9, the whole Bible is jumbled together, Law, Gospel, Grace, Judgment, Glory, Jew, Gentile, Church of God, Times and Dispensations, all confused in one vast tangle, till it is no wonder that thousands of readers, if they do not give it all up in dismay, neglect it to their own present loss of peace and joy and strength.
We must not take Truth belonging to a PAST Dispensation and interpret it of the PRESENT. If we do we at once put ourselves under the Law, to which we died, in Christ, and from which Christ hath therefore made us free; the Law having no power over a man that has died.
(a) Law and Grace.
The answer is, that neither is false. But both are true if we rightly divide the Word of truth as to its Dispensational truth and teaching.
Deuteronomy 6:25 was true, then, "concerning" Israel; and is in harmony with the covenant of works under which Israel had placed itself. But Romans 3:20 and Galatians 2:16 are true now "concerning" all three, Jew, Gentile, and Church of God. The statement in these two passages concerning all "flesh" was made after Israel had broken that covenant (Heb 10:29); and after Christ had introduced the unconditional "everlasting covenant" (Heb 13:20) of grace, into which He entered for His people "before the foundation of the world" (Eph 1:3,4).
These are two statements exactly opposite to each other. Is it then the fact that the one is true and the other false? Nay, both are true; absolutely true. And this will be seen at once if we appropriate each to, and interpret each of, the Dispensation to which it properly belongs. The former is not true now in this Present Dispensation. It was true of those under the Law. The latter is as true now of those who are under Grace.
But we fear that multitudes as they hear the Old Testament read in our churches fail so to divide them rightly, but understand the interpretation of them as belonging to themselves now. They thus put themselves under law, and deny their standing which God has given them in Christ; hence it is that they fail to enjoy that liberty wherewith Christ hath made His people free (Gal 5:1).
In the Old Dispensation God dealt with one nation only; but in the Present Dispensation He no longer deals with any one nation, but with individuals out of all nations. This is the key to the understanding of those many passages where the words "all" and "every" and "world" are used in the New Testament. "All" must mean one of two things: either "all" without exception, or "all" without distinction; and it is in this latter sense it is constantly used in contrast with the one nation of Israel.
"I, if I be lifted up from the earth* will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32). If this means "all" without exception, then it is not true, for all men have not been drawn unto Him. But it is most blessedly true, if it means "all" without distinction, as it surely does.
The expression He tasted death "for every man" (Heb 2:9) must be understood in the same sense; i.e., not limited as heretofore to Israel; but extended without distinction to all, whether Jews or Gentiles. With this agrees 1 John 2:1, 2.
In the Old Dispensation God's light shone only in and on Israel; but now, having come into the world, it lighteneth "every man" without distinction of nation, race, or creed (John 1:9; compare Titus 2:11). In the Old Dispensation God dealt according to man's work: now He deals according to Christ's work. In the Old Dispensation, Israel was to work for life: now we work from life. The Law gave works for man to do: Grace brings words for man to believe.
Two words distinguish the Two dispensations. "Do" distinguishes the former; "Done" the latter. Then, salvation depended on what man was to do; now it depends upon what Christ has done.
(b) The Imprecatory Psalms.
"The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance" (Psa 58:10,11). So will the great voice of much people in heaven say "Hallelujah...for true and righteous are his judgments" (Rev 19:1,2).* This clearly shows that these and all such "Cursing" Scriptures (as they are called) are in perfect keeping with the Dispensation to which they belong.
In all probability Psalm 109 admits of another explanation by putting verses 6-19 within a parenthesis; in which case verse 20 may be rendered as explaining it:
And of those that speak evil against my soul (i.e. me)."
Verses 6-19 will then be the "evil" which David's enemies spake against him.* These will be the words that came from "the mouth of the wicked and deceitful": and the proceeds of the "lying tongue" (v 4). These will be the "words of hatred" (v 3), and the "evil for good" with which David's enemies rewarded his love (v 5).
But Psalm 137:8, 9 does not admit of such an explanation. The spirit is appropriate to the Dispensations of Law and Judgment, but not to the present Dispensation of Grace:
"Remember, O Jehovah, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem:
There is a time of judgment coming for which all such language will be appropriate (Isa 26:9; Rev 2:26,27); but that language is not for this present Dispensation of grace. If we do so interpret it, then there is an end of ever hoping to find the "truth": and all hope of ever understanding the Word of God is destroyed.
(c) As to the Sabbath.
The Ceremonial Laws of the Sabbath were given to Israel, and not to the Gentile nations of the earth, Pagan or otherwise. While the interpretation therefore belongs to Israel, it would be wise for all nations to make an application of the great principle laid down in the Law, as to resting from servile labour on one day in seven. But the law of the Sabbath is neither abrogated, changed, nor transferred to any other day of the week. And if any believe that the Law is to be obeyed now, they have no liberty to alter that law, or to modify it in any way; but are bound to "keep holy the seventh day." They have no choice in the matter, and dare not take the liberty of altering the law of God.
But, on the other hand, Christians in this present Dispensation are "not under law, but under grace." We "died to the law," in Christ (Rom 7:4), and the law has no power over one who has died. "We are delivered from the law, having died to that wherein we were held" (v 6). We are "under [obedience to the] commandments of Christ" (1 Cor 9:21).
To those in Galatia who desired "to be under the law" (Gal 4:21) the Apostle wrote, "How turn ye again to the beggarly elements (i.e., religious ordinances) whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain" (Gal 4:9-11). This Scripture is specially addressed to, and is to be interpreted of the Church of God, to-day; and all who would thus have us return to and put ourselves under law we have great need to be "afraid."
As towards others and himself, the Christian can apply those laws as far as they are compatible with his own Church Epistles. There he is told that, "one man esteemeth one day above another: another [man] esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord: and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it" (Rom 14:5,6).
It is a matter of being persuaded in one's own mind, and not as being under law; still less as being under the judgment of our fellow believers in this matter. "Let no man therefore judge you in meats or in drink; or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath" (Col 2:16). We do not "let them judge" us, but they do so all the same. We shall be judged, yea, and condemned by many for writing even as much as this: and though we quote the Word of God, we shall be met by arguments of expediency, which are all based on a total disregard to another command, equally binding, belonging as it does to this present Dispensation; and that is the command, as to "rightly dividing the Word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15).
The Sabbath laws are either still binding on us, or they are not still binding. If they are, then those who keep "the seventh day" and not "the first," are right. If they are not binding, then we are all "free from the law," and we have our guidance in Romans 14:5, 6; Colossians 2:16 and Galatians 4:1-11.
But, if we read into the present Dispensation that which pertained only to the former, there can be nothing but confusion in our own minds, and conflict and arguments with our fellow-Christians. And, beside this conflict with them, we shall be seeking to put not only the Church of God, but all the Gentiles also under the laws which were given by Moses to Israel alone.
It will be seen that thus "rightly dividing the Word of truth" as to Sabbath-keeping is the only effectual answer to the large body called "Seventh Day" Christians; who, not seeing the blessed truth that we are free from the law of Moses, and under the law of Christ, who is the Lord of the Sabbath, are not only observing the seventh-day Sabbath themselves, but are carrying on an active propaganda to induce all Christians to join their ranks.
(d) As to the Kingdom.
The Past and the Coming Dispensations have to do with the Kingdom. This Present Dispensation has to do with the Church of God. The former had to do with the Law, the next has to do with Judgment: but, the Present Dispensation has to do with Grace.
If therefore we read into the present that which has to do both with the past and the future; and, if we read into the Dispensation of Grace that which has to do with Law and Judgment we at once leave the high ground of Grace on which God has set us; we lose the blessing of that standing which is ours in Christ; and we interpret of ourselves, language, which is appropriate only to a Dispensation of Judgment or of Glory. This means, not only loss of blessing to ourselves, but it means the introduction of confusion into our minds, and contradiction into the Word of God.
This is specially true if we take that which was spoken of the KINGDOM and understand it of the CHURCH of God. Of course, if anyone holds that the Kingdom IS the Church, it would be consistent so to take it. But those who do so make no attempt to rightly divide the Word of truth: and they treat language as being useless for the purposes of Revelation.
If, when God says one thing He always means another, then the Bible becomes a book of Enigmas instead of Enlightenment; and the door is opened for all those differences of interpretation which are not only a puzzle to the children of God, but are a source of all those divisions among Christians which are a defilement of God's building (1 Cor 3:17); and of all those controversies which are a scandal and a stumblingblock to those that are without.
It would be a sufficient answer to those who say that the Kingdom is the Church, to reply, "You say so." Or, to those who say the Church is the Kingdom to answer, "So you say": for no such assertion is made in the Word of truth. It is only an inference; and it is wrong, because it comes of wrongly dividing the Word of truth. But, as we write, not for confutation, but for instruction, we may mention the following facts for the guidance of those who would, like the Eunuch of Ethiopia, understand what they read.
The Kingdom, as we have said, belongs to the past Dispensation. It was proclaimed by John the Baptist; and afterward as being then "at hand"; it was the first subject of the Lord's own ministry (Matt 4:17); but, having been rejected, it is now in abeyance until the time comes to set it up in Divine power and glory.
It is clear, therefore, that truth which is appropriate for that Kingdom, whether past or future, is not truth appropriate for the present Dispensation of the Church. Even the expressions used and the terminology employed are not the same. What is said of the Kingdom is not true when spoken of the Church. The Kingdom is said to be "set up" (Dan 2:44; Acts 15:16). The Church is "built up" (Eph 2:20-22; 1 Cor 3:9; Col 2:7).
We hear much about the "extension of the Kingdom" and the "advancement of the Kingdom"; but these are non-scriptural expressions when spoken of the Kingdom, and un-scriptural when used of the Church. We read of those who are "heirs of the Kingdom" (James 2:5), but not of the Church; of "Children of the Kingdom" (Matt 8:12); but not of the Church (except in the Church of Rome). We read of having "received the Kingdom" (Luke 19:12,15); and of "entering" it (Matt 18:3); of "seeing" it (John 3:3); and of "inheriting" it (Matt 25:34). But never do we once find such expressions used in Scripture of the Church of God! In no sense can any one "inherit," or "see," or "receive" the Church.
Among all the Figures used for the Church the Kingdom is never so used. We find it compared to a "house" (1 Tim 3:15); "a Temple" (1 Cor 3:16,17); "a Body" (1 Cor 12:27, &c.), but never to the Kingdom. The Kingdom, proclaimed in the past, and now in abeyance, is yet to come; and all Christians pray "Thy kingdom come." But the Church is here, now; and is soon going away: for it is waiting to be "caught up to meet the Lord in the air, so to be ever with the Lord" (1 Thess 4:14-17). If the Church, therefore, is the Kingdom, the prayer ought to be "Thy kingdom go"!
Again, the Church is an election, hence its name Ecclesia, which means a calling out. But the Kingdom, when it is set up, will be universal and all-embracing (Psa 103:19; Rev 11:15). Christ is now the Head over all things to his Body, the Church (Eph 1:22, 4:15; Col 1:18); but He is never called its King. How much error and confusion is created from the use of non-scriptural expressions it is impossible to tell.
We quite understand that, as the word basileia (basileia), kingdom, means not the material country or the subjects, but the sovereignty or administrative rule of the King, so, the Church necessarily finds its sphere and place within that rule. But, in this case it is always "the kingdom (i.e. the sovereignty) of God" (Rom 14:17; 1 Cor 4:20; Col 4:11); or "the kingdom (or sovereignty) of the Son of His love" (Col 1:13). Amid all the realms of this all-embracing Sovereignty of God in heaven and on earth, among angels and men, the Church has its proper, distinctive, and unique place; just as in the sovereignty of a house, there is the place for the Head, the Wife, the Children, the Friends, the Visitors, the Guests, the Officials, and the Servants.
This is not to say that any one of these IS the other. Each one has its own peculiar position within this universal sovereignty; and the Church of God its own unique position within it. It is part of the "Body" of which Christ is the "Head"part therefore of the Head, "one NEW MAN" (Eph 2:15), "a PERFECT MAN," even "the measure of the stature of the fulness of the Christ" (Eph 4:13). If these scriptural expressions had been heeded we should never hear the Church spoken of as in our Hymns and Sermons as "she" and "her"; as though the Church were "one new woman," or "a perfect woman."
But, while this is so, as to the Church having its own place in the vast and universal sovereignty of God, it is never included in the more limited expression "the kingdom of heaven" as it appears in the Gospel of Matthew, and which belongs peculiarly to Israel. Nor is it included in the wider, but yet limited, Kingdom of Heaven to which the Lord's prayer refers; for the sphere of this is on the earth.
When the Lord said to Peter "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of Heaven" (Matt 16:19), He did not mean the keys of the Church. This, at one stroke, does away with the preposterous claim of the Church of Rome. Keys are used for opening and for admission. Peter used these keys when he again proclaimed the kingdom to Israel (Acts 2-7), and afterward to Gentiles (Acts 8-12).*
(e) The Various Gospels.
News is of different kinds. In our Newspapers we find Political News, Financial News, Judicial News, Social News, Sporting News, and indeed news of all kinds. We have therefore to answer our own question as to what this "News" from God is, and what it is that makes it "good." We read for example of
The question is, Do all these expressions mean the same thing? Is the "good news" the same in each case? If God has thus put these five Gospels asunder, are we at liberty to join them together? Has God thus distinguished them, and, shall we say that there is no distinction whatever?
It is very general not only for those who read, but for those who teach, to say that there is only one kind of Gospel, and those who say this do not hesitate to use harsh language of us, and of those who seek rightly to divide these Gospels and endeavour to apportion them and their peculiar news to the Time or Dispensation to which they respectively belong.
Was the good news that, the Kingdom, which had been the subject of Old Testament promise and prophecy, was at length "at hand." That was good news indeed for all those who waited "for the consolation of Israel" (Luke 2:25); who "looked for redemption in Jerusalem" (v 38); and who "waited for the Kingdom of God" (Mark 15:43). Many believed this good news concerning Christ the King, and "trusted that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel" (Luke 24:21).
But, after the Kingdom had been rejected, and the King crucified, it was again proclaimed to Israel, and the announcement made that the King was ready to return (Acts 2:38, 3:19-21), on the one condition of national repentance. But the making of this proclamation was still opposed by the People through their rulers (Acts 4:17,18); and the preachers of this "Gospel of the Kingdom" were "threatened" (v 21).
When Peter's Ministry to the Circumcision ended in his imprisonment (Acts 12), and Paul was raised up and sent forth, it was with the added good news of Grace. This was what is again and again claimed by Paul as "my Gospel." Then after all this: after the rejection and Crucifixion of the King, after the Martyrdom of Stephen, and after the Imprisonment of Peter, the Epistle to the Romans (which stands first of the subsequent Canonical writings) opens with the words, "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be (or, by Divine Calling) an Apostle, separated unto
This was good news of a different character. This was news of grace proclaimed, not to Israel only, or to any one nation, but to individual transgressors of the Jews, and sinners of the Gentiles alike; to all without distinction. It was grace proclaimed to Jews who deserved wrath, and to Gentiles who deserved nothing. Hence it is called
This was further good news, as set forth in Romans and the other Church Epistles. It was the good news that those who are in Christ are reckoned by God (and hence are to be reckoned by us) as having died with Christ and having risen with Him; and that when this Gospel shall have accomplished its object and gathered out from Jews and Gentiles all the members of the one Body, these shall be gathered together unto Christ the Glorious Head in glory (2 Thess 2:1).
This good news is called THE GLORIOUS GOSPEL, or better,
of the blessed God which was (Paul says) committed to my trust" (1 Tim 1:11). In 2 Corinthians 4:4 it is called "the glorious Gospel of Christ," i.e., the good news of the "glory" which is to follow the "sufferings" of Christ; and which is to be the outcome of those sufferings. This good news is preached now. It is part of the good news of the Grace of God; for grace and glory are inseparably bound together. There is no Gospel of the grace of God, without the Gospel of the glory of God. Grace is the flower, Glory will be the fruit. The Church is not always to be in sorrow and trial; and the good news concerning the glory is "the knowledge of the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 4:6).
But when the preaching of this double Gospel of Grace and Glory shall have closed, we read of another Gospel which is to be proclaimed in the midst of the Dispensation of Judgment. It is called
It is not proclaimed until the very crisis of the apocalyptic judgments; after the Judgments of the Seven Seals, the Judgments of the Seven Trumpets, and the revelation of the Beast in his superhuman stage (Rev 13). Then, before the final judgments of the seven Vials, seven angels make seven proclamations (Rev 14:6-20). The first is the proclamation of "the everlasting Gospel"; of mercy in the midst of judgment. It is the command to mankind simply to "Fear God" as the Creator. Not a word as to the Redeemer, or as to grace or glory, but a simple command to "Fear God." What else will be contained in that Gospel of the coming Day of Judgment we know not now.
It is called "everlasting" because the acknowledgment of God as the Creator was before all other news; and will follow after all news of the kingdom, grace and glory will have passed away. It announces God, only as the Creator; not as Lord, or as Jehovah (the Covenant God), but as "God" (the Creator). It is not "Repent," or "do this" or "do that," but only "Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment is come; and worship Him that made heaven and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters." (Compare Exodus 9:30; Psalm 33:8.)
Is it not strange that this should ever have been supposed to be the same as the Gospel of the Grace of God? Is it not strange that news of God's present grace should ever be taken as being the same as the news of God's mercy in the midst of judgment? Nothing can account for such perversity but the fact that it comes only from human selfishness, and the determination to take everything, past, present, and future, as belonging to, or having to do with, the Church of God.
Rightly divide these different Gospels, according to the Dispensations to which they belong, and we have only harmony, consistency, and truth.
(f) The Sermon on the Mount.
This shows us that what we call "the Sermon on the Mount" (which, after all, is only Man's name for it) has to do with the Kingdom. It shows that the laws of that Kingdom which was the sole subject of that first period of Christ's ministry were to be very different from the laws given by God through Moses on Mount Sinai; and very different also from the traditions which had made so many of them of none effect. This teaching follows, naturally, as being in harmony with the truth which pertains to the Kingdom, and not with that which pertains to the Church of God. It is appropriate to a Dispensation of Law and not to a Dispensation of Grace; to a Past or Future Dispensation, but not to the Present Dispensation.
This is, of course, the case so far as interpretation is concerned. But, when it comes to application, then, if there be truths of eternal application we may, of course, apply them; and if there be truths in harmony with what is addressed specially to the Church of God, and agreeing with the truth addressed directly to it in the Church Epistles, then we may apply it, so far, but no further.
But the instruction as to "agreeing with our adversary" (5:25); instructions as to "fasting" (6:16-18), the "danger of the Council" (5:22); the "Judge," the "Officer," and the Altar (5:24,25); the seeking the kingdom (6:33), the profession "I never knew you" (7:23), the doing, and works (7:21,24); all these are like a foreign language when compared with the language addressed to us in our Church Epistles.
Moreover those who hold that this discourse is to be interpreted of the Church of God make no attempt to obey its precepts. Instead of loving their enemies (5:44) they do not even love their brethren, if they commit the unpardonable sin of daring to differ from them in opinion. Instead of trying to agree with their adversary quickly (5:25) they do not try to agree with their fellow-believers, even slowly. Instead of not judging others (7:1) it is the one thing that they are most addicted to, and well-practised in. If any sue them and would take away their coat (5:40), then, instead of letting him have their cloak as well, they let him have the law.
They read (5:42), "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away," but, all we say is, "Try it; go and 'ask,' and see how they carry out this precept which they maintain is written and addressed to them." As for ourselves we feel under no such obligation, either on the one hand to give or to lend whenever we may be asked; or, on the other hand, to wait till we are asked. And then, to what altar do they carry and lay their gift, or offering (5:23,24)? unless they count Flowers, and Eggs, and Dolls, as "Sacrifices," and their Communion Tables as Altars.
Who is to compel them to go one mile, and they go two miles?* (Matt 5:41).
Finally we strongly advise our readers, if they smite those who interpret this "Sermon" of the Church on one cheek (5:39), not to wait and see whether they turn the other, but to get out of the way as quickly as they can. They will glibly pray "thy kingdom come" (6:10), but with the same breath, and the same persistent inconsistency shown throughout, they will pray for the "advancement" and the "extension" of the same kingdom which, according to this, has come and is already here.
They will not think of measuring the forgiveness they ask God for, by the forgiveness which they extend to those who have sinned against them. As to asking why they behold the mote in their brother's eye (7:3), we would ask why they behold so many which are not there at all.
All this confusion comes from interpreting what is said of the Kingdom, and was spoken to those who were proclaiming it, of a condition of things wholly different. The kingdom, whose laws the King was there laying down, was, after that, rejected. And the King having been crucified, the kingdom is therefore now in abeyance. The precepts pertaining to it are in abeyance also. His own words "BUT NOW" in Luke 22:36 (see above) are sufficient not only to warrant us in so treating "the Sermon on the Mount," but sufficient to compel us to do so.
If we do not heed the corrective instruction contained in the words "But now," and thus carry out the principle involved in them, then all must be confusion. The world can plainly see the inconsistency produced by it; and, in consequence, turns it against the Church, and against Christians; and uses that very inconsistency, which is so manifest, as an argument against the truth of Christianity itself.
Those Christians who say that these chapters are addressed to them are charged by the world with direct disobedience to their precepts. And Christ also is charged with the inconsistency of giving commands which cannot possibly be carried out.
But once we rightly divide the Dispensations, and the truth pertaining to them, we see that "the Sermon on the Mount" belonged to a past brief Dispensation, while the kingdom was being proclaimed; and will be appropriate again to a succeeding Dispensation when the kingdom shall have come: but it neither belongs to, nor can be interpreted of, nor even applied to the totally different circumstances of this present Dispensation of Grace.
Those who are imbued with the precepts peculiar to the Church of God, in the Epistles addressed to it, could never for one moment make the grave mistake of putting themselves
under these laws of the kingdom which are infinitely more stringent and spiritual than the laws of Sinai; nor could they thus mislead the world and give it its strongest argument against the very truth of the Gospel of the Grace of God.
(g) The Lord's Prayer.
The future and approaching Tribulation is contemplated as imminent, if not present. The Evil One, the Beast, is present in power. None are able to buy or sell except that which has his mark (Rev 13:17). Daily bread must be miraculously "given," if those who use this prayer are to be kept alive. No name of Christ is in it, nor is it offered in His name or merits, as He Himself declared it should be (John 16:23,24).
It is a prayer suitable to the time, while the kingdom was being proclaimed as "at hand." And when the Church shall have been removed it will be seen how appropriate it will be when the kingdom shall be again proclaimed as "at hand"; and the "Gospel of the kingdom" shall be again preached in the coming days of "the Great Tribulation."
(h) As to Priesthood.
The difficulty is experienced; and to get over it, truth is taken from the coming Dispensation and put into the present in order to meet the error which comes from first taking truth from the Past and putting it into the Present Dispensation. These are the shifts which have to be resorted to in consequence of disobedience to 2 Timothy 2:15.
It is urged that in this present Dispensation "all are priests"; but this is just as incorrect as to say that some, or any, are priests. On earth, God has never recognized a priesthood except that which He ordained Himself and confined to the nation of Israel (Exo 19:6), and to the tribe of Levi (Exo 29:9). To those who had put themselves under the Law it was said, "If ye shall obey my voice and keep my covenant then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine, and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and an holy nation" (Exo 19:5,6).
That was a true promise and prophecy of and for Israel, in the past Dispensation. But Israel failed to fulfil the condition necessary for national priesthood as announced in Exodus 19:5. Israel did not keep the covenant. Hence the conditional promise, "Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests," was not performed. The tribe of Levi was substituted for the nation, and the national performance of that promise remains still in abeyance until such time as Israel shall turn to the Lord. Hence, the prophecy was repeated at a later period in the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1, which the Lord read, only in part, in the Synagogue at Nazareth, when He "closed the book," and stopped at the point where the prophecy had been fulfilled (Luke 4:18-20). After "the day of vengeance" (which the Lord omitted, because it was still future) shall have passed, then it is declared of the nation as a whole: "Ye shall be named the Priests of the LORD; men shall call you the ministers of our God" (Isa 61:6, 66:21).
John sees in proleptic vision, i.e., by anticipation, the yet future fulfillment of this prophecy. In Revelation 1:6 he announces it when he gives glory to God for what He will then have done, even to "Him who hath made us (i.e., John and his brethren according to the flesh) kings and priests unto God and his Father."
In Revelation 5:9, 10, John hears the four Zoa (or Living Creatures), and the Twenty-four Elders sing a new song referring to that yet future day; "Thou hast redeemed [a People] to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people and nation; and hast made them unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they shall reign on the earth." This is the true reading and rendering* of Revelation 5:9, 10; and with this the RV practically agrees.
Peter, who wrote specially to believers among the Dispersed (the Diaspora) of Israel, could speak of them as the spiritual house (of Israel) and call them "a holy Priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices." But in no case could this be said of believing sinners of the Gentiles either then, or now, or in the future.
Is it not strange that those who do this, do not see that they are compelled to take only one of the two classes mentioned? Only the "priests"! We never hear of their claiming to be "kings," now, in this day of grace. Wrongly dividing the word of truth, or not dividing it at all, introduces "priests" into the Church of God, and those who do that are driven into a further and necessary inconsistency, and are, perforce, obliged to leave out the "kings" altogether!
Surely this is sufficient to show us the error of Sacerdotalists and the error also of their opponents. Both are wrong. The one is wrong in making a baseless claim, and the other is wrong for attempting to refute it by a baseless argument. Both the false claim and the false argument proceed alike from the same cause.
The fact is there is no priesthood recognized by God on the earth during this present Dispensation, while Israel as a nation is excluded. It is said even of the Lord Jesus Himself, that now, "IF HE WERE ON EARTH He would not be a priest" (Heb 8:4). And the reason given is that, on earth, priesthood belongs to the tribe of Levi only; and "our Lord sprang out of Judah; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood" (Heb 7:12-14).
Christ is a Priest, but HIS priesthood belongs to Heaven, and not to earth; and is "after the order of Melchizedek," and "not after the order of Aaron." To see the truth as to priesthood, Dispensationally, puts an end to all controversy as to the claims of Sacerdotalists, as well as to all the weak replies of Protestants, which only serve to strengthen those claims instead of meeting them.
To see this Dispensational truth makes a priesthood in the Church of God an impossibility. For Christ never was a priest on earth; and He would not be a priest if He were on earth to-day. Once we rightly divide the Word of truth as to Priesthood, away goes all Prelacy and Priestcraft, which have created "Christendom," and turned it into a Babylon; a "hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird" (Rev 18:2).
True, Peter can write to Believers among "the Dispersion" (1 Peter 1:1; compare John 7:35) and apply Exodus 19:6, as the Lord applied Isaiah 61:1, in the Synagogue at Nazareth, and show how those believing Israelites to whom he wrote fulfilled the past, and anticipated the future in a "spiritual" manner (1 Peter 2:4-10). All this could be applied to them, as it could not be even applied to us; though, even here, there was one thing that could not be then applied to them. They were priests only in a "spiritual" sense; but they were not "kings" in any sense at all. So the reference to the past Dispensation was rightly divided so far as it could be applied to the new (though transitional) condition of things.
Here we have, then, another example of how, and how far, we may apply a scripture to that of which it cannot be interpreted.
(i) As to Baptism.
His ministry was unique; and his message was "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand": and he baptized those who believed his preaching and confessed their sins. The reason why he baptized was in order that Christ should "be made manifest to Israel" (John 1:31). Moreover he testified of the One who should come after him, and who should baptize also; not with material water, as John did, but with pneuma hagion or spiritual water, that is, with "power from on high."
This the Lord Himself confirmed in Acts 1:4, 5. But, as we have already abundantly shown and seen, the kingdom was rejected, and the King crucified. John, as we have said, baptized individuals who "believed on Him who should come after him" (see Acts 19:4). But, in Matthew 28:19, 20, the Lord speaks of a future baptism, not of individuals, but of all "nations," not in the name of Him as the coming One, for He had already come, and would be with them; but "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
Strange to say, this command was never obeyed on any one of the several occasions recorded in the New Testament, when baptism was "administered." Not once do we find any of the apostles, nor any of the first preachers of the Gospel making any exception to the use of this one particular formula. This practice was invariable.
There is not one exception to this practice. It is equally certain that Matthew 28:19, 20 definitely commands the DISCIPLING of "THE NATIONS" by baptizing them in the Triune name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The full command is as follows:
This command speaks of "nations" (or Gentiles), and thus excludes the Jews, for it is distinctly declared of them that they should "not be reckoned among the nations" (Num 23:9). Whereas, the Gospel of the Grace of God is preached to day to Jew and Gentile alike. The command speaks of "all nations," and it says, "make all nations disciples" or "Disciple all nations" as such; whereas this present Dispensation is eclectic, and it is individual Jews and Gentiles who are taken out of all nations.
The word rendered "teach" in verse 19 is not the same as "teaching" in verse 20. The former means to "make disciples"; while the latter means to instruct the individuals who are thus made disciples. But neither of these terms is peculiar to the present Dispensation. Ministerial work to-day is, according to the Church Epistles, not to "disciple nations" or Gentiles, but to preach and proclaim the Gospel of the Grace of God to individuals, as lost sinners, that they may be taken out not only from among the Jews, but from AMONG the nations. It is to "preach the Word"; and we are to do this the more earnestly because, as the days get darker, men will be less ready to "endure sound doctrine" (2 Tim 4:1-4).
The command in Matthew 28 manifestly applies to a very different condition of things from that which is common to our experience.
The only ground for this command is that "all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." For, while, in the divine counsels, it can be said, "Thou hast put all things under his feet," yet, it is immediately added (Heb 2:8), "we see NOT YET all things put under him." The references given in the margin of Matthew 28:18 fully bear this out. Not until the yet future opening scene in the coming Dispensation of Judgment will the gift of "all power" on the earth be formally made and received, and the heavenly song burst forth, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power," etc. (Rev 5:12, etc.).
But this is the only reason given for obedience to this command: "Go ye THEREFORE." Moreover, certain definite days seem to be marked off; and this, at the end of the age, or of that Dispensation of the kingdom, when the proclamation of "the gospel of the kingdom" will again be made (see above) and accompanied by its companion ordinance of baptism.
That baptism will not be into the name of the One who was to come (as in the Gospels); not into the name of One who had come and been rejected (as in the Acts of the Apostles); but into the Triune name of "the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." This will indeed be a work which will require "all power" in order to secure the submission of Jews and Mahommedans, as nations, to receive this baptism as the sign and token that they have acknowledged and submitted themselves to Christ, the Messiah, as their Lord and King.
This national work is that referred to in Matthew 24:13, 14, "He that shall endure unto the END shall be saved. And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be proclaimed in the whole world for a witness, and then shall come the END"; i.e., the end of "the days" referred to in Matthew 28:20. This is the "end" here referred to in Matthew 28:19, 20.
The whole of this Dispensation is leaped over, as is done in Isaiah 61:2, and many other passages, as we have shown earlier. This command spoken of the Future, in a past Dispensation, entirely disregards this present interval and contemplates obedience to it as being carried out not in the Present, but in the Future Dispensation.
We have exactly the same phenomenon in Matthew 10. There the Lord commissions the Twelve for their immediate proclamation of the kingdom to Israel alone, as distinct from the Gentiles (Matt 10:1-15). The Lord then passes on, and passes over this present Dispensation; and contemplates the yet future proclamation in which the heralds will be sent forth as "sheep among wolves." This Gospel of the kingdom is to be "for a testimony" to the nations (here rendered Gentiles) as well as to Israel; and we have the same promise made to the preachers in Matthew 10:22 as in 24:13. The words are exactly the same in both passages (in the Greek): "He that endureth to the END the same shall be saved." The command is continued in the next verse (10:23): "But when they persecute you in this city flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of Man be come."*
If this coming be the same as the destruction of Jerusalem (as is generally supposed) then it is perfectly certain that the Twelve could not have gone on proclaiming the kingdom as being "at hand" for nearly forty years after it had been rejected, and the King crucified!
Moreover, in the ministry of the Disciples as recorded in the Gospels, we have not the slightest hint of their going among "wolves," and of their being "persecuted," and "fleeing" from city to city. On the contrary, their ministry seems to have been most peaceful and peaceable; and they had no such report of trial and trouble to give the Master when they returned from their mission. On the contrary it was marked as having had great success (Luke 10:17-19).*
And where did His promise to be "with" them "all the days" of that proclaiming and baptizing, find its fulfillment, if He were immediately going away, and about to send the Holy Spirit to be with them during His absence. When the promise is so strongly personal and definite it seems very forced to interpret that presence as being spiritual or delegated to the Holy Spirit. The pronoun egw (ego), I, is very emphatic: "And, behold, I, even I, am with you all the days, until the completion of the age (sunteleia, or Dispensation)." (RV margin, until the consummation of the age.)
It seems clear, therefore, that the proclamation referred to in Matthew 28:19, 20, is yet future; and that it is closely connected with the then imminent personal appearance and promised presence of the Son of Man. From all this it is abundantly manifest that, to take a command which belongs to a Past and Future Dispensation and to interpret it as being operative during the whole of this Present Dispensation can lead only to difficulty and contradiction.
Indeed, the bringing of John's baptism, which belonged to the kingdom, into this present Church period has led to confusion and disruption. It has proved a bomb which has rent the visible Church into fragments. It has led to controversies and divisions, and strifes and contentions, which are to-day carried on with unabated vigour, and with the same bitterness as of old. It has led to the breaking up of the Church instead of its building up. It is the ordinance which has divided the Church instead of uniting it. Is it not passing strange that, if the command in Matthew 28:19, 20 really belongs to this Dispensation, the Apostles themselves, to whom the command was given, never once so interpreted it; and never once attempted to obey it?
The Lord had continued with them for forty days "speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). One would have thought (judging from present-day interpretation) that He spoke only of the things pertaining to the Church, which according to the teaching of most Christians was set up, within ten days. But no! not a word was spoken about the Church. It was all about the kingdom. The Church of God was still kept a "great secret." It was "hid in God" (Eph 3:9). It was not yet "made known unto the sons of men" (Eph 3:5). It had been "kept secret since the world began" (Rom 16:25).
The only question the Apostles asked was about the kingdom, not about the Church. They did not ask whether the kingdom was to be restored to Israel or not. They asked only as to the "time" when it was to be restored; whether it would be now, "at this time," or at some future time. They neither doubted nor questioned the fact of its restoration. It is certainly very strange that Peter, who heard these words, should, within a few days, have stood up and said, "Repent and be baptized every one of you IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST" (Acts 2:38).
It is impossible for us to suppose that Peter, and those who afterward baptized, should be either forgetful of, or disobedient to, the Lord's command, within so few days of its having been given. Having had direct teaching from the Lord Himself on these very subjects, surely we should see, in the immediately subsequent acts of the Apostles, the nature of the instructions they had received.
If we thus rightly divide this portion of the Word of truth, we find that all is truth. There is no confusion. No violence is done to the Word of God. The command of Christ is left untouched. There it stands, through all these centuries, in all its truth and power, waiting for the moment when it will be obeyed (as it has never yet been obeyed), and the promise fulfilled to the very letter.
The action of the disciples is left unimpaired. Their obedience is not called in question. We are not called upon to blame them, or to excuse them; to condemn them, or to defend them. They followed John the Baptiser in their proclamation of the kingdom, and they continued to use the baptism with which he had baptized.
As long as the Divine offer of the kingdom made by Peter in Acts 3:19-21 (RV) was open, baptism with material water was carried on, side by side with the baptism with spiritual water (pneuma hagion), which was administered by the laying on of hands (compare Acts 19:6*); the one decreasing and the other increasing, on the principle of John 3:30.
This coming change had been four times foretold (Matt 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16 and Acts 1:5), and we see it taking place; but the change is not complete until the offer of the kingdom made in Acts 3:19, 20 was finally and formally closed and withdrawn in Acts 28:25, 26. Until then baptism with water was continued, though it was decreasing. And it is mentioned only in those Pauline Epistles written during that period (1 Cor and Rom 6), but never again afterward. In the Epistles written after that solemn epoch it is never once referred to; but only the "one baptism" with pneuma hagion. In Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and the Pastoral Epistles there is no mention of any ordinances; except to emphasize the fact that they no longer exist, but are all done away in that completeness which is ours "in Christ."
Ordinances that had to do with the flesh have no place in the Mystery or Secret which was revealed to Paul. There, all is Spiritual.
The Phenomena as to the two Baptisms may be thus presented:
When the Mystery was revealed to Paul, and by him was "made known to the sons of men," the Hebrew "doctrine of baptisms" was left behind with many other things, and the new doctrine of the "one baptism" with pneuma hagion, or with a spiritual (instead of a material) medium, was brought in. "This, while the Word of truth" is cleared of all confusion the "traditions of men" are torn up by the roots.
The churches to-day profess to take the Acts of the Apostles as their guide to church doctrine and practice (instead of the Epistles that were specially addressed to them as churches); yet they ignore its teaching as to that very ordinance which they all agree in treating as fundamental, though at the same time they differ so widely as to its administration. They then wrest a command of Christ, given with reference to the totally different and Future Dispensation, and strive to obey it in this present Dispensation in which it has no place. They thus land themselves in an insurmountable difficulty; and erect barriers which effectually divide up the visible Church into hostile camps.
Failing to divide the Word of truth rightly, they get error instead of truth; and, believing they are obeying the Word of God, they are really only following the tradition of men. For what is the state of the case historically? From the Acts of the Apostles we know that they baptized only in the one name. We know also that for some time this practice must have continued.
We hear nothing of baptism in the Triune name till the time of Justin Martyr (AD 114-165), and at the London Synod, called by Augustine in 605, any other form of words was pronounced to be invalid. This was confirmed by Pope Zacharius (741-752). On the other hand, we have evidence of the baptism in the one name in the days of Cyprian, for he condemns those who held that it was sufficient to say "in the name of Jesus Christ." But it was declared to be valid by the Council of Frejus, AD 792, and also by Pope Nicholas I as late as (858-867).
So that there was evidently confusion of practice as well as of doctrine, down to a very late period. Various explanations of this diversity are given, but they are all based only on reasoning and probability. We cannot believe that such a difference between the command in Matthew 28 and the practice of the Apostles in the Acts, can be accounted for on the ground that there is no difference between the use of the three names and the one. For in this case we may ask, What are words for? They are useless for the purpose of revelation, if in a simple and yet crucial case like this they do not mean what they say.
We could understand it better if the command had been to baptize in the one name, and the practice had been in the three names, for then the greater would have included the less. But, How can the less include the greater? How can the one include the three? and In what respect would this differ from John's baptism? John baptized into the one name. Did this include the three? If not, Why not? and why should Peter's baptism include the three, if John's did not?
The fact is, there is no real explanation of any kind. The actual conflict is between tradition and revelation. Our choice lies between these two. We may disobey 2 Timothy 2:15 and follow tradition with all its consequent confusion; or, we may rightly divide the Word of truth, and find clearness of vision and peace of mind. No question of infant baptism, or of sprinkling, pouring, or immersion, can arise where all is spiritual and Divine. We must include the closing verses of Mark's Gospel in considering the effect of rightly dividing the Word of truth, as it touches the question of baptism.
Here, again, the difficulties are great indeed, if those verses which refer to the kingdom and its proclamation in the yet Future Dispensation, be taken and read into the Present. Some of those who do this, logically insist on the point that we ought to see these miraculous signs and gifts in the Church to-day; but, as we do not see them, it is concluded that there must be something wrong in the Christian lives of believers; and, hence it is urged that, an increase of holiness must be acquired by some means or other.
Some, who do not see these wonderful gifts and signs, conclude that the passage refers only to the past, and is now done with.
While others, seeing the difficulty created, treat the whole passage as spurious, and regard it as a corruption of the text which ought to be removed.
These are the difficulties which result from reading the commands that refer to the Past and Future Dispensations into the Present; whereas, if we rightly divide them, all difficulties are at once removed.
(k) The prophecy of Amos.
"In that day will I raise again the Tabernacle of David that is fallen,
This prophecy refers neither to the Church of God nor to the temple of Jerusalem; but to "the Tabernacle of David," which stood on Mount Zion before the Temple was erected on Mount Moriah (2 Sam 6:17). It speaks of the heathen, i.e., the Gentile nations, being called "in that day" by the Name of the LORD.
When Peter declared in the Council how God made choice of him, that the Gentiles by his mouth should hear the word of the Gospel (committed unto him) and believe; and was followed by Paul and Barnabas declaring what signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them: then James said that the words of the prophets agreed with this, for God had declared by Amos that He would return and build again the Tabernacle of David, and bring the Gentiles into blessing with Israel.
God had just shown this by using Peter to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom, first to Israel (Acts 6, 7) and afterward to the Gentiles (Acts 8-12). The moment had come, therefore, for the call to Repentance, which was the one condition of this national blessing of Jews and Gentiles as such.
But we know that the proclamation was unheeded, and Peter's call was not obeyed. All this was followed shortly afterward (Acts 28:25-28) by the solemn and formal proclamation of Isaiah 6:9, and the fulfillment of the threat of judicial blindness which has, from that day, covered Israel's heart (2 Cor 3:15; Rom 11:25). Gentile blessing in association with Israel is now in abeyance: and Acts 15 does not refer to the Mystery, or to the Church of God, but to the Gentile nations as such.
The Mystery had not yet been made known, but "these things" had been "made known from the beginning." The following is the correct rendering of what was the Primitive Greek text of Acts 15:17 and 18, according to the RV., Rotherham, J. N. Darby, and other translators:
"That the residue of men may seek after the Lord,
Thus it is quite clear that this Scripture, written in the Past, and referring to the Future, must not be read
into the Present Dispensation of the Mystery, which was "hid in God from the beginning of the world."
(l) "Son of Man."
Out of the eighty-four occurrences of this title in the New Testament, eighty of them are in the four Gospels and not one in the Church Epistles. There is only one in the Acts (7:56), and after a quotation in Hebrews 2:6, we do not meet with it again until we come to the two places in Revelation (1:13 and 14:14), and these are in connection with His coming to take up His great power and exercise His dominion in the earth. This of itself is sufficient to show us the significance and teaching of this title; and that, quite apart from the principle we are now illustrating, we must not read past and future Dispensational truths into the present.
We have no more to do with the Lord Jesus as "the Son of Man," than the Gentile woman of Canaan had to do with Him as the "Son of David." When she made her plea and based it on that relationship, what could the Lord say but "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel"? (Matt 15:21-24).
The Church of God is brought into union with the risen and exalted Christ as "THE SON OF GOD," and in no sense are we associated with Him in His title "Son of Man." This at once shuts the Church out of the Gospels, and out of the Tribulation of Matthew 24 (of which we have more to say below), and out of all the passages in which we have the title "the Son of Man."
If we were imbued with the words employed in the Church Epistles, and had them ever in our minds, we should instinctively reject any teaching which would
bring us into union with Christ as the "Son of Man," or into Tribulation and Judgment scenes where that title is, and will be, so appropriate.
As we may not read the Past into the Present, so we may not read the Present into the Past.
A few examples will suffice.
(a) The Mystery, or Secret, concerning "the Church of God."
Surely these statements are perfectly plain, and admit of no dispute. It has been suggested that this secret refers to the blessing of Gentiles, as such, with Israel; but the simple and conclusive answer to this is, that such blessing was never a secret, but was made known at the same moment as the blessing for Israel was made known.
In Genesis 12:3, it was included in, and was an integral part of, the very first promise ever made to Abraham: "In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed." This was repeated at various times. In Genesis 18:18, Jehovah said of Abraham, "All the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him." (See also Gen 22:18, 26:4, etc.; Deut 32:43; Psa 18:49, 67:2; Isa 11:10, 49:6; Luke 2:32; Rom 15:8, etc.)
This was blessing for Gentiles as such, in contrast, and yet in conjunction with Israel. But this is a very different thing from what had been "kept secret." The secret was not concerning Jews and Gentiles as such, but concerning a people taken out from both, and made "fellow-heirs" and members of "the same body" (Eph 3:6), i.e., "the one body," the spiritual body of Christ, which is the one great subject of the Epistle to the Ephesians, and in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile (Rom 10:12; 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11).
It seems almost unnecessary to say more, for if these plain Scriptures are not convincing, nothing that we may add of our own is likely to make them so. Language, for the purposes of revelation, is useless if what is said to be "hidden" was made known; or what is called a "secret" had never been kept in silence.
If, however, we accept the statements as to the Mystery having been kept secret until revealed to and by Paul, then we shall look in vain to find it in the Old Testament, or in the Four Gospels, or anywhere before its revelation through the Apostle Paul. If we think we find it, then we shall at once introduce confusion into the older Scriptures, because we shall arbitrarily, and of our own will, dislocate the Scriptures of truth, and read into the Old Testament what God says He carefully kept out of it. The Church of God is specially instructed in the Epistles addressed to it.
In these Epistles the Holy Spirit fulfils the Lord's promise made in John 16:12-15. There, Christ said, "He shall receive of mine and shall show it unto you." Twice over the Lord repeats these words* (vv 14 and 15). These things, which related to Christ, included all that God has made Christ to be unto us who are saved, and all that He has made us to be in Christ. Of this truth the Lord says, "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when he, the Spirit of Truth shall have come, he will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:12,13).
If, then, we take the truth which was afterwards revealed, and which could not have been then borne or understood, and put it into the Gospels, from which the Lord designedly and purposely excluded it, we do despite to His purpose; we set at nought His wisdom; we attempt to do what He declares could not be done.
His hearers could not have understood His words had He revealed them then, for the great foundation facts of His death and resurrection on which they were based had not then taken place. But people to-day think they can understand the four Gospels if they read this subsequently-revealed truth into them now.
It is just this which brings in all the confusion in our reading of the Gospels; and causes us to use one truth to destroy another truth, and prevents us from understanding either. It is this that makes many exalt what they irreverently call "the teaching of Jesus" in the Gospels, and set it up in opposition to the teaching of Paul. Whereas both spake by the Holy Ghost: both uttered the words of God as given to them to speak. The Lord Jesus said of Himself:
"He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God" (John 3:34).
But the Apostle Paul also spoke only the words given him to speak, and he declares that they were "the words...which the Holy Ghost teacheth" (1 Cor 2:13). Paul was commissioned to speak and write the truth which, in John 16:12, was designedly kept back. If, therefore, we take what Paul wrote, and put it in where the Lord left it out, what can be the result but confusion in our own minds, and a flouting of the expressed purpose and design of the Holy Spirit, in what He withheld and in what He revealed?
(b) "Sons of God"
In all these passages the expression "sons of God" is used of angels. (Job 38:7 was clearly before the creation of man. And in Daniel 3:25 there is no article, and it does not denote Christ, but an angelic being.) The ground on which the two distinct usages are equally true of the two different classes of beings, respectively, is this: that "a son of God" denotes a being which exists as the direct creative act of God; produced by Him in contrast with being produced by man.
The angels are called "sons of God" because they are a separate creation distinct from all others. The first man, Adam, could be called a "son of God" in the same sense (Luke 3:38), because God created him. But Adam's descendants were not the special creations of God; for Adam, "created...in the likeness of God" (Gen 5:1), BEGAT a son "in his own likeness" (v 3). So that, being the sons of the first Adam, we are "sons of men," and we cannot be called sons of God by natural generation. When, however, we are His workmanship, created in "Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:10); "new creations" in Christ (2 Cor 5:17); then, in Him, we can be called "sons of God." We are, then, His sons by the act of spiritual regeneration; for, He has created within us a New nature, and given us a "sonship spirit," whereby we are able to say "Abba," i.e., my Father. (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6)
This Pauline usage of the expression is, therefore, quite distinct from the expression as we find it in the Old Testament. Had this been discerned, and the Present Dispensation not read into the Past, it would never have entered into any one's head to have thought that the expression "the sons of God" in Genesis 6:2, 4, could have been used of the sons of Seth! For, as a matter of fact, we see good and bad men and women marrying every day without any breed of monstrosities such as were the Nephilim, Rephaim, etc.
(c) The "Church"
As to its Etymology Ecclesia means Assembly, or a Congregation of called out ones. But there are various classes of people who are called out from others. The Greek word ekklhsia (ecclesia) is used 70 times in the Septuagint for lhafk@af (cahal), from which we have our English word, with its meaning, to call. Israel was an Ecclesia, or an assembly of People called out from other Peoples and Nations. See Genesis 28:3 (its first occurrence), where it is rendered multitude, and is used of Israel as a whole, as called out and distinct from all other nations. It is used, in Genesis 49:6, of a smaller company of Israelites, or assembly of people called out from Israel, viz., of the Tribal Council of Simeon and Levi.
Later on, in the same Past Dispensation, we find it used of another kind of assembly, viz., of those who were called out of all Israel as worshippers assembling themselves together, as such, before the Tabernacle and the Temple. This is the meaning of the word in Psalm 22:22, 25, in the Gospels, Acts 7:38, etc. A further development of the usage of the word was caused in the closing or transition period of the Past Dispensation, which affected the meaning of the word as used in the Gospels, and in the Acts of the Apostles: at any rate, in the earlier portion of the Acts, which is a transitional book.
During that period (covered by the Gospels and Acts) the called out ones are the "Sheep-fold" of John 10. The assembly was composed of "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." "The Porter" (John the Baptist) opened it and admitted the true Shepherd and the sheep whom He gathered; Baptism (the pool by the sheep-gate) being the mode of admission. Christ was the good Shepherd of these "lost sheep of the house of Israel" thus called out. Hence He was at once the "door" (v 7), and the "shepherd" (v 14).
Peter called out the "other sheep" which the Shepherd had (Acts 8-12), and brought them in to the "one flock" (v 16). They were "not of this (Jewish) fold," but Gentiles (as such), with Israelites in the place of their dispersion, who confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. These are the Ecclesia or "Church" of the Gospels and Acts.
They had been led into this fold, but they were to be led out (John 10:9), and this commission was given to Paul. In Acts 19:9, he began this work when he "separated the disciples," and the "hardening" of Isaiah 6 was approaching its "completion." When that Prophecy was fulfilled in Acts 28 the change of Dispensation was completed.
Henceforward the word Ecclesia acquires a more restricted meaning, and is used of "the Church of God" eleven times in Paul's Epistles. We must not, therefore, confuse the truth belonging and peculiar to these Dispensations, which is seen in the various usages of the word Ecclesia. There are thus no less than five distinct usages of the word Ecclesia.
In Matthew 16:18 the reference was to a future called-out people. "On this rock I WILL BUILD."
There could have been no reference here to the "Ecclesia in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38); nor to the Ecclesia of the Church of God in this Dispensation. Those who heard these words of the Lord's promise could not connect them with the Secret or Mystery which was "hid in God," and had not yet been made known to the sons of men. But they could connect them with Hosea 1:10 and 2:23. This is the promise which the Lord's hearers would have known. Only with that promise in Hosea could they have associated this promise of the Lord in Matthew 16:18.
The revelation here made was an addition to the promise in Hosea. The Son of Man was about to be rejected. The prophecies of Him as "the stone which the builders refused" were about to be fulfilled. Nevertheless, the time was approaching when He would become God's "sure foundation" according to Isaiah 28:16: "Thus saith Adonai Jehovah, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation," etc. That may be either "I have laid" (RV), or "I will lay." Both are true. Christ had been laid already then, in the counsels of God, and He would yet be laid in their fulfillment by God.
The Lord here repeats that promise. And the whole point was, Who was this Son of Man? Some said one thing and some another, and the Lord asks: "But YE, whom do ye say that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And Jesus, answering, said to him, Blessed art thou, Simon son of Jona, for flesh and blood revealed it not to thee, but my Father who is in the heavens. And I say also to thee, that thou art [called] Petros (a stone), and on this Petra (a rock) I will build my Ecclesia, and [the] gates of Hades shall not prevail against it, and I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of the heavens" (Matt 16:15-19).
In the words which follow we learn that the builders were about to reject God's foundation; for in the very next verse we read "FROM THAT TIME forth began Jesus to show unto His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and SUFFER" (v 21). Thus, His sufferings are not mentioned until the announcement had been made, that, though the foundation-stone was about to be rejected, it would yet be built upon. This rejected "Son of Man" is indeed the Christ, God's "Anointed," and He will become "the head of the corner."
On Him, the Messiah, His Ecclesia or Assembly, spoken of in the Prophets, would yet be built. "I will build" are His words. "I will call" are Jehovah's words in Hosea: "I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people: there shall they be called the children of the living God. Isaiah also crieth CONCERNING ISRAEL, though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, A REMNANT SHALL BE SAVED" (Rom 9:25-27).
This Remnant is the Ecclesia mentioned by the Lord in Matthew 16:18. The gates of hell will strive against it, as Romans 9:29 testifies, but the remnant shall be saved. This future Ecclesia of Israel is to be built UPON Christ, the Messiah, as the Foundation Stone. The Church of God, as an Assembly, is also compared to a building; its members are built individually on a doctrinal foundation, but the building itself is "a holy temple IN the Lord; IN whom ye also are builded together by [the] Spirit."
The Church of God is now a spiritual building IN Christ: but the Ecclesia of Matthew 16:18 is the future, corporate, saved "remnant" of Israel. The present Church of God is composed of Jews AND Gentiles, but the Ecclesia of Matthew 16:18 taken with Hosea 2:23; Isaiah 10:22, 23 and Romans 9:27, is a "remnant" OF "the children of Israel."
In James 2:2 the word "assembly" is not the rendering of the Greek Ecclesia, but it is the word Synagogue. "If there come into your Synagogue" (so margin).
From all this it will be seen how necessary it is to confine the meaning of the word Ecclesia, or Church, to the Dispensation in which it is used; and to note whether it is used, in the Past Dispensation, of all Israel; or of Godly Israelites; or of the whole of God's people; or of a portion of them in a certain District, City, or House.*
The special usage of this word Ecclesia, in this Present Dispensation, by the Holy Spirit was not known until it was revealed to Paul as the Secret (or Mystery) which had been "hid in God" (Eph 3:9); "hid from ages and from generations" (Col 1:26); "kept secret since the world began" (Rom 16:25). No, the "great mystery," or Secret, is concerning the one spiritual unity of "Christ and His church," and the end of it belongs to this present dispensation, and will close it up when the members of that Body will be
(a) The Great Tribulation
Some teach that all the Church will pass through all the Tribulation; others teach that only a part of the Church will so pass through it all; while there are yet others who teach that all the Church will pass through a part of the Tribulation. These last hold what is known as "the firstfruits view," which identifies the Church of God with the 144,000 of Revelation 14, and places the Rapture of the Church in or after the middle of the Great Tribulation, and after the revelation of the Beast in his superhuman form, in chapter 13.
But there, again, we see the confusion and contradiction of reading what refers to Israel in the Future into the Present Dispensation; and interpreting it of the Church of God, to the destruction of its present hope of being alive and remaining at the Lord's coming forth into the air to receive them, its members, to Himself, before the Day of the Lord bursts suddenly like a thief upon a world which cries "peace and safety." The Church of God is assured that that Day shall not overtake it as a thief (1 Thess 5:1-4).
The firstfruits in Revelation 14 are the firstfruits of those who are redeemed "from the earth" (v 3); redeemed "from among men." They stand "before the throne" (vv 1, 3); and they "follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth" (v 4). But all such language as this is foreign to the Church of God. We who are members of the spiritual Body of Christ are already "seated in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:6); and we shall not "stand before the throne," but be actually seated with Him when He shall have received us up into glory.
The other view, of part of the Church of God passing through the Tribulation is equally erroneous, and misleading. The Body is "one." There is no amputation of the spiritual body of Christ. There can be no deformity such as would be caused by the absence of any of its members. If the Head "cannot say to the feet I have no need of you," while here on earth, how much less can it be said in the day when "the number of the elect shall be accomplished" and the whole body presented perfect, complete, and "faultless" in glory. It is impossible for any one who is imbued with the language of the Pauline Epistles to imagine any connection between the Church of God and the Great Tribulation.
To say that the Church of God will be divided, and part of it go through the Tribulation, and part not; and that this division is based on the degree of holiness or watchfulness, or light, or doctrinal views, is to destroy the whole foundation of Grace, and put human merit in its place. Membership in the body of Christ is based on life, not on light. It depends neither on wages nor works; but, on the "gift of God," not on the acquirement of knowledge; on the reception of God's grace, not on the reception of man's tradition.
Still less is there anything to warrant the belief that the Church of God must pass through the whole, or any part, of the Tribulation. If we fail to rightly divide the Word of truth as to this we shall bring dishonour upon the free grace of God. Indeed the Spirit of God seems to have taken special care to preserve us from such mistakes. The Tribulation is everywhere either distinctly stated or specially indicated as being connected with Israel. The words are spoken "concerning Israel and concerning Judah" (Jer 30:4). This fact, of itself, shows that it has no connection with the Church of God.
In Jeremiah 30:7 it is called "the time of Jacob's trouble." And why "Jacob"? Because that name carries us back to that night of Jacob's trouble in Genesis 32:24-30, when, after many years of exile, he was about to return to his own land, and had reached its borders. There he heard of Esau's preparations to come and meet him at the head of 400 armed men. When he heard this, "Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed" (v 7), and he cries to God in his distress, and pleads the "mercies" of God, and deliverance from the hand of Esau lest he come and smite. It was the crisis of Jacob's life; when, had "the mother with the children" been smitten, there would have been an end of the future nation of Israel, whose name was, for the first time, revealed on that eventful night.
Even so the coming Tribulation will be the time of "Jacob's trouble," the crisis of the coming nation. It will not arrive until Israel returns to the land. This is clear from Jeremiah 30:3, which proceeds to describe the "trembling" and "fear," and adds "Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it" (v 7). The whole of this chapter should be carefully studied; and with it, Daniel 12:1: "At that time (i.e., at the crisis of Antichrist's power, see the end of chapter 11) shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy (Daniel's) people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy (Daniel's) people shall be delivered."
It is positively certain that that time has not yet arrived; for, at the destruction of Jerusalem (which is supposed by some to be the Tribulation), instead of returning to their land the people were driven out of it; instead of being "gathered," they were "scattered"; instead of being "saved" and "delivered," they fled in their terror.
There are many Scriptures which speak of this time of trouble. Daniel 7:8, 8:9-12,23-26, 11:30-39; Revelation 6-19 all refer to those days; but it is in Matthew 24 that the Lord Himself gives us its outline, and connects it with the Apocalyptic scenes.
In verses 4-6 its beginnings in "that generation" are described; but this introduction is closed with the word "THE END (teloV, telos) IS NOT YET." This is emphatic, and is repeated in Mark 13:7, and Luke 21:9.* This is what is referred to in Matthew 24:34, and Luke 21:32, where the word is genhtai (genetai), to begin to be, arise.** That generation did actually see the beginning of those things which the Lord mentions in Matthew 24:4-6.
Then, in verse 7 (Mark 13:8; Luke 21:10,11), the Lord describes the opening scenes of the Great Tribulation itself, which correspond exactly with the opening of the seals in Revelation 6.
Then it is added in Matthew 24:7, 8, and Mark 13:8,
But in Luke 21:12 it does not go on to describe these events, which belong to the Great Tribulation, but it goes back to what shall be
and describes the events up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 in verses 12-24. Then the description (having passed over the details of the Tribulation itself given in Matthew 24:9-28 and Mark 13:9-23) joins with them in describing the end, and what shall be "immediately after the tribulation of those days," culminating in the coming of the Son of Man, which is the common subject of Matthew 24:29-31; Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:25-28.
The very title of Christ as "Son of Man" in this description of the Tribulation shows that the Church of God is not here. That title, as we have seen (page 140), has nothing to do with the Church or with this Dispensation of grace. It has to do with the earth, and with Christ's dominion in the earth. It contemplates the Jews as in their own land, observing their own Sabbath laws (Matt 24:20). It concerns those who are "in Judea" (v 16). All the expressions used point to a people under the Mosaic law. This cannot therefore refer to the Church of God, which is "not under the law" (Rom 6:14; 1 Cor 9:21).
True, the Church of God has tribulation NOW, in the world, at least many of its members have, but not the Church, as such. But this is a very different thing from the Church, or any part of it, being IN "the tribulation, the great one."
Thus, the moment we recognize the great duty of "rightly dividing" the different principles of administration, apportioning each to its own distinct time and Dispensation, we see that the Church of God can have no place in the Great Tribulation; and that, being "not under the law," it must be excluded from all those Scriptures which have the law for its governing principle, and Judaea for the scene of its administration.
(b) The 144,000
But beside this, the very enumeration of them excludes all except those who belong to the tribes of the children of Israel. Not only are these tribes mentioned thus, collectively, in Revelation 7:4, but, in verses 5-8, each tribe is afterward mentioned separately by name. The promise to Daniel was, that when that time of trouble should come, "thy people shall be delivered." Here we see how that deliverance will be secured. This is the deliverance which is referred to in Joel 2:28-32. As the Lord had 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal, in the days of Ahab and Jezebel, so He will have 144,000 of those who will refuse to bow the knee to the Beast, or receive his mark in the days of the Great Tribulation.
In Revelation 7 we have two of the three peoples with whom Scripture deals. In verses 1-8 we have the Jews; in verses 9-17 we have the Gentiles. It is clear therefore that we must not put in the Church of God where He has left it out. As for the Jews, we are told that "they shall not be reckoned among the nations" (or Gentiles), Numbers 23:9, and as to the Church of God, there is neither Jew nor Gentile (as such) in it (Gal 3:28, 5:6, 6:15; Col 3:11). If we, therefore, join together what God has thus kept distinct, we must get error instead of truth.
Besides, what do we gain by this disobedience to 2 Timothy 2:15? Where does our advantage come in, by thrusting the Church of God in everywhere, whether the Scripture speaks of Israel or the Gentiles, or the Cherubim, or the Twenty-four Elders, the Bride, Zion, and the New Jerusalem, and everything else? How much must be lost to us of what God would teach us about these various subjects of revelation.
Here, then, we have another example as to our not reading what is still future into this present Dispensation. We need not put the Church of God among those who are numbered of the twelve Tribes of Israel, nor into the innumerable Gentile multitude. A time is coming when the nations will "learn righteousness," not by the grace of God, but by the judgments of God; not by the preaching of the Gospel, but by the proclamations of wrath. "O LORD...when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness" (Isa 26:9). These are the learners who will make up this "great multitude which no man can number."
Many may be of that number who will be left behind when the members of the "One Body" shall have been received up in glory. Many who have been members of churches, but not members of the Church of God. Many who have been labouring at trying to make a unity of the Body, instead of "endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit." They will then learn from the judgments of God what they failed to learn from the grace of God; and they will pass through and come out of the Great Tribulation and stand before the throne of God.
Those who believe they will pass through the Great Tribulation must not be surprised if God deals with them "according to their faith"!
(c) Sundry Prophecies (Ps. 2; Isa. 2; Jes. 60)
"Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance,
This promise to Christ, as Messiah, is quoted, as though it was to be fulfilled by the preaching of the Gospel of the grace of God in this present Dispensation; whereas, the very next verse, if quoted with it, would make such an interpretation, or even application, impossible; for it would show us exactly how that promise is going to be made good; and that it will be by judgment, not by grace.
When missionaries go forth equipped with a sceptre of iron, instead of the gospel of peace, we may regard such an application as being consistent. This, really, comes under another head, which we propose to consider later, viz., the Importance of the Context; and the evils which are brought in by wresting any passage from its context. The context of Psalm 2:8, when read with verse 9, shows decisively what the true interpretation of verse 8 should be; and the scope of the whole Psalm would be seen to confirm it.
"The mountain of the Lord's house."Isaiah 2 is another example. We must all have heard verse 2 quoted again and again of the Church of God:
This is supposed to teach the future extension of the Church of God, and its universal blessing to the nations; and this, in spite of the many passages in the Epistles which plainly tell us of the dark and terrible character of the last days of the Church on earth: evil men waxing worse and worse, scoffers walking after their own lusts, the departure of many from the faith, turning away their ears from the truth, and the turning them unto fables, and all this culminating in "the apostasy" and the revelation of Antichrist (1 Tim 4; 2 Tim 4; 2 Thess 2; 2 Peter 3, etc.)
But beside all this, the immediate context of Isaiah 2:2 should have made such an interpretation (or even, application) impossible; for the previous verse distinctly states that it was "the word that Isaiah saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem," and not concerning the Church of God. No application may be made of any Scripture that is not in harmony with what is revealed elsewhere. Such an application is forbidden by the subsequent teaching of the Epistles as to the last days of this Dispensation; while such an interpretation is forbidden by the context.
"Thy light is come."Isaiah 60:1, 3, 11, 12 is another portion which is continually applied to the Church, and used to set forth the ultimate triumph of the Gospel, in order to the encouragement of missionary enterprise:
Whose light? And, Risen upon whom? Not the Church of God, but upon Jacob's seed, and his seed's seed (Isa 59:20) when "the Redeemer shall come to Zion." So far from the Church being in this Scripture, verse 3 distinguishes Jew and Gentile; and Galatians 3:27, 28 distinguishes the Church from both:
Here we see that the subject-matter is the Jew and the Gentile; while in the Church of God there is neither
the one nor the other. The prophet is speaking of the Future Dispensation, after the Church shall have been "received up in Glory"; he is speaking of that moment in the Millennial Dispensation, when the Jew shall no longer be the tail, but the head of the nations; and when the Gentiles shall bring their wealth and their glory to Israel. This flowing of the nations for the aggrandizement of Israel is spoken of in other prophecies, and in such terms as to make even an application of them impossible; to say nothing of the interpretation. See Isaiah 61:3-6, and Zechariah 14:16-24, where it is distinctly stated that all this shall be when "the LORD shall be king over all the earth" (v 9); when "Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited" (v 11); and all this, not until Messiah's feet shall have stood "upon the Mount of Olives"; even that mount "which is before Jerusalem on the East" (v 4).
We shall see later, under the section which deals with the importance of first occurrences of words and expressions (Canon 5), that the one great outstanding fact that will characterize that day will be that man will be abased, and Jehovah exalted (Isa 2:11,17). Whatever may be the judgments, or the means employed, the result will be that the day of man's activities will come to an end, and Jehovah will begin to work: and truly, our hearts being to say even now:
In this day, and in all previous Dispensations, judgment and rule and power in the earth have been committed unto man. It is called "Man's Day" in 1 Corinthians 4:3, where it is translated "man's judgment" (margin, "Greek, day"). Though the Greek word is "day" it is thus beautifully translated; for, this is the day when man is judging, nationally and individually. Nationally he is a failure; for, the end of nearly six thousand years finds good government to be the great want of the age, and the great problem of the nations. Individually, man is a worker of untold evils, and this in the Church as well as in the world, or even more so. For, the judgment of others instead of himself seems to be his one great object, while the wreckage of broken hearts and ruined lives testifies to the extent of the evils he has wrought.
Yes, this is "man's day." But, "the Lord's Day" is coming, and John sees it laid out in vision before him, when by the Spirit he was shown its course and its end (Rev 1:10). This is the day that concerns the world, and it will suddenly overtake it, at the moment when "peace, peace" shall be its cry, and "safety" its creed.
But we must not read that future Day into the present hope of the Church of God, to the destruction of that hope, and the loss of our peace, and the extinction of our joy. For the promise to us is given in no uncertain sound: "that day shall not overtake you as a thief." The reason is, because we are "not in darkness" concerning it; we have the prophetic word which is a light in this darkness (2 Peter 1:19); and, for that very reason we are called "the children of the light, and the children of the day" (1 Thess 5:1-5).
By rightly dividing the Word of truth we distinguish between Man's day and the Lord's day; and also between the Lord's day and "the day of Christ" (Phil 1:6, 2:16), when He who has begun the good work in us will perfect it; and we shall be with Christ; and rejoice to find that we "have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain."
There are Advents, and Resurrections, and Judgments which are all still future, and they must be rightly divided the one from the other, respectively, if we would learn, and know the truth respecting them.
(a) The Advents.
The Parousia will be "our gathering unto" Christ, while the Advent will be the gathering of Israel to their Messiah and their Land (Gen 49:10; Isa 40:11, 43:5, 54:7; Jer 29:14, 31:10, 32:37; Eze 20:34,41, 34:12-14, &c.). The Church of God has nothing to do with the Day of the Lord. That day will overtake the world as a thief in the night (1 Thess 5:2). But the Church of God is distinctly told that "that day shall not overtake you as a thief" (v 4).
The Church is assured that it will be at "rest...WHEN the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God" (2 Thess 1:7,8). These will "be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power WHEN HE SHALL HAVE COME* to be glorified in his saints,and admired in all them that believe" (vv 9,10). There are two marks of time "WHEN" in 2 Thessalonians 1:7 and 10; but they are not expressed in the same way in the Greek.** The first means "at"; the second means "when."
Verse 7 relates to the Revelation of Christ to His enemies; verse 10 relates to the glorification of Christ with His saints. The Saints will be at rest AT His revelation (v 7). And WHEN He is revealed, He will have already come and have been glorified with His saints (v 10). Scripture can hardly be clearer than this. In order that there may be no mistake, the same fact is put in two ways: first, the "rest" which we shall have AT His Advent (His revelation in Judgment); and, second, the fact that He shall have already given us this rest, WHEN He is revealed.
It was this Advent which was the subject of Old Testament prophecy. We read nothing of the Rapture until it was revealed in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11. This revelation was made on purpose that we might not be "ignorant"; as all are, and must be, concerning these things, unless they know what is here made known.
It was revealed for the special purpose, not only of informing the Church of God as to what it was ignorant of, but of comforting it. Twice over we have the exhortation, "Wherefore comfort one another with these words" (1 Thess 4:18); and, "Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify (or build up) one another" (1 Thess 5:11). Both exhortations are introduced (in English) with the word "wherefore,"* showing the necessary connection between the cause and the effect; and linking them together.
If we read the Scriptures relating to the Rapture, and interpret them of the Advent, what is intended for our "comfort" will be used as an object of fear, and what is given as "blessed hope" (Titus 2:13) will be taken as our dread. With many this is the case. And all the mischief is caused by not "rightly dividing" two truths both belonging to the same Dispensation. At the present moment of writing, both are, of course, future. Hence it is that so many mix them up together. They both concern the Lord's Coming, hence it is they are confused.
It is the same Christ who will gather His saints to Himself at their Rapture; and who will afterwards gather Israel to their Land. His coming, from Genesis 3:15, onward, has always been the hope of Creation (Rom 8:19,23), and the hope of Israel (Jer 14:8), as it is now the hope of the Church of God (Titus 2:13). But, as with the Resurrections, each is "in its own order." In due time He came, but He was rejected and crucified. Israel was "not gathered" at that coming (Isa 49:5); therefore that gathering is now in abeyance, until the Lord's Advent, the Day of the Lord.
In that, which we speak of (for the sake of convenience) as the "first coming," we have an illustration of what we call the "second coming." There were prophecies even of that first coming which had to be rightly divided in order to be understood, even when read by those who lived in the Past Dispensation; and which might have been understood had the words of those prophecies been carefully noted. As these prophecies serve to illustrate the order of events connected with the second coming it may be well to look at them more closely:
In Micah 5:2, and Zechariah 9:9, we have two passages which both foretell and relate to that same first coming; and, fortunately, the English Version is as clear as the Hebrew in both cases. In Micah 5:2 the word is )cayaf (yatza'), to come out. In Zechariah 9:9 it is )w$b (bo'), to come in. In Micah 5:2 the former is rendered "come forth," and in Zechariah 9:9 the latter is rendered "come unto." Both were then future. The one prophesied of Christ's "coming forth" at Bethlehem, and the other prophesied of Christ's "coming unto" Jerusalem.
Until the time came for their fulfillment, there was nothing in those prophecies to tell the readers what would be the interval between those two comings, or whether there would be any at all. There was nothing to tell them that they were separated, as we now know, by more than thirty years. Some readers indeed might interpret them of one and the same event, and come to the conclusion that there was "a discrepancy"; or that the text was corrupt, or that there was something wrong with the translation.
These are the conclusions so readily come to by Higher and Lower Critics, who first create the difficulty by not rightly dividing the Word, and then endeavour to explain it by cutting it to pieces with their pens, as Jehoiakim did with his pen-knife. Both these Scriptures speak of the same coming of the Lord; but they are separated by some thirty-three years. He "came forth" from Bethlehem at His Incarnation (Matt 2:1). He "came unto" Jerusalem six days before His crucifixion (Matt 21:1-10).
Had the Jews carefully read and received these words of God as they were known and understood by many at the time (Matt 2:4-6) they would not have stumbled at His birth in humiliation. All the events connected with those thirty-three years we speak of as having taken place at His first coming. In like manner, all the events that will take place between Christ's "coming forth" into the air and His "coming unto" Jerusalem in the Day of the Lord go to make up what we speak of as His second coming.
But those events are all perfectly distinct, and are to be rightly divided off the one from the other, and are not to be confused or confounded. All the events which will occur between the coming forth or the Descension of the Lord into the air, for our "gathering together unto Him" there, and His coming unto the earth, in power and great glory to execute judgment, must be rightly divided in order to be rightly understood.
We cannot, of course, speak positively as to the exact duration of that interval between the "coming forth" and the "coming unto." Those who do not divide the Word at all make no interval, but jumble all the Scriptures up in confusion. Others, who do make some attempt to divide it, make the mistake, we believe, of limiting that interval to "seven years," as being the "last week of Daniel."
True, there is such a period of "seven years" (Dan 9:27): but there is no need thus to limit that interval. They may be the last seven of a larger number of years: for many events have to take place and many things have to be done during that interval. Moreover, there is the sunteleia (sunteleia), the consummation of the ages; and there is the teloV (telos), the crisis or end of the age.*
(b) The Resurrections.
And this Resurrection was twofold, and its hope consisted of a first resurrection as distinct from a second (see Psa 49:15; Dan 12:2). These were distinguished as that of the "just" and "unjust" (Acts 24:15), "life" and "condemnation" (John 5:29). And they were distinguished also as to the times at which they shall take place. Both are connected with the Advent: the one being immediately before the thousand years, and the other at the end of the thousand years (Rev 20:4-6,13).
These are referred to by our Lord: and the times and their order are very definitely stated in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28. Christ the firstfruits already raised. Then there will be those who will be raised in their own ranks, or order: "they that are Christ's" at "the first resurrection" of Revelation 20:5, 6. Then there will come "the end" or last rank, at the end of the thousand years (1 Corinthians 15:23,24); when, after the judgment of the great white throne, Christ will deliver up the kingdom to the Father.
But in 1 Thessalonians 4 we have a special revelation as to another resurrection at the time of the Rapture. We must not confuse it with the "first" and "second" Resurrections of Revelation 20. These are both connected with the Advent, the one, as we have seen, immediately before the thousand years, and the other immediately after. Both were the subject of Old Testament prophecy; while the Resurrection of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 was a secret, then, for the first time, made known in a special revelation "by the word of the Lord." This formula always denotes a special and specific prophetic announcement.* Moreover, it is not called a "Resurrection." The word is not a Noun, but a Verb. "The dead in Christ shall rise first." This word "first" has nothing to do with the "first resurrection" of Revelation 20:5, 6; but only with the fact that it would be the former of the two there spoken of; their mention following closely one on the other. But in 1 Thessalonians 4, two events are spoken of, not two resurrections: first "the dead in Christ shall rise": and second, the living who remain shall be caught away in clouds together, with them, unto the meeting of the Lord, into the air; "and so (i.e., in this manner) we shall be ever with the Lord."
Thus, the rising revealed in 1 Thessalonians 4, though it is still future, at the moment of writing, will be the great closing event of this present Dispensation, and will usher in the succeeding Dispensation of Judgment.
There are some who believe that, in Philippians 3:11-14, we have a later revelation* referring either to an earlier removal of the Saints; or to the hope of our "change" without dying; as the special hope of the "prize of our calling on high" (v 14). This would then be either an expansion of, or addition to, what is revealed in 1 Thessalonians 4 concerning those who shall be alive and remain; or a fresh revelation of another and perhaps earlier "calling on high."
Certainly we do not seem to have grasped or exhausted all that that wonderful chapter (Phil 3) reveals. It seems to be connected specially with the glorious revelations made later in Ephesians and Colossians: and therefore with the Mystery of Christ and the Church in Ephesians 5.
It may be asked whether 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15 completed all that God had then yet to reveal of the riches of His glory: and whether the "prize of our calling on high" may not refer to something special which God had held out for Paul's encouragement when in prison in Rome.
The exanastasiV (exanastasis) of Philippians 3:11 certainly seems to be something beyond the resurrection revealed in the former and earlier Scriptures. It means, etymologically, out-resurrection, and followed as it is by the pronoun ek (ek), out of, points to something quite different and special. The word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is used by Polybius in the sense of removal, and by Strabo in the sense of migration. In any case it was something Paul hoped for and longed to arrive at.*
It may point to our removal without dying, or to a more special, wondrous, and glorious change, corresponding more with 1 Timothy 3:16, "received up in glory," referring only to those who shall be alive and remain. Is not this, our removal, something for us to arrive at? Is it not a great and glorious change to hope for? In any case, if a special word of this kind is used later, in Philippians 3:11, are we right in jumping to the conclusion that nothing different is meant, and there is no further truth for us to receive or to rightly divide?
We have certainly several resurrections revealed: and these resurrections being all future, and all in their own proper order, it is impossible for us to avoid confusion if we join them all together and make only one "general resurrection" instead of "rightly dividing" them according to the "order" which God has revealed.
(c) The Judgments.
By Canonical order we mean the order in which the teaching comes to us in the Canon of Scripture. That order is more or less Divine, at any rate so far as the Old Testament is concerned; and so far as the order of the Pauline Epistles is concerned. By Chronological and Historical order we mean the order in which books were written and events happened. These two may not always be the same in their teaching. One may be Dispensational, and the other may be Experimental. All God's "works" are perfect, and so are all His "ways." All can see His works, but He has Himself to make known His own ways; as it is written (Psa 103:7),
(a) The Tabernacle.
(b) The Great Offerings.
(c) The Four Gospels.
(d) 1 Samuel 16-18.
Or he may introduce a later event and record it where it is desirable to bring out a certain contrast by way of emphasizing it, leaving it to the reader to discover his reason for doing so, and thereby fixing the lesson more surely on his mind. A human author, we repeat, may do this; but the Holy Spirit of God may not do it, forsooth, without having objections raised against Inspiration!
Notably is this the case with 1 Samuel 16:1 to 18:30. Here the commentators do not hesitate to charge the Text with being corrupted, interpolated or transposed; and charges of contradictions and discrepancies are levelled against the genuineness and authority of Scripture.*
Why not recognize the fact that we have four events the Chronological and Historical order of which is as follows:
This being the historical order, why may not the Holy Spirit arrange them in such order that He may call attention to His secret movements which were shaping the whole history? And why may He not alternate DAVID and SAUL in order to emphasize the coming of the Spirit on David, and the departing of the Spirit from Saul? In order to show this we have the four events in their spiritual significance and teaching, according to the following:
Structure of Canonical Order: 1 Samuel 16-18
A. 16:1-13. DAVID'S Call by God. The Spirit coming upon him.
Here, instead of the bare historical facts and exoteric events, we are taken to the esoteric reason for them all. That which explains them is the underlying counsel of God, who had rejected Saul, and taken His Spirit from him.
Thus we have the double lesson; and we retain the latter without losing the former.
If we compare the outward historical order with the inner and spiritual teaching we see at once why
16:14-23, where the Spirit departs from Saul, is brought out of its chronological place, and placed in close juxtaposition with 16:1-13, where the Spirit comes upon David.
(e) "The Words of Jeremiah."
The Prophecy of Jeremiah as a whole.
A. 1:1-3. Introduction.
A. 52. Appendix.
It will be seen from the above structure that it is the history connected with Jehoiakim which is not given in its chronological order. The member D is specially set in contrast with the member D, and ZEDEKIAH'S history, being in chronological order, emphasizes and calls our attention to the fact, that it is JEHOIAKIM'S history which is not in chronological order.
And why should it be? Who was Jehoiakim? Was it not he who cut up the words of Jehovah with a pen-knife? Why should not his history be cut up with the pen? What does it matter how his history is treated? Note the contrast between him and king Josiah. Josiah, when the book of the law was found and the king heard the words of the law, rent his clothes (2 Chron 34:14,19,21,30) and submitted himself to it. He reigned with honour, and when he died he "was buried in one of the sepulchres of his fathers, and all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah" (2 Chron 35:24).
On the other hand, Jehoiakim, who refused to hear the word of the LORD, and cut it in pieces, was "buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem"; and his dead body was "cast out in the day to the heat and in the night to the frost" (according to the prophecies in Jer 22:18,19, 36:30).
And, if any doubt remains as to the reason why this lesson of the prophecy of Jeremiah should not be lost, and its experimental teaching hidden and marred, let the structure of the Canonical portion connected with Jehoiakim be carefully studied; and its perfection be duly noted.
It is as follows:
F. 21. Defeat and Captivity proclaimed.
G. 22-23:8. Promise of the BRANCH.F. 34, 35. Defeat and Captivity proclaimed.H. 23:9-40. Whirlwind. False Prophets. Rejection.G. 32, 33. Promise of the BRANCH.H. 30, 31. Whirlwind. The Book. Restoration.
Is it not clear why this, the Canonical order, is so perfectly constructed? And is not the Experimental teaching exhibited by it shown to be of far greater importance than that of the mere Chronological and Literary order?
(f) The Pauline Epistles.
In them we have the fulfillment of the Lord's own promise, given in John 16:12-15: "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when He the Spirit of truth (lit., shall have) come, He will guide you into all the truth. He shall not speak of (or from) Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for He shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that He shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you."
That is to say, that had the Lord spoken them then His disciples would not have been able to bear them. Whatever may be the force of the word "bear," the contrast is between what they could not do "now," at that time, and what they would be able to do at some later time. Time, therefore, does enter into the interpretation of words. There could be no doctrine until the facts had taken place on which they were based. There could be no Epistles until the Gospel history had been accomplished. There could be no doctrine of Redemption or Atonement until His blood had been shed; and He, as a corn of wheat, had fallen into the ground and died (John 12:24).
"The things of Christ" were the doctrines concerning Him which were afterward "taken" and revealed by the Holy Spirit in the Epistles specially addressed to churches as such. If not, Where, and How, and When, has this Divine promise ever been fulfilled? Where has He guided us into "all the truth"? Where are we to look for this truth except in these Epistles which were written when He, the Spirit of truth had come?
Those who neglect the teaching of the Epistles reject these words of Christ. They "cannot bear them," even now. They put themselves back into a Dispensation which has passed away, and refuse to bear the words now that they have been spoken and written for our learning.
Many, thank God, are heeding what has since been revealed. Many are rejoicing in these "things of Christ" which the Spirit of truth has received, and has shown what God has made Christ to be unto us, and what He has made us to be "in Christ." Many are reading and studying the Epistles which the Spirit of truth has addressed to the churches by the Apostle Paul.
We have spoken of some of the Dispersion Epistles under the heading of rightly dividing of the subject-matter (see The Epistles to the Dispersion), according to which Paul's Epistles must be divided off from those other Epistles which are not addressed directly to the Church of God.
We are specially concerned now, therefore, with
The Pauline Epistles
Besides the group of Epistles addressed to the Dispersion (1 and 2 Peter, and James), there is another group of General Epistles (1, 2, and 3 John and Jude); and yet another group of Pauline Epistles. These groups, whatever may be their order in the ancient Greek manuscripts, always consist of the same Epistles, and are thus preserved distinct and separate from the others. In some MSS, the Dispersion group follows the Acts; and is followed by the General group, concluding with the Pauline group.
In the Pauline group the order of the Epistles varies to this extent; the Epistles addressed to churches (in which we include Romans and Ephesians, though they are not specifically so addressed) are always found together, and in the order in which we have them in our Bibles to-day. No Greek MS has ever yet been seen in which this order varies. But in some MSS the other Pauline Epistles do vary; the Pastoral Epistles sometimes preceding and sometimes following the Epistle to the Hebrews. We believe that the proper place of Hebrews is last, both canonically and chronologically, thus closing up Judaism effectually and cutting it off completely.
Many have observed the importance of the epoch marked by the Destruction of the Temple in AD 70, and the wonderful effect it must have had on Judaism and Christianity. This epoch is marked in the New Testament by the Epistle to the Hebrews, written in AD 68.
In our work on The Church Epistles we have dealt only with their Canonical order; but their Chronological order is not without its own direct teaching. The Holy Spirit of God has specially preserved and given them to us in their Canonical order, because that is the order in which we have to learn their truths, which are experimental, and are therefore more important for our spiritual life.
That Canonical order is as follows:
A1. ROMANS. Doctrinal. Dogmatic Instruction (in which Paul was alone in writing).
A2. EPHESIANS. Doctrinal. Dogmatic instruction. (Paul alone in writing.)
A3. THESSALONIANS. Praise and thanksgiving for
a model church, manifesting the fruits of Paul's teaching in Acts 17:1-3,
in holiness of life and missionary zeal (Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy).
These are the experimental lessons of the Canonical order. But the Chronological order is equally a fact, and it has its own special teaching for us, which is Dispensational. These Epistles are not given to us in this order, because the Dispensational teaching is not so important or so essential to our salvation. The experimental teaching, which is essential, is ensured to us by the Canonical order in which we receive them; but the Dispensational teaching of their Chronological order has to be sought out, by rightly dividing them according to the times when they were respectively written.
Both orders are divine; and they have their distinct and separate teaching. This element of time, in interpretation, reminds us that Paul never saw any of John's writings! None of the churches to whom he addressed his Epistles had ever yet seen John's Gospel! That Gospel, therefore, cannot be necessary to the understanding of the Epistles, or to the formation of churches.
Not until some twenty years after Paul's death was John inspired to write. how real must have been his inspiration to give us those verbal conversations of the Lord with Nicodemus, the woman of Samaria and others at which John himself was not present, even though he was a disciple at the time.
All this shows us that we are not to read subsequent revelations into previous writings. The "not yet" of Hebrews 2:8 and the "cannot now" of John 16:12, must be allowed to have their full weight in the interpretation of the Scriptures of truth; and, especially in the Epistles of Paul, if we are to "understand the Scriptures."
The churches whom he addressed could not fail to rightly divide the words of truth which they received. They could not mix up the four Gospels with the Prison-Epistles. The Thessalonians could not confuse their teaching with what was written long after to the Ephesians, or to the Hebrews; and which they had never seen. But we now have "All Scripture" and our responsibility is therefore greater.
If we do not rightly divide "all Scripture" according to the times, when, and as it was written, it will be impossible for us to be guided into "all truth." Even where this dividing of the Word of truth according to its subject-matter is carried out, there has been failure to carry it out fully with reference to its dispensational or chronological teaching. And as so very few thus fully observe this all-important precept, and fulfil this great requirement of the Divine Word, it is all the more necessary that we should make an attempt to do so, in some measure, here, and now.
The Chronological order is as follows, according to the generally received dates:
Not until Acts 28:25, 26, was Paul commissioned to pronounce this threatened judicial blindness, for the third, and last time. It is obvious that not until after Acts 28 could any declaration of the Mystery have been made. Until then nothing could be said which would be incompatible with the possible acceptance of Peter's offer. However, we must refer the reader to our separate pamphlet on this subject; and to pages 165, 166, above, where we have spoken of the possibility of there being some further revelation in Philippians 3.
Enough has been said on this whole subject of rightly dividing the Dispensational truth and teaching to show the importance of obeying the precept in these various particulars.