God’s plan of the ages is not the mere unfolding of the eras of time until the last when eternity is ushered in. The periods of the world are directed in the providence of God through their beginning, continuance and end according to the will of God for all things. Each period is marked by a particular progressive development of the divine purpose to the end that the promise gradually revealed be seen in ever clearer light until it is realized in its most comprehensive fulfillment. The dispensations begin then with not man, but the promise. They are all unfoldings and increasingly fuller revelations of the promise of God. The promise is the promise of the covenant. It is the covenant which is at the bottom of all. The various dispensations are but dispensations of the covenant. The one great aim God has in mind is covenant friendship and fellowship with His people. All things else are means unto the execution and securing of that end. The glorification of a people in covenant friendship with God triune was ordained from eternity. Man’s redemption was ordained in order to that glorification. Man’s sin was ordained with a view to his redemption. The creation of heaven was decreed with a view to the eternal dwelling-place of the redeemed. The creation of the heavens and the earth was ordained as the way to God’s heavenly tabernacle. The works of providence were ordained to secure the revolutions of the universe unto the manifestation of the Sons of God. The center of His providential workings is the glorified Mediator dwelling in the midst of a glorified people chosen in Him before the foundation of the universe.
Dispensationalism has no such solid foundation. It is based on a test of man and his obedience to a specific revelation of the will of God, which test and revelation in each succeeding age may be antithetical to any former or following test and revelation. Thus, there is not so much development in the movement from one dispensation to another as there is contrast. For example, in the dispensation of law, man was tested according to works. Before that, he was tested according to promise, a rather evangelical dispensation. Now he is being tested, not by law, but by grace. Thus a false antithesis is made between law and grace. For the scriptural antithesis is between sin and grace. Dispensationalism, then, produces a view of history which is man-centered and, for its several parts, without connection and development. The system constantly emphasizes that each dispensation ends in failure. In fact, the teaching is, each dispensation begins with man. The Dispensation of Innocence began with Adam, Conscience with fallen Adam, Human Government with Noah, Promise with Abraham and Law with Moses. This emphasis on man is offensive enough, but that “the age of grace” and the “kingdom age” begin with man is especially offensive. For grace is supreme, not man. But since each dispensation begins with man, each closes with the failure of man. This leaves a further offense in that “man fails under grace.” What hope is there, then, for man, if he fails even under grace? What will keep him from failing and falling if grace does not? True, every man, including the elect man, will fall under grace and from grace as long as grace reigns merely over him and around him. But when sovereign, irresistible grace reigns in him, he cannot and shall not fail nor fall. But Dispensationalism does not go very far with respect to sin and grace in the plan of God.
Nevertheless, the entrance of sin was ordained and planned in order to effectuate the work of redemption. Just as the glory of the sun, moon and stars is especially appreciated upon the background of the black curtain of night, so sin was needed as a black background to put into sharper relief the glories of God’s grace in the redemption of His people. How could grace be appreciated without sin? How could mercy be known without misery? How could God’s almighty power be seen without humanly insurmountable obstacles to be overcome? God ordained sin, its entrance into the world, its operations and effect, in order to more grandly reveal His wonderful attributes — which all add up to one, glory!
The government of this world in the providence of God is ordered and controlled for the sake of the work of redemption. We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, who are the called according to His purpose. To illustrate: this magazine is published in the interest of that system of doctrine found in Scripture called the Reformed Truth. There are many providences of God which make this possible. Trees grow for more years than generations of man, to be cut down, made into pulp and then to paper. Steel was manufactured for machines to linotype, print, cut and fold. Ink is necessary. So the postal system, the railway system and ships at sea, to transport these magazines to places of distribution throughout foreign countries. Little do captain or crew, traveling to a remote island of the sea, believe they are instruments of God to place a copy of this publication in the hands of one of His elect there.
No, in God’s plan of the ages, the starting point is not man, nor even the creation of the world. His plan does not begin in time, but in eternity. True, the Bible begins with the Book of Genesis, and so may be said to begin with the Adamic dispensation, but not really. True, Scripture begins with the creation, including the creation of man as made in the image of God. Yet we are not told in Genesis what the image of God is. We turn to the Book of Ephesians for that (4:24). We also turn to the very same book in its first chapter for the foundation of our study and thinking, for the key to God’s plan of the ages. For the character and content of God’s eternal plan realized throughout the periods of history, we must turn to Ephesians One. Not in Genesis, but in Ephesians, by which we interpret Genesis, do we learn that the center of God’s counsel is His glory in Christ through the redemption of His chosen and purchased possession. Therefore we read, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heaven lies in Christ, according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him” (Eph. 1:3-4). The foundation of all God’s dealings with men is found not in man, nor in time, nor in the scene of man’s activities, but in what is affirmed in the above Scripture. Nor may this truth be limited to New Testament saints, for it applies to the whole election of grace.
Dispensationalism will, of course, object, on this point, that the Old Testament saints were not blessed withspiritual blessings in the heavenlies, but rather withtemporal things on earth. They had a materialinheritance and an earthly welfare promised them. But the Gospel will not bear this out, for according to it, in Abraham and his seed God would bless not only Israel but all the nations (Gentiles) of the earth. This blessing that would come alike on Jew and Gentile was aspiritual one, as Paul taught when he said “that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ: that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3,8,9,14). What blessing was to come on the Gentiles — (and, mind you, Gentiles which had no promise of a geographical Canaan)? The same promised the Jews, namely, the promise of the Spirit through faith! The promise of the Spirit is the essence of all spiritual blessings in Christ. When we have the Spirit given us, then we have all spiritual blessings brought us. You will see that this is so by a comparison of Lk. 11:13 with Mt. 7:11. In the one place, Christ speaks of the Father giving “the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him,” while in the other, this is explained as “giving good things to them that ask Him.” Furthermore, it is not Old Testament point of view to teach that the blessed man was one whose possessions were great, whose lands, flocks and herds were fabulously increased. No, rather David insisted, and Paul agreed with him, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Ro. 4:7f)
At the beginning of the New Testament dispensation Peter stood up and preached to his brethren the Jews. He and they were still very much used to thinking according to Old Testament concepts. At the temple he remarked in his address to them, “Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, ‘And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed‘ ” (AC. 3:25). Now, aside from what the people themselves might have supposed that blessing to be, what did Peter conceive it to be? Did he explain it to them as consisting in an earthly kingdom, with temporal blessings and material pomp and power? Not so, but he expounded in the words, “Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him tobless you in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” (v.26) Peter, in introducing the new dispensation to Jews emerging from the old, puts forth to them, as a sample of what they may expect to find in the new, but one single. blessing which stands for all the rest in the new covenant. The one blessing which he introduced is fundamental and a foretaste of all the others. Peter in this way revealed himself well taught of his Master. For at the beginning of His ministry, He proclaimed the blessings of the kingdom of heaven, which were given not in earthly offices and benefits, but in the “poor in spirit,” the “meek” and the “pure in heart.”
The charge of Dispensationalism against us is that wespiritualize the promises of God. Well; we certainly do not do as Dispensationalists, and carnalize the Scriptures. The Word of God itself has a spiritual outlook. Jerusalem is “spiritually called Sodom and Egypt.” (Rev. 11:8) The history of Israel, e.g., under Joshua, has a spiritual meaning. Certainly the Psalms are full of spiritual meaning. The “blessed” man is the one whose delight is in the law (teaching) of the Lord. (Psm. 1) The “green pastures” and “still waters” represent not natural, but spiritual realities. Then let not carnalizers of Holy Writ ridicule a spiritual interpretation of “Mount Zion,” the “cedars of Lebanon,” the “dew of Hermon” and the ox which “treadeth out the corn.” Spiritual things can only be spiritually discerned. Purely natural things are nothing but chaff.