Dispensations

 •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Without a right understanding of dispensational truth no student of prophecy can rightly comprehend God's ways in the past and present, nor His plans for the future.
At the beginning of our inquiry we may well ask what is meant by the word dispensation. “A Dispensation is a stretch of time marked out by some special dealing of God with men—that dealing imposing upon man responsibility, and always ending in failure.”
With this in mind it is easy to trace the dispensations of Scripture.
Perhaps it will help to make our meaning plain if we use a very simple diagram with descriptive letterpress.
Let it be clearly understood that whilst the beginning of a dispensation can be clearly marked, its close cannot be so definitely fixed in every case. The remark we make later in connection with the Dispensation of Promise illustrates what we mean.
Dispensation of Innocence. This probably lasted a very short time. The record is covered by Genesis 2:7-3:247And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. 8And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. 10And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. 11The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; 12And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. 13And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. 14And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates. 15And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 17But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. 18And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. 19And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. 20And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. 21And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; 22And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. 23And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. 24Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. 25And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. 1Now the serpent was more subtile than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? 2And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: 3But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. 4And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: 5For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. 6And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. 7And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. 8And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. 9And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? 10And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. 11And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? 12And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. 13And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. 14And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: 15And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. 16Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. 17And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 18Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 19In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. 20And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. 21Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them. 22And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: 23Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. 24So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. (Genesis 2:7‑3:24).
Adam was created innocent. Placed as head over the first creation. Given a helpmeet. One test was imposed upon our first parents, namely, not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In their attempt to rise and become as gods they fell. Their act was prophetic of the rise of antichrist, who will make the greatest attempt to be as God. The dispensation ended in failure. It was closed by the fall of the creature and the introduction of the reign of sin.
Dispensation of Unrestrained Will. Man was tested by the fact of no restraint being put upon him. The record is covered by Genesis 4:1-7:61And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. 2And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. 4And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: 5But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. 6And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? 7If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. 8And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. 9And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? 10And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. 11And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand; 12When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. 13And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. 15And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him. 16And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. 17And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch. 18And unto Enoch was born Irad: and Irad begat Mehujael: and Mehujael begat Methusael: and Methusael begat Lamech. 19And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. 20And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle. 21And his brother's name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ. 22And Zillah, she also bare Tubal-cain, an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah. 23And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt. 24If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold. 25And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew. 26And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the Lord. 1This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; 2Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. 3And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth: 4And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters: 5And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died. 6And Seth lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enos: 7And Seth lived after he begat Enos eight hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters: 8And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died. 9And Enos lived ninety years, and begat Cainan: 10And Enos lived after he begat Cainan eight hundred and fifteen years, and begat sons and daughters: 11And all the days of Enos were nine hundred and five years: and he died. 12And Cainan lived seventy years, and begat Mahalaleel: 13And Cainan lived after he begat Mahalaleel eight hundred and forty years, and begat sons and daughters: 14And all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years: and he died. 15And Mahalaleel lived sixty and five years, and begat Jared: 16And Mahalaleel lived after he begat Jared eight hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters: 17And all the days of Mahalaleel were eight hundred ninety and five years: and he died. 18And Jared lived an hundred sixty and two years, and he begat Enoch: 19And Jared lived after he begat Enoch eight hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: 20And all the days of Jared were nine hundred sixty and two years: and he died. 21And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: 22And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: 23And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: 24And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him. 25And Methuselah lived an hundred eighty and seven years, and begat Lamech: 26And Methuselah lived after he begat Lamech seven hundred eighty and two years, and begat sons and daughters: 27And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died. 28And Lamech lived an hundred eighty and two years, and begat a son: 29And he called his name Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed. 30And Lamech lived after he begat Noah five hundred ninety and five years, and begat sons and daughters: 31And all the days of Lamech were seven hundred seventy and seven years: and he died. 32And Noah was five hundred years old: and Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth. 1And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, 2That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. 3And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. 4There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. 5And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. 7And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. 8But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. 9These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God. 10And Noah begat three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. 11The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. 13And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. 14Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. 15And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits. 16A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it. 17And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die. 18But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons' wives with thee. 19And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. 20Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive. 21And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them. 22Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he. 1And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. 2Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. 3Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth. 4For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth. 5And Noah did according unto all that the Lord commanded him. 6And Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters was upon the earth. (Genesis 4:1‑7:6).
This followed the dispensation of innocence, and closed with the Flood. Man was allowed to do what he liked. And what was the result? He corrupted and defiled himself to such an extent that in mercy and judgment God ended the dispensation by a flood of water. Doubtless the closing of this dispensation by a flood of water is prophetic of the closing up of the world's history by a deluge of fire (see 2 Peter 3:10-1210But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. 11Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 12Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? (2 Peter 3:10‑12)). How often the natural heart thinks that to do as it likes is the way of happiness. Behold the result!
Dispensation of Government. Man had the sword of government put into his hand. The record is covered by Genesis 8:15-11:915And God spake unto Noah, saying, 16Go forth of the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons' wives with thee. 17Bring forth with thee every living thing that is with thee, of all flesh, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth; that they may breed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth. 18And Noah went forth, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives with him: 19Every beast, every creeping thing, and every fowl, and whatsoever creepeth upon the earth, after their kinds, went forth out of the ark. 20And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21And the Lord smelled a sweet savor; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. 22While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. 1And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. 2And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. 3Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. 4But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. 5And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man. 6Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. 7And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein. 8And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, 9And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; 10And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth. 11And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. 12And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: 13I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. 14And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: 15And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. 17And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth. 18And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth: and Ham is the father of Canaan. 19These are the three sons of Noah: and of them was the whole earth overspread. 20And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: 21And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. 22And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. 23And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness. 24And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. 25And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. 26And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. 27God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. 28And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years. 29And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years: and he died. 1Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and unto them were sons born after the flood. 2The sons of Japheth; Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras. 3And the sons of Gomer; Ashkenaz, and Riphath, and Togarmah. 4And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. 5By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations. 6And the sons of Ham; Cush, and Mizraim, and Phut, and Canaan. 7And the sons of Cush; Seba, and Havilah, and Sabtah, and Raamah, and Sabtecha: and the sons of Raamah; Sheba, and Dedan. 8And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. 9He was a mighty hunter before the Lord: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord. 10And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11Out of that land went forth Asshur, and builded Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah, 12And Resen between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city. 13And Mizraim begat Ludim, and Anamim, and Lehabim, and Naphtuhim, 14And Pathrusim, and Casluhim, (out of whom came Philistim,) and Caphtorim. 15And Canaan begat Sidon his firstborn, and Heth, 16And the Jebusite, and the Amorite, and the Girgasite, 17And the Hivite, and the Arkite, and the Sinite, 18And the Arvadite, and the Zemarite, and the Hamathite: and afterward were the families of the Canaanites spread abroad. 19And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon, as thou comest to Gerar, unto Gaza; as thou goest, unto Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Admah, and Zeboim, even unto Lasha. 20These are the sons of Ham, after their families, after their tongues, in their countries, and in their nations. 21Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born. 22The children of Shem; Elam, and Asshur, and Arphaxad, and Lud, and Aram. 23And the children of Aram; Uz, and Hul, and Gether, and Mash. 24And Arphaxad begat Salah; and Salah begat Eber. 25And unto Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg; for in his days was the earth divided; and his brother's name was Joktan. 26And Joktan begat Almodad, and Sheleph, and Hazarmaveth, and Jerah, 27And Hadoram, and Uzal, and Diklah, 28And Obal, and Abimael, and Sheba, 29And Ophir, and Havilah, and Jobab: all these were the sons of Joktan. 30And their dwelling was from Mesha, as thou goest unto Sephar a mount of the east. 31These are the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations. 32These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood. 1And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. 2And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. 3And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. 4And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 5And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. 6And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. 8So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. 9Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth. (Genesis 8:15‑11:9).
Noah and his family after the flood commenced this dispensation. Noah had the sword of government put into his hand. He proved himself unfit by getting drunk. He could not govern himself. In process of time population increased and the lessons of the flood were forgotten; men banded themselves into one vast imperialism in their desire to be strong without God. The dispensation ended with the intervention of God in confounding the language of all the earth, so that the people were scattered, and left off building the tower and city of Babel (confusion). This closed the dispensation.
Dispensation of Promise. Beginning with the call of Abram and going on to the Exodus, though its principles still go on, and will find their full answer when all nations shall be blessed in Abram's seed—Christ—in the Millennium. The record is covered by Genesis 12:11Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee: (Genesis 12:1)-Exodus 18.
No words can exaggerate the importance of this new departure in the ways of God. Abram was the first person to be called. “Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee” (Gen. 12:11Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee: (Genesis 12:1)). Since his day calling has been God's way of blessing. The calling out was the proof that God no longer looked for response from the world as such, and was the condemnation of that out of which the call was given. Abram in this connection became the recipient of the promise that in his seed all nations should be blessed. Henceforth the calling and promise descended to Isaac and Jacob, which last became the head of the Jewish patriarchs, who in their descendants became the called-out nation, as we shall presently see. All this was on the lines of an earthly calling in view of an earthly inheritance. The church comes in parenthetically with a heavenly calling, with a heavenly inheritance, but still on the lines of calling. The Greek word for church (ecclesia) means called out. Of that more later. Secondly, Abram was the first person in whom the truth of justification came out. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:33For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. (Romans 4:3)). So two NEW things come out in Abram: (1) Calling: positively, leading to God's thoughts of blessing for the one called; negatively, involving condemnation of the scene out of which he was called; (2) Justification, that is, complete clearance on the ground of faith in what Another was to do. The Galatian epistle shows how Abraham is the Head of promise, and how all—Jew and Gentile—who put their faith in Christ are the children of Abraham and blessed with him. It were well for the reader to seek to grasp this important departure in the ways of God 'brought out in this dispensation. Succeeding dispensations differ, yet the blessings first brought to light in Abraham are carried on, though in the present dispensation they connect themselves with a heavenly order of things, and go beyond what was seen in Abraham.
Dispensation of Law. Connecting itself with Israel under Moses the lawgiver, Joshua, and the elders, the Judges and Kings, until the captivity. The record is covered by Exodus 19-2 Kings 25.
This dispensation is strongly marked. It had to do with a called nation, and is one sad history of lapses into idolatry—the flagrant breaking of the first and greatest commandment—Israel was set aside and Gentile dominion came in. Israel began with theocracy, that is, direct rule by God. When the Israelites demanded a king, God said to Samuel the prophet, “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected ME, that I should not reign over them” (1 Sam. 8:77And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. (1 Samuel 8:7)). In the time of king Rehoboam, David's grandson, the kingdom rent in two—Israel, comprising ten tribes, formed the Northern Kingdom: Judah and Benjamin, with the Levites and many Israelites who fell to Judah, forming Judah, the Southern Kingdom. The king of Assyria carried Israel into captivity in B.C. 740, whilst the king of Babylon carried Judah into captivity in B.C. 599.
Dispensation of “The times of the Gentiles.” (Luke 21:2424And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. (Luke 21:24)). The record is covered prophetically by Nebuchadnezzar's dream of a great image. It began with Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and will end when Christ returns to this earth to put all enemies under His feet and to reign. The Stone cut out without hands, falling on the feet of the image and destroying it, gives us symbolically the end of the dispensation. (See Dan. 2:31-4531Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. 32This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, 33His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. 34Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. 35Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. 36This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king. 37Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. 38And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold. 39And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. 40And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. 41And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. 42And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. 43And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. 44And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. 45Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure. (Daniel 2:31‑45)).
Idolatrous Israel being set aside as God's center of dealing with this world, God now puts authority into the hands of the Gentiles. As this is a large subject and intimately connected with prophecy, we will content ourselves with this remark at present. We shall have to see how there arises a dispensation of grace within this dispensation of government, which latter “the times of the Gentiles” really is. This dispensation of grace is connected with “the fullness of the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:2525For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. (Romans 11:25)), and is consequent on the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus, the gift of the Holy Ghost and formation of the Church, closing with the rapture; then the Jew will again be taken up and become the center of God's dealings with the earth. But more of this in detail later on.
This covers the personal reign for one thousand years of the Lord Jesus as the long promised Messiah over Israel, and as Son of man over the whole earth. He will, indeed, be the Lord Emperor—King of kings and Lord of lords. This dispensation will fulfill the prophecy of 1 Peter 1:1111Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. (1 Peter 1:11)—“the glory that should follow.” It will involve the return of the Jews to their land, and the breakup of Gentile power to make way for the reign of Christ. This will be taken up in detail later on.
When the Millennium closes, God in His wisdom allows Satan to be released from the bottomless pit, who shall then go out to deceive the nations. This interregnum between the close of the Millennium and the beginning of the eternal state will be short, and is described in Revelation 20:7-107And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, 8And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. 9And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. 10And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Revelation 20:7‑10). Satan will deceive the nations gathering them to battle in numberless hosts. The will attack God's people, and Jerusalem's last siege will take place. Fire will come down from God which will devour His enemies—the devil himself being cast into the lake of fire, where the beast and the false prophet will have been during the Millennium. This interregnum will be one of the strongest proofs possible that man's condition as fallen is hopeless. The long period of Christ's personal reign, and the withdrawal of the malign influence of the devil, will not suffice to alter men's hearts. God will be fully justified in winding up all things, and the prophecy of 2 Peter 3:1010But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. (2 Peter 3:10), as to the heavens and the earth being destroyed by fire, shall be fulfilled.