The Dispensations of God: 1 - Introduction

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The purpose of the following series of articles (adapted from articles originally authored by F. G. Patterson) is to bring before our readers the general scope of the great dispensational dealings of God as revealed in His prophetic Word. These subjects are presented in general in their consecutive order and represent an overview of the whole dispensational dealings of God, rather than a minutely detailed study.
A large scope of Scripture will be covered with five distinct subjects from the prophetic Old Testament Scriptures specially before us:
1. The corruption ruin of Israel, God’s elect nation.
2. Judgment following this ruin, whether from the hand of the Gentiles or otherwise.
3. The times of the Gentiles and their judgment.
4. The crisis or short period of judgment when the Lord will make “short work... upon the earth”—introducing the age when “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Jehovah as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:1414For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14) JND).
5. The glory of the kingdom we know as the Millennium.
Prophecy, mainly occupied with earthly events, is silent in the Old Testament as to the mystery revealed to the beloved Apostle Paul Christ and the church. God’s beloved Son, rejected by the Jew and by this world, will have a heavenly bride a church gathered to Him out of Jew and Gentile. His beloved bride will be joint-heir with Him when He assumes openly the headship of all things. Presently He is hidden in the heavens, while the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, is come down (at Pentecost) and indwells the believers individually and the assembly collectively.
Prophecy begins in the mind of God and only in the full display of Himself and the glory perfected and displayed in His beloved Son. It links together two things the counsels of God and their accomplishment in Christ. For this reason it is important to consider all of the prophetic scriptures in regards to the dispensations of God.
General Scope of the Dispensations of God
With regard to this subject we will consider three scriptures: 1. “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Gal. 4:44But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, (Galatians 4:4)). 2. “In the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him; in whom also we have obtained an inheritance” (Eph. 1:10-1110That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: 11In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: (Ephesians 1:10‑11)). 3. “And the angel... sware by Him that liveth forever and ever... that there should be time [delay] no longer: but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished” (Rev. 10:5-75And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, 6And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer: 7But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets. (Revelation 10:5‑7)).
These three scriptures present the three great epochs of God’s dealings towards the world. The first of them is past Christ has come into this world. The two others clearly refer to the future yet awaiting their fulfillment.
“The Fullness of the Time”
In order to understand more fully the ways of God to which the expression in Galatians “when the fullness of the time was come” we will begin in Genesis 1 and 2. There we find that God created the man and the woman and bestowed upon them a joint, universal dominion over His creation (Gen. 1:2626And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. (Genesis 1:26)). In Genesis 32And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. (Genesis 4:2) we find that Satan succeeded in overthrowing man from this universal lordship, and having fallen under Satan’s power, man became estranged from God.
Thus fallen, Adam, hearing the divine promise that the woman’s seed would bruise the head of Satan (Gen. 3:1515And 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. (Genesis 3:15)), passes out of the presence of God and from that state of innocence into which he could never return. God, having placed a barrier to prevent man from gaining access to the tree of life, begins the trial of man in his fallen condition. This trial lasted about 4000 years till “the fullness of the time was come.”
Man on His Own
For the first 1600 years, God left men to themselves (though He always preserved a witness in the world for Himself, such as Enoch) until Noah’s day when the earth was “corrupt before God,... filled with violence” (Gen. 6). God looked upon this condition and said, “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” (Gen. 6:1313And 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. (Genesis 6:13)).
The Flood
Noah, who had found grace in His sight, and his family are saved through the judgment of the world. He is found then in a cleansed world. In this condition, God places the sword of government in Noah’s hands, saying, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man” (Gen. 9:66Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. (Genesis 9:6)). But Noah soon failed in the responsibility of government, for he, being an husbandman, became drunken and thus morally lost the place God had given him. We will remember that Adam had lordship and Noah had government. Both failed in their responsibilities to God.
The Tower of Babel
The principle of man’s responsibility of governing the world will go on until its judgment by fire. (See 2 Peter 3:6-76Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: 7But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. (2 Peter 3:6‑7).) Men began to worship demons, as we see confirmed in Deuteronomy 32:1717They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. (Deuteronomy 32:17) JND and 1 Corinthians 10:2020But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. (1 Corinthians 10:20) JND. In such a condition, man’s heart is filled with self-will, showing his independence of God and making himself the center of all his thoughts (the essence of modern-day humanism). Man began to build Babel in order to make a common center of unity: “Let us build us a city and a tower... and let us make us a name” (Gen. 1117And Eber lived after he begat Peleg four hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters. (Genesis 11:17)). God’s judgment on this display of man’s willful pride was to confound his language, preventing him from being able to intelligently interchange his thoughts. This division of languages has ever since proved a hindrance to man’s gaining the common purpose of his heart for world unity.
Abraham—The Nation of Israel—The Law
God called one man—Abraham—out of this condition of idolatry (Gen. 12). In him, God separated a family a nation (Israel) that He might (among other governmental ways) test man on new ground. In the course of time He separated by a typical redemption (Ex. 2-14) this nation from the world (Egypt) to Himself. Having thus separated them, He gave them His law, eventually taking up His dwelling among them between the cherubim on the ark of the covenant (Ex. 19-40).
To man the law represented a test of his responsibility, as a fallen child of Adam, to the authority of God. The nation of Israel, ignorant of the true condition of their hearts, accepted God’s law as a condition of their relationship with Him. But even while Moses the lawgiver went up into Mount Sinai to receive the law, the children of Israel set up a golden calf and worshipped it as their God (Ex. 32). Their actions proved that they had failed under the test of “pure law.”
God then put the tables of the law into the hands of a mediator (Moses) a second time. He added to the conditions of pure law the character of long-suffering mercy, saying, “The Lord, The Lord God merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex. 34:6-76And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 7Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6‑7)).
The Captivity
The history of the nation of Israel, thus set on new ground, gives us the result of this fresh test. This test lasted until the captivity in Babylon. During this time of trial we hear the pleading of the prophets who were striving to bring back the rebellious nation into the observance of the conditions of their relationship with Jehovah and to the keeping of the law, which defined those conditions. But during all this time there was no national response from the people. Finally Israel exhausted the long-suffering and mercy of God, who could no longer allow such dishonor to His holy name. The ten tribes (Israel) were the first to be carried away. In Hosea 1:66And she conceived again, and bare a daughter. And God said unto him, Call her name Lo-ruhamah: for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away. (Hosea 1:6) we read, “I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away.” Though Judah (the two tribes Judah and Benjamin) were granted a further respite, eventually they too heard the solemn words, “Ye are not My people, and I will not be your God” (Hosea 1:99Then said God, Call his name Lo-ammi: for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God. (Hosea 1:9)).
(to be continued)
F. G. Patterson (adapted)