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A Study of Dispensationalism
by Arthur Pink

"But there is further reason, and a pressing one today, why we should write upon our present subject, and that is to expose the modern and pernicious error of Dispensationalism. This is a device of the Enemy, designed to rob the children of no small part of that bread which their heavenly Father has provided for their souls; a device wherein the wily serpent appears as an angel of light, feigning to "make the Bible a new book" by simplifying much in it which perplexes the spiritually unlearned. It is sad to see how widely successful the devil has been by means of this subtle innovation."

Philosophy

Dispensationalism

Gordon H. Clark | The unity of God’s saving work


[R]ecently the…extreme of multiplying covenants or dispensations has given rise to Dispensationalism. The Scofield Bible enumerates seven dispensations. It defines dispensation in the subhead to Genesis 1:28: “A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect to obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.” In itself this definition is not particularly bad. Old Testament history describes several occasions when God tested man by some specific revelation. This was true not only of Noah, Abraham, and Moses, but also of many others. There are several cases in Judges, such as the testing of Gideon by reducing his army as described in the seventh chapter. Then there is the case of Saul and Agag (1 Samuel 15:3, 8, 14); Saul failed the test, Gideon passed the test. Then too there is the case of David’s numbering the people (2 Samuel 24:1, 10, 12). These, however, are not what Scofield means by dispensations, even though they are cases of God’s testing men by a special revelation. Scofield enumerates seven dispensations. Even this, though somewhat fanciful, is nothing to cause great alarm. The description of the first dispensation in the footnote to Genesis 1:28 is quite good. The really serious error, the actually fatal error, of dispensationalism is the construing of these dispensations so as to provide, since the fall, two (or more) separate and distinct plans of salvation. Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote, “There are two widely different, standardized, divine provisions, whereby man, who is utterly fallen may come into the favor of God” (Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 93, 1936, 410). On 1 John 3:7, “he that doeth righteousness is righteous,” the Scofield Bible’s note is in part, “The righteous man under law became righteous by doing righteously; under grace he does righteously because he has been made righteous.” Thus instead of a covenant of grace—extending from Adam, through Abraham, into Galatians, and on to the culmination—dispensationalism has two methods of salvation.

For example, Scofield’s footnote to Romans 7:56 speaks of “two methods of divine dealing, one through the law, the other through the Holy Spirit.” Now, Paul before his conversion may have had a wrong conception of the Mosaic law, but this does not mean that in reality the Holy Spirit was inoperative in the Old Testament. Similarly the footnote to John 1:17, “Grace … is constantly set in contrast to law, under which God demands righteousness from man.” But God still demands righteousness from man, though this righteousness is a gift from God. The righteousness by which an Old Testament saint was saved was also a divine gift. Therefore Scofield is quite wrong in the following footnote, which says, “As a dispensation grace begins with the death and resurrection of Christ. The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation.” But the dispensation of grace did not begin with the crucifixion. God began dispensing grace to Adam. Furthermore, legal obedience was not the condition of salvation in the Mosaic “dispensation.” The condition was faith in a future sacrifice…..

Though it may not be spelled out so explicitly, the [Scofield] footnote to Matthew 5:2 in effect says that sinners during the millennium will be saved, not by the blood, merits, and grace of Christ, but by their obedience to the beatitudes, which are “pure law.” But this contradicts the universal proposition of Acts 4:12: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” The Scripture, quite the reverse of Dispensationalism, asserts that there is just one way of salvation. True enough, the divine plan in all its completeness, as Paul said in Ephesians 3:5, “was not made known unto the sons of men in other ages as it is now revealed to his apostles and prophets by the Spirit”; but Paul’s fuller doctrinal explanation is precisely the same covenant that was less fully revealed in Genesis 3:15— “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.”

Though this is the fatal error that removes dispensationalism from the sphere of evangelical Christianity, there are also some minor infelicities, which, though overshadowed, need not be overlooked….

It is on the Abrahamic covenant that Dispensationalism most obviously founders. A supposed antithesis between the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic dispensation, plus the antithesis and mutual incompatibility between both and he New Testament covenant of grace, is a contradiction of both Testaments. Even in the so-called Mosaic dispensation, Deuteronomy 1:8 and 4:31 briefly and partially, yet unmistakably, appeal to the covenant with Abraham. In an earlier passage, Moses prays for forgiveness on the basis of the promise to Abraham (Exodus 32:13). More clearly, Leviticus 26:42 specifies the Abrahamic covenant as the basis for God’s dealing with the Israelites after the Exodus. The unity of the covenant and its application during the time of David is expressed in Psalm 105:8-10: “He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations. Which covenant he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac; and confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant.” Note that it is an everlasting covenant, one that did not cease at the Exodus.

But of course the clearest and most important passage is Galatians 3:6-9,17: “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, for seeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So that they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham . . .. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.”

The first few verses of this quotation show that the elect in New Testament times are saved on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant and are counted as children of the patriarch. Further, these verses state that God’s declaration to Abraham was in essence the very gospel that Paul preached. Not only so, but at the time of Abraham God explained to him that the covenant included the Gentiles. In the next place, Paul expressly affirms that the Mosaic “dispensation” could not disannul the Abrahamic covenant that four hundred and thirty years earlier had been confirmed in Christ. In Christ, no less. The Mosaic ritual, Paul explains, was a temporary arrangement necessary because of the sins of the Israelites. It was to cease when the Messiah should come. Even during the Mosaic administration, the Abrahamic covenant was not disannulled, set aside, invalidated, or made of no effect. The Abrahamic covenant was operative all through the alleged dispensation of law. No one was ever saved by keeping the law. No one ever kept the law. Salvation, now, then, and always has been by grace through faith. Hence from the fall of Adam there has been one, just one continuing Covenant of Grace.

This unmasks another subsidiary though important instance in Scofield’s footnote to Matthew 16:18: “Israel was a true church, but not in any sense the New Testament church—the only point of similarity being that both were ‘called out’ [ek-klesia], and by the same God. All else is contrast.” But not all else is contrast. Israel and the New Testament Gentiles were not only as a matter of fact called out by the same God, but they were called out to the same salvation from sin. This salvation in both cases depended on faith in the same promises. To say otherwise, as Scofield does, is to imply that either David or Cornelius failed to arrive in Heaven.

Reprinted and edited with permission from The Trinity Foundation, P. O. Box 68, Unicoi, TN 37692. Originally appeared in The Trinity Review, July/August 1983. The full essay is available under “Review Archives” at the Trinity Foundation’s website: www.trinityfoundation.org.

 

  Gordon H. Clark (1902-1985) was one of the twentieth century’s leading Christian philosophers and theologians. During his life he was the author of more than forty books and the Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Butler University.
 

A special thanks goes out to The TRINITY FOUNDATION for permission to reprint this article on our site.

 

Martyn Lloyde-Jones

From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
James 4:1

It is interesting and strange to note in what may be termed the religious attitude towards war, or the attitude of religious people towards war, two tendencies almost invariably manifest themselves.
 
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Rev. Paul Alexander
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Gordon H. Clark
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Ronald Kirk
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