THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN
DOCTRINE AND DISPENSATION
"O ! the Depth of the Riches."
We desire in this article to emphasize a somewhat unobserved distinction that seems fundamental
to a right understanding of Truth, viz., the difference there is between Doctrinal Truth and
Dispensational Truth. Hitherto we have emphasized the bearing of the Apostle Paul's commission upon this present Dispensation. We have insisted upon the sharp division of his Epistles according as they range themselves on either side of the " Ancient Landmark "Acts 28.
We do not, however, deny by any means the perfect symmetry, or the unity of Paul's Epistles as a whole; neither do we say that, because the
chronological order is so important we therefore discredit any attempt to show the wonderful teaching observable in the
canonical order of his writings.
Among the important factors of Dispensational Truth, we cannot but see that the setting up of the kingdom necessitates at least the King and His subjects. But now, the King is rejected, the rightful subjects are "
Lo-Ammi " (" not My people "), and the setting up of the kingdom has been postponed.
" It is not for us to know the times and the seasons;" these
things lie beyond our limits.
Let us turn to Peter's words in Acts 3:17-26. Note the two things spoken by the mouth of the Holy Prophets. "The sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow." From
1 Pet. 1:11, we gather that Peter's commission did not include the Dispensational parenthesis. He very plainly tells us so in the second Epistle. He confesses that there was a long
in terval between the " sufferings " and the " glories," and that some had grown weary of the waiting and had said
" Where is the promise of His coming? " Peter knew his Lord sufficiently to know that all would be well. He says that this
long suffering meant salvation, but refers his readers to the writings of Paul, saying
" that in all Paul's letters there will be found references to these things in which some are indeed, confessedly, hard to be understood.
So far as Peter's ministry was concerned, the Jews as a nation, and the kingdom with its base at Jerusalem, were its centre and circumference. The book of the Acts is practically divided up into two grand sections. In the first section (Chaps.
1-12), Peter is the central figure ; in the second section (Chap. 13-28),
Paul is the important figure. Peter's work revolves around Jerusalem : Paul's carries him step by step to Rome ; Peter's work in the Acts commences at Jerusalem, Paul's, in its full sense, commences at Antioch, in entire independence of Jerusalem and "The Twelve." Even his conversion, and his first witness took place outside the
Land of Israel.
Peter's first miracle was one of healing : :-Paul's, one of judicial blinding. Peter's was symbolic of Israel's restoration ("then shall the lame man leap as a hart." Isa.
35: 6). Paul's was typical of the effect of Israel's rejection of the Gospel ("blindness in part hath happened unto Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles he come in " (Rom.
After Acts 14, Paul comes into touch with the Jews and " the Twelve." He visits the Jews of the Dispersion, going to their synagogues, witnessing to them as their apostate brethren in the land had been witnessed to.
At the same time the Apostle Paul began a work among the Gentiles, linked with the work among the Jews, yet in many respects distinct from the ministry of Peter and " the Twelve." He founded churches, addressed to them Epistles, and gradually prepared them for the mighty upheaval, when the Jew and the Kingdom would be placed on one side, and the special work unto which he had been chosen could be undertaken, unhampered by the affairs of the transitional Dispensation during which "all the day long the Lord had stretched out His hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people."
All this we have said before, but we have repeated ourselves, hoping that those of our readers who were not in need of the reminder will bear with it for the salve of those who may not have seen, or remembered what has been already written in these pages.
The Dispensational position and teaching of Romans has been a difficulty with some. One question which we are asked is, How do we reconcile our statements
when in the Epistle to the Romans the opening chapters seek to dethrone the Jew from his former pre-eminence ? There is no difference, all under sin. Salvation for either Jew or Gentile is obtained only through faith
in Christ. Here we have an instance of the need for discriminating between DISPENSATION
Let us take an illustration from Romans 3 :
" What then the SU PERIORITY of the Jew, or
" What PROFIT is there of circumcision?
"MUCH EVERY WAY."
At the close of the second Chapter the Apostle had said that circumcision profited if one kept the law;
but, failing that, circumcision was nullified; that only " he is a Jew who is so inwardly, and circumcision of
the heart, in spirit, not in letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God " (Rom.
2: 28, 29
This has reference to individual standing before God--in other words this is DOCTRINAL truth. The Apostle immediately anticipates the objection of the Jew by stating and answering the question as quoted above
(3:1,2). The Jew is represented as saying " If what you say is true, where then is the superiority, the advantage, the profit of being -a Jew ? where is the benefit of being numbered among the circumcision ? "
The apostle answers "MUCH every way ! " In one breath he levels Jew and Gentile in the dust, in the next he emphasizes the pre-eminence of Israel. He does not in Rom. 3 enumerate their advantages: he reserves this for the opening chapter of the Dispensational section-(Chap. 9), where the context demands the full recognition of Israel's privileges. Here, in Rom. 3, the Doctrinal section, he does not give a list of Israel's advantages, but selects that one which most helps the teaching of the Doctrinal position, " First, indeed, that to them were entrusted the oracles of God."
This was a distinct advantage over all Nations. But the question was What had they done with the trust? They had betrayed it, as the
v ery next verses show, and as the scope of the doctrine demands. The Apostle clinches the argument of Chap. 2. The Jew
having greater privileges had thereby greater responsibilities." He says that they were
" entrusted," but that they were " untrustworthy." The objector is not allowed to turn the Apostle away from his main argument. He does not fully answer the questioning of the faithfulness of God until he reaches Chaps. 9-11.
The next statement of the objector of Rom. 3, reveals the secret of the misunderstanding. We shall catch the force better if we read the two related questions with their answers together.
" What then the superiority of the Jew, or what profit is there of Circumcision ? "
(Dispensationally) " Much every way."
" What then. Are we better than they ? "
(Doctrinally) "NO, IN NO WISE!
Thus within the space of nine verses the Apostle positively asserts that the Jew has a superiority, and as positively denies it. Either he contradicts himself
(which we cannot admit), or else he is speaking of two distinct things-which is the very truth we desire to emphasize. Let this clear distinction once be seen, and we shall have many of our difficulties solved at once.
We fully admit that which must be patent to all, that " Romans " is intensely individual so far as the subjects of justification and salvation are concerned. The Jew is not justified because
he is a descendant from Abraham ; the Gentile is not passed by because he could not prove his genealogy. The Jew was not saved because he was a Jew, and the Gentile could not be saved by BECOMING a Jew. One need only to read Gal. 2 and 3 to clear up this point.
Yet, with all this, we believe that "Romans" was written to a people who were looking for the Kingdom, and whose hopes were dependent for their fulfilment (humanly speaking) upon the repentance of the Jewish nation. This is no more contradictory than Rom.
3: 1, 2 and 9. The one relates to Doctrine, the other to Dispensation.
Rom. 8 was written to the selfsame believers as was Rom. 11. The one passage gives their indefectible standing
IN CHRIST; the other their relation to the ' root and fatness of the Abrahamic " Olive Tree." In I the one case we read " I am persuaded that neither death, nor life . . . shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." In the other we read
" Thou wilt say then, the branches have been broken out, in order that I might be grafted in. Right!
They have been broken out through unbelief, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear, if God indeed has not spared the natural branches, lest it might be He spare not thee either." In Rom. 11 a "might be" is allowable, in Rom. 8 it would be intolerable. The one case is Dispensational, the other is Doctrinal. The " Olive Tree" may be cut down, but the believer can never be separated from his Lord. Abrahamic blessings may be temporarily withheld, but union with Christ is eternal.
It will be seen that much, if not all, the doctrinal teaching of the earlier Epistles of the Apostle Paul is as much truth for the present time as it was during the Transitional Period. The Doctrine of the Gospel has not been diminished, but has been enriched and amplified by succeeding revelations,
" The Gospel of God concerning His Son " Rom. 1, 1 and 2, leading on to "The Gospel of the Glory of Christ." "The
Gospel of the Grace of God " being a stepping stone from Grace to Glory-" The Gospel of the Glory of the Blessed God."
The Dispensational teaching is treated quite differently. The present Dispensation is quite distinct from all that went before. It is not the Pentecostal Dispensation developed; that will be the character of the "time of the end"; it is the unique, unprecedented " dispensation of the mystery " and of the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Another important consideration in the study of the Epistle to the Romans is the distinction observable
between the Nation and the Remnant.
This we find very clearly .in the 9th and 11th Chaps.Notice how the Apostle approaches " Dispensational
Truth." There is no idle curiosity here ; no hankering after something new, but in the opening words of
Chap. 9, is evidenced the intense sorrow and anguish of heart with which the Apostle beheld the culminating
apostasy of this people " beloved for the Father's sake:" He could see the end fast approaching. He was
dictating the last Epistle he would ever send to a church on Earth before the
mighty dispensational upheaval came, setting aside for centuries his beloved nation. He had
just brought the Doctrinal section to a glorious conclusion -- " No separation "and
" No condemnation " to those " in Christ." This was connected with no fleshly rites or ordinances, no legal works of any kind
This corresponds with the first part of the Covenant recorded in Gen. 17.
Verses 2-8 reiterate such words as "MY Covenant." " I will make," "I will establish," "I will give," " I will be." This corresponds with the
Doctrinal, and unconditional section, viz., Rom. 1-8.
Verses 9-14, speak of "Thou shall keep," "My covenant in your flesh," " He hath broken My covenant." This corresponds to the
Dispensational and conditional section,. viz., Rom. 9-11.
The Lord does not say that Abraham had to keep anything to become an " heir ; " be believed in the Lord, and the Lord definitely prevented Abraham from entering into any obligation or compact, by sending him to
sleep, while He alone made the Covenant. (See Gen. 15). When, however, the Lord speaks of " keeping " and "doing," He says " This is My covenant which ye shall keep," and then instructs them with regard to an
ordinance-circumcision, but not with regard to His unconditional promise.
The ordinance of circumcision was suited to a special people on the earth; they bore a peculiar witness; they possessed the oracles of God ; they enjoyed special privileges; and also incurred special responsibilities.
The popular fallacy, cherished by tradition, and nourished by pride, was that, because Israel descended from the Fathers, they must necessarily be safe. The advantages of the circumcision over the uncircumcision were great, but they were
Dispensational, and not relative to salvation, justification, acceptance, or peace.
The initial step for Jew or Gentile was by faith into life and peace. Having once taken this step, the Jew could go forward 'into blessings which the Gentile believer was denied. In his pride he forgot that Abraham was the father of
MANY NATIONS; that Abraham was a Gentile before he was a Jew ; that Abraham's justification
came before Abraham's circumcision; and, forgetting this, he "failed to distinguish the things that
differed." His mistake has been perpetuated to this very day. .
With the thought of the unconditional salvation by grace and its precious fruit of
" No separation," the apostle turns to contemplate his brethren according
to the flesh, -- drifting, drifting further from Him who was their true hope, peace, and salvation :-" I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in holy spirit." There is a reason for this solemn oath-resembling introduction.
Paul's peculiar Dispensation depended, humanly speaking, upon the foreseen defection of Israel ; and included a gospel whose terms did not commend it to the exclusiveness of the Jewish teaching. This laid him open to the malice of his enemies, who spared no pains to damage his name, brand his utterances as heresy, and generally act in much the same way as many of our own brethren do to this day, whose eyes are as keen as that of a lynx to see the slightest deviation from the accepted standards, but who have no eyes or ears for the honest endeavours to rightly divide the Word of Truth.
Thus it is that immediately the Apostle mentions the Gospel unto which he had been separated, he adds " which He had before promised by His prophets in the Holy Scriptures " (Rom. 1,
1 and 2).
In. Rom. 3: 21, as soon as he declares the grand "foundation of his gospel,
viz.. "A righteousness of God apart from law," he adds, "being
witnessed by the law and the prophets."
This fact may account for such a solemn introduction to this Dispensational passage. The next two verses
have been variuoslr interpreted. Some have thought that the Apostle is seeking to show his love for his brethren ; that he emulates Moses as recorded in Ex.
32: 32, " yet now if thou wilt forgive their sin ....and if not blot me I pray Thee out of Thy Book which Thou hast written."
There is another rendering of the passage, which is far more in harmony with the tenor of the Gospel, and is expressed in the following translation.
" I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart for my brethren, my kinsmen, according to the flesh (for I used to wish myself to be a cursed thing from Christ)." The Apostle who had so distinctly said that nothing could ever separate him from his Lord, would hardly be expected to utter such a wish as is suggested by the A.V. rendering in the very next verses.
If we translate the imperfect tense, euchomen- " used to wish," we shall get nearer to the Apostle's meaning. He knew what it was to be like his brethren, far oft from Christ, having no love towards Him. If we will note the introductory statements of Chaps. 10. and 11, we shall find the personal and typical character of Paul's experience mentioned again.
" Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved ; for I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they, being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is an end of law unto righteousness for every one that believeth." One has only to read Phil. 3, to see how parallel Paul's case was with that of Israel. Paul's conversion also had a typical aspect.
" I say then, hath God cast away His people? Far be the thought ; for I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin."
Quite in keeping with the passage, therefore, is the allusion by the Apostle to his own past in Rom 3. How this would emphasize grace and magnify mercy. It would show that his present attitude was indeed,
not one of ill-will, but of real sorrow and heartfelt prayer for his brethren.
Before he goes further into the Dispensational problem, he bears witness to the truth which we have sought to bring prominently forward, viz., the undoubted pre-eminence of Israel (Dispensationally). He enumerates their peculiar privileges, which he purposely omitted in Chap. 3. The list that follows is no haphazard collection : all is in perfect order, every item in its right place, as the structure will serve to show.
If Paul was beside himself with grief, nevertheless the words he wrote were given by inspiration of God.
ISRAEL'S DISPENSATIONAL PRIVILEGES.
(Rom. 9. 3-5).
A | According to the flesh. (kata sarka). Brethren.
B| Who are Israelites.
C | To whom the Sonship.
D | Glory.
E | Covenants.
E | Legislation.
D | Service.
C | Promises.
B | Whose are the Fathers.
A | According to the flesh. (kata sarka). The Messiah.
These privileges and blessings which Israel enjoyed are bounded on either side (A and A) by the
FLESH. The relationship with Christ was " according to the flesh." This must be kept in mind when we consider the blessings of the present Dispensation, which are all " spiritual." Every member of this structure is enhanced by comparison with the corresponding member.
Does he sorrow over his " brethren according to the flesh? "-he praises God when he thinks of Christ, Who is also of Israel
" according to the flesh."
Does he speak in the second case (B) of ' their distinguishing title " Who are Israelites? "-he speaks in the corresponding member (B) of the " Fathers." We seemed to naturally expect that "Sonship" (" Adoption "
A.V..) would be balanced by " Fathers " in the structure, but as usual " natural" thoughts are
not "spiritual." All were " Israelites " who descended from the " Fathers," but all were not " Sons." The Adoption, or placing as Sons, was by Promise,
not' by natural descent. This is where the Jew stumbled.
The very next verse in Rom. 9 takes up this thought, emphasizing the teaching which is already observable to those who will " seek out " the wonderful works of the Lord in His wonderful Word.
" They which are the sons of the flesh, these ARE NOT the sons of God, but the sons of
PROMISE are counted as seed "( Rom. 9: 8).
This leads us on to the next consideration, viz., that although the nation of Israel was addressed both by Peter and Paul, yet it was only
" a remnant" that believed, and formed the nucleus of the assembly oŁ God during Pentecostal Times.
" Isaiah also crieth concerning Israel. Though the number of Israel be as the sand of the sea
THE REMNANT shall be saved" (Rom. 9. 27). " Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a
SEED, we had been as Sodom, and been made like unto Gomorrha " (Rom. 9. 29).