A criticism examined. The place of Acts Twenty-eight.
The intelligent reader will not need informing that a movement which stands for such a provoking course of teaching as does this Analysis must always be under the fire of criticism. How can the charge "ultra dispensationalism" be dealt with? Is any useful purpose, served by dealing with the false charge that we have "no use" for the epistle to the Romans? (See book Just and the Justifier.) Yet if any criticism sends us back to "The Book" we are thankful. What we are still awaiting is a Scriptural exposure of our attitude to Acts twenty-eight, which will take full account of all that is implied in Hosea 1:9 and chapter three of this prophecy.
Recently some notes written in a good spirit have been passed on to us, and as some readers may be desirous of having the points raised dealt with; we will endeavour to do so here, praying that the cause of truth will be furthered thereby. We will refer to the writer who has criticized our position as "B". He writes:
"The chief point of difference with Mr. Welch seems to be in his discovery that in. Acts 28 we have the founding of a new'dispensation', though the word is not used there, nor is there' to my mind, any clear indication of this most important fact".
It is often said that Luther discovered the great doctrine of justification by faith, but what is nearer the truth is what Luther brought forward gave that doctrine prominence. The need Of the time called forth, under God, the man, and the Reformation followed.
We have certainly made Acts 28 the keynote of our ministry, seeing in it a dispensational boundary that influences the whole course of the outworking of the revealed Purpose Of the ages, and bringing into the light that position which had hitherto been hid in God. While others have seen that Acts twenty-eight is a dispensational frontier none seem to have had the grace to cross that frontier and see what good land might be found beyond. When our eyes were opened to its significance our response was "Let us cross over and see what the Lord has prepared for those who trust Him" and when we returned with our bunch of "The Grapes of Eshcol" our treatment was in much the same spirit as the treatment of Caleb and Joshua was at the hands of Israel.
The following extracts from the writings of B. W. Newton and, others are commended to the conscience of the reader.
B. W. Newton gives a clear and uncompromising testimony to the failure of the Preterite system of Prophecy, in which so much that is really future is interpreted of the past, and with this, we are in complete agreement, but his conviction now to be cited, that there is a threefold division of time in Israel's history, pointed so clearly to the present dispensation of the Mystery, that one is still left amazed and distressed that eyes so touched by the spirit of grace should not have seen the open door, and have entered into all the blessings that are revealed in the great Epistle of the Mystery, Ephesians. We quote from his writings:
Three periods in Israel's History
I observed also, that the history of Israel during the time of their punishment and subjection to the Gentiles is distributed into three distinct divisions: the first extending from Nebuchadnezzar to their dispersion by Romans, the second being the present Period of their dispersion, the third, the yet future period of their national re-esablishment in unbelief; so, the prophetic visions of Daniel are to be divided into three parts, corresponding to these three periods. But I observed this likewise, that when the first of these periods terminated, historic detail terminated. As soon as the dispersion of Israel was effected, and they ceased to have a recognized national existence in their land, there is a pause in the historic detail of Daniel - no person, no place, no date is mentioned during the present period of dispersion. But when the third period of their unbelieving history commences, when they again have returned in unbelief to their own land, then the historic detail of Daniel re-commences and is given even with greater emphasis than before. So entirely is Gentile history made in the Scripture to revolve around Jerusalem as its centre. Whilst Jerusalem nationally exists, the history of the nations that are brought into connexion with it is given; but when Jerusalem Ceases to exist nationally, the history of the Gentiles in Scripture ceases too.
We are in the interval, the period of dispersion, now. It will terminate when Jerusalem is nationally reconstituted. (Watching and Waiting, March-April 1953.)
Look at the words "no person, no place, no date is mentioned during the present period of dispersion". These words cry aloud that Dispensational Truth demands during the period of Israel's blindness which commenced at Acts 28:23-31, that no Old Testament Prophecy is being fulfilled. Matthew twenty-four also must belong, not to the present calling of the Mystery, but to the "third period" when the "historic detail of Daniel recommences"; that a new revelation, with a new sphere, constitution and hope must be given by God if any Gentile is to be saved and blessed during the setting aside of the hitherto exclusive channel of blessing-Israel. Accepting B. W. Newton's view and taking it to its logical conclusion, we have the following threefold division of Israel's history:
First Division --- From Nebuchadnezzar to Dispersion by the Romans, A.D. 70, a few years after Acts 28.
Second Division --- "There is a pause." Here comes the dispensation of the Mystery, a parenthesis, unconnected with Israel, Prophecy or Covenants. From Acts 28 to the resumption of prophecy.
Third Division--- Unbelieving history commences, historic detail of Daniel recommences. Daniel nine is intimately linked with Matthew 24 (Matt. 24:15) and so completely disassociated from the Second Division.
To the making known of the unique calling of this "Second Division" wherein Israel is "dispersed" the writer has devoted the bulk of his life and energies, yet those who advocate the teaching of B. W. Newton as set out in the above quotation, can, at the selfsame time, see nothing incongruous in seeing in Matthew twenty-four with its incisive reference to Daniel nine, characteristics of the hope of the church today. Is it too much to believe that a few, after pondering these things may be led, Berean like, to "search and see"?
The May issue for 1952, Questions and Answers, edited by the late Dr. Harold P. Morgan, Riverton, New Jersey, U.S.A. opens with the following headline:
" WHAT WERE THE TEACHINGS OF EARLY PLYMOUTH BRETHREN REGARDING TIE CHURCH THE BODY OF CHRIST?"
Quotations are made in answer to This question from two teachers among the early Brethren, namely C. H. Macintosh, and Richard Holden.
"The thought of a church composed a Jew and Gentile 'seated together in the heavenlies' LAY FAR BEYOND (our emphasis) the range of prophetic
testimony ... We may range through the inspired pages of the law and the prophets, from one end to the other, and find no solution of 'the great Mystery' of the Church ... Peter received the keys of the kingdom, and he used those keys, first to open the kingdom to the Jew, and then to the Gentile. But Peter never received a commission to unfold the mystery of the church." ("Life and Times of Elijah the Tishbite.")
How strange to find C.H.M. and C.H.W. saying the same things, yet how strange to note the way in which "The Brethren" have honoured the one, and repudiated the other!
In 1870 Richard Holden wrote a work entitled:
"The Mystery, The Special Mission of the Apostle Paul, The Key to the Present Dispensation ".
Here is a brief quotation from this very precious testimony.
"To make all see what is the dispensation, or in other words, to be the divinely appointed instructor in the character and order of the present time, as Moses was in the dispensation of 'law', is that special feature in the commission of Paul in which it was distinct from that of the other apostles ... If then it shall appear, that, far from seeing 'what is the dispensation of the Mystery' the mass of Christians have entirely missed it, and, as the natural consequence have almost completely misunderstood Christianity, importing into it the things proper to another dispensation, and so confounding Judaism and Christianity in an inexpressible jumble; surely it is a matter for deep humiliation, before God, and for earnest, prayerful effort to retrieve with God's help, this important and neglected teaching."
It seems almost unbelievable that a movement that could produce such a testimony, could nevertheless, perpetuate that "inexpressible jumble" namely of confusing the NEW COVENANT or TESTAMENT, made only "with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" (Jer. 31:3 1), and make it the very center of that worship and assembly, thereby "confounding Judaism" with the truth of the Church of the Mystery, the present dispensation and calling, in which no covenant new or old finds a place, but a choice and a promise made "before the foundation of the world".
The Lord, however, Who knows the hearts of all men, will not allow any of His servants an exclusive claim in knowledge, lest pride and boasting spoil the testimony. We gratefully acknowledge the pioneer work done by others before us, who in their turn were quickened and directed by other witnesses. In the end, we all shall appear in a twofold capacity, viz., Bowers and reapers-Bowers of seed garnered from the harvest prepared before by others.
This matter, however, is scarcely a point in the criticism, although in a part, which we do not quote, there is the thought that the exposition of the Scriptures along the lines of this Analysis is somewhat of a presumption, seeing that for nineteen centuries the church as a whole has taught on other lines! There is, however, but one test for all truth-not its antiquity, nor its popularity, but whether it is in harmony. with all that God has written. And this we claim for dispensational truth. We can well imagine that "B" will interject here: "But surely you will give me credit for believing all that God has written too?" Our answer must be qualified. Yes, in all sincerity you believe that you do accept without alteration all that God has written, but unless you divide rightly the Word of truth, you will discover this to be impossible. Let an example suffice.
We believe that in promising, in the Sermon on the Mount, that "The meek shall inherit the earth", the Lord meant what He said. We also believe that Abraham-and those blessed with faithful Abraham-will be blessed in the heavenly Jerusalem. We believe, further, that the church of the Mystery win be blessed "in heavenly places far above all".
If "B" believes that the church in the Gospel according to Matthew is not to be distinguished from the church in Ephesians (and he has practically said so, as will appear), then he cannot, even though he would, accept each of these three distinct spheres of blessing as written. We, on our part, would say, that realizing there are three spheres of blessing
(1) The earth
(2) The heavenly Jerusalem
(3) Heavenly places far above all
we leave each company where God has placed them without confusion and without alteration.
The chief item, however, in this criticism is found in the statement that the word "dispensation" is not used in Acts twenty-eight, and that neither is there any dear indication of this most important fact.
First of all we acknowledge that the word is not found in Acts twenty-eight, but we certainly believe that there is a "clear indication" that a dispensational change had come, and this from two sources, viz. (1) the last chapter of Acts itself, and (2) from the epistles written during the two years of imprisonment with which Acts closes.
A dispensation is marked by certain characteristics, and if these be set aside, we have negative evidence of a change. If, further, this be supplemented by positive testimony, as we find in Ephesians three and Colossians one, then we have all that can be reasonably asked for.
We open the last chapter of Acts, and observe that the miraculous gifts of Mark sixteen are still in force. We are certain that "B" is no quibbler, and the fact that after Paul in Acts 28:3-6 fulfilled the reference to "taking up serpents", he did not supplement it by drinking something "poisonous", will not be used by him to invalidate our claim that Mark 16:17-20 was in force. The deadly disease of dysentery was healed by Paul, and then other diseased persons in the island were healed in the same way. Here, then, is one feature, characteristic of the Pentecostal dispensation. We believe the "shall follow" of Mark 16:17 to be as true as the "shall be saved" of Mark 16:16. We have never had "these signs" following, yet we are not perturbed. On the other hand, he who claims the Gospel of Mark as true for himself, has no evidence of salvation unless he has these specified Pentecostal gifts.
The next dispensational feature is found in the fact that while Paul had expressed his longing to see the believers of the church at Rome, there is no record in the Acts that he visited them; on the contrary, the close of the Acts gives prominence to his calling together the chief of the Jews. "The Jew first", means just what it says.---"First in time, and first in all things". To limit the word "first" to time, and deny any reason or meaning to it, is to allow little credit to the Apostles perspicacity, quite apart from the question of inspiration. We can, however, best consider this feature later.
A third feature of dispensational importance is his saying in Acts 28:20:
"For the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain".
The hope of Israel is expressed in Acts 1:6, it is repeated in Acts 26:6,7, and it is still prominent in Acts twenty-eight. Can this hope of Israel, the fulfillment of the promises made unto the fathers, the fulfillment of Isaiah eleven (see Rom. 15:12,13), can it be at the same time the hope of the church called under new terms, into a new sphere, and entirely dissociated from the "covenants", "the commonwealth of Israel" the promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?
When the Apostle met the chief of the Jews, he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning "Jesus", both out of the law of Moses, and out of the Prophets, from morning till evening, but after the setting aside of Israel, he preached the kingdom of God, but taught those things which concern "the Lord Jesus Christ" (not "Jesus" now), with all confidence, no man forbidding him; no longer "expounding" and no longer drawing from Moses and the Prophets, for the simple reason that the "secret" was never disclosed in Moses or the Prophets, but had been "revealed" to him as the prisoner of Jesus Christ. (See Eph. 3:1-13).
Moreover, the quotation of Isaiah 6:9,10 affected Israel of the dispersion in the same way as the quotation of the same passage in Matthew thirteen affected Israel in the land. Matthew eleven and twelve reveal the rejection of Christ and the failure of Israel to repent, even though they had seen so many miracles. This first rejection is followed by "mystery", the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. In Acts twenty-eight, Israel again reject their Messiah, and the rejection this time being complete, miraculous gifts cease, the hope of Israel is deferred, and for the first time since the call of Abraham in Genesis twelve the salvation of God is "sent" to the Gentiles independently of Israel a feature unique in the testimony of Scripture, and not appreciated as it should be. We submit that there are abundant signs of a change of dispensation consequent upon Israel entering into their "lo-ammi" state.
For positive testimony we have but to read Ephesians 3:1-3:
"For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward, How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery"
And again in Colossians 1:24-27:
". . . for His body's sake, which is the church, whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God: even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and generations, but now is made manifest to His saints ... Christ among you (sent to the Gentiles) the hope of glory".
Here we must pause. Further items of importance come before us in our next criticism. We believe that no one can ponder the teaching of the Word as written in Acts twenty-eight, Ephesians three and Colossians one, without realizing that a great and drastic dispensational change took place. We believe that the unbiased reader will be most ready to acknowledge that closer acquaintance with Acts twenty-eight does give "a clear indication" of a dispensational crisis, a dispensational "secret", a dispensational hope.
After a consideration of the question of Acts twenty-eight as a dispensational boundary, our brother continues:
"One other prima facie difficulty in accepting it is this. St. Luke was the intimate friend and companion of St. Paul: he must have known of this great Dispensational Church. Surely he might have put in a clear warning as he describes the growth of the church in Acts, that this was not 'the Church' of the epistle to the Ephesians. Surely also St. Matthew might have quoted in 16:18 that Christ is not referring to the Church according to Paul, but to the Church according to Peter, and surely he should have told us whether our Lord's words in 18:17 (words that I think have been sadly neglected in our Church life) refer to the Pentecostal or to the Dispensational Church".
"B" has used the word "surely" three times. This, of course, merely expresses opinion, and is entirely outside the realm of valid argument. The above criticism can be reduced to the three following statements
(1) Luke must have known of the dispensational change which we see in Acts twenty-eight, because he was an intimate friend of Paul.
(2) He ought therefore to have warned the Church in the Acts period of its dispensational position.
(3) Matthew also should have told us, when he was writing 16:18, whether this Church refers to Paul or to Peter, and
whether the words of 18:17 refer to a Pentecostal Church or the Church of the Mystery.
We must not forget that Luke's confessed object in writing the Acts was to continue the treatise begun in the Gospel of all that Jesus began to do and teach, by a supplemental account of what the risen Lord did and taught through His apostles. When Paul was commissioned on the road to Damascus, Luke knew that Paul was a chosen vessel to bear the name of the Lord "before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel", and he plainly states it. What he did not know (or if he knew was not permitted to record) was that at the same time that Paul received this commission, the Lord promised that He would appear to him once more, and give him a second commission. This is made known to us for the first time in Acts 26:16-18, when Paul's evangelizing is at an end, and the prison is his sphere. We must go into the question of Paul's twofold ministry . later. But we have seen enough to realize that Luke does indicate the coming change, although he is held back until near the end of the narrative before making it known. The reason for this is obvious; and finds a parallel in the Lord's own attitude. In Acts 1:6 the disciples asked:
"Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the Kingdom to Israel?
Had the Lord told them that in spite of Pentecost, Israel would still continue in their state of unrepentance until they had filled up the measure of their iniquity and had been set aside, such knowledge would have paralysed their witness, and might have been taken by Israel as an excuse for failure to repent. Had Peter known that Israel would not repent, he could not truthfully have quoted from Joel as he did in Acts 2:17-21; for there is an interval of 1,900 years between verses eighteen and nineteen, but this was not known to Peter at the time. The Lord simply deals with the question of time, and follows with the injunction: "But ye shall receive power ... ye shall be witnesses" (Acts 1:8). Had Luke made known in the early Acts that Israel were to pass into their loammi condition in about forty years, then, humanly speaking, there would have been no "Acts" to record. Paul unhesitatingly links himself with the "hope' of the church at that time, saying: "WE which are alive and remain" (1 Thess.,4:17). There are some who consider that Paul was deceiving the Church here, by saying, "we". There are others who think he deceived himself. We are in the happy position of accepting his words as perfectly true, for at the time of writing I Thessalonians no revelation had been given concerning the secret administration.
If what we have said above is true, there is no need to answer the second item of the criticism. We pass on therefore to the third.
Here we must confess that we are somewhat at a loss to understand the objection. We have always felt that Matthew did make plain that Peter was addressed ("Simon Bar-Jona") both in connexion with the Church then in view and with reference to the keys of "the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matt. 16:16-19). Matthew could hardly be expected to say anything about Paul who was at that time an unconverted Pharisee. That Peter and Paul had distinctive ministries is made clear in Galatians 2:6-10.
While we might agree with our brother that the principle of Matthew 18:17 could be profitably employed today, we cannot see the slightest ground for supposing that our Lord referred to a Church other than the Pentecostal Church. The rejected brother was to be regarded as "a heathen man", or as "a Gentile" (see Gal. 2:14), which is added testimony to the Jewish constitution of this Church spoken of in Matthew eighteen. Once again we have "searched to see' and we find nothing in the objections that is valid, or that in any sense modifies our belief that the present- was a "Secret", unknown to Luke or to Peter, or even to Paul himself until he became the prisoner of Jesus Christ. The very silence of all three on the matter is but added proof of the rightness of our position which is implied in the next objection:
"What are we to make of that inspired word 'Till He come', written to the Corinthians, a Church of mixed Jews and Greeks till our Lord's Second Coming: to whom do these words refer?"
We are to make no more or less of the words "Till He come" than the hope revealed in the Acts and epistles of that period will allow. If we discover that the hope before the Church at that period is called "the hope of Israel", and if we further discover that Israel were set aside, and still further, if the new dispensation that came in consequent upon that setting aside, speaks of the "one hope' of this calling, and uses a new set of terms to speak of it, we shall have to conclude that "Till He come', and any commandment connected with it, was binding until a change of dispensation came in, just as the law of Moses carries statements to the effect that certain ceremonies like Passover, etc., were "statutes for ever". The same reason which our brother would rightly give, namely, a change of dispensation, to exempt himself from any necessity to abide by these commands of the law, is the selfsame reason that we give for our exemption from anything that belonged to the Pentecostal dispensation.
Two passages of Scripture suffice to indicate the hope that was before the Corinthian Church, and all the churches of that period. One is in the Acts itself, and one is in the epistle to the Romans. The Acts of the Apostles gives clear testimony that but one hope runs throughout the period covered, namely, "the hope of Israel". The apostles' question in Acts 1:6 arising, let it be noted, out of our Lord's opening up of the O.T. Scriptures and their enlightened understanding, makes that clear at the beginning. Paul's reference in Acts 26:6,7 to "the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers" is equally clear, while his statement in Acts 28:20, that he was bound "for the hope of Israel" needs no explanation. This is most certainly the one hope of the Acts.
What of the epistles of that period? We propose taking the testimony of Romans for two reasons:
(1) It was the last epistle written before Paul's imprisonment, and will give the final aspect of the hope entertained by the then Church.
(2) Romans is considered by all students to be the most basic of all the epistles written during the Acts, and therefore should be given most attentive hearing.
In Romans 15:8 we learn that the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus was limited to "the circumcision", and that He came to "confirm the promises made unto the fathers", while in Romans 15 :12,13 the hope is that:
"There shall be a root of Jesse, and He that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in Him shall the Gentiles hope. Now the God of that hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing".
Our brother will not need proof that "trust" (elpizo) and "hope" (elpis) must both be translated "hope", as we have done, or, that the article before elpis marks it out as "that" hope which in view. The hope, at that time, before the Church was associated with the reign of Christ over the Gentiles, the passage quoted being from Isaiah eleven, where the reference to the lion and the lamb makes it clear that the Millennium is the subject. The hope before the Church during the Acts was the Second Coming of Christ in connexion with the thousand year reign- Israel's great day. This hope is entirely foreign to the Mystery which looks "far above all" for the realization of its hope and is in no way related to Jerusalem, earthly or heavenly. The hope that is expressed in I Thessalonians four must never be read without the consciousness that 2 Thessalonians two with its reference to the "Man of Sin", was written to correct false ideas about the time of the Second Coming. If 1 Thessalonians four is my hope, then 2 Thessalonians reveals that it will not be realized until the Day of the Lord. Moreover, the reference to the archangel links I Thessalonians four with Daniel's prophecy and with the hope of Israel (Daniel 10 and 12). The words used throughout Acts and its epistles, together with the epistles of Peter and James, are parousia, apookalupto and apokalupsis. These are not used by Paul when speaking of the blessed hope of the Mystery. The one hope of the calling of the dispensation of the Mystery has nothing to do with "reigning" over the Gentiles, or the state of peace in God's "holy mountain". It belongs to heavenly places and the right hand of God, and refers to a phase of the Lord's coming unknown and unrevealed before Acts twenty-eight.
In answer to the question therefore; "To whom do the words 'Till He come refer?" we say, that they referred to the Church of Jew and Gentile that had been called into being during the Acts while the longsuffering of God waited on Israel's repentance: that they who thus waited were marked off from the present time by the possession of miraculous gifts, which, together with Israel and its hope, have been set aside until the Church of the One Body is complete. Continuing the criticism which we have partly examined, "B" passes from the question of the dispensational boundary of Acts twenty-eight to the equally important question of the written testimony concerning this new dispensation:
"I find another difficulty in the assumption that of the Pauline epistles only four should have validity for us, and that this fact is nowhere mentioned, nor are these epistles in any way distinguished from the others by a special position in the New Testament: indeed, they are deceptively placed in the very middle of the other epistles that are not supposed to be applicable to us. Though I find Mr. Welch a little inconsistent, and quoting Romans and Corinthians with great cogency as undoubtedly authoritative.
"B" makes it clear in the above criticism that he is not very well acquainted with what we actually teach. He seems to think we ourselves to but "four" epistles, and that it is an act inconsistent with our position to refer, for example, to Romans. The opening paragraph of our studies in Romans runs like this:
"Perhaps no one book in the whole of the Scriptures may be considered to have a claim upon all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, more than the epistle to the Romans".
Romans is "undoubtedly authoritative" where doctrine is concerned, but where we see a difference between Romans and the epistles of the Mystery is in their dispensational teaching. Both Romans and Ephesians teach the same truth concerning sinĄ salvation, redemption and life, but they are diametrically opposed when it is a question of the constitution of the Church. This aspect of truth will come before us again, as "B" has raised the question of the meaning of the phrase "the Jew first"; So we pass on to the matter of the four Prison Epistles. To be exact there are five epistles marked as from "prison", but as Philemon is so personal, we usually leave it out when speaking of the revelation of the Mystery.
The four Prison Epistles are the only source of instruction we have on the distinctive character of the Church of the Mystery. No other company was
chosen before the foundation of the world. No other company is seated together at the right hand of God. So while we believe all Scripture is for us, we do not believe that all of it is about us. We recognize that in the epistle to the Romans there is that which is permanent, e.g., the doctrine of redemption, and also that which is passing, e.g., the teaching concerning the wild olive graft. We believe that unless the Church of the Mystery had had beneath it the solid rock of Romans, it would have needed a special revelation concerning these basic things. These things are accepted and assumed in Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians and the time is occupied in making all men see what is the dispensation of the Mystery (Eph. 3:9 R.V.), with its own peculiar constitution, hope and sphere:
"it is claimed that Paul's words in Acts 28:28 are the announcement of the new order Please compare with them his words in Acts 13:46,47 and Acts 18:6 which to me seem absolutely identical. On page 37 of Things most surely believed, we read that 'in this new company there is an equality of membership never known before'. Why, it is stated by Peter in Acts 11:15, etc., 15:9, And He put no difference between them, the-Gentiles, and us".
We have compared Acts 28:28 with Acts 13:46,47, and we find in Acts twentyeight, "The salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles", and in Acts thirteen, "Lo, we turn to the Gentiles". If our brother's is to suggest that both passages teach the same thing, a reference to Acts 14:1 will show that the apostles themselves had no such thought. Paul did not set aside the Jew in Acts thirteen; he merely set aside that one synagogue. As far on as Acts 17:1,2 we read that, "as his manner was", he went to the synagogue of the Jews. It is strange that we may even compare Scripture with Scripture, and yet miss the meaning of the comparison.
Acts thirteen and Acts twenty-eight answer to one another as type does to antitype or prophecy to fulfilment. In Acts thirteen Paul brings about the blindness of one Jew (verse 11); in Acts twenty-eight he pronounces the same doom on the nation. In Acts thirteen one Gentile and his house are saved, as a consequence of the judgment upon the Jew, and both the saved Gentile and the Apostle are of the same name, Paulus. In Acts twenty-eight, consequent upon the judgment of the Jews, the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles. In Acts thirteen Paul says, "Beware lest that come upon you" (verse 40); in Acts twenty-eight we see the threatened judgment fall. How could the Apostle say that he was bound for the hope of Israel in Acts twenty-eight, if he had set aside Israel in Acts thirteen?
Acts 18:6 is said to be "absolutely identical" with Acts twenty- The term "absolutely" is not to be taken seriously. We find, however, that Paul took the earliest opportunity of "entering a synagogue and reasoning with the Jews" (Acts 17:17, 18:19), which shows that he at least had no idea that his words in 18:6 were "identical" with those of Acts 28:28. Still further, he was anxious to keep the feast that was due at Jerusalem (18:21), and spoke boldly in the synagogue at Ephesus (Acts 19:8). Paul had no scruples against associating himself in the temple at Jerusalem with men who had a vow, and there is no suggestion that he was wrong in so doing. So that we cannot accept the statement of "identity" in these two passages, much less that of "absolute identity".
Exception is taken to our statement that at Acts twenty-eight an equality never known before is introduced; and we are told that this same equality is stated in Acts 11:15. We must remember that Peter called himself a Jew under law, and did not hesitate to tell Cornelius that but for the vision of the sheet he would have regarded him as "common and unclean" (Acts 10:28). His words in 11:15 refer to the fact that the Spirit came upon Cornelius as it did at Pentecost upon the Jewish believers. We have never taught that the "equality" of Ephesians had anything to do with Pentecost or Pentecostal gifts. And, we cannot see how the equality of the Gentile by Pentecostal baptism can be the same thing as equality of membership in a unity then unknown and unrevealed. That no such conception was in the mind of Peter and those with him is evident from Acts 11: 19 where the Word was still preached to "Jews only".
Moreover, the question comes up again in Acts fifteen, the result being, that a distinct difference is perpetuated between the Gentiles who believed and the believers of the circumcision (Acts 15:19-21). This difference constituted a "middle wall of partition" (Eph. 2:14), the "Ordinances" of Ephesians 2:15 being the "decrees" of Acts 16:4.
The equality of Ephesians two is that "the both are created one new man", but one looks in vain for such a creation in Acts eleven or fifteen. The equality of Ephesians 3:6 is unique. Never before was there a unity which, while containing Jewish and Gentile believers, could be described as sussoma, a "jointbody".
We are afraid that "B" will have to revise his statements, both as to the absolute identity of Acts 18:6 with Acts 28:28, and as to the connexion between Peter's reference to Pentecostal baptism and Paul's revelation of the newly-created new man. If these things can be called identical, it is vain to "'try the things that differ- Positive teaching, under these conditions, would be impossible, for no weight could be given to any word of Scripture, and truth would sink under a mass of generalities.
Passing from the distinctive epistles of the Mystery, and the peculiar features of the new dispensation, we come to the question of the relative place of Jew and Gentile before Acts twenty-eight:
"Mr. Welch writes: 'In Romans, Paul speaks of the Jew first'. Ah, but let us turn to his words, and perhaps we shall find that he means first in order of having the gospel preached unto them, first in time, not first in superiority. So look up Romans 1:16: 2:9,10 and 3: 9. 'Are we better than they? No, in no wise'. Surely words cannot be plainer; surely, too, such an assumption of racial distinction in the Pentecostal church is not consistent with the attitude of Christ towards the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well and His words in John 10: 16 and 17:20, 21 ".
Even if we agree that "first in order" is what the Apostle means when, in Romans 1:16 he says "To the Jew first", the question as to why this should be stated still requires an answer. If we were to write, "The power of God unto salvation, to the Corinthians first, and also to the Chinese", our readers would naturally want to know why such a statement was written. It certainly would not satisfy them to say, "Well, wasn't that the historical order?" Further, does Romans 2:9,10 mean that the Jew will be judged "first" in time? Are we to understand that in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ (Rom. 2:16), the Jew will be judged some time before the Gentile? To take another passage, is there no special significance, beyond that of mere historic sequence, behind Peter's words when he said:
"Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you" (Acts 3:26).
If we read the previous verse, we shall see that there was a definite reason for this priority:
"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. Unto you first" (Acts 3:25,26).
The fact that the Saviour came to the Jew first (Rom. 15:8), and the fact that the gospel was preached to the Jew first, was because Israel was the appointed channel of blessing to the nations of the earth. A saved Israel is necessary for the functioning of the promise made to Abraham. A saved remnant of Israel enabled the fulfillment of the promise to commence, but with the setting aside of the channel, the blessing of the nations was also postponed and awaits the day of Israel's restoration.
The teaching of Romans 11:17-25 shows that Israel were "first" as to position, being the "natural branches". The believing Gentiles were reminded that they were but a wild graft, and grafted into the olive tree to "provoke to jealousy" the favoured nation.
With reference to Romans 3 :9,10, we remind our readers that we have many times taken this passage to demonstrate the difference between the doctrinal teaching of Romans that remains, and the dispensational teaching that has ceased to be true for the present time:
Dispensational teaching --"What advantage hath the Jew? ... Much every way" (Rom. 3:1,2).
This was true then, but is no longer true today:
Doctrinal teaching ----"Are we better than they? No, in no wise" (Rom. 3: 9).
This was true then, and is still as true as ever.
We are next referred to our Lord's attitude to the Samaritan woman. Our Lord said several things on this occasion and our brother leaves us to guess as to which of these he has in mind. If we are to include John 4:21,23 in our consideration, we would remind him that the day had not then come when the Father should be worshipped "neither in this mountain nor yet in Jerusalem", and that that time did not come until the book of the Acts was finished and Jerusalem destroyed. Further, the Lord told the woman that "salvation is of the Jews", and that remained true until, with the setting aside of the Jew, the salvation of God was sent to the Gentiles. We see nothing in John four that contradicts our teaching, but much that supports it.
The statement concerning "the other sheep" in John 10:16 an that concerning unity in John 17:20,21 while they were uttered by Christ during His earthly ministry, were not committed to writing until after Paul's ministry had ceased (John outlived the rest of the apostles, and the consistent testimony of antiquity is that he wrote his Gospel last of all). The Gospel of John, unlike the Synoptic Gospels, starts with the assumption that Christ has been rejected. It explains the meaning of Jewish observances and interprets Jewish words (John 1:38,41,42). It is intended for the world, and is the message for the great outer circle today, while Paul's testimony is running its elective course. Its theme is "life through His name". Its address to "whosoever believeth".
Wherever Israel appear in Scripture, recognized as the chosen people of God, they must be first. There can be no equality among believers until "the twain" are created one new man, and that does not occur before Acts twenty-eight:
"All the Scriptural promises and allusions which are supposed to refer to this so-called dispensational church may equally well refer to the whole body of believers in Christ, whether pre or post Acts twenty-eight. Indeed, I find it difficult to accept this division of Christ's Body, Christ's Bride, into two. Are there two brides? Or is Stephen, the first martyr, not a fellow-member with us in the 'one church' (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 10: 17; Eph. 4:4 and 5:30)?"
Our brother's first statement is a -very wide one; but we can only assume that he means what he says. Among the "Scriptural promises and allusions", then, to which he refers we may include Ephesians 1:3,4. We challenge him to bring forward proofs from Scripture that the phrases, "all spiritual blessings", "in heavenly places" and "before the foundation of the world" apply equally to the church before and after Acts twenty-eight. We could almost venture the whole argument upon one unique fact, namely that this church and no other throughout the whole range of Scripture is said to be "seated" in the heavenly places, far above all where Christ sitteth. Nowhere else is there a "joint-body"; no other company is related to a position which is "fat above all principality". What, then, becomes of our brother's sweeping statement? It is incorrect, and as criticism, it is valueless.
We also repudiate the term "so-called dispensational church"; it is a meaningless phrase. Every church must be "dispensational". It may be the church of the Acts period, or the Mystery, or the churches of the Revelation. "So-called" suggests that this is our own term. We hope no one will think that we have been careless enough to use so meaningless an expression.
Our brother, moreover, speaks of the "Body" and the "Bride" as synonymous titles of the one company. But this is not the case. The Bride is clearly associated with the New Jerusalem, with its gates of pearl and the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. The church of the Mystery is far above even this sphere of blessing. We read that the standard of the church of the Mystery is the "perfect man" (Eph. 4:13), and our brother will know that aner (the word for "man" here) is never used except of a male. It is translated in Ephesians five times by the word "husband". And we suppose our brother would not attempt to teach that the perfect "Husband" can be the "Bride"! Ephesians five with its instructions to husbands and wives is not the place in which to seek to establish a doctrine, for husbands and wives need instruction whatever their calling.
We are also referred to Romans 12:5 and 1 Corinthians 10: 17, but these passages speak of a church where every "member" has a "spiritual gift" (I Cor. 12:18,28), whereas spiritual gifts are absent from the dispensation of the Mystery.
. The reference to Stephen, the first martyr, is an appeal to our sentiments. Why not John the Baptist, or David or Moses? For all were saved by the same Christ. What we teach, is that while salvation is common to all the Lord's people, the spheres of blessing differ. As the church of the One Body was a secret, hid in God, when Stephen died, we cannot believe that he was a member of that church. We believe that it can be proved from Scripture that Stephen will be amongst that company designated "the Bride", and as these dispositions of grace are at the sovereign disposal of the Lord, we cannot discuss them. They make no difference to our teaching and are outside our province:
"This word 'dispensation' is one that Mr. Welch does not give in the original. And really, it is one that hardly bears the interpretation he would put upon it. For it means really 'stewardship' and in three places out of four (only four in the whole Bible) it is said to have been given to Paul (See 1 Cor. 9:17; Col. 1:25; Eph. 3:2). In the one other place, viz. Eph. 1:10, it is used of God's ordering of the course of history".
Yet the booklet under criticism, viz. Things most surely believed itself contains the following passage directly bearing on the point:
"The ways of God with men are differentiated into dispensations. this word, used by Paul of the present dispensation of the grace of God to Gentiles (Eph. 3:1, 2) means 'the administration of a household' or, as it is translated in Luke 16:2, .stewardship'. The church at Jerusalem was compelled to recognize the distinctive 'stewardships' or 'dispensations' given to Peter and Paul (Gal. 2:610), and saw that the distinction involved not only 'apostleship' but 'gospel' (page 11)."
It would, surely, be difficult for a reader of the criticism to believe that the booklet criticized contained the passage we have just quoted. We can only add that, as the criticism contains no point wherein it is considered we have erred we but restate, as above, what we have already, taught.
"Yet another point. Page 36 of Things most surely believed says of the eventful scene in Acts 28: 'A new dispensation with new terms is ushered in-the dispensation of the grace of God for the Gentiles committed to Paul'. But was this new? Was it not rather God's revelation to Paul from his prior calling on the road to Damascus? Well, let us see what Paul himself says (Acts 26:17 and 18, and again 22:21)".
Here we find ourselves echoing our brother's words, "Well let us see what Paul himself says (Acts 26:17,18 and 22:21)" only we suggest that a commencement be made, not at verse seventeen, but at verse sixteen of Acts twenty-six, particularly noticing the word "both ". which indicates Paul's twofold ministry, and the words "in the which I will appear unto thee", which make clear the fact that when Paul received the commission on the road to Damascus he also received intimation of another commission which would be given when it should please the Lord to reveal it.
In Acts twenty this new commission is associated with "bonds and afflictions". It indicated that Paul's earlier ministry had come to an end, and that the Ephesians should see his face no more. He looks forward to "finishing his course"' (Acts 20:24), and, as recorded in 2 Timothy 4:7, he does finish that course.
No careful reader of Acts 20:17-38 could fail to see that Paul is summing up one ministry and looking forward to another, but this new ministry is directly associated with "bonds"; in other words, it is "a prison ministry", with its new revelation and dispensation. Acts 22:21, like Acts twenty and twenty-six, makes known for the time what the Lord said to Paul. The words of Acts 26:1618 were kept secret until Paul was a prisoner. In face of these Scriptures then, our brother's suggestion: "Was it not rather God's revelation to Paul from his first calling on the road to Damascus?" is flatly negative It was not revealed at his first calling. Paul himself says so, and the very passages to which our brother refers us entirely overthrow his contention.
We believe that those of our readers who have followed this criticism win feel that if that is all that can be brought forward against our position, those responsible are justified in the general pursuit of their policy of expounding positive truth, for very occasionally only would the devotion of precious space and time to the type of criticism here dealt with be to edification. Every reader should take each of our critic's points as though they were personal to themselves, and then, as true Bereans, "search and see". We should then have no fears as to the result.