Of all the terms used in dispensational truth, the Pleroma by its very nature and meaning is surely one of the most comprehensive. Accordingly, we are setting ourselves no restrictions on space in this Analysis, and have introduced into this volume a full-paged illustration. We commend this theme to every lover of the Word, and particularly to those who have the responsibility of teaching others.
The problem of the ages is the problem of the presence of evil, of the apparent necessity for suffering, yet with a baffled feeling of frustration. Men like Job and Asaph and books like Ecclesiastes, ventilate this feeling, but the consciousness of redeeming love, enables the believer to trust where he cannot trace. The present study is set forth with an intense desire, to borrow the words of Milton "to justify the ways of God with men", to show that there is a most gracious purpose in process, and that there are indications of that purpose in sufficient clearness to enable the tried believer to say with Job "when He
hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold".
In the present study, we commence with the primary creation of Genesis 1:1 which is followed by the "rent" or gap of Genesis 1:2, and conclude with the creation of the new heavens and new earth of Revelation twenty-one, which, according to Peter, is ushered in by a convulsion of nature similar to the condition described as "without form and void" at the beginning.
By observing the parallel between the word of Ephesians 1:4 and 2 Timothy 1:9 we are able to show that "the ages" commence with the reconstruction of the earth in Genesis 1:3. What follows is a series of "fillings" in the persons of men like Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Nebuchadnezzar, with the economies associated with them, but all such are provisional, failing and typical only, and they carry the unfolding purpose on to "the
fullness of time" when "the Seed should come to Whom the promises were made". Adam was but a "filling", he was not "the
fullness", that title belongs only to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The only company of the redeemed who are themselves called "the
fullness" is the Church of the Mystery, the church of "heavenly places", the church which is most closely associated with the seated Christ.
Two words found in Matthew 9:16 must ever be kept together in the course of this study, they are the words
"fullness", and "fuller". We shall see presently that God is preparing during the ages, as it were a piece of "fulled" cloth, so that at last there may be a perfected universe, the "rent" of Genesis 1:2 healed, and "God all in all". Falling involves several processes, most of them drastic and rigorous.
"Clooth that cometh fro the wevying is nought comely to were
till it be fulled under foot" (Piers Plowman).
Nitre, soap, the teasle, scouring and bleaching processes at length make the shrunken cloth "as white as snow" (Mark 9:3). We can say, therefore, concerning the problem of the purpose of the ages "no
fullness without falling". We do most earnestly desire that consummation, when the Son of God shall deliver up to the Father a perfected Kingdom with every vestige of the "rent" of Genesis 1:2 entirely gone. We do most ardently desire to be found in that day, as part of that blessed pleroma or
fullness, but we must remember that every thread that goes to make the "filling" will have passed through the "fuller's" hands, "fulled under foot" must precede being "far above all".
At the beginning of this volume the reader will find a chart, which endeavours to set forth the way in which the Divine purpose of the
Fullness is accomplished. At either end of the chart stand "the beginning" and "the end", the black division that immediately follows the former representing the catastrophe of Genesis 1:2, "without form or void"; the black division that immediately precedes the consummation represents the corresponding state of dissolution indicated in Isaiah 34:4 and 2 Peter three leading up to 1 Corinthians 15:24-28. Running along
along the bottom of the chart is "the deep"
that was the vehicle of judgement in Genesis 1:2 and
that which is to pass away at the end, for John says, "and there was no more sea" (Rev. 21:1). By comparing Ephesians 1:4, "before the foundation of the world" with 2 Timothy 1:8-9, "before the world began (literally, before age times)" we have the start and the finish of the ages indicated.
What follows is a series of "fillings" rather than a
fullness. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Nebuchadnezzar are but "stop-gaps", types and shadows, pointing on. The
fullness of time (Gal. 4:4) did not come until 4,000 years after Adam and the
fullness of the times (seasons) will not come until the day which is about to dawn ushers in the glory that will be revealed, when all things in heaven and on earth will be gathered together under the Headship of Christ.
Not until we reach the dispensation of the Mystery do we come to any company of the redeemed which constitute a
"fullness", and there we read of the Church which is His Body, "the
FULLNESS of Him, that filleth all in all" (Eph. 1:23). The
fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Christ, and the heavenly places, far above all, with which both the seated Christ, and His Church are associated, is a sphere untouched by the catastrophe of Genesis 1:2. Those heavenly places are where Christ sits far above all heavens (Eph. 4:10), that is, far above the temporary heaven called "the firmament" which is likened to a spread-out curtain. This "tabernacle", characteristic of the Adamic earth, is of extreme importance; it places the whole purpose of the ages under a redeeming ages, and the reader is advised to give the article which deals with this aspect careful attention.
As these studies proceed, we shall turn aside to consider various themes that bear upon the main subject, but unless that main subject is already held before the mind, we may sometimes "not see the wood for the trees". A reference back to the chart at the commencement of each section might be wise, and to enable the reader to see at the beginning the course we follow, we conclude this introduction with a conspectus of the articles that follow:
(2) Some lessons taught by the parable of the "patch" with an answer to the question "are there gaps in the outworking of the "divine purpose?"
(3) Creation, its place in "the purpose", in which the purport of
the words "in (the) beginning" are considered.
(4) The first "gap". "Without form and void".
(5) The present creation, a tabernacle.
(6) The testimony of Peter to the days of Noah. This is a new approach to a matter of importance involving the true intention of 2 Peter three.
(7) Paradise lost and restored.
(8) The filling up of the nations (Genesis 48:19. Rotherham).
(9) The fullness of the Gentiles (Romans 11:25).
(10) The title "Head", and its relation to the "Fullness".
(11) The fullness of the seasons.
(12) All the fullness of God.
(13) All the fullness of the Godhead. Bodily-wise
SOME LESSONS TAUGHT BY THE PARABLE OF THE "PATCH"
To the reader who has traveled so far, we trust the principle of Right Division needs neither introduction nor commendation. Its recognition underlies every article that has been printed in these pages, and determines both the Gospel we preach, the Church to which we belong, and the hope that is before us. Dispensational Truth is not confined to one aspect or phase of the Divine purpose, for every dealing of God with man, whether under law or grace, whether with saint or sinner, has its own dispensational colouring which is inherent to its teaching and is in no wise accidental. Much has yet to be written and presented along these suggestive and attractive lines of study, but the particular application of this principle, now before us, focuses the reader's attention upon one thing, namely, that while in the mind of God the whole purpose of the ages is seen as one and its end assured, in the
outworking of that purpose, the fact that moral creatures are involved, creatures that can and alas do exercise their liberty to disobey as well as to obey the revealed will of God, has had an effect upon the manifest unfolding of the purpose of the ages.
This is seen as a series of "gaps" and "postponements" which are filled by new phases and aspects of the purpose until at length He Who was once "All" in a universe that mechanically and unconsciously obeyed, will at length be "All in all" in a universe of willing and intelligent creatures, whose standing will not be that of Creation and Nature, but in Redemption and Grace.
In this section we can do little else than indicate the presence of these "gaps" and consider the terms that are employed in the Hebrew of the O.T. and the Greek of the N.T. and of the LXX. The well-known example of the Saviour's recognition of a "gap" in the prophecy of Isaiah sixty-one must be repeated for the sake of completeness and for the value of its endorsement.
We learn from the fourth chapter of Luke's Gospel, that the Lord attended the service at the Synagogue at Nazareth, and apparently, after the reading of the law by the official reader of the Synagogue, He stood up "for to read" the Haphthorah, or the recognized portion from "the Prophets" that was appointed for the day. He found the place, and commenced to read from Isaiah sixty-one. Now it is laid down by Maimonides that:
"He that reads in the prophets, was to read at least one-and--twenty verses",
but he allowed that if "the sense" be finished in less, the reader was under no necessity to read so many. Even so, it must have caused a deal of surprise to the congregation then gathered, for Christ to read but one verse and one sentence of the second verse, shut the book, and sit down. He did so because "the sense" was indeed finished in less than twenty-.one verses. He was about to focus attention upon one aspect of His work, and said:
"This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears" (Luke 4:21).
The sentence with which the Saviour closed His reading of Isaiah sixty-one was "to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord". The next sentence, separated in the A.V. by but a comma reads "and the day of vengeance of our God" yet that comma represents a "gap" of at least nineteen hundred years, for the days of vengeance are not referred to until in Luke 21:22 when the Second Coming and the end of the age is at hand. This passage we have examined in the article DIVISION
The recognition of some such gap is important when reading passages like 1 Peter 1:11, oz the quotation of Joel 2:28-32 in Acts two. Peter, who was a minister of the circumcision, refers to the testimony of the prophets, as though "the sufferings of
Christ and the glories that should follow" had no interval of centuries between them. The outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost is linked with the blood and fire and vapour of smoke that usher in the great and notable day of the Lord, even though Pentecost took place nineteen hundred years ago and the day of the Lord has not yet come. (See
We shall discover that the whole purpose of the ages is a series of "gaps" each filled by a succeeding dispensation, which in its turn lapses, until the central dispensation, that of the Mystery, is reached, which, though it has had a central period of darkness and ignorance yet is not succeeded by any other, as the other dispensations have been. All that follow the Mystery are resumptions of the dispensations which had come to a temporary halt.
This peculiar and central dispensation is occupied by the Church, which alone of all companies of the redeemed is called "the
fullness of Him that filleth all in all" (Eph. 1:23).
The word translated fullness is the Greek pleroma, and its first occurrence in the N.T. places it in contrast with a "rent" or a "gap". The two references are:
"No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse" (Matt. 9:16).
"No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment; else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse" (Mark 2:21).
The parallel passage in Luke is Luke 5:36 which must be added, though it does not use the word pleroma.
"No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old" (Luke 5:36).
The words that call for attention are:
"That which is put in to fill up". This is the translation of the Greek pleroma a word of extreme importance in the epistles, and there translated "fullness". In contrast with this "fullness" is the word "rent" which in the Greek is
schisma. The word translated "new" in Matthew 9:16, and in Mark 2:21 is
agnaphos, not yet fulled, or dressed, from gnapheus, a fuller. (See
In place of "put into" or "put upon" used in Matthew 9:16
and Luke 5:36, we find the word "to sew on", epirrhapto
employed in Mark 2:21. One other word is suggestive, the word translated "agree" in Luke 5:36. It is the Greek
Now as these terms will be referred to in the course of the following exposition, we will take the present opportunity of
enlarging a little on their meaning and relationship here, and so
prepare the way.
Pleroma. This word which is derived from pleroo "to fill" occurs seventeen times in the N.T. Three of these occurrences occur in Matthew and Mark, the remaining fourteen occurrences are found in John's Gospel and in Paul's epistles. It is noteworthy that the word
pleroma "fullness" is never used in the epistles of the Circumcision. When Peter spoke of the problem of the "gap" suggested by the words, "where is the promise of His coming?"
he referred his readers to the epistles of Paul, who, said he, deals with this matter of longsuffering and apparent postponement and speaks of these things (2 Pet. 3:15,1'6).
The word pleroma is used in the Septuagint some fifteen times. These we will record for the benefit of the reader who may not have access to that ancient translation. 1 Chronicles 16:32, "Let the sea roar and the
fullness thereof". So, Psalm 96:11, 98:7. "The earth is the Lord's and the
fullness thereof" Ps. 24:1, so with slight variations, Psalm 50:12; 89:11. In several passages, the
fullness, or "all that is therein" is set over against flood or famine, as Jeremiah 8:16; 47:2, Ezek. 12:19; 19:7, and 30:12.
Some of the words used in the context of these Septuagint references are too suggestive to be passed over without comment.
Instead of a "time of healing" we find "anxiety", the land "quaking", "deadly serpents" and a "distressed heart" (Jer. 8:15-18).
Again, in Jeremiah 47:2 (29:2 in the LXX), we have such words of prophetic and age-time significance as "an overflowing
flood" Greek katakluzomai, kataklusmos and variants, a word
used with dispensational significance in 2 Peter 2:5 and 3:6, and
preserved in the English "cataclysm", a word of similar import
to that which we have translated "the overthrow" of the world.
The bearing of 2 Peter two on this "gap" in the outworking of
the purpose of the ages, will be given an examination here.
In the context of the word "fullness" found in Ezekiel 12:19, we have such words as "scatter"
diaspeiro, a word used in James 1:1 and in 1 Peter 1:1 of the "dispersed" or "scattered" tribes of Israel, also the word "waste", which calls up such passages of prophetic import as Isaiah 34:10,11, and Jeremiah 4:23-27 where the actual words employed in Genesis 1:2 are repeated.
The pleroma or "fulness" is placed in direct contrast with desolation, waste, flood, fire, scattering, and a condition that is without form and void. Schisms, the word translated "rent" in Matthew 9:16, is from
schizo which is used of the veil of the temple and of the rocks that were "rent" at the time of the Saviour's death and resurrection.
Agnaphos, translated "new", refers to the work of a "fuller", who smooths a cloth by carding. The work of a fuller also includes the washing and scouring process in which fuller's earth or fuller's soap (Mal. 3:2, Mark 9:3) is employed. A piece of cloth thus treated loses its original harshness, and more readily "agrees with" the cloth that has been more often washed.
The whole process of the ages is set forth under the symbol of the work of a fuller, who by beating and by bleaching at length produces a material which is the acme of human attainment, for when the Scriptures would describe the excellent glory of the Lord, His garments are said to have been "exceeding white as snow, so as no fuller on earth can white them" (Mark 9:3). So too, the effect upon Israel of the Second Coming is likened to "a refiner's fire and like fuller's soap" (Mal. 3:2). It is this "fulled" cloth that makes the
"fullness", although there is no etymological
connection between these like-sounding words.
There is another word translated "new", kainos, which has the meaning of "fresh, as opposed to old", "new, different from the former", and as a compound, the meaning "to renew".
It is this word that is used when speaking of the new covenant, the new creation, the new man, and the new heaven and earth. We shall have to take this into account when we are developing the meaning and purpose of the
"fullness". The Septuagint version of Job 14:12 reads in place of, "till the heavens be no more", "till the heavens are unsewn" ! The bearing of this upon the argument of 2 Peter three, the present firmament, and the
fullness, will appear more clearly as we proceed:
Finally, we have the word sumphoneo "to agree".
Sumphonia is translated "music" in Luke 15:25, and of course is the Greek
original of our word Symphony. In Ecclesiastes 7:14, the word
is used with a rather different meaning than "agreement". "In
the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity
consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end
that man should find nothing after him". This God will do
when at the end of the ages He sets His Peace over against the
present conflict, and symphony takes the place of discord.
The presence of so many terms of age-importance in the
homely parable of the patching of a torn garment is wonderful
in itself, but the wonder grows when we remember that He, in
Whom dwells all the pleroma of the Godhead bodily, used this
profound and significant term in such a homely and lowly con-
necton. However vast the purpose of the ages may be, and
however difficult it is for mortal minds to follow, the first use of
pLeroma in the N.T. encourages the reader in his search, for does
not the purpose of the ages at length lead to a sphere where all
things are new, where that which caused the rent or overthrow
is entirely removed, and the Father is at length at home with
His redeemed family?