Overland Monthly / OV026 - The Divine Program (VI. Its Epochs and Dispensations)
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OV26 THE DIVINE PROGRAM VI—ITS EPOCHS AND DISPENSATIONS
BY C. T. RUSSELL
PASTOR BROOKLYN TABERNACLE ORDER IS heaven’s first law, and whoever would understand the divine program must study it in an orderly manner. Irregular and disorderly minds are at a disadvantage in Bible study. On the other hand, orderly minds are disadvantaged by the misrepresentations of the Bible by many of its friends of disorderly minds. As a consequence, those lacking mental order are confused and misunderstand the Scriptures, while those of orderly minds, disgusted with the misrepresentations and inconsistencies, will not even examine the Bible Revelation. Whoever opens his Bible expecting it to describe the ages and dispensations as we shall here attempt to portray them will be disappointed. The Lord declares His Plan to be shrouded in Mystery and understandable only from the one standpoint of consecration and illumination by the holy Spirit. This, of course, refers mainly to the "deep things of God." There are also surface truths of great value connected with the Divine Revelation. The extent of our ability to understand is dependent upon faith, obedience and the observance of order. In proportion as we have or have not this ability we may understand or misunderstand the Bible.
Three Worlds and Three Dispensations.
The English reader is somewhat disadvantaged by the fact that in our common version the word "world" does duty for three distinctly Greek words. Thus, for instance, when our Lord mentions the end of the age or dispensation our common version Bible renders it "the end of the world." This, to the average reader, signifies a general collapse of the earth—its destruction, in fact, or, as a habitation for man. No such thought attaches to the Greek word, aeon, however. An aeon is an epoch or age.
The Lord declared that the present aeon or age would end, ushering in a new age or "world to come." As a matter of fact, three different worlds are brought to our attention in the Bible—and the Millennium will be in the beginning of the third. The Scriptural declaration is that "the earth abideth forever"—"seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, as long as the sun and moon endure."—#Ec 1:4; #Ge 8:22. These three "worlds" or three dispensations noted in the Bible are so distinctly different and so accurately described that none need mistake them. The first dispensation or world lasted from Eden to the flood. It was marked as the period of the administration of the angels, and in it, as we have already seen, some of them fell from their first estate of loyalty and obedience, further corrupting the world of mankind. Following the flood a new dispensation began, marked by the fact that the fallen angels no longer were permitted of the Lord full liberty of association with men. Man was permitted to have control of the earth, and Divine providence worked little interference except to prevent sin from going to such extremes as would have defeated the Divine plans to be developed later. This period from the flood to the Second Coming of Christ is Scripturally designated "this present evil world"—not because there has been nothing meritorious during its forty-four hundred years, but because God has permitted evil to dominate the earth during this period. As we have already seen, God
OV27 is not the author of its confusion, sin and disorder, but he has permitted mankind liberty within certain bounds. He has permitted Satan to oppose righteousness and permitted humanity to become the slaves of sin and of Satan. Satan is Scripturally declared to be the "Prince of this world," who now operates in the hearts of the children of disobedience. We are not to understand, however, that Satan is exercising a Divinely delegated authority to rule mankind, but rather that he has usurped his position by taking advantage of humanity’s ignorance, fallen tendencies and superstitions. Neither are we to think that humanity knowingly and intentionally serves "the Prince of this world." Rather, under his delusions they are deceived.
While thinking to please themselves, to serve their own best interests, to attain happiness, they are misled into sin and sorrow and death by paths of ignorance and superstition. What St. Paul calls "this present evil world," St. Peter denominates "the world that now is," and points us forward to the New World, the New Dispensation, in which righteousness will reign, and styles that dispensation "the world to come."
All three of these "worlds" or dispensations are connected with our planet, the earth.
Following this figure, the Apostle divides these "worlds" or dispensations into heaven and earth, by the heavens referring to the spirit beings and influences, and by the earth referring to humanity subjected to those spiritual influences. Thus in the "world" or dispensation which ended at the flood, the angels, fallen and unfallen, constituted the heavens and mankind the earth of that dispensation. During "this present evil world" from the flood to the Second Coming of Christ the heavens represent Satan, the "Prince of the power of the air," and religious systems amongst men, more or less corrupt and more or less representative of Satan and of his organization—or rather of human organization more or less under Satanic direction.
"The world to come" is likewise represented as having a heaven and earth classification. The heavens of that new dispensation will be the glorified Jesus and his Church, in the Millennial Kingdom. In the first "world" or dispensation the corruption of its heavens or angelic class brought degradation and disaster to the earth class, humanity. During this "present evil world" the power of Satan and the corrupting spiritual influences which he has been able to manipulate have hindered the blessing of mankind, notwithstanding God’s favor given to Israel under the Law Covenant and his still greater blessings to Jew and Gentile through Christ. The next "world" or dispensation, to be ushered in at the Second Coming of Christ, is Scripturally styled "a new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." (#2Pe 3:13.) That new heavens will be perfect, and consist of Christ and his "Elect" Church or "Bride" glorified—"called, chosen, faithful." (#Re 17:14.) That new earth will represent mankind under the new conditions of the New Covenant, sealed with the precious blood. Not only in the new heaven, but also in the new earth righteousness will prevail, even though in the latter it will require the thousand years of Christ’s reign to fully conquer sin and death and to uplift humanity in general back into harmony with God.
In the Ages to Come.
St. Paul mentions "ages to come," though only one of these is specifically noted in the Scriptures—the Millennial age. The other ages beyond the Millennium will be beyond all the defilements and ensnarements and tribulations connected with sin; and are properly, therefore, styled by the poet, "Ages of glory." Looking back, however, we may discern clearly-marked ages or epochs, subdividing "this present evil world." First came the Patriarchal Age, in which God dealt with Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Then came another distinctly different epoch in which He no longer dealt with individual patriarchs, but adopted the entire nation of Israel as his peculiar people and dealt with them accordingly. He entered into the Law Covenant with them and provided them a typical mediator, typical underpriests and judges and prophets, so that, as the Apostle Paul declares, the nation of Israel had "much advantage every way, chiefly because to them
OV28 were committed the oracles of God." That Jewish Age had a distinct beginning in the death of Jacob, whose twelve sons were designated the heads of the twelve tribes constituting the one nation of Israel. That age had an ending just as distinctly marked by the death of Christ, as shown by Jesus’ words, "Verily I say unto you, your house is left unto you desolate." (#Mt 23:38.) A third age followed, namely, the Gospel Age, which began at Pentecost and is to terminate at the second coming of Christ and to gather to himself the completed church, the Bride of the Lamb and joint-heir in the Millennial Kingdom. The present Gospel Age, which is to end with the establishment of the Kingdom, the Church in glory, is the particular and all-important age of "this present evil world." Neither of those preceding it brought any fruitage to full perfection. The patriarchs received a blessing, but could not enter into the Kingdom privileges. The nation of Israel had a blessing through the Law Covenant, yet its highest service was the making of types of glorious conditions to follow it, some of the antitypes belonging to this Gospel Age and some to the Millennium. It is the Apostle who declares of that Age that its Law Covenant "made nothing perfect." Nevertheless, the same Apostle points out in Hebrews 11 that all who were faithful to God from Enoch down to the close of the Jewish Age will receive a special blessing, in accord with their faith and zeal—even though they lived before the time of the calling and proving of the spiritual Seed of Abraham—the Gospel Church, of which Christ is the Head. ("And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s Seed, and heirs according to the promise." (#Ga 3:29.)
Of those faithful ones St. Paul declares, "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise; God having provided some better things for us, that they without us should not be made perfect."—#Heb 11:39,40. In a word, the Divine Program arranged that the world should be blessed by Messiah—through his death and subsequently through his Millennial Kingdom reign. But instead of counting the work finished when the Redeemer died, the Divine Program set apart the entire Gospel Age for the selection of the Bride of Christ, under another figure spoken of as the "members in particular of the Body of Christ." (#1Co 12:27.) These are said to fill up the afflictions of Christ, to suffer with him, to be dead with him, and are correspondingly promised a share with him in his glory, honor and immortality.
This Age Parenthetic.
It may help some to grasp the situation if they will consider the Gospel Age from Pentecost to the Second Coming of Christ as parenthetic, and in their minds link together the Jewish and the Millennial Ages. The Jews, properly enough, were expecting Messiah to come to their nation, to establish them as his "peculiar people," to sanctify them and to use them in the spread of his dominion world-wide, according to the promise made to Abraham that in "his Seed all the families of the earth should be blessed." They were right in that expectation, and it will be fulfilled at the Second Coming of Christ. What they did not see and what God did not wish them to see, but kept a "mystery," is the fact that the Divine Program included a Christ of many members, Jesus the Redeemer being the head over all, "God blessed forever." (#Ro 9:5.) "This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the Church." (#Eph 5:32.) "Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints; to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (#Col 1:26,27.) God will do no less for natural Israel than his original promise, for, as St. Paul declares, "The gifts and calling of God he will not repent of"—nor change from. The bringing in of the Bible hope of this Gospel Age, the selecting of a "little flock" for joint-heirship with the Redeemer on the spirit plane, was that much more than God had revealed to Israel through the Law and the prophets. Some of natural Israel profited by this—all those who, at the beginning of the Gospel Age, were in the right attitude of heart, "Israelites indeed in whom was no guile." Such were received to membership in spiritual
OV29 Israel at Pentecost.
And then to filling up of the remainder of the predestinated number of the "elect," from among the Gentiles began; and this age has been devoted to the gathering of these "members" of the Christ, the Messiah, out of every land, people, kindred and tongue.
The Law Covenant—Old and New.
Continue the thought of this Gospel Age being parenthetic as respects the outward features of the Divine Program. Note the fact that the Law Covenant given to the Jews failed to secure for them eternal life—because they could not keep so high a Law, a Law which commanded love for God with all the heart, mind, soul and strength and love for one’s neighbor as for himself. Moses, the Mediator of that Law Covenant, was unable to make up for the deficiencies of the people and hence eternal life was not secured under the Law Covenant. However, through the Prophet Jeremiah (#Jer 31:31) God sent to Israel a message of his love and assured them of a future relief under a New Covenant which, in some respects, would be better than the one they had. He said, "The days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the Covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand, to bring them out of the land of Egypt (the Law Covenant); which my Covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord."—#Jer 31:31,32.
Christ and his Bride, his members, Spiritual Israel, surrender their earthly life rights and earthly inheritance in favor of Natural Israel, and thus are said to mediate and ultimately to seal for Israel a New Law Covenant, which will be far better than the old one. Not, however, that the Law of God will change in any respect; for God could not give an easier Law than the one given to Israel; he could not give an imperfect Law; he could not properly require less than love and obedience with all the heart. Wherein, then, will a New Law Covenant be better for Israel than the old one? We answer, It will be better in that it will have a "better mediator"—a more capable one. Jesus is the Mediator of the New Covenant; and all those called of God and accepted as his "members" during this Gospel Age will be members of the Mediator. To this Mediator, by reason of the merit of the Head and his sacrifice, God has granted "all power," so that he is able from the plenitude of his grace to make up for the unwilling, the unintentional, blemishes of the nation for which he will serve as Mediator during the thousand years of his Millennial reign. It is on the strength of this merit of the Mediator that all of Israel’s sins and iniquities of the past will be forgotten and remembered no more. Moreover that Great Mediator will have full responsibility in the premises in dealing with all who shall accept that Covenant, because the virtue, the merit of Christ’s sacrifice, is sufficient to meet, to cover, to cancel the sins of the whole world—all that are not willful and deliberate sins. Israel will thus become God’s people, and all gentiles will be privileged to join them by "circumcision of the heart." Thus, ultimately, besides spiritual Israel there will be Natural Israel, which will include the willing and obedient of every nation and tongue as it is written, "I have constituted thee a father of many nations." During the Millennium, therefore, Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and "the church his Body," will not only apply the merits of his sacrifice in offset of Adamic sin and weaknesses, but will also have the right, power and authority to chastise for every misconduct and to reward every good endeavor, to the intent that under that New Covenant all Israel may have the opportunity of rising from the dead—rising from the condition of sin and death up to the full perfection of human nature and a perfect environment. As for the others not rightly exercised by these favorable providences St. Peter declares that they "Shall be utterly destroyed from among the people."—#Ac 3:23.
From Amongst Your Brethren.
St. Peter explains the nature of the selection of the members of the Mediator, saying, "A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you from amongst your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear (obey) in all things, whatsoever he shall say unto you. (To that Prophet every
OV30 knee must bow and every tongue confess.) And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that Prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people"—in the Second Death.—#Ac 3:22,23. Notice that the Prophet was to be raised up from amongst the brethren. In fulfillment of this our Lord Jesus was called and accepted and begotten of the holy Spirit, and finally, in his resurrection, became the Firstborn from the dead, the Firstborn of many brethren. Meantime, since Pentecost the other members under that glorious Head have been in process of raising up—out of sin, out of death, out of the world, out of human nature, to glory, honor, and immortality.
And these have the promise that in the First Resurrection their raising up will be completed—they shall be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. The raising up and the changing begin with the present life. As the Apostle declares, "We are risen with him." And again, We are being changed from glory to glory as by the Spirit of the Lord. But still we wait for the grand climacteric change to Resurrection glory, honor and immortality. In view of the foregoing all will readily discern the value of order in the study of the Bible—the value of noting its dispensational features, the object served by the various "worlds" or dispensations and their various ages or epochs. The Bible, studied in the light of the Plan of the Ages, becomes a new Book. Its various statements, prophetic and otherwise, quietly drop into their proper places, so that the study of the Word becomes both interesting and profitable, as thousands are continually testifying—many of them rescued from agnosticism.
THE COMING STORM
O SAD is my heart for the storm that is coming; Like eagles the scud sweepeth in from the sea; The gull seeketh shelter, the pine trees are sighing, And all giveth note of the tempest to be.
A spell hath been whispered from cave and from ocean, The shepherds are sleeping, the sentinels dumb, The flocks are all scattered on moorland and mountain, And no one believes that the Master is come.
He’s come, but whom doth He find their watch keeping?
O where—in His presence—is faith the world o’er?
The rich, every sense in soft luxury steeping; The poor, scarce repelling the wolf from the door.
O man, and O maiden, drop trifling and pleasure, O! hark, while I tell of the sorrows to be, —As well might I plead in the path of yon glacier, Or cry out a warning to wave of the sea!