Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth
EXAMINED IN THE LIGHT OF HOLY SCRIPTURE
Harry A. Ironside
- What is
- The Four Gospels and Their
Relation to the Church
- The Transitional Period - Is
the Church of The Acts the Body of Christ?
- When Was the Revelation of the
Mystery of the One Body Given?
- Further Examination of the
- Is the Church the Bride of the
- Do Baptism and the Lord's
Supper Have Any Place in the Present Dispensation of the Grace of God?
- Concluding Remarks
What is Ultra-Dispensationalism?
"Study to show thyself approved unto God, a
workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth"
(2 Tim. 2: 15)..
PAUL'S exhortation to the younger preacher, Timothy, has come home to many with
great power in recent years. As a result, there has been a return to more
ancient methods of Bible study, which had been largely neglected during the
centuries of the Church's drift from apostolic testimony. Augustine's
words have had a re-affirmation: "Distinguish the ages, and the Scriptures are
plain." And so there has been great emphasis put in many quarters, and rightly
so, upon the study of what is commonly known as "dispensational" truth.
This line of teaching, if kept within Scriptural bounds, cannot but prove a
great blessing to the humble student of the Word of God who desires to know His
will or plan in His dealings with men from creation to the coming glory. A
careful examination of the volume of Revelation shows that God's ways with men
have differed in various ages. This must be taken into account if one
would properly apprehend His truth.
The word "dispensation" is found
several times in the pages of our English Bible and is a translation of the
Greek word "oikonomia." This word, strictly speaking, means "house order." It
might be translated "administration," "order," or "stewardship." In each
successive age, God gives to men of faith a certain stewardship, or makes known
to them a certain order or administration, in accordance with which they are
responsible to behave. A dispensation then is a period of time in which
God is dealing with men in some way in which He has not dealt with them before.
Only when a new revelation from God is given, does a dispensation change.
Moreover, there may be degrees of revelation in one dispensation; all, however,
having to do with a fuller unfolding of the will of God for that particular age.
This was very definitely true in the dispensation of law, from Moses to Christ.
We have the various revelations: of Sinai, both the first and second giving of
the law; then added instructions during the wilderness years; the covenant with
David; and the revelations given to the prophets. The circumstances in
which God's people were found changed frequently during this age of law, but the
dispensation itself continued from Sinai until Jesus cried, "It is finished." It
is important to have this in mind, otherwise the vast scope of an ever unfolding
dispensation may be lost sight of, and one might get the idea that every
additional revelation of truth in a given age changed the dispensation, whereas
it only enlarges it.
One may illustrate a dispensation in a very simple way, remembering that the
word really means "house order," and I might add, the Greek word has been
Anglicized, and we know it as "economy." Let us suppose a young woman whom we
will call Mary, is going out into service. She obtains a position in a
humble home belonging to a good family of the working class. There are
certain rules governing that home which she must learn to observe. All
perhaps is not plain to her at once, but as time goes on, she learns more and
more fully the desires of her mistress. We will say she is to rise at five
every morning and begin to prepare the breakfast and put up the lunches for
those who go out to work. At six she is to ring the rising bell; at
half-past six the family are supposed to be at the breakfast-table; and at seven
they leave for work. Dinner of course is at a certain hour at night, and
in the meantime she has her different duties to perform in keeping the house in
order. She learns quite thoroughly the domestic economy of this particular
home and becomes a well-qualified household servant. Now let us suppose
that later on she finds that a cook and housekeeper is needed for the large
mansion on the hill. She applies for the position and is accepted.
Moving in, her mistress undertakes to instruct her in the economy of the new
home, but Mary says, "You need not give me any instructions, Ma'am, I know
exactly how a house should be run. just leave it to me and everything will be
attended to properly. I have had some years of experience in housekeeping
and I would not have asked for the position if I did not know what was
required." Her mistress is dubious, but, for the time being, acquiesces.
The next morning, the waking-gong sounds at six o'clock. The family, who
are accustomed to banker's hours during the day and are given to very late hours
at night, are astonished and chagrined at being aroused so early. The
mistress calls down to the housekeeper, "What does this mean?" and learns that
breakfast will be on the table in half-an-hour.
"Why, Mary," she exclaims; "we never breakfast here until half-past eight."
"But the breakfast is hot and the lunches are all ready, Ma'am."
"No one carries lunches in this home. You see, Mary, you do not understand
the arrangement here. I shall have to instruct you carefully today." And
poor bewildered Mary learns the importance of dispensational truth!
The illustration, I know, is crude, but I think any one will see the point.
God had one order for the house of Israel. There is another order for the
house of God, the Church of the living God today. There will be a
different order in the millennial age, and there have been varying orders in the
All this comes out clearly in the pages of Holy Scripture, and is certainly
involved in the expression in our English Bibles, "rightly dividing the Word of
Truth." Of course, this expression is not by any means to be limited to
dispensational teaching. It also implies putting each great doctrine of
the Word in its right place. It has been translated, "cutting in a
straight line the Word of Truth," that is, not confounding or confusing things
that differ. It even suggests the thought of honestly facing the Word of
It is right here then that we need to be careful, and not read into the Word of
God ideas out of our own minds which are not really there. Through doing
this, some have ignored dispensational truth altogether. Others have swung
to an ultra-dispensationalism which is most pernicious in its effect upon one's
own soul and upon testimony for God generally. Of these
ultra-dispensational systems, one in particular has come into prominence of late
years, which, for want of a better name, is generally called "Bullingerism,"
owing to the fact that it was first advocated some years ago by Dr. E. W.
Bullinger, a clergyman of the Church of England. These views have been
widely spread through the notes of "The Companion Bible," a work partly edited
by Dr. Bullinger, though he died before it was completed. This Bible has
many valuable features and has been a help in certain respects to God's servants
who have used it conservatively, but it contains interpretations which are
utterly subversive of the truth. Some of Dr. Bullinger's positions are
glaringly opposed to what is generally accepted as orthodox teaching, as, for
instance, the sleep of the soul between death and resurrection; and it is a most
significant fact that while he did not apparently fully commit himself to any
eschatological position as to the final state of the impenitent, most of his
followers in Great Britain have gone off into annihilation, and there is quite a
sect in America who began with his teaching who now are restorationists of the
broadest type, teaching what they are pleased to call universal reconciliation,
which to their minds involves the final salvation not only of all men, but of
Satan and all the fallen angels. These two views, diverse as they are, are
nevertheless the legitimate offspring of the ultra-dispensational system to
which we refer.
The present writer has been urged by many for years to take up these questions,
but has always heretofore shrunk from doing so; first, because of the time and
labor involved, which seemed out of all proportion to the possible value of such
an examination; and secondly, because of a natural shrinking from controversy,
remembering the word, "The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle
unto all men, apt to teach, patient; in meekness instructing those that oppose
themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging
of the truth." But the rapid spread of these pernicious views and their evident
detrimental effect upon so many who hold them, has led to the conclusion that it
would be unfaithfulness to God and to His people if one refused to seek to give
any help he could in regard to these teachings.
Briefly, then, what are the outstanding tenets of Bullingerism and its kindred
systems? For one needs to remember that a number are teaching these
ultra-dispensational things who declare that they are not familiar with the
writings of Dr. Bullinger, and repudiate with indignation the name of
"Bullingerism." There are perhaps six outstanding positions taken by these
First, inasmuch as our Lord Jesus was "a minister of the circumcision to confirm
the promises made to the fathers," it is insisted that the four Gospels are
entirely Jewish and have no real message for the Church, the Body of Christ.
All might not put it quite as boldly as this, but certainly their disciples go
to the limit in repudiating the authority of the Gospels.
Secondly, it is maintained that the book of Acts covers a transition period
between the dispensation of the law and the dispensation of the mystery; that
is, that in the book of Acts we do not have the Church, the Body of Christ, but
that the word "ekklesia" (church, or assembly), as used in that book, refers to
a different Church altogether to that of Paul's prison epistles. This
earlier Church is simply an aspect of the kingdom and is not the same as the
Body of Christ!
Third, it is contended that Paul did not receive his special revelation of the
mystery of the Body until his imprisonment in Rome, and that his prison epistles
alone reveal this truth and are, strictly speaking, the only portion of the Holy
Scriptures given to members of the Body. All of the other epistles of
Paul, save those written during his imprisonment and the general epistles, are
relegated to the earlier dispensation of the book of Acts, and have no permanent
value for us, but were for the instruction of the so-called Jewish church of
Fourth, the entire book of Revelation has to do with the coming age and has no
reference to the Church today. Even the letters to the seven churches in
Asia, which are distinctly said to be "the things which are," are, according to
this system, to be considered as "the things which are not," and will not be
until the Church, the Body of Christ, is removed from this world. Then, it
is contended, these seven churches will appear on the earth as Jewish churches
in the Great Tribulation.
Fifth, the Body of Christ is altogether a different company, according to these
teachers, from the Bride of the Lamb, the latter being supposed to be Jewish.
Sixth, the Christian ordinances, having been given before Paul is supposed to
have received his revelation of the mystery in prison, have no real connection
with the present economy, and therefore, are relegated to the past, and may
again have a place in the future Great Tribulation.*
*As to this, these ultra-dispensationalists differ. Most of them reject water
baptism entirely for this age. All of them are not prepared to go so far
in connection with the Lord's Supper, but many of them repudiate it too.
Besides these six points, there are many other unscriptural things which are
advocated by various disciples who began with these views and have been rapidly
throwing overboard other Scriptural teachings. Many Bullingerites boldly
advocate the sleep of the soul between death and resurrection, the annihilation
of the wicked, or, as we have seen, universal salvation of all men and demons,
the denial of the eternal Sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ, and, gravest of all,
the personality of the Holy Spirit. All of these evil doctrines find
congenial soil in Bullingerism. Once men take up with this system there is
no telling how far they will go, and what their final position will be in regard
to the great fundamental truths of Christianity. It is because of this
that one needs to be on his guard, for it is as true of systems as it is of
teachers, "By their fruits ye shall know them."
Having had most intimate acquaintance with Bullingerism as taught by many for
the last forty years, I have no hesitancy in saying that its fruits are evil.
It has produced a tremendous crop of heresies throughout the length and breadth
of this and other lands, it has divided Christians and wrecked churches and
assemblies without number; it has lifted up its votaries in intellectual and
spiritual pride to an appalling extent, so that they look with supreme contempt
upon Christians who do not accept their peculiar views; and in most instances
where it has been long tolerated, it has absolutely throttled Gospel effort at
home and sown discord on missionary fields abroad. So true are these
things of this system that I have no hesitancy in saying it is an absolutely
Satanic perversion of the truth. Instead of rightly dividing the Word, I
shall seek to show that these teachers wrongly divide the Word, and that their
propaganda is anything but conducive to spirituality and enlightenment in divine
The Four Gospels and
Their Relation to the Church
HOWEVER they may differ in regard to minor details of their various systems,
practically all ultra-dispensationalists are a unit in declaring that the four
Gospels must be entirely relegated to a past dispensation (in fact, according to
most of them, they are pushed two dispensations back), and, therefore, are not
to be considered as in any sense applying to this present age. It is
affirmed with the utmost assurance that the Gospels are wholly Jewish.
Inasmuch as we are told in the Epistle to the Romans (15: 8), that "Jesus Christ
was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises
made unto the fathers," the position is taken that the records of the
Evangelists deal solely with this phase of things, and that there is nothing
even in the utterances of our Lord Himself in those books that has any special
place for the present dispensation.
Yet a careful consideration of the very passage in which these words are found
would seem to negative this entire theory and prove that it is absolutely
groundless, for when the apostle is stressing true Christian behavior, he refers
the saints back to the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus when here on earth.
Notice the opening verses of Romans 15. We are told that the "strong should bear
the infirmities of the weak, and not seek to please themselves, but that each
one should have in mine the edification of his neighbor," having Christ as our
great example, "who pleased not Himself, but of whom it is written, The
reproaches of them that reproached Thee fell on Me."
We are then definitely informed that not only what we have in the four Gospels,
but what we have in all the Old Testament is for us, "for whatsoever things were
written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and
comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." Here there is no setting aside of an
earlier revelation as though it had no message for the people of God in a later
day simply because dispensations have changed. Spiritual principles never
change; moral responsibility never changes, and the believer who would glorify
God in the present age must manifest the grace that was seen in Christ when He
walked here on earth during the age that is gong. It is perfectly true
that He came in exact accord with Old Testament prophecy and came under the law,
in order that He might deliver those who were under the law from that bondage.
He was in reality a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God,
not-observe-to fulfil at His first coming the promises made unto the fathers,
but to confirm them. This He did by His teaching and His example. He
assures Israel even in setting them to one side, that the promises made
beforehand shall yet have their fulfilment.
But, observe, it is upon this very fact that the apostle bases present grace
going out to the Gentiles, for he adds in verse 9:
"And that the Gentiles might glorify God
for His mercy; as it is written: For this cause I will confess to Thee among
the Gentiles, and sing unto Thy name. And again He saith, Rejoice, ye
Gentiles, with His people. And again, Praise the Lord, all ye
Gentiles; and laud Him, all ye people. And again, Esaias saith, There
shall be a Root of Jesse, and He that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles;
in Him shall the Gentiles trust" (vers. 9-12).
Here, while not for a moment ignoring that revelation of the mystery of which he
speaks in the closing chapter, Paul shows that the present work of God in
reaching out in grace to the Gentiles, is in full harmony with Old Testament
Scripture, while going far beyond anything that the Old Testament prophets ever
dreamed of, and then he adds:
"Now the God of hope fill you with all joy
and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope through the power of the
Holy Ghost" (ver. 13).
While there is a change of dispensation, there is no rude severing of Old
Testament or Gospel revelation from that of the present age. The one flows
naturally out of the other, and the ways of God are shown to be perfectly
harmonious. This being so in connection with the Old Testament, how much
more does the same principle apply in connection with the four Gospels.
While fully recognizing their dispensational place, and realizing that our Lord
is presented in the three Synoptics as offering Himself as King and the kingdom
of Heaven as such to Israel, only to meet with ever-increasing rejection, yet it
should be plain to any spiritual mind that the principles of the kingdom which
He sets forth are the same principles that should hold authority over the hearts
of all who acknowledge the Lordship of Christ. In john's Gospel the case
is somewhat different, for there Christ is seen as the rejected One from the
very beginning. It is in chapter one that we read, "He came unto His own
and His own received Him not." Then based upon that, we have the new and fuller
revelation which runs throughout that Gospel of grace, flowing out to all men
who have no merit whatever in themselves.
But in Matthew, which is preeminently the dispensational Gospel, the Lord is
presented as the Son of David first of all. Then when it is evident that
Israel will refuse His claims, He is presented in the larger aspect of Son of
Abraham in whom all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. The break
with the leaders of the nation comes in chapter twelve, where they definitely
ascribe the works of the Holy Spirit to the devil. In doing this, they
become guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, the crowning sin of that
dispensation, which our Lord declares could not be forgiven either in that age
or in the one to follow. In chapter thirteen, we have an altogether new
ministry beginning. The Lord for the first time opens up the mysteries of
the kingdom of Heaven, revealing things that had been kept secret from the
foundation of the world, namely the strange and unlooked-for form that the
kingdom would take here on earth after Israel had rejected the King and He had
returned to Heaven. This is set forth in the seven parables of that
chapter, and gives us the course of Christendom during all the present age.
As a rule, the ultra-dispensationalists would ignore all this and push these
seven parables forward into the tribulation era after the Church, the Body of
Christ, has been taken out of this scene. But this is to do violence to
the entire Gospel and to ignore utterly the history of the past 1900 years. just
as in Revelation two and three we have an outline of the history of the
professing Church presented under the similitude of the seven letters, so in
Matthew 13 we have the course of Christendom in perfect harmony with the Church
letters, portrayed in such a way as to make clear the distinction between the
Church that man builds and that which is truly of God. In chapter sixteen
of Matthew's Gospel, the Lord declares for the first time that He is going to
build a Church or assembly. This assembly is to be built upon the Rock,
the confession of the apostle Peter that Christ is the Son of the living God.
How utterly vain it is to try to separate this declaration from the statement in
the Ephesian Epistle where we read,
"Now therefore, ye are no more strangers
and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of
God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus
Christ Himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly
framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are
builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit" (2: 19-22).
Here in the preeminent prison epistle of which so much is made by the
Bullingerites, you find that the Church then in existence is the Church our Lord
spoke of building when He was here in the days of His flesh. The
discipline of that Church is given in Matthew 18: 15-20:
"Moreover if thy brother shall trespass
against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he
shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear
thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the -mouth of two or
three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect
to bear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church,
let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say
unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and
whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say
unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that
they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven.
For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the
midst of them."
In Matthew sixteen you have the assembly as a whole, comprising all believers
during the present dispensation. Here in chapter eighteen, you have the
local assembly in the position of responsibility on earth, and its authority to
deal with evil-doers in corrective discipline.
The complete setting aside of Israel for the present age is given us in chapter
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killst
the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I
have gathered thy children together even as a hen gathereth her chickens
under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house -is left unto you
desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see Me henceforth, till ye
shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord."
In the light of the words, "Your house is left unto you desolate," how amazing
the presumption that would lead any to declare, as practically all these extreme
dispensationalists do declare, that Israel is being given a second trial
throughout all the book of Acts, and that their real setting aside does not take
place until Paul's meeting with the elders of the Jews after his imprisonment in
Rome, as recorded in the last chapter of Acts. The fact of the matter is
that the book of Acts opens with the setting aside of Israel until the day when
they shall say, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord." That is His
second glorious coming. In the interval, God is saving out of Israel as
well as of the Gentiles, all who turn to Him in repentance.
In Matthew twenty-four, we are carried on to the days immediately preceding that
time when the Son of Man shall appear in glory, and we find the people of Israel
in great distress, but a remnant called His "elect" shall be saved in that day.
I pass purposely over chapter twenty-five as having no particular bearing on the
outline, because a careful consideration of it would take more time and space
than is here available. The closing chapters give us the death and
resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and then the commission of His apostles.
People who have never investigated Bullingerism and its kindred systems will
hardly believe me when I say that even the great commission upon which the
Church has acted for 1900 years, and which is still our authority for world-wide
missions, is, according to these teachers, a commission with which we have
nothing whatever to do, that has no reference to the Church at all, and that the
work there predicted will not begin until taken up by the remnant of Israel in
the days of the Great Tribulation. Yet such is actually the teaching.
In view of this, let us carefully read the closing verses of the Gospel:
"Then the eleven disciples went away into
Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they
saw Him, they worshipped Him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and
spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all
things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even
unto the end of the world. Amen" (28: 16-20).
According to the Bullingeristic interpretation of this passage, we should have
to paraphrase it somewhat as follows: "Then the eleven disciples went away into
Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw
Him, they worshipped Him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto
them, saying, All power is given unto Me in heaven and earth, and after two
entire dispensations have rolled by, I command that the remnant of Israel who
shall be living two thousand or more years later, shall go out and teach the
nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the
Holy Ghost, teaching them in that day to observe all things whatsoever I have
commanded you, but from which I absolve all believers between the present hour
and that coming age, and lo, I will be with that remnant until the close of
Daniel's seventieth week." Can anything be more absurd, more grotesque-and I
might add, more wicked-than thus to twist and misuse the words of our Lord Jesus
In view of all this, may I direct my reader's careful attention to the solemn
statement of the apostle Paul, which is found in I Timothy, chapter 6. After
having given a great many practical exhortations to Timothy as to the
instruction he was to give to the churches for their guidance during all the
present age, the apostle says,
"If any man teach otherwise and consent not
to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ' and to the
doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but
doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife,
railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and
destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw
thyself" (I Tim. 6:3-5).
One would almost think that this was a direct command to Timothy to beware of
Bullingerism! Notice, Timothy is to withdraw himself from, that is, to
have no fellowship with, those who refuse the present authority of the words of
our Lord Jesus Christ. Where do you get those actual words?
Certainly in the four Gospels. There are very few actual words of the Lord
Jesus Christ scattered throughout the rest of the New Testament. Of course
there is a sense in which all the New Testament is from Him, but the apostle is
clearly referring here to the actual spoken words of our Saviour, which have
been recorded for the benefit of the saints, and which set forth the teaching
that is in accordance with godliness or practical piety. If a man refuses
these words, whether on the plea that they do not apply to our dispensation, or
for any other reason, the Spirit of God declares it is an evidence of
intellectual or spiritual pride. Such men ordinarily think they know much
more than others, and they look down from their fancied heights of superior
Scriptural understanding with a certain contempt, often not untinged with
scornful amusement, upon godly men and women who are simply seeking to take the
words of the Lord Jesus as the guide for their lives.
But here we are told that such "know nothing," but are really in their spiritual
dotage, "doting about questions and strifes of words." The dotard is generally
characterized by frequent repetition of similar expressions. We know how
marked this symptom is in those who have entered upon a state of physical and
intellectual senility. Spiritual dotage may be discerned in the same way.
A constant dwelling upon certain expressions as though these were all important,
to the ignoring of the great body of truth, is an outstanding symptom. The
margin, it will be observed, substitutes the word "sick" for "doting;"
"word-sickness" is an apt expression. The word-sick man over-estimates
altogether the importance of terms. He babbles continually about
expressions which many of his brethren scarcely understand. He is given to
misplaced emphasis, making far more of fine doctrinal distinctions than of
practical godly living. As a result, his influence is generally baneful
instead of helpful, leading to strife and disputation instead of binding the
hearts of the people of God together in the unity of the Spirit.
The well-known passage in the closing chapter of Mark's Gospel, which gives us
another aspect of the great commission, having to do particularly with the
apostles, is a. favorite battleground with the ultra-dispensationalists.
Ignoring again the entire connection, they insist that the commission given in
verses fifteen and eighteen could only apply during the days of the book of
Acts, inasmuch as certain signs were to follow them that believe. As the
commission in Matthew has been relegated by them to the Great Tribulation after
the Christian age has closed, this one is supposed to have had its fulfilment
before the present mystery dispensation began, and so has no real force now.
They point out, what to them seems conclusive, that in this commission, as of
course that in Matthew, water baptism is evidently linked with a profession of
faith in Christ. They are perfectly hydrophobic as to this. The very
thought of water sets them foaming with indignation. There must on no
account be any recognition of water baptism during the present age. It
must be gotten rid of at all costs. So here where we read that our Lord
said, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature; he that
believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be
damned" (Mark 16: 15,16), which would seem to indicate world-wide evangelism,
looking out to the proclamation of the glad glorious Gospel of God to lost men
everywhere, this commission must nevertheless be gotten rid of somehow.
The way they do it is this: The Lord declares that certain signs shall follow
when this Gospel is proclaimed. These signs evidently followed in the days
of the Acts. They declare they have never followed since. Therefore,
it is evident that water baptism is only to go on so long as the signs follow.
If the signs have ceased, then water baptism ceases. The signs are not
here now, therefore no water baptism. How amazingly clear (!!), though, as
we shall see in a moment, absolutely illogical. The signs accompanied
preaching the Gospel. Why continue to preach if such signs are not now
The Matthew commission makes it plain that baptism in the name of the Trinity is
to go on to the end of the age, and that age has not come to an end yet,
whatever changes of dispensation may have come in. Now what of this
commission in Mark? Observe first of all that our Lord is not declaring
that the signs shall follow believers in the Gospel which is to be proclaimed by
the Lord's messengers. The signs were to follow those of the apostles who
believed, and they did. There were some of them who did not believe.
See verse eleven: "And they, when they had heard that He was alive and had been
seen of her, believed not." Then again, notice verse thirteen: "They went and
told it unto the residue; neither believed they them." And in the verse that
follows, we read: "Afterward He appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat,
and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they
believed not them which had seen Him after He was risen." Now our Lord
commissions the eleven, sends them forth to go to the ends of the earth
preaching the Gospel to every creature. There is nothing limited here.
It is not a Jewish commission. It has nothing to do with the restoration
of the kingdom to Israel. It is a world-wide commission to go to all the
Gentiles, and to go forth preaching the Word. Responsibility rests upon
those who hear. They are to believe and be baptized. Those who do
are recognized among the saved. On the other hand, He does not say, "He
that is not baptized shall be damned," because baptism was simply an outward
confession of their faith, but He does say, "He that believeth not shall be
Then in verses seventeen and eighteen, we have what Paul later called "the signs
of an apostle."
"These signs shall follow them that
believe: In My name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new
tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it
shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall
During all the period of the book of Acts, these signs did follow the apostles.
More than that, if we can place the least reliance upon early Church history,
the same signs frequently followed other servants of Christ, as they went forth
in obedience to this commission, and this long after the imprisonment of the
apostle Paul. We should expect this from the closing verses of Mark:
"So then after the Lord had spoken unto
them, He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them,
and confirming the Word with signs following" (Mark 16:19,20).
In this last verse, Mark covers the evangelization of the world (not merely a
message going out to the Jews), during all the years that followed until the
last of the apostles, John himself, had disappeared from the scene. I do
not mean to intimate that Mark knew this, but I do mean that the Spirit of God
caused him so to write this closing verse as to cover complete apostolic
testimony right on to its consummation. They preached everywhere, not
simply in connection with Israel. Yet in the face of this, the statement
has been made over and over again by these ultradispensationalists, that the
twelve never went to the Gentiles, excepting in the case of the apostle Peter
and a few similar instances. The statement has also been made that all
miracles ceased with Paul's imprisonment, that there were no miracles
afterwards. What superb ignorance of Church history is here indicated, and
what an absurd position a man puts himself in who commits himself to negatives
like these! An eminent logician has well said, "Never commit yourself to a
negative, for that supposes that you are in possession of all the facts." If a
man says there were no miracles wrought in the Church after the imprisonment of
the apostle Peter, it means, if that statement is true, that he has thorough
knowledge of all that has taken place in every land on earth where the Gospel
has been preached, in all the centuries since the days of Paul's imprisonment,
and knows all the work that every servant of Christ has ever done.
Otherwise he could not logically and rationally make such a statement.
What then is the conclusion? It is wrongly dividing the Word of Truth to
seek to rob Christians of the precious instruction given by our Lord Jesus in
the four Gospels, though fully recognizing their dispensational place. It
is an offense against Christian missions everywhere to try to set aside the
great commission for the entire present age. It is not true that a
definite limit is placed in Scripture upon the manifestation of sign gifts, and
that such gifts have never appeared since the days of the apostles.
The Transitional Period Is the
Church of The Acts the Body of Christ?
HERE is perhaps nothing about which the ultradispensationalists are more
certain, according to their own expressions, than that the book of the Acts
covers a transitional period, coming in between the age of the law and the
present age in which the dispensation of the mystery has been revealed.
They do not always agree as to the name of this intervening period. Some
call it the Kingdom Church; others the Jewish Church; and there are those who
prefer the term Pentecostal Dispensation. The general teaching is about as
follows: It is affirmed that the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of
Pentecost and His baptizing the one hundred and twenty and those who afterwards
believed, did not have anything to do with the formation of the Church, the Body
of Christ. On the contrary, they insist that the Church throughout all of
the book of Acts up to Paul's imprisonment was of an altogether lower order than
that of the Epistle to the Ephesians. Assemblies in Judea, Samaria, and
the various Gentile countries, were simply groups of believers who were waiting
for the manifestation of the kingdom, and had not yet come into the full liberty
of grace. The ordinances of the Lord's Supper and of baptism were linked
with these companies and were to continue only until Israel had definitely and
finally refused the Gospel message, after which the full revelation of the
mystery is supposed to have been given to the apostle Paul when he was
imprisoned at Rome. From that time on a new dispensation began.
Surely this is wrongly confounding the Word of Truth. How any rational and
spiritually-minded person could ever come to such a conclusion after a careful
reading of the book of Acts, and with it the various epistles addressed to the
churches and peoples mentioned in that book, is more than some of us can
comprehend. Let us see what the facts actually are.
In the first place, it is perfectly plain that the Church, the Body of Christ,
was formed by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Very definitely this term is
used of that great event which took place at Pentecost and was repeated in
measure in Cornelius' household. In each instance the same exact
expression is used. Referring to Pentecost, our Lord says, "Ye shall be
baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence" (Acts 1: 5). Referring
to the event that took place in Cornelius' household, Peter says:
"Then remembered I the word of the Lord,
how that He said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized
with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as
He did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was 1, that I
could withstand God?" (Acts 11: 16,17).
In 1 Corinthians 12: 12, 13, we read:
"For as the body is one, and hath many
members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so
also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body,
whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been
all made to drink into one Spirit."
Here we are distinctly informed as to the way in which the Body has been brought
into existence, and this is exactly what took place at Pentecost.
Individual believers were that day baptized into one Body, and from then on the
Lord added to the Church daily such as were saved. It is a significant
fact that if you omit this definite passage in I Corinthians, there is no other
verse in any epistle that tells us in plain words just how the Body is formed;
although we might deduce this from Ephesians 4: 4, where we read: "There is one
Body and one Spirit." Undoubtedly this refers to the baptism of the Holy Spirit,
by which the Body is formed, in contradistinction to water baptism in the next
verse. But this is simply interpretation, and all might not agree as to
it. But there can surely be no question as to the application of the
passage in 1 Corinthians 12: 13. Yet, singularly enough, the very people
who insist that the Body is formed by the Spirit's baptism, declare that these
Corinthians were not members of the Body, nor did that Body come into existence
until at least four or five years afterwards.
A careful reading of the book of Acts shows us the gradual manner in which the
truth of the new dispensation was introduced, and this is what has led some to
speak of this book as covering a transitional period. Personally, I have
no objection to the term "transitional period," if it be understood that the
transition was in the minds of men and not in the mind of God. According
to God, the new dispensation, that in which we now live, the dispensation of the
grace of God, otherwise called the dispensation of the mystery, began the moment
the Spirit descended at Pentecost. That moment the one Body came into
existence, though at the beginning it was composed entirely of believers taken
out from the Jewish people. But in the minds even of the disciples, there
was a long period before they all fully entered into the special work that God
had begun to do. Many of them, in fact, probably never did apprehend the
true character of this dispensation, as we shall see further on.
The position is often taken that the twelve apostles were very ignorant of what
the Lord was really doing, and that their entire ministry was toward Israel.
Have not such teachers forgotten that during the forty days that the Lord
appeared to His disciples before ascending to Heaven, He taught them exactly
what His program was, and the part they were to have in it? In Acts 1: 3,
4, we read:
"He also showed Himself alive after His
passion by many in fallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and
speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: and being assem
bled together with them, commanded them that they should no; depart from
Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith He, ye have
heard of Me."
And it was then that He distinctly told them of the coming baptism of the Holy
Spirit. According to the divine plan, the Gospel message was first to be
proclaimed in Jerusalem,, then Judea, then Samaria, and then unto the uttermost
parts of the earth. This is exactly what we find in the book of Acts.
The earlier chapters give us the proclamation in Jerusalem and Judea. Then
we have Philip going down to Samaria, followed by John and Peter. Later
Peter goes to the house of Cornelius, and he and his household, believing the
Gospel, are baptized by the same Spirit into the same Body. The conversion
of Saul of Tarsus prepares the way for a world-wide ministry, he being
specifically chosen of God for that testimony.
But before Saul's conversion, there were churches of God in many cities, and
these churches of God together formed the Church of God; churches signifying
local companies, but the Church of God taking in all believers. Years
afterwards, Paul writes, "I persecuted the Church of God and wasted it" (Gal. 1:
13). And again, "For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to
be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God" (I Cor. 15: 9).
The Church of God was to him one whole. It was exactly the same Church of
God as that of which he speaks in 1 Timothy 3: 15, when, writing to the younger
preacher, he says: "That thou mightest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself
'in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and
ground of the truth." In the meantime he had been cast into prison and had
written all the rest of the so-called prison epistles, with the exception, of
course, of Titus, which was written while he was at liberty, between his
imprisonments, and 2 Timothy, which was written during his second imprisonment.*
(* I make this statement on the supposition that the note at the end of I
Timothy is correct, namely that the epistle was written from Laodicea, a place
not visited by Paul before his first imprisonment. If written earlier the
argument does not apply, except to show that Paul ever recognized the Church of
God as one and undivided.)
There is no hint of any difference having come in to distinguish the Church of
God which he says he persecuted, from the Church of God in which Timothy was
recognized as a minister of the Word. It is one and the same Church
Going back to Acts then, we notice that after his conversion, Paul is definitely
set apart as the apostle to the Gentiles, and yet everywhere he goes, he first
seeks out his Jewish brethren after the flesh, because it was God's purpose that
the Gospel should be made known to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile.
In practically every city, the same results follow. A few of the Jews
receive the message; the bulk of them reject it. Then Paul turns from the
Jews to the Gentiles, and thus the message goes out to the whole world.
Throughout all of this period, covered by the ministries of Peter and Paul
particularly, both baptism in water and the breaking of bread have their place.
The signs of an apostle follow the ministry, God authenticating His Word as His
servants go forth in His Name. However, it is perfectly plain that the
nearer we get to the close of the Acts, the less we have in the way of signs and
wonders. This is to be expected. In the meantime various books of
the New Testament had been written, particularly Paul's letters to the
Thessalonians, the Corinthians, and the Romans. In all likelihood, the
Epistle of James had also been produced, though we cannot definitely locate the
time of its writing. The Epistles of Peter and of John come afterward.
They were not part of the earlier written ministry.
Everywhere that Paul goes, he preaches the kingdom as the Lord Himself has
commanded, and finally he reached Rome a prisoner. There, following his
usual custom, though not having the same liberty as in other places, he gets in
touch first with the leaders of the Jewish people, gives them his message, and
then tells them that even though they reject it, yet the purpose of God must be
carried out, and the salvation of God sent to the Gentiles. This is
supposed by many to be a dispensational break, but we have exactly the same
thing in the thirteenth chapter of Acts. There we read from verse 44 on,
how the Jews in Antioch of Pisidia withstood the Word spoken by Paul, and Paul
and Barnabas waxed bold, and said:
"It was necessary that the word of God
should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and
judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.
For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set Thee to be a light of
the Gentiles, that Thou shouldest be or salvation unto the ends of the
I ask any thoughtful reader: What difference is there between this account of
Paul's dealing with the Jews, the proclamation of grace going out to the
Gentiles, and that found in chapter 28 of this same book? In the light of
these two passages, may we not say that if Paul was given liberty, as we know he
was, to preach for several years after his first imprisonment, he undoubtedly
still followed exactly the same method of proclaiming the Gospel to the Jew
first, and then to the Gentiles? It is passing strange that these
ultra-dispensationalists can overlook a passage like Acts 13, and then read so
much into the similar portion in chapter 28. According to them, as we have
pointed out, the dispensational break occurred at this latter time, after which
Paul's ministry, they tell us, took an entirely different form. It was
then that the dispensation of the mystery was revealed to him, they say, which
he embodied in his prison epistles. He was no longer a preacher of the
kingdom, but now a minister of the Body. The theory sounds very plausible
until one examines the text of Scripture itself.
Let us look at the last two verses of Acts 28:
"And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own
hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom
of God and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with
all confidence, no man forbidding him."
Now observe in chapter one, verse three, our Lord is said to have spoken to His
disciples during the forty days of "the things pertaining to the kingdom of
God." In the very last verse of the book, after Paul's supposed later
revelation, he is still "preaching the kingdom of God;" certainly the next
phrase, "teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ," implies
continuance in exactly the same type of ministry in which he had been engaged
before. There is no hint here of something new.
Now let us go back a little. In chapter 20 of the book of Acts, we find
the apostle Paul at Miletus on his way to Jerusalem. From there he sent to
Ephesus for the elders of the church. We have a very touching account of
his last interview with them. Among other things, he says to them:
"I have not shunned to declare unto you all
the counsel of God. Take heed unto yourselves and to all the flock
over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of God
which He hath purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:27,28).
And then he commends these elders in view of the coming apostasy, not to some
new revelation yet to be given, but "to God and the word of His grace, which is
able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all them that are
sanctified." Note particularly the breadth of the statement found in verse 27.
"All the counsel of God" had already been made known through Paul to the
Ephesian elders before he went up to Jerusalem for the last time. There is
not a hint of a partial revelation, not a hint of a transitional period, but
they already had everything they needed to keep them until the coming of the
Lord Jesus Christ.
I venture to say that the better one is acquainted with the book of Acts, the
clearer all this will become. It is truly absurd to attempt to make two
Churches out of the redeemed company between Pentecost and the Lord's return.
The Church is one and indivisible. It is the Church that Christ built upon
the rock, namely the truth that He is the Son of the living God. It is the
Church of God which He purchased with the blood of His own Son. That
Church of God, Saul in his ignorance, persecuted. Of that same Church of
God, he afterwards became a member through the Spirit's baptism. In that
Church of God, Timothy was a recognized minister, not only before, but after
In regard to the statement so frequently made that God was giving Israel a
second chance throughout the book of Acts, it is evident that there is no
foundation whatever for such a statement. Our Lord definitely declared the
setting aside of Israel for this entire age when He said, "Your house is left
unto you desolate. Ye shall not see Me again until ye say, Blessed is He
that cometh in the name of the Lord!" It was after that house was left desolate
that the glorious proclamation at Pentecost was given through the power of the
Holy Spirit, offering salvation by grace to any in Israel who repented, and to
as many as the Lord our God shall call, which, of course, includes the whole
Gentile world. Not once in any of the sermons recorded of Peter and of
Paul do we have a hint that the nation of Israel is still on trial, and that God
is waiting for that nation to repent in this age. On the contrary, the
very fact that believers are called upon to "save themselves from that untoward
generation" is evidence of the complete setting aside of Israel nationally, and
the calling out of a select company of those who acknowledge the claims of the
Lord Jesus Christ. By their baptism, they outwardly severed the link that
bound them to the unbelieving nation, and thus came over onto Christian ground.
To this company, Gentile believers were later added, and these two together
constitute the Body of Christ. It is perfectly true that the Body as such
is not mentioned in the book of Acts, and that for a very good reason. In
this book, we have the record of the beginning of the evangelization of the
world, which involves, of course, not the revelation of the truth of the Body,
but the proclamation of the kingdom of God, which none can enter apart from the
A careful study of the epistles, taking particular note of the times at which,
and the persons to whom, they were written. will only serve to make these things
When Was the Revelation of the Mystery of the One Body Given?
IT IS contended by Bullingerites, and others of like ilk, that Paul did not
receive the revelation of the mystery of the one Body until he was imprisoned in
Rome, 63 A. D. Generally, too, the ground is taken that this revelation was
given to him alone, and that the twelve knew nothing of it. Let us see if
these assertions will stand the test of Holy Scripture.
We shall turn, first of all, directly to the writings of the apostle Paul, and
examine the passages in which he refers to this subject. The first one is
found in the Epistle to the Romans which was written, according to the best
authorities, in the year A. D. 60, at least three years before Paul's
imprisonment, and certainly some time before he reached Rome, as in that letter
he tells the Romans that he is contemplating the visit to them, and asks them to
pray that it might be a prosperous one. It might seem as though his prayer
was not answered inasmuch as he reached Rome in chains, a prisoner for the
Gospel's sake. But God's ways are not ours, and we can be sure that in the
light of eternity, we shall see that this was indeed one of the most prosperous
voyages that anyone ever made. Now in closing this epistle to the Romans,
the apostle says in chapter 16, verses 25 to 2 7:
"Now to Him that is of power to stablish
you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to
the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,
but now is made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according
to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the
obedience of faith: to God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for
Here we have the plain statement that Paul's
preaching throughout the years had been in accordance with the revelation of the
mystery previously kept secret, but at that time made manifest. Moreover,
he intimates that it had been already published abroad in writing, for he says,
"It is made manifest (not exactly by the Scriptures of the prophets, as though
he referred to Old Testament prophets, but) by prophetic writings," that is, his
own and others. And this proclamation of the mystery had been made known
to all nations for the obedience of faith.
Does anyone ask, How can any ultra-dispensationalist dare to say in the face of
such a Scripture as this, that the mystery had not been made known and had not
been previously preached before Paul was imprisoned at Rome? If a simple
believing Christian, he will probably be amazed at the answer. Dr.
Bullinger and others who follow him suggest that in all likelihood the last
three verses of the Epistle to the Romans were not written by Paul when he sent
the letter from some distant Gentile city, but that they were appended to the
letter after he reached Rome and received the new revelation. Is this
unbelievable? Nevertheless, it is exactly what these men teach. It
is higher criticism of the worst type and impugns the perfection of the Word of
God. For, even supposing their contentions were true, how absurd it would
be for Paul to add these words after he reached Rome, to an epistle purporting
to be written before he got there! And how senseless it would be for him
to speak while he was in prison, of a Gospel and a revelation which he was
supposed to have preached in all the world, if he had never yet begun that
proclamation. Needless to say, the contention of Dr. Bullinger is an
absolute fabrication. It is the special pleading of a hard-driven
controversialist, bound to maintain his unscriptural system at all costs, even
to destroying the unity of the Word of God.
Error is never consistent, and even the astute Bullinger has overlooked the fact
that earlier in this very epistle, Paul declares the truth of the one Body just
as clearly and definitely as he does in Ephesians or any later letter.
Notice particularly Romans 12: 4, 5:
"For as we have many members in one body,
and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in
Christ, and everyone members one of another."
Could we have a clearer declaration than this of the truth of the mystery?
What ultra-dispensationalist will dare to say that this passage is an
interpolation added in after years in order to make Romans fit with Ephesians?
God's Word is perfect and always exact. These unspiritual theorists
invariably overtook something that completely destroys their unscriptural
When then did Paul get this revelation of the truth of the one Body? He
tells us he had been preaching it throughout the world among all nations.
The answer clearly is, he received it at the time of his conversion, when he
cried in amazement, "Who art Thou, Lord?" and the glorified Saviour answered, "I
am Jesus whom thou persecutest." This was the revelation of the mystery.
In that announcement our Lord declared that every Christian on earth is so
indissolubly linked up with Him as the glorified Head in Heaven, that everything
done against one of them is felt by the Head. This is, the mystery-members
of His Body, of His flesh, and of His bones.
And moreover, this is in exact accord with certain statements elsewhere made in
the book of Acts. For instance, in chapter 5, verse 14, we read:
"And believers were the more added to the
Lord, multitudes both of men and women."
This was before Paul's conversion. Observe it does not simply say that
they were added to the company of believers, nor even added to the assembly
alone, but they were added to the Lord. This is only by the baptism of the
Holy Spirit. Quite in keeping with this, when we turn to chapter 11:
22-24, we read concerning the character and ministry of Barnabas that,
"He was a good man, and full of the Holy
Ghost, and of faith: and much people were added unto the Lord."
Now no one was ever added to the Lord in any other way than by the baptism of
the Holy Spirit. So that clearly we have the Body of Christ here in the
Acts, although the term itself is not used.
When we turn to 1 Corinthians, the only epistle which gives us divine order for
the regulation of the affairs of the churches of God here on earth, we have the
plain statement of this mystery as we have already seen, in chapter 12: 12-14.
"For as the body is one, and hath many
members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so
also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one Body,
whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been
all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but
It is absurd to say, as these ecclesiastical hobby-riders do, that the Body
referred to here is not the same thing as the Body of Ephesians and Colossians.
It is a Body made up of those who formerly were Jews or Gentiles, bond or free,
but are now all one in Christ. And this Body has been formed by the
baptism of the Holy Spirit. In no other way was the Body of Christ brought
into existence. Objection has been raised that when the apostle goes on to
apply practically the truth of our responsibility as members of the Body in our
relation to each other, he uses the illustration of the eye and ear as members
of the head, which, they tell us, he could not use if he thought of Christ as
the Head of the Body, and was thinking of believers as one Body with Him.
But he tells us distinctly in the previous chapter that the Head of every man is
Christ. This could only be said of those who were linked with Him in this
hallowed fellowship and members of this divine organism. The great
difference, of course, between the Body as presented in Corinthians and as in
Ephesians is this: the Body in Ephesians embraces all saints living or dead as
to the flesh, from Pentecost to the Rapture, whereas the Body in Corinthians
embraces all saints upon the earth at any given time. Seen thus in the
place of responsibility, it is quite in keeping that the apostle should use the
illustration that he does. It is in vain for these
ultra-dispensationalists to fight against responsibility.
Recently I overheard a leader among them make this statement: "Whenever you get
commandments of any kind, you are on Jewish ground, and you have given up
grace." Yet in every epistle of the New Testament, we have commandments and
exhortations insisting upon the believer's responsibility to recognize the
government of God in this way. Grace and government are not opposing
principles, but are intimately linked together. He who refuses the truth
of responsibility does not thereby magnify grace, but rather is in danger of
turning the grace of God into lasciviousness and becomes practically an
antinomian, throwing off all restraint, professing to be saved by grace, but
refusing to recognize the claims of Christ.
Coming back then to consider the passage in I Corinthians, we have the truth of
the Body clearly set forth, and are shown how it was brought into existence in a
letter written at least four years before Paul's imprisonment; and he writes
that letter to a group of believers who had been brought to a knowledge of
Christ through his preaching some years before. To them he says in verses
2 6, 2 7:
"And whether one member suffer, all the
members suffer with it, or one member be honored, all the members rejoice
with it. Now ye are the Body of Christ, and members in particular."
Verse 26 only emphasizes what we have referred to above, that here we have the
Body in the place of responsibility on earth. Members in Heaven do not
suffer. All members on earth do. But it is objected again that in the
Greek there is no definite article before the word "body," and therefore the
passage should simply read, "Now ye are a Body of Christ," and so we are told
this refers only to a local church. This does not touch the question.
Every local church in apostolic days was the Body of Christ representatively in
that place. It would be so today if it were not for the fact that so many
unsaved people have been received into the membership of the local churches.
According to the Word of God, there was only the one Body, and in any city where
the Gospel had been preached and believed, that Body could be found as a local
When we pass on to 2 Corinthians, we find the same precious truth ministered by
the apostle long before he was imprisoned at Rome. He tells us, in chapter
"Wherefore henceforth know we no man after
the flesh: yea though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now
henceforth know we Him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he
is a new creature (or literally, this is a new creation): old things are
passed away; behold, all things are become new."
Could words more plainly set forth the truth of the mystery than these?
Old relationships ended and every believer brought into a new place altogether
before God, and a new condition, so that Christ is now his Head, and he a member
of the new creation. And this was part of the preaching that the apostle
had been declaring wherever he went during all the years of his ministry.
We turn next to Galatians, a letter written, according to the best authority we
have, a year earlier than Corinthians, and the ultra-dispensationalists are very
sure that when Paul speaks of being baptized into Christ in this letter, there
can be no reference to water baptism, but that he refers solely to the baptism
of the Holy Spirit. I am not in agreement with them on this; but allowing
for the moment that they are correct, then notice where it puts their theory.
Note carefully chapter 3: 26-29:
"For ye are all the children (sons) of God
by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized
into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there
is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all
one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's then are ye Abraham's seed,
and heirs according to the promise."
Here again we are distinctly told that all the children of faith, Abraham's seed
spiritually, are sons of God, and that all such as have been baptized into
Christ have put on Christ, and that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek,
nor any of the other distinctions according to nature, but all are one in Him.
Is there anything in the revelation of the mystery as given in Ephesians or
Colossians that goes beyond this? It is a clear definite statement of the
absolute unity in Christ of those who before their conversion occupied different
positions here on earth, some being Jews, some Gentiles, some free men, some
slaves, some men, some women, but every distinction now obliterated in the new
If any are foolish enough to object, as some have, that Abraham's seed is
altogether different from the Body of Christ, then we turn to Ephesians itself,
the epistle which they claim, above all others supports their unscriptural
theory, and find their entire position is there completely disallowed. In
the first chapter of this glorious epistle, the apostle reminds the Ephesians of
things that they have learned through his ministry in days gone by. There
is no hint that he is opening up to them something new, but he simply puts down
in writing for permanent use, precious things already dear to them. He
reminds them that they have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in the
heavenlies in Christ; that they have been chosen in Him before the foundation of
the world in order that they might be holy and without blame before Him; that in
love, He has predestinated them unto the place of sons by Christ Jesus, having
taken them into favor in the Beloved. Theirs is redemption through His
blood, sins all forgiven according to the riches of I-Iis grace, and to them He
has abounded in all wisdom and prudence, having made known the mystery of His
will according to His good pleasure, which He hath purposed in Himself (see
vers. 3-9). He points them on to the full consummation of this mystery
when in the administration of the completed seasons, that is, the last
dispensation, He will head up in one all things in Christ, both heavenly and
earthly, and He reminds them that we have already obtained an inheritance in
Him, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things
according to the counsel of His own will. We need to notice the pronouns
used in verses 12 and 13. He first speaks of converts from Israel, when he
says, "That we should be to the praise of His glory, who first trusted in
Christ." Then he refers to the Gentiles, such as these Ephesians had been, when
in the next verse he says:
"In whom ye also trusted, after that ye
heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after
that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise which is
the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased
possession, unto the praise of His glory."
Now observe carefully, he is far from intimating that he is at this time
unveiling something of which they bad never heard before. He carries them
back in memory to the hour of their conversion, and declares that these things
were true of them then. And, because of this, he prays that they may have
deeper understanding, not of new truth about to be revealed, but of blessed and
wonderful things already made known. In the second chapter, he deals
specifically with the new creation, reminding them in verse 12 that they in time
past were Gentiles who were called uncircumcision, and were in themselves
without Christ and aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the
covenants of promise, having no hope and literally atheists in the world.
But now they have been made nigh by the blood of Christ. The result is
that they became members of that same Body into which their converted Jewish
brethren had already been assimilated. Notice carefully verses 14-18:
"For He is our peace, who hath made both
one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us: having
abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments, contained
in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
and that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having
slain the enmity thereby: and came and preached peace to you which were afar
off, and to them that were nigh. For through Him we both have access
by one Spirit unto the Father."
The distinction between Jew and Gentile was abolished in ,the cross, not after
Paul's imprisonment in Rome. From that time on all who believed were
brought into the Body of Christ through the one Spirit of verse 18. What
were the means used to effect this? The preaching recorded in the book of
Acts, for it is only that to which he can possibly refer, when he says (vers.
"That He might reconcile both unto God in
one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby, and came and
preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh."
It was necessary that the message should first go to them that were nigh, as it
did in the early chapters of Acts, and then to those that were afar off; but the
result of that preaching was that all who believed were reconciled to God in one
In the last four verses of the chapter he shows the unity of the Church from the
beginning. The Church is the household of God. It is also a great
building, and he declares:
"Now therefore ye are no more strangers and
foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of
God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (New
Testament prophets, of course), Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner
stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth (note the
tense; it is not yet completed, it is still in process of construction, but
it is growing) unto an holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are builded
together for an habitation of God through the Spirit."
How blind must he be who can see in such a passage as this, disassociation of
the Ephesian saints from the work which God began at Pentecost! They are builded
into the same temple and rest upon the same foundation.
This is made even clearer in the next chapter, where Paul gives us probably the
fullest information concerning the one Body that we have anywhere in the New
Testament, and, therefore, we must devote considerable time and space to it.
First, he tells us that he was a prisoner of Jesus Christ because of the
Gentiles, and he explains that in the next few verses. It was his devotion
to the revelation of the mystery which is part of the dispensation of the grace
of God, that resulted in his imprisonment. He did not get this
dispensation after he was in prison. Then he insists that this revelation
was not made in previous ages unto the sons of men, that is, it was not made
known in Old Testament times. But he tells us it is "now revealed unto His
holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit." Now if I believed in over-emphasis as
some do, I should like to print these words in very bold type, but to do so
would be an insult to the intelligence of my readers. I simply desire to
ask their most careful attention to these words. The Bullingerites tell us
that the mystery was only made known to the apostle Paul, not to other apostles.
The apostle himself tells us here that "it is now revealed unto His holy
apostles and prophets." Note not only the plural, but that others besides
apostles had this revelation. How utterly absurd would words like these be
if he were referring to something that had just been secretly made known to him!
But is it true that other apostles and prophets had already known if the
mystery? It is. This he declares in these words. What is that
mystery? Verse six is the answer.
"That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs,
and of the same Body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel."
Thus they too become Abraham's seed, because they are children of faith.
The mystery then is not simply centered in the term "Body," but whatever
expression may be used, the mystery is that during the present age all
distinction between believing Jews and believing Gentiles is done away in
Christ. Was this mystery made known by other servants besides the apostle
Paul? It was. The apostle John makes it known in his account of our
Lord's ministry as given in the tenth chapter of his Gospel. There we read
that the Lord Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, entered into the sheepfold of Judaism
to lead His own out into glorious liberty. And cryptically He adds,
"Other sheep I have which are not of this
fold. Them also I must bring, and there shall be one flock and one
This is perhaps the earliest intimation of the mystery that we have. It
was not committed to writing, of course, until some years after the epistle to
the Ephesians was written. But it shows us that John, as an apostle of the
Lord Jesus Christ, had received the revelation of the mystery even before the
apostle Paul did.
Then what of the apostle Peter? We dare to say this same mystery was made
known to him on the housetop of Simon's residence in Joppa, when he had the
vision of the descending sheet from Heaven and saw in it all manner of beasts
and creeping things, and heard the word from Heaven,
"What God hath cleansed call thou not
common," or unclean. or
This was to him an intimation that in Christ the distinction between Jew and
Gentile was henceforth to be done away, and he makes it perfectly clear that
this was his conviction when he stood up to preach in the household of Cornelius
(Acts 10: 34 to end). Moreover, his epistles emphasize the same fact,
though not in the full way that those of the apostle Paul do. John and
Peter are apostles. Are there any prophets who give evidence of having in
measure at least understood this truth? The greatest of all the New
Testament prophets is Luke himself, and in his book of the Acts, the mystery is
plainly made known, though not taught doctrinally. We see God working in
grace to unite Jew and Gentile into one Body.
Turning back to Ephesians three, we find in verse seven that the apostle tells
us that he was made a minister according to the gift of the grace of God for the
very purpose of making known this mystery. He says in verses eight and
"Unto me, who am less than the least of all
saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the
unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the
fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been
bid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ."
This had been his great responsibility throughout the years. Because of
this, he had suffered bitter persecution, on account of which he was even then
in prison, but he is the more concerned that after his death there should be
left on record such a full statement of this truth that no one could lose sight
Further Examination of the Epistles
PASSING over for the present the Apostle Paul's presentation of the sevenfold
unity of Christianity in Ephesians 4, and his identification of the Body and the
Bride in chapter 5, which we shall discuss later, we turn now to others of the
prison epistles to see if we can find the slightest intimation of a new
revelation given after Paul reached Rome. Unquestionably, Philippians was
written during the Roman imprisonment. But we search its four precious
chapters in vain for the least suggestion that he has received anything new to
unfold. In chapter 1, where he presents Christ as the believer's life, he
shows how thoroughly the evangelistic spirit had taken possession of him, so
that even in his prison-cell he was rejoicing that Christ was being preached
whether in pretence or in truth, and his own desire is that this same Christ may
ever be magnified in his body, whether in life or in ,death. He urges the
saints to stand fast in one spirit contending for the very faith which he had
already made known to them. There is not a hint that he has now something
new to reveal; that is, that the old dispensation to which they had hitherto
belonged had come to a close, and that a new one had begun. In chapter 2
he dwells on Christ as our Example, and shows how he himself and Timothy and
Epaphroditus during the years had sought to follow in Christ's steps, and this
is still before his soul. In the third chapter he recounts his past
experiences and self-confidence in the old days before be was saved, and then
shows how the change was brought about by a sight of the risen Christ.
From that moment on, he counted all things as loss for the One who had won his
heart, and he was pressing on toward the mark for the prize of the calling of
God on high in Christ Jesus. He calls upon them whom he designates as
"perfect" to be thus minded. "Perfect" here means "mature," or we might
even say well-rounded, or well-balanced. Nothing is needed to give them
this perfection in addition to what they already had. Surely, if anywhere,
this was the place to show them that hitherto they were but babes, and had only
received an initial revelation, but that now he had something for them of an
altogether new character which would perfect them in Christ. But there is
no word of any such added truth. Nor yet in the last chapter where he
exhorts to unity and peace among themselves. May we not say that Paul is
singularly remiss in not sharing with his old converts at Philippi the new
revelation he had received, if such a thing were really true?
But it was not true:-all the reasoning of the ultra-dispensationalists to the
contrary notwithstanding;-for when we turn over to Colossians we find him once
more reiterating the same truths he had proclaimed for a generation. He
shows that two ministries had been committed to him from the first. He had
been made a minister of the Gospel. That Gospel has been preached in all
the creation which is under heaven. He had also been made a minister of
"the mystery which hath been hidden from ages and generations, but now," he
says, "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 (or,
among) you, the hope of glory: whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching
every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:
whereunto I also labor, striving according to His working, which worketh in me
mightily" (Col. 1: 26-29).
Let it be carefully observed that he is here covering his entire ministry.
He had no such opportunity to preach to multitudes while he was in his Roman, or
as some think, his Caesarean prison at the time he wrote this epistle. But he
tells us what had characterized his ministry throughout the years. Other
saints there were whom he had not met personally, as well as those at Colosse.
He thinks of the Laodicean believers, and he longs that they all may be brought
into the knowledge of this mystery. But it is not something new. It
is that which has ever characterized his teaching.
The Epistle of Titus is not of course a prison epistle at all, but it was
written later than any of those that are so designated, excepting Second
Timothy. In this letter Paul instructs the younger preacher, Titus, as to
the divine order for local churches, the work of a true pastor, and the
testimony committed to the servants of God. Surely here, if anywhere, we
should expect him to put before Titus the fact that the "transitional period"
has now come to an end and Titus must ring the changes as the
ultra-dispensationalists do to-day, on "body truth," "closed doors," "Jewish
Gospels," "Kingdom Age," etc., etc., ad nauseam. But, no; none of these
terms so frequently used and played upon until one is wearied, are suggested to
Titus. He is simply to go on preaching and teaching the very same things
that have been taught during his earlier association with the Apostle Paul.
The brief letter to Philemon we may pass over, as we would hardly expect to find
anything doctrinal in it; and yet even here if Paul's heart were throbbing with
the joy of some absolutely new opening up of truth, we would almost wonder how
be could help saying a word about it, at least to his friend Philemon.
Hebrews was undoubtedly written very shortly before the apostle's martyrdom,
granting that it is from the pen of Paul. That this is so, I have tried to
make clear in my book on the Epistle to the Hebrews, and I shall not attempt to
go into it now. But in any case, it was undoubtedly written very shortly
before the destruction of Jerusalem, and here if anywhere, one might expect
these Hebrew believers to be told that the "kingdom age" is now over, "the
transition period" has now been finished, and it is for them to accept the new
revelation of "body truth." But we search in vain for anything of the kind.
It is simply a normal presentation of the precious things of Christ, showing how
completely Old Testament types have had their fulfilment in Him and His finished
work, and that all who believe now come under the blessings of the new covenant.
Probably later than Hebrews is the second letter to Timothy. It was penned
during Paul's second imprisonment, very shortly before his death. As this
occurred in A. D. 66 or 67, we may see how far along we have come and still no
mention of any new revelation. So far as the truth that is dealt with is
concerned, Second Timothy might have been written any time before the first
imprisonment. It is in perfect harmony with all the apostle's previous
But now there are other Epistles to be considered. We have already seen
that Paul makes no claim to being the sole depository of the revelation of the
mystery. He says it was made known to Christ's holy apostles and prophets
by the Spirit, and so we turn to consider the writings of other apostles and
prophets asking, "Have we in them any intimation of a new revelation after Paul
went to Rome?"
We may dismiss the Epistle of James as not touching on this question. It
is addressed definitely to the twelve tribes scattered abroad, and is God's last
word, as it were, to those of Israel who were still more or less linked in
spirit to the synagogue. Bullingerites generally tell us that James was
the first epistle to be written but this is absurd on the face of it. It
is quite evident that James is a corrective epistle. It must have been
written after the doctrine of justification by faith, as proclaimed by Paul, had
been widely preached, for James writes to check those who were abusing that
doctrine and using it as an occasion for the flesh. No one can read
chapter 2 thoughtfully without seeing that it is based upon, and has in view
throughout, Paul's teaching in Romans 4. James does not contradict Paul in the
slightest degree, but he does show that there is another justification than that
of which Paul speaks. The great apostle to the Gentiles deals particularly
with justification by faith before God. James, the apostle to the twelve
tribes, emphasizes justification by works before men.
First Peter was probably written before Paul's second imprisonment. Second
Peter was certainly written afterwards, and all of Paul's letters were already
in circulation when this epistle was penned. Note Peter's own words: "And
account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved
brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some
things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest,
as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction" (2 Pet. 3: 15,
16). It is impossible to understand these verses excepting in the light of
the fact that all the Epistles of Paul were already in circulation. Does
Peter then tell us that a new dispensation had come in, and that the middle wall
between Jew and Gentile having now for the first time been broken down and the
one Body formed, the believers to whom he writes, who were of Jewish extraction,
are to recognize this new revelation? Not at all. Peter has never
heard of any such thing. He puts Paul's writings on the same plane as the
other Scriptures, but warns against the danger of misunderstanding, and so
Long years after all the other apostles had gone home to heaven, we find the
aged John still preserved in life and caring for the churches of God.
According to apparently reliable Church History, he made his home in Ephesus,
and moved about in old age among the other churches mentioned in the first three
chapters of the Book of the Revelation, those churches which the Bullingerites
declare never existed in the past but are still to arise as Jewish Assemblies in
the Great Tribulation! Could anything be much more grotesque?
John's Epistles were written, according to the very best authority we have, some
time in the last decade of the first century of the Christian era. Weigh
this well. Paul had been in heaven for nearly thirty years. John was
an inspired apostle, and surely would know, if any one did, of the new
revelation and its importance. But we search his letters in vain for the
least reference to anything of the kind. In fact, we find the very
opposite. False teaching had come in, and he writes to garrison the hearts
of the saints against it. In order to do this, he refers them back to that
which was from the beginning, namely, to the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ
Himself and His apostles, as a careful reading of his first Epistle makes
abundantly clear. There is not the slightest basis for the thought that a
fuller unfolding of truth had been vouchsafed to Paul and others about thirty
years after Christ's ascension. It is the message that they had heard from
the beginning which he again commends to them.
Let us imagine the late Dr. Bullinger, or some of his lesser satellites, living,
not in the twentieth century, but in the closing days of the first century of
the Christian era. Filled with their ideas of a new revelation given to Paul in
prison, can you by any stretch of the imagination think of them writing epistles
or treatises in which no reference whatever is made to the supposedly new
doctrines? The fact of the matter is that these men today can scarcely
open their mouths without speaking of these things. No matter what text
they begin to expound, they almost invariably wind up with something about their
system of rightly dividing the Word of Truth, and the importance of making the
fine distinctions which they imagine they see in the Word. Yet inspired
men like Peter and John, and without particularly going into it, we may add
Jude, can expound and apply the Truth of God in the fullest possible way without
any reference to anything of the kind. What is the only legitimate
conclusion? It is that this whole ultra-dispensational system is an idle
dream unsupported by the testimony of the inspired writings.
Error is never consistent. It always over-emphasizes some point generally
unimportant and fails to recognize other things of great importance.
Heresy is simply a school of opinion in which something is particularly pressed
out of proportion to its logical place. Who would dare to say that this
system we have been attempting to refute is not therefore heretical? Mark,
I do not mean to class it with what Peter calls "damnable heresies," but it is
certainly schismatic, and its votaries constitute a special school of opinion
within the professed Church of God, a school that attaches great importance to
something which after all is not evident to the vast majority of devoted and
godly believers. That the effect of this can only be division and harmful,
is not only self-evident, but has been abundantly manifest in many places.
The Holy Spirit says, "A man that is an heretick after the first and second
admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being
condemned of himself" (Titus 3: 10, 11). This is as certainly the Word of
God as anything else revealed in the Scripture of Truth.
Is the Church the Bride of the Lamb?
ONE of the first positions generally taken by the ultra-dispensationalists is
that it is unthinkable that the Church should be the Body of Christ, and yet at
the same time be identified with the Bride of the Lamb. They insist that
there is a mixing of figures here which is utterly untenable. How, they
ask with scorn, could the Church be both the Bride and a part of the Body of the
Bridegroom? Some even go farther and suggest that Christians who all down
through the centuries have had no difficulty as to the two figures (recognizing
the fact that they are figures, and therefore that there need be no confusion in
thought when it comes to harmonizing both), are actually guilty of charging
Deity with spiritual polygamy! I would not put such an abominable thought
in writing, but it is their own expression which I have heard again and again.
They point out, what all Bible students readily admit, that in the Old
Testament, Israel is called the bride and the wife of Jehovah. "Then,"
they exclaim, "how can the Lord have two wives without being guilty of the very
thing that He Himself condemns in His creatures here on earth?"
In view of such absurd deductions, it will be necessary to examine with some
care just how these figures are used. In the first place, we find God
using a number of different figurative expressions in speaking of Israel.
He declares Himself to be their Father, that is, the Father of the nation, and
Israel is called His son. "Out of Egypt have I called My son" (Hosea 11:
1), and, "Let My son go, that be may serve Ale" (Exod. 4: 23). In other
places similar expressions are used, and yet the prophets again and again speak
of Israel as the wife of Jehovah, and the later prophets depict her as a
divorced wife because of her unfaithfulness, some day to be received back again,
when she has been purged from her sins. But it is important to see that a
divorced wife can never again be a bride, even though she may be forgiven and
restored to her wifely estate. What incongruity do we have here if we are
to interpret Scripture on the principle of the Bullingerites. Here is a
son who is also a wife. What utter absurdity!
Then again we have Israel depicted as a vine. "God brought a vine out of
Egypt" (Ps. 80: 8), and, "Israel is an empty vine; he bringeth forth fruit for
himself" (Hosea 10: 1). In many other places, the same figure is used.
Elsewhere we have this favored nation spoken of as the priests of the Lord,
occupying a special position throughout all the millennium, as though they were
intermediaries between the Gentiles and Jehovah Himself. Other similitudes
are used, but these are enough to show that there is no attempt made in
Scripture to harmonize every figure. Each one is used as suits God's
purpose for the moment. So the nation which at one time is viewed as a son
is seen on another occasion as a vine, and elsewhere as a wife, and again as a
nation of priests.
This being so in connection with Israel, why need we be surprised if a similar
diversity of terms is used in connection with the Church? When our Lord
first introduces the subject of the new order, He speaks of the Church as a
building: "Upon this rock I will build My Church" (Matt. 16:18). The apostle
Paul views the Church in the same way in 1 Corinthians 3: 9, 10), "I have laid
the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. Ye are God's building."
Again in Ephesians 2: 19-22: "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and
foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God:
and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ
Himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed
together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded
together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." In regard to this
passage, please take note that if the Bullingerites are correct, we have here a
building suspended in the air with a great gap between the foundation and the
superstructure; for this building is said to rest upon the foundation of the
apostles and prophets, but according to the views of those we are discussing, we
must separate in a very definite way the New Testament apostles and prophets of
the book of Acts from the Ephesian church, which is supposed to be a different
company altogether. The absurdity of this becomes the more apparent as we
see how we would have to do damage to the picture of the building as used here
by the apostle Paul. The fact is the Church of Acts and that of the prison
epistles is one and indivisible. In I Timothy 3: 15, he speaks of "the
house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of
the truth." The apostle Peter looks at the Church in exactly the same way, as a
company of living stones built upon the Living Stone, our Lord Jesus Christ (1
Pet. 2: 5).
We have already seen that the figure of the Body is used in a number of Paul's
writings, not only in the prison Epistles, but in Romans and 1 Corinthians, to
set forth the intimate relationship subsisting between Christ in glory and His
people on earth, whereas the house expresses stability, and tells us that the
Church is a dwelling place for God in this world, as the temple was of old.
The Body speaks of union with Christ, by the indwelling Spirit. But Paul
sees no incongruity whatever in changing the figure from that of the Body to the
Bride. In the fifth chapter of Ephesians he glides readily from one to the
other, and no violence whatever is done to either view. He shows us that a
man's wife is to be regarded as his own body. And in the latter part of
that chapter, where he goes back to the marriage relationship as originally
established by God, he says:
"Therefore as the Church is subject unto
Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave
Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of
water by the Word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church,
not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy
and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own
bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated
his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the
Church: for we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined
unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great
mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church. Nevertheless
let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself: and the
wife see that she reverence her husband" (vers. 24-33).
Surely nothing could be plainer than that we are to understand the relationship
of Adam and Eve at the very beginning was intended by God to set forth the great
mystery of Christ and the Church. Writing to the Corinthians at an earlier
date, he said, "I have espoused you as a chaste virgin unto Christ," and
Christian behavior is shown to spring from the responsibility connected with
that espousal. The Church is viewed as an affianced bride, not yet
married-, but called upon to be faithful to her absent Lord until the day when
she will be openly acknowledged by Him as His Bride. It is this glorious
occasion that John brings before us in the nineteenth chapter of the book of
Revelation. It is of no earthly bride he is speaking, but of the heavenly.
After the destruction of the false harlot, Babylon the Great, the marriage
supper of the Lamb is celebrated in the Father's house, and all saints are
called upon to rejoice because the marriage of the Lamb has come and His wife
hath made herself ready. At the judgment-seat of Christ, she receives from
His hand the linen garments in which she is to be arrayed at the marriage feast.
Notice that on this occasion we have not only the Bride and the Bridegroom, but
we read, "Blessed are they that are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb."
These invited guests are distinguished from the Bride herself. They of
course are another group of redeemed sinners, namely, Old Testament saints, and
possibly some Tribulation saints who have been martyred for Christ's sake.
These are the friends of the Bridegroom who rejoice in His happiness when He
takes His Bride to Himself.
All down through the Christian centuries believers have revelled in the
sweetness of the thought of the bridal relationship, setting forth, as no other
figure does, the intensity of Christ's love for His own. How truly we may
"The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear Bridegroom's face;
I will not gaze on glory,
But on my King of grace;
Not at the crown He giveth,
But on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Immanuel's land."
But her dear Bridegroom's face;
I will not gaze on glory,
But on my King of grace;
Not at the crown He giveth,
But on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Immanuel's land."
How much we would lose if we lost this! And yet one is pained sometimes to
realize how insensible Christians who ought to know better, can be as to its
preciousness. I remember on one occasion hearing an advocate of the system
we are reviewing exclaim, "I am not part of the Bride; I am part of the
Bridegroom Himself. I belong to Christ's Body, and His Body is far more
precious to Him than His Bride." I replied, "You mean then that you think far
more of your own body than you do of your wife! " He was rather taken
back, as he might well be.
But after all, if Israel is a divorced wife to be restored some day, and the
Church is also a bride, is there not ground for what some have called "spiritual
polygamy?" Certainly not. Similar figures may be used in each dispensation
to illustrate spiritual realities; and then it is important to see that Israel
is distinctively called the wife of Jehovah, whereas the Church is the Bride of
the Lamb. Israel's nuptial relationship is with God Himself apart
altogether from any question of incarnation. The Church is the Bride of
the Incarnate One who became the Lamb of God for our redemption. Who would
want to lose the blessedness of this?
In the last chapter of the book of the Revelation, we have added confirmation as
to the correctness of the position taken in this paper. In verse 16, our
Lord Jesus declares Himself as the Coming One, saying, "I am the Root and
Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star." In the very next verse we are
told, "And the Spirit and the Bride say, Come." Here we have the Church's
response to our Lord's declaration that He is the Morning Star. The
morning star shines out before the rising of the sun. It is as the Morning
Star Christ comes for His Church. Unto Israel, He will arise as the Sun of
Righteousness with healing in His wings. And so here the moment the
announcement is made which indicates His near return, the Spirit who dwells in
the Church, and the Bride actuated by the Spirit, cry with eager longing,
"Come," for the word is addressed to Him. How truly absurd it would be to
try to bring Israel in here as though the earthly people were those responding
to the Saviour's voice during this present age!
But so determined are these ultra-dispensationalists to take from the Church
everything that is found in the book of Revelation, that they even insist that
the letters addressed to the churches in chapters 2 and 3 are all for Israel
too. Ignoring the fact that the apostle John had labored for years in the
Roman proconsular Province of Asia, that he was thoroughly familiar with all
these seven churches, they nevertheless even go so far as to deny that some of
these churches had any existence in the first century of the Christian era, when
John wrote the Apocalypse, although Sir William Ramsay's researches have proven
the contrary. On the other hand ' they declare that all of these churches
are to rise up in the future after the Body has been removed to Heaven, and that
then the seven letters will have their application, but have no present bearing
upon the consciences of the saints. I cannot conceive of anything more
Satanic than this. Here are churches actually raised up of God through the
preaching of the Gospel. Ephesus we know well. Laodicea is mentioned
in the letter to the Colossians. The other churches we may be sure existed at
the time and in exactly the state that John depicts, and the risen Christ
addresses these churches in the most solemn way, and seven times over calls upon
all exercised souls to give heed to what he says to each one, crying, "He that
hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." In these
letters, we have depicted every possible condition in which the churches of God
can be found from Apostolic days to the end of the Christian era. More
than that: we have in a mystic way the moral and spiritual principles of the
entire course of Church History portrayed. All this should have immense
weight with us as believers, and should speak loudly to our consciences; but
along comes the Bullingerite and, with a wave of his interpretative wand,
dismisses them entirely for the present age, airily declaring that they have no
message for us whatever, that they are all Jewish, and will only have their
place in the Great Tribulation after the Church is gone! And thus the
people of God who accept this unscriptural system are robbed of not only the
precious things in which these letters abound, but their consciences become
indifferent to the solemn admonitions found therein. Surely this is a
masterpiece of Satanic strategy, whereby under the plea of rightly dividing the
Word of Truth, the Scriptures are so wrongly divided that they cease to have any
message for God's people today, and the Word of the Lord is made of no effect by
this unscriptural tradition. And yet the Lord in instructing John, says,
"Write the things which are." It is the present continuous tense. It might
be rendered, "The things which are now going on." "Not at all," exclaims the
Bullingerite. "These are the things which are not going on, neither will
they have any place so long as the Church of God is on earth." Others may accept
this as deep teaching and advanced truth. Personally, I reject it as a
Satanic perversion calculated to destroy the power of the Word of God over the
souls of His people.
Do Baptism and the Lord's Supper Have Any Place in the Present Dispensation of the Grace of God?
IT is most distressing to one who has revelled in the grace of God for years,
but has recognized on the other hand that grace produces loving obedience in the
heart of the believer, to read the puerile and childish diatribes of the
ultra-dispensationalists, as they inveigh against the Christian ordinances as
though observance of these in some way contravened the liberty of Grace.
Insisting that Paul had a new ministry revealed to him after Acts 28, and that
this ministry is given only in the so-called prison epistles, they make a great
deal of the fact that in these epistles we do not have any distinct instruction
as to the baptizing of believers, or the observance of the Lord's Supper.
We have already seen, I trust clearly, that Paul himself disavows any new
revelation having been given him after his imprisonment, but insists that the
mystery was that very message which he had already made known to all nations for
the obedience of faith. It was but part of that whole counsel of God which
he had declared to the Ephesians long before his arrest. These brethren,
by a process of sophistical reasoning, try to prove that baptism belonged only
to an earlier dispensation and was in some sense meritorious, as though it had
in itself saving virtue, but that since the dispensation of grace has been fully
revealed, there is no place for baptism, because of changed conditions for
salvation. To state this argument is but to expose its fallacy.
Let one point be absolutely clear: No one was ever saved in any dispensation on
any other ground than the finished work of Christ. In all the ages before
the cross, God justified men by faith; in all the years since, men have been
justified in exactly the same way. Adam believed God and was clothed with
coats of skin, a picture of one becoming the righteousness of God in Christ.
Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.
Nevertheless, afterwards he was circumcised; but that circumcision, the apostle
tells us, was simply a seal of the righteousness he had by faith. And
throughout all the Old Testament dispensation, however legalistic Jews may have
observed the ordinance of circumcision and thought of it as having in itself
some saving virtue, it still remained in God's sight, as in the beginning, only
a seal, where there was genuine faith, of that righteousness which He imputed.
The difficulty with many who reason as these Bullingerites do, is that they
cannot seem to understand the difference between the loving loyal obedience of a
devoted heart, and a legal obedience which is offered to God as though it were
in itself meritorious. No one was ever saved through the sacrifices
offered under law, for it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats
should take away sin. Nevertheless, wherever there was real faith in
Israel, the sacrifices were offered because of the instruction given in the Word
of God, and in these sacrifices the work of Christ was pictured continually.
When John the Baptist came in the way of righteousness, he called on men to
confess their sinfulness and their just desert of death by baptism, and so we
read that the publicans and sinners "justified God, being baptized with the
baptism of John." There was no merit in the baptism. It was the divinely
appointed way of acknowledging their sinfulness and need of a Saviour.
Therefore it is called a baptism "unto repentance for the remission of sins."
They were like men in debt, giving their notes to the divine creditor. A
note does not pay a debt but it is an acknowledgment of indebtedness.
Christ's baptism was simply Ms endorsement of all of these notes. When He
said to John, who would have hindered Him from being baptized, "Suffer it to be
so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness," it was as though
He said, "In this way I pledge Myself to meet every righteous demand of the
throne of God on behalf of these confessed sinners." And this is surely what He
had in mind when, three years later, He exclaimed, "I have a baptism to be
baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" (Luke 12: 50).
On the cross He met the claims of righteousness and thus fulfilled the meaning
of His baptism.
Christian baptism has its beginning in resurrection. It was the risen
Christ about to be glorified who commissioned His apostles to go out, not simply
to Jews, observe, nor yet to proclaim a second offer of the kingdom, as some
say, but to carry the Gospel to men of all nations, baptizing those who
professed to believe, in (or, unto) the name of the Father and of the Son and of
the Holy Spirit. This we see them literally doing throughout the early
days of the Church, as recorded in the Book of Acts. Wherever the Gospel
is preached, baptism is linked with it, not as part of the Gospel, for Paul
distinctly says, "Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel," but
as an outward expression of faith in the Gospel. It is evident in the Book
of Acts that there is a somewhat different presentation of this, according as to
whether the message is addressed to Jews in outward covenant relation with God
or to Gentiles who are strangers to the covenants of promise. Paul calls
these two aspects of the one Gospel, the Gospel of the circumcision and the
Gospel of the uncircumcision. The Jew being already a member of a nation
which, up to the cross, had been recognized as in covenant relationship with
God, was called upon to be baptized to save himself from that untoward
generation. That is, to step out, as it were, from the nation, no longer
claiming national privilege, nor yet being exposed to national judgment.
With the Gentile, it was otherwise. He was simply called upon to believe
the Gospel, and believing it, to confess his faith in baptism. And this
abides to the end of the age as our Lord Himself clearly declared in the closing
verses of Matthew 2 8. There has never been any change in the order.
It has been said that the baptism of the Holy Spirit superseded water baptism,
but Scripture teaches the very contrary. Cornelius and his household were
baptized with the Holy Spirit when they believed the Word spoken by Peter.
But the apostle, turning to his Jewish brethren, immediately asks: "Who can
forbid water that these should not be baptized which have received the Holy
Ghost as well as we?" And they were at once baptized by authority of the Lord
Jesus, which is what the expression "in the name of" involves. This was
not a meritorious act. It was a blessed and precious privilege granted to
this Gentile household upon the evidence of their faith in Christ.
It has been objected that the apostle Paul himself makes light of baptism and
was really glad that he had not baptized many at Corinth. It is surely a
most shifty kind of exegesis that would lead any one to make such a statement.
In the record in Acts, where we read of Paul's ministry in Corinth, we are told
that many of the Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptized. Paul did
not himself do the baptizing, save in a few instances, but he certainly saw that
it was done, and the Holy Spirit evidently quotes the record with approval.
Why then did Paul thank God in First Corinthians 1, that he had baptized so few?
The answer is perfectly plain. Because the Corinthians were making much of
human leaders and he saw the tendency to glory in man. He knew that if
there were many there who had been baptized by him, they would be likely, under
the prevailing conditions, to pride themselves upon the fact that he, the
apostle to the Gentiles, had been the one who baptized them. But far from
making light of baptism, when he chides them for their sectarian spirit, he
shows them that the only name worthy of exaltation is the name of the One by
whose authority they had been baptized.
As to the various disputed scriptures in Romans 6: 3, 4; Colossians 2: 12;
Ephesians 4: 5; and Galatians 3: 27, where baptism is mentioned without any
definite indication as to whether it is water or Spirit, one thing at least is
perfectly clear. Water baptism is necessarily implied, because Spirit
baptism is but a figurative expression, and water baptism was the act upon which
the figure was based. This comes out in the first mention of Spirit
baptism. "I indeed," says John, "baptize you with water" (this then was
the actual literal baptism), "but He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and
with fire." It is not literal baptism in the Holy Spirit. It is not
literal fire, but figurative. If this be but kept in mind, there would be
no confusion. Baptism in water pictures both burial and resurrection.
On this Paul bases his instruction in Romans 6 and Colossians 2:12. Thus water
baptism marks people out as belonging to Christ by profession, and therefore is
the basic thought in Galatians 3: 27, even though it is by the Spirit's baptism
that people are actually united to Christ.
There has been much disputation regarding the passage in Ephesians 4, but
without laying special stress on the importance of water baptism, it is very
evident that the passage would have no meaning if water baptism, as well as that
of the Spirit, were not in view. Let me try to make this plain. In
the opening verses, the apostle calls upon the Ephesian believers, and of course
all Christians, to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they have been called,
and he lays stress on the importance of endeavoring to keep the Spirit's unity
in the bond of peace. Then he explains this unity as being sevenfold.
In verse 4 he emphasizes three special things, one Body, one Spirit, and one
hope. Now there can be no question that the Spirit is brought in here as
forming the Body, and the Spirit forms the Body by what is called elsewhere the
baptism of the Spirit. Then in verse 5 we have another trio, one Lord, one
faith, one baptism. Here it seems to me clearly enough we have, not a
duplication of what we have already had in verse 4, but something that is more
outward. One Lord in whom we believe; one faith that we confess; and one
baptism by which we express our allegiance to that Lord and that faith. In
verse 6 we have God Himself as the Father of all, the Founder of this blessed
Now without going into any disputation as to whether the term "one baptism," is
to be confined to the baptism of the Spirit, or the baptism of water, it is
certainly evident that it at least implies water. No man confesses his
faith in Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit alone, for millions have been
baptized by the Holy Spirit, and yet the world knows nothing of it. On the
other hand, of course, many have faith in Christ who have never been baptized in
water, but that does not alter the fact that, according to the Lord's own
instructions, water baptism should follow confession of Christ. The Lord
has never rescinded this order, and for men to attempt to do so is but to
substitute human authority for divine.
The statement has been made that inasmuch as all carnal ordinances were
abolished in the cross, this includes baptism and the Lord's Supper.
However, to merely state this is to refute it, inasmuch as Christian baptism was
not given until just before the Lord's ascension, and the Lord's Supper was
given from heaven to the apostle Paul by special revelation, long after Christ's
ascension (1 Cor. 11: 23, 24). To read into such a passage as Hebrews 6:
1, 2 any reference to Christian baptism, is ignorance so colossal that it does
not even deserve an answer. The apostle there is definitely referring to
Judaism in contrast with Christianity. The "doctrine of baptisms" is the
teaching of washings under law.
To the lover of the Lord Jesus Christ there can be nothing legal about baptism.
It is simply the glad expression of a grateful heart recognizing its identity
with Christ in death, burial, and resurrection. Many of us look back to
the moment when we were thus baptized as one of the most precious experiences we
have ever known.
All ultra-dispensationalists do not reject the Lord's Supper, but those who are
rigidly tied up to the prison epistles and have practically no other Bible, set
this blessed ordinance aside in the same curt way that they dismiss water
baptism. We are told that in a spiritual dispensation there is no place
for outward observances. And yet, singularly enough, these brethren meet
together for worship and prayer, and that very frequently upon the first day of
the week, though they are almost a unit in denying that this is the Lord's Day.
They insist, though the Holy Ghost has Himself changed the term; that the Lord's
Day is identical with the Day of the Lord; and so the observance of the first
day of the week is with them simply gross legality. Think of parting with
all the holy privileges of the Lord's Day on the plea that it is a mark of
higher spirituality to make this a common day like any other. I know that
some quote as authority for this, Paul's words in Romans 14: 5: "One man
esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let
every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." But an examination of the entire
passage in which this verse is found, will make it clear that the apostle is
here referring to Jewish distinctions between clean and unclean meats, and holy
and common days, and he would have Gentile believers respect even the legal
feeling of their Jewish brethren in these matters. The enlightened
Christian of course in a very real sense esteems every day alike, that is, every
day is devoted to the glory of God, but this does not mean that he fails to
differentiate between days on which he participates in the ordinary activities
of the world, and the first day of the week, which is largely set aside for
spiritual exercises. We have known men to glory in their liberty, as they
called it, who could take part in Christian service on Lord's Day morning and
spend the afternoon golfing, or in some other more worldly way, and this on
pretence of a higher spirituality than that of those who are supposed to be
legal, because they use the hours of the entire day either for their own
spiritual upbuilding or for the blessing of others.
It is strange that many, who insist that there are no ordinances or commandments
connected with the dispensation of pure grace, should take up collections in
their services and urge people to give as unto the Lord to support their
ministry. logically, they should tell people that giving is legal and belongs to
the old dispensation, but has no place in the present age, when we simply
receive but give nothing in return! The passage already referred to in 1
Corinthians 11 makes it clear that though the apostle Paul did not receive his
instruction concerning the observance of the Lord's Supper from the twelve, it
was given to him by special revelation from heaven, thus indicating what an
important place it has in this age. Surely one is guilty of gross
perversion of Scripture who dares to teach that since Paul's imprisonment, the
Lord's Supper should no longer be observed, when the Holy Ghost has said, "As
often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till
The most sacred hours that many of us have ever known have been those spent with
fellow-believers seated at the table of the Lord, recognizing in the broken
bread and poured-out wine, the memorials of our Saviour's death, and thus in a
new way entering into and appropriating the reality of which the symbols speak.
We may be thought legal, because we refuse to surrender such precious privileges
at the behest of some of our self-styled expositors of pure grace, but we
remember "that the grace of God salvation bringing for all men, hath appeared,
teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly,
righteously and godly in this present world, looking for that blessed hope and
the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ," and until
He come, by His grace, to remember Him in the way of His own appointment.
IN closing this review of the system of teaching which we have had before us, I
do not think it necessary to go into the questions at any length of
Soul-sleeping and Annihilation (conditional immortality), or the opposite view
of the final restoration of Universalism. As already mentioned, the
followers of the late Dr. E. W. Bullinger have largely taken up with the first
type of teaching in Great Britain; whereas in America many of them have
supported Universalist views. But these heretical teachings have been so
ably answered on many different occasions by other writers, that it would seem
like a work of supererogation to go into them now. I only mention them, in
fact, as a warning to those who are dabbling with this system, for that which
looks so innocent in the beginning often ends up in complete departure from "the
faith once delivered to the saints."
One who was a leading advocate of Bullingerism on the west coast for many years,
has put out literature recently which denies the Eternal Sonship of the Lord
Jesus Christ, the true personality of the Holy Spirit, and many other important
truths. In order to support his restoration system, he has put out a
private translation of the New Testament which, by his disciples, is generally
accepted as absolute authority. Making no pretence to scholarship myself,
but simply seeking to be a reverent student of the English Bible with whatever
help I have been enabled to glean throughout more than forty years of studying
the Word, I hesitated to pronounce upon many of the peculiar translations in
this new New Testament, but several years ago it was my privilege to spend some
time in company with the late Dr. A. T. Robertson, undoubtedly the foremost
Greek scholar in America, and possibly without a peer elsewhere. I asked
him if he had ever examined the Version in question. With a look of
disgust, he said, "I certainly did. The editor had the impertinence to
send me a copy, and asked me to commend his ignorance to others."
I said, "Doctor, would you give me in a few words your real estimate of this
work, and give me the privilege of quoting you as occasion may arise?"
He replied, "I can give it to you in two words, Piffle and Puffle, and you may
tell any one that that is my estimate of this vaunted translation."
In giving publicity to this conversation, my desire is to warn those who are
carried away by great pretence to learning, who may not themselves be familiar
with the original languages in which the Bible was written, and are therefore
easily impressed by a parade of assumed scholarship.
Generally speaking, I have sought to avoid personalities in this discussion.
Many otherwise excellent men have taken up these new views. I have no
quarrel with men. I do not desire to reflect upon or belittle any of them.
It is the Truth of God that is in question, and my appeal is therefore to the
Singularly enough, since these papers began running serially, I have received
abusive letters from a number of different teachers accusing me of attacking
them. One such writes that he is neither a Bullingerite nor an
ultra-dispensationalist, and resents being so designated. Each one must
draw his own conclusions as to whether he holds the views I have endeavored to
refute. "I speak as unto wise men. judge ye what I say."
In bringing these papers to a close, I would urge interested readers to remember
the exhortation of the apostle, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is
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