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An Examination of Dispensationalism by William E. Cox – Conclusion/Summary


My hope is those interested in Church History have gained or benefited from this series. If like me, you are interested in knowing where (and when) many of the doctrines we have been taught originated from and if they are really based upon the Word of God or came from the mind or imagination of man.

This last section concludes the examination of one of the more popular forms of theology taught in the West-Dispensationalism. No article, or even series can cover everything, but William E. Cox, in my opinion, has done a fairly good job of explaining the more popular doctrines surrounding dispensationalism. I chose his writing on the topic not only for that reason but also because, like myself, he adhered to the teachings for many years. In other words he isn’t someone critiquing the various teachings and doctrines as an “outsider”–but as one who knows personally, of what he writes about. I also appreciated that William Cox did not just offer opinions, but proved everything by including many references to God’s Word. If this series promoted anything, let it be to encourage us to be as those in Thessalonica who, “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so”.

See: Part (1) – Part (2) – Part (3)  – Part (4)

*Previous Closing words to part (4) –  The coming of Shiloh (Messiah) was longingly looked for by all the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament period. In John 8:56 our Lord reminded the unbelieving Jews that Abraham had prophesied the first advent: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad.” To apply this verse to the second coming of Christ is to completely ignore the context in which it was spoken.

National Israel was characterized by three thing: nationality, law, and circumcision. Again these were for a limited time only. These were shadows or types of our Lord’s earthly ministry and the church. A statement by Phillip Mauro (The Gospel of the Kingdom, p. 81) shed slight on this fact.

It is appropriate here to point out that one of the glaring errors of “dispensational teaching” is the failure to recognize what the New Testament plainly reveals, namely that names which God temporarily gave to the shadowy and typical things on the Old Covenant, belong properly and eternally to the corresponding realities of the New Covenant. Thus we are given the proper meaning of “Jew” (Rom. 2:28, 29); “Israel” (Rom. 9:6; Gal. 6:16); “Jerusalem” (Gal. 4:26); Seed of Abraham” (Gal. 3:29); “Sion” (1 Peter 2:6; Heb. 12:22; Rom. 9:23). Likewise it is made known that according to the New Covenant meaning, “the tribes of Jacob” are those who are Jews inwardly, that is to say, the entire household of faith (James 1:1; Acts 26:7).

Shiloh came nearly two thousand years ago, took over the scepter from national Israel, and began his reign in the hearts of his people. At that time the types faded in the pure light of the Substance to which they had pointed. Although the unbelieving part of Israel still held on to the shadows of nationality, law, and circumcision, the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) condemned their continuance (Romans 6:14; 7:4; 10:4; Galatians 3:23-26; 4:9-11; 5:6). Having become the great Antitype of national Israel, the law, circumcision (Romans 2:28-29; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:11), and the prophets, our Lord formed the believing part of Israel (Romans 11:5) into the Christian church. Nor was this an impulsive innovation; it was fulfillment of that which had been in the eternal plan of God (Compare Gen. 12:3; 22:18; Gal. 3:7-9, 14, 16, 27-29; Eph. 3:4-6).

THE CHURCH (Continued)

Some are troubled by the fact that some of these Old Testament promises were eternal, yet ceased to be in effect. The Bible is its own interpreter. That is, we arrive at the meaning of any passage by a comparison of Scripture with Scripture. Looking at the Old Testament use of the word “eternal” one finds that it must be interpreted according to the radius of time being dwelt with. An eternal priestly promise was in effect just as long as the priesthood existed; a legal eternal promise was in effect only so long as the law was in effect; an eternal promise to national Israel was in effect just as long as God dealt with Israel as a nation; an eternal promise with reference to the temple was binding upon God until the very second the temple ceased to exist; an eternal promise given under the old covenant was in effect during the entire life of the old covenant. Theological pandemonium has grown out of the attempt to make promises made under the law binding upon God long after the law has served it purpose in God’s program.

Perhaps an illustration might help at this point. Let us say that a nation is on the gold standard and promises to stand behind its money forever. Then let us say that nation, by an act of congress, decides to change its money system. It is no longer on the gold standard, but is now using a completely different system of exchange. Gold may suddenly become worthless. Confederate money after the Civil War well illustrates this point.

The writer had the experience of serving with a tank battalion during World War II. During the Hitler regime the mark was the standard money in Germany. However, after the defeat o Hitler the money was completely changed by the Allies. Our soldiers went into many bombed-out banks after the Nazi surrendered. Many a soldier found bills which under Hitler’s rule would have been worth thousands of marks. Now the soldier had a nice souvenir, but it was worthless. Why? Because new money had been printed. So with most eternal promises of the Old Testament. With the close of the Old Testament, God’s program moved into the entirely different era.

Old Testament promises were eternal or everlasting for the duration of the time God decreed to use a given method of dealing with his people. The duration usually was known to God alone. Israel’s national promises were given during the period of the law and were eternal so long as the law was in effect. With the coming of Christ into the world, the period covered by the promises came to an end, and, therefore, the promises are no longer binding upon God. Paul speaks in II Corinthians 3:13-18 of the non-eternality of the law, and says in verse 14 that it is done away in Christ.

In ii Chronicles 7:16 it is recorded that God promised to live in Solomon’s house forever; yet that house was destroyed and does not exist today. Did God break his promise? No, “forever” meant for as long as the house stood.

The same is true with reference to the priesthood as instituted during the Old Testament ear. In many passages, of which Exodus 40:15 and Numbers 25:13 are examples, we are told that the house of Aaron constituted an everlasting priesthood. All Protestant Christians are agreed that the old priesthood came to an end and was replaced by Jesus, who became our High Priest. The book of Hebrews makes this fact quite clear. So that the priesthood of law was everlasting only as long as the law was in effect.

In dealing with Genesis 13:15, which reads, “For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever,” Adam Clarke (Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. I, p. 99) says:

…and this was always the design of God, not that Abram himself should possess it, but that his posterity would, till the manifestation of Christ in the flesh. And this is chiefly what is to be understood by the words for ever, ad olam, to the end of the present dispensation, and the commencement of the new. Olam means either eternity, which implies the termination of celestial luminaries; or a hidden, unknown, period, such as includes a completion or final termination, of a particular era, dispensation, etc.: therefore, the first is its proper meaning, the later its accommodated meaning.

In dealing with Genesis 17:8, which reads: “And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land of thy sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God,” Clarke has this comment:

Here olam appears to be used in its accommodated meaning, and signifies the completion of the Divine counsel in reference to a particular period or dispensation. And it is literally true that the Israelites possessed the land of Canaan till the Mosaic dispensation was terminated in the complete introduction of that gospel … (Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. I, p. 114)

There is a sense in which every eternal or everlasting promise never comes to an end. This is in fact the true sense in which these words are used throughout the Bible. If this proper sense were understood, many of our differences would immediately clear up. We refer to the fact that most if not all promises, covenants, ordinances, etc., of the Bible have different forms through which they pass. The all-wise God who gave them knew of these forms at the time he inspired his writers to use the words “eternal,” “everlasting,” “forever.” While every form has its “end,” the actuality, of which the form is only one phase, never ends.

Illustrations could be picked at random of everlasting things instituted by God which have passed through different forms, each form having its definite end. Among such illustrations might be listed: law, Sabbath, circumcision, kingdom, priesthood, the Israel of God. These by no means exhaust the list, but certainly they are among the more pronounced scriptural examples of the point being made. Each illustration listed; law, Sabbath, circumcision, kingdom, priesthood, God’s chosen people, was definitely instituted and pronounced by God himself to be eternal. Each illustration listed has gone through developments (forms); and, while the realities themselves remain, in new form, the developments have long since ceased to exist.

The forms through which these everlasting things develop are essentially three in number: (1) from their inception until the first advent of Christ; (2) from that advent (at which time each one developed into a much higher form) until the second coming of Christ to earth; (3) from that second coming (which is yet future) they will be developed into the Eternal State which will have no end.

Viewing the entire Bible, while keeping in mind Paul’s warning that the letter kills, while the spirit gives life, three definite points may be arrived at by way of concluding this chapter.

1. God made a two fold covenant with Abraham, the main references to this covenant being recorded in Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-21; 17:1-15; 22:1-19. This is called a two-fold covenant because most of it involves believers from all nations, (compare Genesis 12:3, 22:18 with Galatians 3:7-9, 14, 16, 27-29). While a part of it was fulfilled in national Israel, the main parts of this covenant were spiritual and were ordained to include believers from every nation, including national Israel. Note that Israel was not even born at the time the Abrahamic covenant was first made.

2. To implement his plans God arbitrarily chose Israel to be his peculiar people only until the first advent of Christ (Genesis 49:10). The Abrahamic covenant was renewed with Israel at Sinai. This was not a separate covenant of works, but was the same covenant which had been given to Abraham, renewed with Isaac, Jacob and now with Moses at Sinai. At Sinai Israel was also given conditional promises which applied to her alone and were to be in effect only until the coming of the church. By the time the church was established at Pentecost, all these national promises had been either literally fulfilled or invalidated through unbelief and disobedience. For a biblical account of these fulfillments see my book, The New-Covenant Israel (Read Galatians 3:17, 19, 24).

3. Our Lord at his first advent (particularly through the death, burial, and resurrection) fulfilled the promises to national Israel and became their Deliverer (Luke 1:30-33, 76, 77; 2:25, 30). HE was pointed to as the One through whom the Abrahamic covenant was to have its main fulfillment (Read Galatians 3:16).

He came as a Deliverer out of Zion (Romans 11:26) and all believing Jews (the remnant spoken of in Romans 11:5) were given power to become the sons of God. As many as received this opportunity, and indeed all who shall receive it during this present age, were formed into the Christian church which is the apex of all Jesus’ suffering (Ephesians 1:20-23). Believers from every nation, including Israel, are being saved and brought into the church in fulfillment of Genesis 12:3; 22:18, and other such passages.

This gathering will continue until our Lord returns to claim his vineyard which he has entrusted to disciples.

Envision for a moment the marshalling together of the church fathers, all the great Reformers, most of the outstanding contemporaries of J.N. Darby, and all the great theologians who labored to produce our Bible commentaries. If such a marshalling were possible, all these we have mentioned would line up with Paul and all the other apostles in condemning any teaching which makes the church a mere parenthesis. These men would say that the church for which our Lord bled and died was the very apex (as the body of Christ) of all God’s planning. They would say, with Darby and Scofield, that national Israel was a type of the Christian church; then they would go on to the only logical conclusion, i.e., that all types have their antitype or fulfillment, and that the church, as the body of Christ, is the embodiment of all that national Israel typified.

A SUMMARY

Dispensationalists begin by clearing the board of all opinions except their own; they dismiss as useless and false all historic interpretations. Next they divide the human race and the Bible into three distinct groups (this is convenient since any scripture which would otherwise refute their interpretation can be relegated to another “division” of Scripture). They add many arbitrary elements which are not supported by the Scriptures, such as extra captivities, extra kingdoms, extra covenants, extra judgments, extra ages, and so on and on. All of these stand or fall together. To disprove one of these premises is to collapse the entire theory.

Their cardinal teachings could be grouped into two main areas: the area of prophecy and the area of the church: Their major interest in prophetic teachings has to do with the prophecies concerning national Israel; most of these they hold to be yet future. With reference to the church, they make it a separate entity from national Israel and believe there are two separate plans for the two groups. Historic Christian theologians have held, as do the great majority of Christian thinkers today, that the nation of Israel was a type while the church is the antitype. That is to say that, rather than being two separate entities, one is a fulfillment or continuation of the other.

Darbyism (dispensationalism) is an unproved inference, which will not stand up under a close scrutiny of the Scriptures. Like many other movements within the history of Christianity this theory met with a widespread response because it struck out against apostasy. As one studies the history of this movement, one will find that there was a dearth of prophetic teaching when the Brethren movement originated about 1825 A.D. There also seems to have been a modernistic attempt to play down or deny completely the second coming of our Lord. This being the case, devout people grabbed quickly at a movement which filled this gap by emphasizing the second coming and a study of prophesy. This same situation explains the wide acceptance of the Scofield Reference Bible. Scofield, although not a Plymouth Brethren, was a devout disciple of John Darby.

Like most movements, this one, which was dominated by Darby and later by Scofield, brought with it some unscriptural teachings. When there is a hunger on the part of the constituents for a certain type of legislation, it is all too easy for them to ignore undesirable “riders” attached to the bill, and, in their haste, to support more than they thought. This seems to have been the case with dispensational beliefs. Because of the great natural hunger on the part of many people for a return to prophetic teachings, many fascinating “riders” were attached by men such as Darby, and a “package deal” was subscribed to. Our attempt today is to “hold fast to that which is good” about the Darbyite teachings but to smooth off the rough unscriptural edges.

Most conservatives today would not subscribe in toto to all the teachings of Luther, Calvin, the Pietists, the Separatists, the Puritans, or any other such individual or group in history. Yet we feel that each of these groups has made contributions and has done much to awaken the church out of lethargy at given times in history.

Our point is that we ought to give the Plymouth Brethren credit where credit is due, but that we ought to be willing to admit they too “were men like ourselves.” And we ought to be willing to hold their good points without being slaves to every jot and tittle of their doctrine. This will be hard for some to do, because many of these men, especially Scofield, have been almost literally canonized and it is considered by many to be sacrilegious to differ from them on a single point. Scofield’s footnotes have been placed within the canon of the Bible itself and he carries the same weight in the minds of some as does the apostle Paul! Many Protestants have fallen into the practice of the Roman Catholic church by having extra-biblical “canonized saints” who speak ex cathedra and are beyond any court of appeal.

Many men, however, have gone into the dispensational movement only to leave it after further examination because of these extra-biblical teachings which were foisted upon every member of that school of thought. These men are still firm believers in predictive prophecy and look for the literal second coming of Christ. They have not left the Bible; they have simply left Darbyism and Scofieldism. George E. Ladd lists many such men in his book, The Blessed Hope.

We look, longingly, for the Blessed Hope of all believers, i.e., the literal, bodily return of our Lord in glory. At that coming we expect all graves to be opened. All the wicked from every generation, along with the wicked then living, will be judged and cast into eternal torment. Taking part in the judgment will be the saints from all ages; for all believers will have been signaled by the trump of God (I Thess. 4:16, 17) to be caught up to meet the Bridegroom in the air. His royal train will not stop in mid-air, but he will “bring his saints with him” as he continues on to earth. Immediately after the cleansing judgment of all the earth, every believer, of every generation, will cast his crown at Christ’s feet as all believers enter into the Eternal State with him.

“Even so come, Lord Jesus.”

Source: The GOSPEL TRUTH – AN EXAMINATION OF DISPENSATIONALISM by William E. Cox

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