Noted biblical writers on dispensational lines - mostly of the persuasion known to the world as "Plymouth Brethren"



Introductory (2 Peter 1. 16-20.)

"WE have not followed cunningly-devised fables when we made known unto you the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of His majesty, for He received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to Him from the excellent glory - This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; and this voice which came from Heaven we heard when we were with Him in the holy mount. We have also more fully confirmed to us the word of prophecy, to which ye do well that ye take heed in your hearts, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn and the Day-star arise."

Such I believe to be the true meaning of this verse, and I am confirmed in this opinion by the late Dr. Tregelles, who himself told me that he believed this to be the correct reading of it; and it gives a very exalted place to the value of prophecy in connection with the spiritual darkness which is fast setting in on the world; when the apostle speaking by the Spirit of God, bids us take heed to it, in our hearts, as a man walking in a dark place would do well to take heed to a light. When the day dawns men do not carry lights about, for they are not needed; and when the Day-star arises, the herald of the Day of God, there will be no need of prophecy, for we shall then be with Him above the region of darkness to which prophecy applies. The word "until" has manifestly this signification.

The value of a diagram in connectiod with prophetic lectures, is that it brings before us at a glance, the whole range of God's dispensational dealings with man from the beginning, and so enables those who have not given much study to prophetical truth, to see that God's ways with man on the earth have not been merely a succession of disconnected actions, arising out of circumstances occurring in the world; but rather one vast design which was in the mind of God from all eternity, but which is being wrought out in time, according to the purpose of Him who "worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" Before explaining the diagram, it may be well to say a few words to aid us in a general way in the study of prophecy, and to lay down a few principles which must be adhered to in prophetic interpretation.
(The diagram referred to is found in the book, but has not been reproduced here. A similar dispensational chart will be found on the Home Page.)

What is a Dispensation?
First, as to the meaning of the word "dispensation," which I have used above, and which, though its meaning is well known to every student of prophecy, may not convey any definite idea to ordinary readers. I would say that it is used in the same sense in which we use the word in everyday life, when speaking of dispensing medicine, or charity, or justice. It means, then, in Scripture language, the various dealings of God with the human race, from the time man first appeared on the earth in God's first creation; up to the time when God creates all things new; and when new heavens and a new earth will take the place of the present heavens and earth that are to pass away.

I am not speaking for those who know these things, better probably than I do myself, but for those who are beginners in the study of prophetical and dispensational truth, and so need not apologise for this digression.

I will not dwell at any length on what has been so often and so fully treated of, namely, as to what these various dispensations or dealings of God have been with men in the ages that have passed, or as to what they will be up to the time when dispensations, as matters connected with time, shall have ceased, and eternity begun. To sum them up in a few words, they are as follows

The Seven Dispensations.
1st. God's dealings with our first parents in Innocence. and
2nd. God's dealings with man when he was taught what was right and wrong by his conscience accusing. or excusing him (Rom ii 15) This we call the dispensation of Conscience
3rd. Next comes that of the Law, in which God gave definite commands to man, both moral and ceremonial, which he was bound to observe. This is the dispensation of the Law.
4th. Then came that one in which God was manifest in the flesh, interpreting to man His ways and His heart in Christ Jesus, and telling men that "He that had seen Him had seen the Father."
5th. After this comes the time in which we live, during which Christ is on high and seated at the right hand of God, and that other Comforter, the Holy Ghost, has come down to abide with us until another apostacy sets in, and this dispensation ends in judgment, and is followed by the
6th dispensation, which will be one of power and righteousness, as distinguished from the present, which is one of long-suffering and grace. It will be a time when subjection will be enforced by power and by righteous, inflexible government; when cognisance will be taken of every offence, and obedience will not be invited as now, but enforced under the penalty of judgment. And when those thousand years, which will be the limit of that dispensation, shall have run their course; and man, at the close of it, gets a last chance of taking sides with Satan against God; he will prove as rebellious against God's power, as he had before proved against His grace; and then the end will come, when Christ as God's Vicegerent on earth will put down all rule and all authority and power; and delegated power having ceased, God will be all in all.
7th. Then comes the last dispensation, called the new heavens and new earth, wherein will dwell righteousness, and God will tabernacle with men for ever and ever.

These comprise all God's dealings with mankind, past, present, and future.


HAVING explained our diagram in the last lecture, I would begin by making a few preliminary remarks, and would lay down certain principles for prophetic interpretation of the scriptures which must be kept definitely before us if we would rightly divine the Word of Truth.

Prophecy relates to Earth.
The first is- That prophecy always relates to the earth, and to the earthly people (the Jews) as a centre; and has a reference to the surrounding nations (more or less definite) according as their history was connected with that of Israel.

While Israel is in the Holy Land, and recognised by God as His people, the prophetic dealings of God with the earth are continued. When they become "Lo-ammi," or not a people, His dealings with the earth as the direct subject of prophecy cease; and are only taken up again when the Jews are back in their own land, or in other words, when the platform, on which all God's prophetic dealings are enacted, is again restored to its place; and so definite is the distinction made by Jehovah between the time when His people are owned by Him and located again in Judea, that, as another has remarked, all the prophecies which were uttered while they were in the former condition are addressed to them directly; whilst those which were spoken while they are "Lo-ammi" are spoken about them, but never to them. Just as if, speaking with reverence, God ceased to be on speaking terms with His people when they forgot Him.

I have said that prophecy relates to the earth; not to heaven. I know of only one prophecy which speaks of heaven (Rev. xii. 4), and even that has reference to the earth; telling that Satan is cast out into the earth, and his angels are cast out with him.

Literal Fulfilment of Prophecy.
The next important thing to keep before us in the interpretation of prophecy is its literal fulfilment. We have no warrant for spiritualising away the fulfilment of a prophecy. Every prophecy which has as yet been fulfilled has been fulfilled to the very letter. It was prophesied about our Lord, that He should make His grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death; and He was crucified between two malefactors, and buried in a rich man's tomb. It was prophesied that He should ride into Jerusalem on an ass's colt (Zech. IX. 9). Who would have thought that Israel's Emmanuel King would so come? But the Scriptures must be fulfilled. Again, it is written that one of His garments should be rent, and that upon the other they should cast lots. What! says some spiritualiser; doth God take care of garments? But these things the soldiers did that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. These instances could be multiplied many times, but this will be sufficient to prove our case.

Symbolic Prophecies.
There are, of course, symbolic prophecies, such as the great image in Dan. ii., but they are symbols of realities; and, as it has been rightly remarked, "while the figure may be a symbol, the subject of the prophecy never is." Thus, to spiritualise the promise that Christ is to sit on David's throne, and to say that it only means that He is to be enthroned in His people's hearts, is to take a most unwarrantable liberty with Scripture. Christ has indeed a right to reign in our hearts; but that is not David's throne, which is to be in Jerusalem, and not in the Christian's heart.

Promises to Abraham.
We begin the history of the earthly people with Gen. xii., where Abraham is called out by God to be the head of a new family; or rather, of two families in the earth; and the promise to him is, "In thee shall all the families of. the earth he blessed." The word is not in the singular, but in the plural; indicating, I think, that both the natural and spiritual seed are contemplated in this promise. In chap, xiii., where the promise is reiterated to him in connection with the possession of the land on which he stood, his seed is likened to the sand which is upon the sea shore for multitude; but in chap. xv., where God declares him to be justified by faith, he is told his seed shall be as the stars of heaven; and the point here seems to be that he is addressed as the father of the vast family of faith who have righteousness imputed to them on the same ground that it was imputed to Abraham. Hence the stars, as indicating the heavenly family, are spoken of. But in chap. xxii. 17, where Abraham has received Isaac back from the dead, "as in a figure," God joins these two together in the promise, and says, "As the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is on the sea shore, so shall thy seed be"; because Christ, Abraham's seed, of whom Isaac was a type, takes up in re-surrection both of these, and the promise becomes sure to all the seed (Rom iv. i6).

Now, Christ comes first as a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God; to conform certain promises made to the fathers (Rom. xv. 8); but Israel, the natural seed, rejects Him, and He takes up the heavenly seed for the present time, while Israel is disowned; and this is the dispensation of the mystery of the body before alluded to, and to which Eph. iii. 2, 3, refer; but God will take up Israel again when this dispensation is ended; and according to Romans xi., the natural branches, the Jews, will be grafted again into their own olive tree; or, in other words, brought back to the blessings and privileges they had forfeited through their unbelief.

An Illustration.
I often illustrate it thus: Suppose that I am driving through some mountainous country, and that in the midst of all the barren waste I see a green spot. I ask the man who drives me what is the reason that all around is brown and arid, while that one spot is green; and he tells me that there is a stream which rises high up in the mountain, and flows down to that farm, and the man who lives there has brought it all over his fields and irrigated them with it, and hence the difference. Now, suppose some one comes to the owner of the farm and says to him, "I will send you a steward who will take entire control of your farm; and, fruitful as that river makes it now, he will make it a thousandfold more fruitful. In fact, it will be so rich that it will not be able to contain its riches, and the river will overflow all its boundaries, and will make the rest of the mountain as green as your farm is now." But the man says, "I will have none of him; and would rather turn the stream away than let it water any other fields than mine." Well; in the fulness of time, the steward is sent according to promise; but the farmer kills him and casts him out; and, lest the stream should flow out to the thirsty land around, he builds up a great bank to stop its course altogether. He cannot stop the stream, for its source is above him; but he turns it away from his own farm, and it continues its course outside it. The mountain all around becomes green, and the only brown and arid spot is the farm over which once the fertilising stream flowed.

These are the two things Israel did. They killed the Prince of Life, and forbade His messengers to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved (2 Thess. ii. i6). They cannot, blessed be God, stop the stream, for its source is in the heart of God; but it breaks out beyond the narrow limits of Judaism and flows out to the Gentiles. And so Rom. xi. tells us, "that the fall of them has been the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles"; but, by-and-by, the stream will return to its strength again, and, breaking down the barrier of unbelief which has made Israel appear in the place of enemies for our sakes, will flow through them as the channel, to the surrounding nations; and the day of receiving of them again (the day of Israel's fulness) will be as life from the dead. Now, it is important to remember that the calling of the Gentiles into blessing was strictly in accordance with Old Testament prophecies and promises; nay, even the casting off of the Jews for a time was often alluded to, and even foretold, as in Hos. ii., iii.; but the peculiar form or shape which grace was to take in this dispensation, viz., a body, of which the risen Christ is the Head and we the members, was hidden; and this I take to be the mystery of Eph. 3: 3, which will come in for consideration in its proper place in these lectures.

It is not spoken of directly in the Old Testament; for it was, as we are told, "kept secret since the world began"; but we shall find room left for it in many scriptures and in Jewish history, to which we will have to refer in more or less detail by-and-by.

Practical Study of Prophecy.
Now, for the practical study of prophecy, we begin with the book of Daniel. The ten tribes, as we have stated in explaining the diagram, have, on account of the sin of Jeroboam and the golden calves in Bethel and Dan, been sent into captivity into Assyria (2 Kings xvii.), and Shalmaneser, who took them captive, sent peoples from other nations into Samaria instead of them. The Jews in Jerusalem did not know therefore whether these were of their own nation or not; and hence, the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. These are what are commonly called the ten lost tribes. Hidden away amongst the nations; but God knows where they are, and will bring them back into their own land, as Isa. xlix. tells us in such touching language-where Zion, who has been a captive, and wandering m and fro, wonders where all these have come from, and where they have been - a chapter full of interest when read in connection with the fifteen Psalms from cxx. to cxxxv., called "the Songs of Degrees," which give us the experiences and exercises of heart, uttered prophetically, of these same ten tribes when they are about to return, or are probably on their way back to Jerusalem, in which their feet are shortly to stand.

Daniel and his Prophecy.
Then, as we have before stated, the two tribes are sent into captivity to Babylon, on account of the sin of Manasseh and the idolatry which he led them into; just as the ten tribes were sent before into Assyria. Amongst these Daniel is a captive, and he understood by books that these 70 years of captivity were at an end, and he asks God to tell him what will happen his own people after the 70 years of desolations are accomplished; and, after uttering that wonderful confession and prayer, both personal and national, in chap. ix., God tells him that at the beginning of his supplication the command to answer him went forth, and Gabriel is sent to show him what shall come to pass in the latter days.

He then asks how long it is all to be, and he is told that 70 weeks, or heptads, are determined on his peofie, that is the Jewish people, as the time in which God is going to accomplish all His prophetic dealings with them, from the time they were to come out of captivity up to the time when the kingdom and dominion is to be given to the Jewish saints under their promised Messiah, who is presented to us here as "Messiah the Prince, who is cut off and has nothing" (as the true translation of the words, "but not for Himself," should be). He is the same who is spoken of in chap. ii. as "the stone cut out of the mountain without hands." That chief corner stone of Psalm cxviii.; the elect and precious stone of 2 Peter ii.; and the same with which the Lord identifies Himself in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, saying; whosoever shall stumble at Him (that is, every one who will not believe in Him now) shall be broken, or perish; but, alluding to the time when He comes in judgment, He says (referring to the nations who reject Him by-and-by), on whomsoever it shall fall it will grind him to powder.

This is the aspect in which He is presented to us in the book of Daniel. Now, in answer to Daniel's desire to understand the future of his nation, God gives him a sketch of it in the book, and makes him the depository of the whole prophetic history, not of the Jews only, but of all the great Gentile empires that have had to do with His people Israel. This He does by symbols; for instance - like the great image of chap. ii., the four great beasts rising out of the sea in chap. vii., and the ram and great rough goat of chap. viii.; and He explains what each symbol means,- in the chapter in which it is,- so that there is no difficulty about understanding them. But the explanation of these symbols we must leave to the next lecture, merely asking that it be borne in mind that all this refers to the earth and the earthly people, the Jews.

The Church of God.
That the Church of God in its Ephesian sense, as the mystery hid from ages is not contemplated here, is evident; for the whole of God's dealings with the nation of which Daniel is speaking, only extends over 70 heptads, or 490 years; whereas there have been nearly 1900 years since the birth of Chris' alone up to this time. It is plain, therefore, that room must be left somewhere for this vast gap. and I think we will be able to show by-and-by that it comes in between the 69th and 7oth heptad of Dan. ix.

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