Being a Series of Studies having Special Reference to the
Epistles of Paul and the Present Dispensation.
AND ITS BEARING UPON THE
Expositions. No. 3.
(An Introductory Study to prepare the way for the Future
Expositions on Vital
By Charles Welch
READERS Of THINGS TO COME will have noticed that, from time to time, articles
have appeared of a more or less suggestive character, indicating that the
writers have felt that there was something concerning the peculiar blessings,
privileges, and responsibilities of the present dispensation which had hitherto
been unperceived. It is with the desire to help the Lord's people along these
important lines of study that we have commenced this series of articles. It is
our desire to "forget the things which are behind" and to " press goalward : "
but we are also convinced that we must "hasten slowly," if we are to be of
service. This present article is an endeavour to open the subject before us, and
to lead up to the vital question-When did this present dispensation
commence in its fullness, and what arc its characteristics ?
In the March number we sought to Give a few thoughts upon the subject of "the
Unity of the Spirit;"
but believers will be continually seeking to revive the "old things " which
have "passed away," until they are clear upon this great subject of
dispensational truth: for prophetic study is intensely practical in its results
we read in the Old Testament, those who
"knew the signs of the times"
were the ones who "knew what Israel ought to do."
Many and varied as the numerous attempts after " Unity" may be; and however
great the divergence among them, there are some things which they all seem to
have in common, namely-they go to the " Gospels" and "Acts" for their doctrinal
and ecclesiastical arguments; they all emphasise the ordinances of Baptism
and the Lord's Supper; and many either imagine they possess, or else
desire to possess, " spiritual gifts."
We believe that such are labouring under a false interpretation. Just as a stick
appears bent when standing in the water, so, our understanding of Scripture will
be distorted while we ignore the differing medium. In other words, if we stand
in the dispensation of the Spirit and the Mystery, and try to act as though we
were in the dispensation of the Kingdom, we shall in " that day," if not here,
be ashamed, through not "rightly dividing the Word of Truth."
The careful reader of Scripture can hardly have failed to see the tremendous
influence which the people of Israel have had, during their history, upon the
dealings of God with surrounding nations. The histories of Egypt, Assyria, Moab,
of Rahab, of Ruth, and other Gentiles, are recorded just so far as they
come into contact with this wonderful nation. The Lord blesses or judges
particularly with reference to their attitude towards His people, (see the
judgment of the living nations in Matt. 25). He even "set the bounds of the
nations according to the number of the children of Israel " (Deut. 32. 8). If we
might put it tersely, we would say that HISTORY is recorded so long as
Israel is recognized as a nation, but MYSTERY obtains when Israel
becomes" Lo-Ammi" Not My people."
The times of the Gentiles could not begin until captivity had taken,
practically, the twelve tribes out of the land. The unrecorded interval of the
present time, between the sixty-ninth and seventieth seven of Dan. 9., is a case
in point. (See also Isa. 6:.1, 2, with Luke 4: 18-20, and Rev. 5.)
We forbear to give further instances of this well-known subject, but now pass on
from the general to the particular-the bearing which Israel's national
position has upon the Present Dispensation and Preaching of the Mystery.
Between the prophecy of Malachi and the so-called " New Testament " is an
interval of several hundred years-unbroken by the Voice of Revelation. It has
been too easily assumed that Malachi finishes the "Old Testament," and the "
Gospels " commence the " New."
But if we will give a moment's thought, we shall see that the people addressed
in Matthew are the same as those in Malachi (i.e., they are their descendants),
the same land, city, Temple, Law, and character : the great mass being
superficial, and a few waiting for the consolation of Israel and thinking on His
Name ; the great and marvelous difference being this-that whereas Malachi says
that Christ the Messiah shall come, Matthew shows us that the Messiah
has come. The Lord Jesus in the two-fold capacity of Son of Abraham and Son
of David walked their streets, heralded the good news of the Kingdom, was
rejected and crucified, to be seen no more by the nation of Israel until they
look upon Him Whom they pierced."
The Gospel of the Kingdom had good news, not only for Israel, but for the
Gentiles ; for, David's Greater Son was also the Seed of Abraham in Whom ALL
NATIONS should be blessed.
The distinction between the titles Son of David and Son of Abraham is important.
Abrahamic blessing has reference to the Gentiles as well as Jews, although the
Jewish tradition had limited Abraham to their own nation instead of "many
nations." We hope to speak of this more particularly in our next article.
Rom. 15. 8, 9, should be here noticed. " Now I say that Jesus Christ was a
minister of the CIRCUMCISION for the truth of God, to confirm the
promises made unto the FATHERS: and that the Gentiles might
glorify God for His mercy," etc. Then follow passages which, strictly speaking,
are Millennial, and will not be fulfilled until the Kingdom comes.
In full accord with Rom. 15:8, is Matt. 10. 5- 15 -- " GO NOT into the
way of the Gentiles . . . . but go rather to the lost sheep of the house
of Israel," etc.
The Gospel of the Kingdom was rejected, as was the King, King, and the " GO
NOT " is altered to the "GO YE,
disciple all nations " of Matt. 28. This opened the door of mercy to the
Gentiles, as is shown in the Acts, where
the Kingdom is once more proclaimed, and the " uttermost parts of the earth "are
taken into its scope.
The "Gospels" are really a continuation of the Old Testament, with this
difference, "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past
UNTO the Fathers by THE PROPHETS, hath in these last days spoken
unto us by His Son " (Heb. 1. 1, 2). The King long prophesied was
present. Alas ! Israel, like all of Adam's race, needed a Saviour from sin
before they could appreciate a Kingdom of Righteousness, and consequently we
read in Matt. 12: 6, 41, 42, they reject the Lord of glory, though greater than
any Temple, Prophet, or King. In verses 43-45 the Lord Jesus gives a prophetic
picture of Israel's apostasy and end ; in verses 46-50, He disconnects Himself
from fleshly ties ;, and to the faithful remnant in Matt. 13, He, for the
first time, opens up the MYSTERY of, or secret concerning, the
Kingdom of the Heavens.
The HISTORY of Israel virtually finished when they rejected Christ, and
MYSTERY began -- but this was not made open and public until long
after when the Apostle Paul, in Acts 28. 26, 27, quoted the same verse openly,
that the Saviour had spoken privately to His disciples-namely, Isa. 6: 10
-- and just as Christ then commenced to unfold the mysteries of the
Kingdom of Heaven, so Paul was enabled to commence the unfolding of a
MYSTERY-not the Mystery of the Kingdom, but. THE MYSTERY of the One Body,
Christ and His Church in its present dispensational position-the truth for the
destined channel of blessing, had for the time failed, and it seems that the
Apostle Paul in a sense was raised up to do in small measure that which Israel
will yet do in fullness when the Kingdom comes. The conversion of Saul of Tarsus
by the descent of the Son of God is a close parallel to the conversion of Israel
- in that day," as recorded in Zech. 12:10-14 He speaks of himself as one being
born out of due time, and in 1 Tim. 1. 16, he speaks of himself and his
conversion as a type of those who shall hereafter believe, the word " hereafter
" being often used in connection with the Kingdom. In Rom. 11:1, his argument is
I am saved ; I am an Israelite; I am a type and a pledge, not only of a remnant
now (i.e., at the time of writing), but of " all Israel " in that day. Isa. 61.
6 tells us that Israel shall be named " Priests of the Lord;" and Paul, in
describing his ministry in Rom. 15:16, speaks of it in connection with the
Gentiles, "that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable." "' A
change, however, comes over the Apostle's ministry, which was the prelude to the
new order of things which was consequent upon the setting aside of Israel and
the Kingdom for the time. The first step toward this change is recorded in Acts
19:8, 9. This is the last synagogue witness, and is followed by the Apostle "
separating the disciples " and gathering them together-as a distinct company
from the synagogue-in the School of one Tyrannus. "To the Jew first " had
been the order (see Rom. 1. i6), but that order was to be done away. " To the
Jew first " is not the order for the time present, neither is it a correct
interpretation of the verse to make it an argument for Jewish missionary work
to-day. Jews to-day are saved as sinners, just as the Gentiles, with no
respect to any special Messianic or national privileges. Acts 20 shows us
that bonds and afflictions awaited the Apostle at Jerusalem-the Ephesian saints
should see his face no more. Some say the Apostle was self-willed and obstinate,
and went up to Jerusalem against the will of the Lord-we reserve any comment
until we are able to give an article on the subject of " Apostolic mistakes! "
in some future issue. In Acts 20:17-27 the Apostle looks back upon a past
ministry and forward to a future one. The past he summarizes as
"testifying, both to the Jews and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God and
faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ," practically the same ministry as that of
John the Baptist and Peter. His future ministry he introduces with a "BUT NOW,"
just as he introduces
the change consequent upon the abeyance of the Kingdom in Heb. 2. 8. This new
ministry is connected with "bonds and afflictions," and it is noteworthy that
the three great Epistles of the Mystery, written after Acts 28, 26-28, refer,
each of them, to the fact that the Apostle was a prisoner-a prisoner of the
Lord, a prisoner for the Gentiles, a prisoner because of the Mystery of Christ.
He further describes this future witness in verse 24: " To testify the Gospel of
the grace of God." The Apostle now sets out for Jerusalem and eventually we find
him in peril of his life. Now begins a fresh experience. He is about to enter
experimentally into the particular phase of truth delivered to him comprised
in the words "With Christ." Like his Lord, he is taken before rulers and
priests, false witnesses are summoned, his enemies cry out " Away with him! " He
embarks for Rome-a prisoner. The terrible shipwreck teaches him yet more of the
" fellowship of His sufferings." The hiding of sun and stars makes us think of
the darkness of Calvary ; the condition of salvation to all on the ship being
also typical-all with Paul, and altogether as one company: the
breaking up of the hinder part of the ship speaks of the bruising of the heel of
Christ: the viper, powerless and conquered, like the vanquished serpent, the
Devil : the healing which took place upon the island-all these speak volumes,
and when Paul at length reaches Rome DEATH-and RESURRECTION-fellowship
with Christ has been wonderfully typified, between him and Jerusalem lies that
experience. Henceforth, till the Lord Jesus come, and the Kingdom be set up,
Jerusalem passes from view and with it Israel and all its influence.
The contrast between the two inspired statements of Acts 28: 23 and 31 is most
instructive. To the Jews. -"To whom he expounded and testified the
Kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the Law of
Moses and the prophets." To the Gentiles and all who came to him.-"
Preaching the Kingdom of God and TEACHING THOSE THINGS WHICH CONCERN THE LORD
JESUS CHRIST." The contrast is sharp and clear. To the Jews it is " Jesus "
to the Gentiles it is " The Lord Jesus Christ "-the title of the Epistles to the
Churches. To the Jews it is Messianic witness- out of the law and prophets"-to
the Gentiles it is not so stated. Other passages show that the Apostle was
taught the Mystery directly by the Lord Himself. It was a Revelation. Some deny
the difference so patent here: but they quarrel, not with us, but with the Holy
Ghost. Christ in Resurrection-not as King, but as Lord and Head
of the one Body-is now the theme. We may feel quite sure that the Apostle would
go over the blessed truths which he penned in Ephesians, Philippians, and
Colossians to those who came to his own hired house. In Eph. 6. 19 he asked them
to pray for him that he might have boldness to make known the mystery of the
Gospel for which he was an "ambassador in bonds." The word "confidence" in Acts
28. 31 is the same as the word " boldly',' in Eph. 6. 19 and shows how the
prayer was answered. If the " two whole years " have any significance, they
would suggest the period of Israel's setting aside, as in Hosea 6: 2, 3, " after
two days He will revive us, in the third day he will raise us up," etc., during
which the Gentiles are the particular object of the dispensational favours of
The concluding verses of Acts
28. form the great dividing line between the Epistles of the Mystery and the
Epistles that include the Remnant of Israel, with their Kingdom hopes and
accompaniments. At the moment when Paul quoted Isa. 6:10, the period of the
churches' "Babyhood" finished, and the "Perfect Man" standard was proclaimed.
These subjects we hope to deal with separately, and we would ask our readers to
reserve their judgment until they have the opportunity of taking our statements
to the Word of Truth, and " seeing whether these things are so."
The Epistles written before the Roman Imprisonment are 1 and 2 Thess., 1 and 2
Cor, Gal. and Romans. After the imprisonment-Eph., Phil.. Col., 1 and 2 Tim.,
Titus, and Hebrews. It is of the utmost importance to see the difference between
these two sets of Epistles. In the earlier ones, Israel as a nation has its
influence ; Millennial prefigurings abound; and, humanly speaking, Israel's
national repentance might bring the Kingdom and so bring the Saviour even in the
very lifetime of those to whom the Apostle wrote. After Acts 28., this was not
the case. There was no Israel. The Kingdom was entirely in abeyance; Jerusalem
was destroyed. The Gentiles, as such, were aliens to the commonwealth of
Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise-and hence if the Lord had
any gospel for them it must be a gospel of Sovereign Grace
indeed-this forms the basis of the first Epistle of the :Mystery-Ephesians. The
moment a believer understands dispensational truth, he will cease to "reply
against God" as to Election and Predestination. The dispensations that have
passed have never ended abruptly-but a certain overlapping has taken place. The
Acts of the Apostles is the History of this transition-and the Epistles written
before Acts 26. have much that is transitional in them, and a dispensational
position peculiar to themselves.
We are fully aware that abler writers than ourselves have given expression to
similar things, but having now laid the foundation, we hope to go forward in
this wonderful field of research, and we go forward alone, so far as any human
aid is concerned. Others have felt that which we feel. Others have expressed a
belief as to the "possibility" of some of these things, and we now believe the
time has come for a witness to the first lost truths to begin to be sounded.
We conclude this introductory article with summary:
(1.) Israel has always had, and will vet have, the chief place in the
dispensational dealings of God ; and the prophetic parts of the Old Testament
are entirely connected with their national existence.
(2) The great dividing line must be looked for, not at Matt. 1. or Acts 2., but
where Israel as a nation ceases.
(3) 'that dividing line is clearly drawn at Acts 28.
(4) I, as a saved Gentile, have nothing to do with the Mosaic Law as such-to
this most Christians will agree: neither may I step over the boundary line drawn
by the Holy Ghost, in Acts 28., without causing hopeless confusion, and failure
to appreciate the particular blessings and responsibilities that are mine in
this dispensation :-to this at present very few agree.
We would earnestly ask our readers to "search the Scriptures and see whether
these things are so," and to search out their own arguments for their peculiar
ecclesiastical or dispensational beliefs, and find whether much of what they
have received has not been brought over from the closing period of a past
dispensation, " received by tradition from the fathers."
CHARLES H. WELCH.