The testimony of Scripture must be the basis of our thoughts concerning prophecy. Otherwise, we will have wrong thoughts about God’s dealings, leading to a misunderstanding of our relationship with Him, and affecting our conduct in this dark world. If we stray from scripture, any service that we might undertake will be defective: our light will be darkness, and we may lead others astray.
In his paper, ‘Evidence from Scripture of the Passing Away of the Present Dispensation’(Collected Writings Volume 2, Prophetic 1, page 89), J N Darby looks at two questions regarding this dispensation.
- Is this dispensation the last, or is it not?
- What are the circumstances by which any other is to be introduced?
It is a long paper, but this short abstract gives his principal conclusions.
Is this dispensation the last, or is it not?
Paul writes, ‘Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him, in whom also we have obtained an inheritance’(Eph 1:10).
The passage talks about a gathering: it cannot be referring to Christ’s assembly in the present or any dispensation; for the assembly never comprises all things in heaven and on earth – the saints are not ‘all things’. The saints of the church of God comprise only a small, but worthy and admired, part of the glory and purposes of God. In our dispensation, Satan is the prince and god of this world: in no way are all things in heaven and on earth gathered together in Christ. The passage is clear.
Also, ‘Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow’ (1 Peter 1:9-11).
Here we have three things:
- The prophets prophesy about the grace to be brought to us,
- The Holy Spirit confirms the same things.
- The Christian church is waiting until the end for the glory.
Hence there must be a dispensation to come, in which the things prophesied of by the prophets will come to pass: our dispensation is not it.
In the present time, we groan in our bodies awaiting redemption (see Rom 8:23). What we have now is an earnest, something given as a sign or promise of what is to come.
Furthermore, we are told of the everlasting (universal) glad tidings (see Rev 14:16) which precedes the ‘the earth . . . full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’ (Hab 2:14). In this dispensation preaching is not universal: the gospel Is preached in places throughout the world. In spite of this, publicly evil gets worse, not better as some would like to think.
As to the Jews, ‘all Israel shall be saved’ (Rom 11:26), that is as a body. But now Jews may be saved individually by faith in Christ’s finished work – not as a body. The word is, ‘Even so, then, at this present time also, there is a remnant according to the election of grace’(Rom 11:5). The dispensations, therefore, are essentially different in their character; the one the rescuing of the remnant, the other, the saving of the body.
What are the circumstances by which any other is to be introduced?
The next dispensation commences with judgment, especially on the Jews. ‘They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn’(Zech 12:10, John 19:37, Rev 1:7). The consequence is that the Jews will again be recognised as God’s people, and ‘The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’ (Hab 2:14). We need to note that this will not be by means of the preaching of the gospel.
There is no prophecy or promise in Scripture that the gradual diffusion of the gospel will lead to the world being converted (the ‘kingdom’), an amillennialist line of thought which is prevalent in Christian circles.
May God in mercy and grace guide us to the right and full use of His word, receiving it with a simplicity of faith and obedience in our consciences.