CHARTS showing "dispensational truth" have been among the most helpful of all
human devices used by God to aid our dull intellects in the apprehension and comprehension
of His plans and purpose. Just as, in geography, it is far easier for us to form an idea
of the size, shape, and distinctive features of any land by consulting a map, than by
reading an account of it in words alone, so a chart graphically presents to our eyes the
whole, or a given part of God's work in a way by which we can grasp it at a glance. I do
not think we should do without charts, but I would remind myself and others, that they are
only a help, and must never be made the foundation of our faith.
In my early life of faith I spent much time
making and unmaking charts in considerable variety. My experiences may be helpful, so I
will record a few impressions which they have left upon my mind. As all the charts I had
ever seen had seven dispensations, all my earlier ones were like these. But I found it
difficult to determine exactly what a "dispensation" was, so I soon had more
than seven. It began to dawn upon me that I was not using the word
"dispensation" correctly, so I changed over to the word "economy."
This was very helpful, as it enabled me to get rid of my previous impressions and to begin
anew with a scriptural expression as a basis. It also enabled me to give
"dispensation" its true meaning, so that I had both dispensations and
economies on my charts.
Of one chart I was particularly fond. It was
shaped like the face of a clock. I began with creation and swept clear around so that, at
the consummation, I arrived at the same point. It made a complete cycle, so that the
eonian times were compared with a day of twenty-four hours. In fact, at that time, I
imagined that the eonian times would be a period of about twenty-four thousand years, the
time that it takes the sun to circle the ecliptic. I took great pains in getting it up,
having all the lettering set up in type so that I could paste it on. Brother Burns, then
in New York City, asked to see it when finished, so I sent it to him. In some way while
being carried about, it was lost, so I never saw my precious chart again.
Before making another of the same kind I
stopped to think the matter over. The advantages of the clock shape were more
philosophical than scriptural. Some important points were not shown, indeed, could not be
shown. So I made up my mind to start with Scripture, and leave the shape to be selected
later. I determined to make the chart of administrations (or economies, as I called them),
and to add the dispensations. The word oikonomia, (stewardship or administration)
does not occur very often in the Scriptures, but it is used of the present, so I made this
the base line, or point of departure, for the whole.
But, while grace is the special dispensation
in this economy (Eph.3:2), its prime feature as an administration is secrecy
(Eph.3:9). So I proposed to illustrate this in my new chart by folding it out of sight.
This was the principal point that I could not incorporate into the clock chart. Now
that I saw the importance of this, I was glad that the old chart had been lost. This is
why, when I see a new chart, I always look to see if any attempt has been made to suggest
the secrecy of the present economy, for that rests directly on the expressed word
of God. In the present era this point should be emphasized above all others, for it is
divine in a sense that much else on a chart cannot be. Only two economies are actually so
named, that of the complement of the eras (Eph.1:10) and "the secret
administration which has been concealed" (Eph.3:9). On this we may base our faith.
The other economies are a matter of intelligence, and we cannot contend for them as we can
At first I was not clear whether I should call
this "the economy of grace" or "the secret economy."
Then I saw that the genitive "grace" gives us the dispensation which
underlies it. In other administrations it is sometimes difficult to find a satisfactory
name, and also to express the dispensation which accompanies it. But in this
administration we are not left to guess. The dispensation is grace. The administration
is secret. This became a key to so much precious truth that I feel that we have
neglected it in later years. I would advise all to consult the chart in the Divine
Calendar once again. It is also a key to the readjustment of our faith shown in the
smaller chart called "The Spheres of Blessing." Let us stress this key
conception of this economy. It was a secret. God Himself concealed it. Let
us not introduce it into God's previous revelation and let us always keep this before us
in our charts, or we will be tempted to forget, and confound our secret economy
with others which had been previously revealed.
Having fixed the name and dispensation of this
present administration, I sought to find both for all other eonian times, so as to
be sure I had a real administration, for there are many different kinds of eras and epochs
in God's Word which do not involve a change in God's methods of dealing with mankind. This
double check usually serves to identify and distinguish the administrations from other
periods. After much rearranging and testing, I found twelve, not seven. At first
the number was disconcerting, for seven alone seemed satisfactory. But then my eyes were
opened to the fact that twelve is the number of administration, not seven. Thus the
number seemed to confirm my findings. I have seen other lists since then, I have
considered objections, I have tried to view them critically, but so far, I see no good
reason for any change.
Some of the names are not taken from the
Scriptures, which fact I have always deplored. Yet it is not easy to find a single word to
cover the ground. I still think that "Innocence" is the best name for the first
economy, for it expresses God's arrangement for man as no other does. But perhaps we
should use "Creation," The Creation Administration. The dispensation is perhaps
best expressed by the word Paradise. To be sure, it carries with it the idea of
appreciated blessing, which does not fit, but, as we have no experience like Adam, who did
not know good, we have no word to cover it.
The term "transition" is also unknown
to the Scriptures, so should be avoided in giving names. But, in this case, there is one
at hand. The word "readjust" has no place in most English versions, but is used
for the very important function of describing that process which was necessary in order to
introduce the present secret economy. The whole of the book of Acts is a series of
shiftings, especially Paul's part of it. Hence the term Readjustment is a good name for
the administration before the present.
To further clarify the distinction between
administrations and dispensations we have made a special chart in which the
administrations are piled one upon another and the dispensations represented by a variety
of lines, in order to distinguish each one easily. This is not presented as authoritative
by any means, so far as the details are concerned. In fact it will show how reticent we
should be in some particulars. The main intent is to present so much detail that the
general impression will remain firmly fixed, that is, that dispensations are
usually permanent, and pass over into the succeeding economies, but that each administration
has its own character, which passes away with it.
It will be seen at a glance that
administrations become more complex, as more and more gifts are dispensed, most of which,
though they characterize one economy, pass on to the following ones. We will take a rapid
glance at each, and count up the dispensations in each administration; and note the
disappearances, as well as some questionable matters. If anyone differs from this in
details, we will not press the points, for these thoughts are not nearly so important as
the absolute and wholehearted belief in what is written in the Word. If objection is taken
to making ours a secret administration, by a dispensation of grace, this would be going
against what is written, and we would protest. But if objection is made to any other
detail let each one adapt his own copy to his own insight.
Creation: In this all that God
gave is comprehended in one word, Paradise. Perhaps Nature would be a better
word. God gave Adam his whole environment. Only a part of this has come down to us, so we
have put only half as many dots to indicate this dispensation as continuing, until we come
to the last two economies, where Paradise is, in a sense, restored. And, indeed, it
goes right on beyond the eons.
Conscience: Here half of Paradise
continues, but the Curse is the main characteristic. This goes right on, unabated
until the Kingdom administration. Yet even this and the next are not entirely free
from traces of it so a short dash is placed in each. This must not be confused with doom,
which is absent from the last administration.
Government: Paradise and
the Curse continue and Authority is added. This continues, with some
changes, particularly the eras of the nations, when it is put into the hands of the
gentiles, and especially in the eons of the eons, when it is found in the hands of Israel
and her Messiah. We could leave it out of the kingdom administrations, because, through
Christ, authority is in the hands of God, but it seems better to put it into the hands of
Christ as the Son of Mankind, and darken the line to indicate the iron rule of
Messiah in the millennium, but not in the new earth.
Promise: Here we have half Paradise,
the Curse, Authority, and the new dispensation, Promise. It continues
right through to the Kingdom, when it largely vanishes in fulfillment. Hence we
have only a slight indication then, and even less in the last economy.
Law: Paradise, Curse,
Authority, and Promise are carried on, yet Law is the principal feature
of God's dealings with the earth. But here matters become too complex for a simple chart,
for Law applies to but a small minority of mankind. In the Readjustment and
the Secret economy it is crowded aside by grace. But it is not entirely without
effect on these eras, so we put in a mere dot. In the Complement of the eras, when
God dwells with mankind, it seems to be nearly absent.
Incarnation: More complex still! Paradise,
Curse, Authority, Promise, and Law are all on the scene, to which comes the
personal presence of the Messiah, bringing a measure of Grace and Truth,
connected with His own people Israel. It can hardly be carried on in His absence, so is
discontinued until His return. The present and part of the previous administration, are
based on the repudiation of all physical ties, even those of Christ. Yet it forms the
background for some truth, so we have put a single dot in each.
Pentecost: Every previous
dispensation is represented, except the Incarnation (which, as a background, we
give a dot), and to these is added the gift of the holy spirit, especially for power. We
have the holy spirit homing in us and spiritual blessings far above those of Pentecost.
Still the gift as then given did not continue through the Readjustment, and is absent
today. Yet we have the spirit, so leave dots to indicate its presence.
Readjustment: A most complex and
changeable era! The first four dispensations continue, but the Law really is
nothing but a background, as it is today (for which we give it a dot), the Incarnation
is recognized at first, but later is particularly put outside its scope, while the Spirit
is really continued, but greatly modified. Because of its changing character I did not
consider it an administration for some time. But certain very important dispensations or
gifts, such as Justification and Conciliation were not given in the Pentecostal
economy or in the Secret, though they prepared for this era, and God dealt with the
nations at that time in a very special way, so it has a good claim to inclusion among the
Secret: Not really very
complicated but often made so by not noting that all of the dispensations from the time of
Abraham's circumcision--the Law, the Grace and Truth which
accompanied the Incarnation, and the Pentecostal Spirit-- practically fall away,
remaining simply as a background (for which they get a dot on the chart). This is because
in this era Grace is dispensed in a measure which overflows the law and the flesh.
But it has become very complicated in theology because three dispensations, the law of
Moses, the teaching of Jesus, and the Spirit's testimony to the coming kingdom in the book
of Acts, have been mixed with it or have partly replaced it.
Judgment: The era of Indignation
practically reverts to the Pentecostal era, only adding the divine wrath. But the Indignation
exhausts itself, and does not continue in the following administrations. Here we have a
telling example of the fact that dispensations are not perpetual. How like a God of love
to wait so long before venting His indignation and then causing it to cease, in contrast
to almost all His other dispensations!
Kingdom: Now matters are
beginning to improve. Paradise is to some extent restored. The Curse is
partly removed. Authority is enforced with an iron club, hence we blacken the line.
The Promises largely retire, having been fulfilled. The Law continues,
written in their hearts. The return of Christ brings with it the Grace and Truth
of the Incarnation. The Spirit produces the powers of the coming eon. But
the last three preceding dispensations, Justification-Conciliation, transcendent Grace,
and Indignation have no place. The great gift of that day will be Justice.
Righteousness will reign.
Complement: The last
administration is much the same as the Kingdom, but with more of Paradise
restored, less of the Curse, a vanishing amount of Authority because it is
no longer needed, few Promises, because they have been fulfilled, except those
pertaining to unbelievers, little Law, as there are few law breakers, but it will
see the fullness of the Grace and Truth of the Incarnation and of the Spirit,
with a vanishing dispensation of Justice, because of the lack of evil.
Only in the heavens is the Justification,
Reconciliation, and Grace which is ours to be found in the coming economies,
hence they are not noted on the chart.
The Consummation: This is no
administration like the rest, but it is worthwhile to see in it the ripe result of all the
previous dispensations. We may expect more than Paradise. The Curse will be
entirely absent. Authority will be abrogated. The Promises will all be
fulfilled. The Law will not be needed. Grace will do its greatest work in
the vivification and Justification of all. Indignation and Justice
will give place to Reconciliation. The result of all of God's administrations and
dispensations will be the revelation of Himself as Love and its enshrinement in the heart
of every one of His blood-bought creatures.
If this brief consideration of the subject has
shown the difference between distinct administrations and cumulative dispensations, and
the exceptional character of this present secret administration, which is really a reaction
from the previous ones, since Abraham's circumcision, when God turned from mankind to deal
with Israel, it will have effected its purpose. Too often, in the past, have we spoken of
"dispensational truth" when we really meant administrational distinctions. Much
of the haziness which still hangs about the subject would vanish if we would be more
accurate in our use of the key words. And let us not base our faith on the chart, but on
the Scriptures which have suggested it, and of which it is but a faulty expression.
The question has been propounded, "If, in
the past, there were two dispensations running at the same time, will it not also be so in
the future? Will not the body-church remain on earth until the middle of the seventieth
week?" Such questions arise partly from the inexact translations, but principally
from a lack of knowledge of the character of the administrations. It is generally supposed
that the present "dispensation" overlapped in the past. Crudely as this is
expressed, it is true. The grace of the present was gradually introduced. But it
should not be made the basis of reasoning about the end of this administration. If
there is to be any deduction, it should be like this. Now, grace is dispensed. This
was present in measure before the administration commenced because the previous
administration was preparatory to this. But this administration is not preparatory to the
next. In fact the next administration prepares for another eon, for the eons of the eons,
which differ radically in character from the present evil eon. This is in man's day, that
will be in Jehovah's day. This deals with a celestial allotment, that with a terrestrial.
This is concerned with the body of Christ, that with the bride of the Lambkin. Principally
however, this is in the era of conciliation (which it has in common with the
previous administration), while the next is the administration of indignation, the
very opposite. When stepping into the next administration we cross the most important
threshold, the sharpest, with the greatest contrast between any two administrations,
because it coincides with the crisis of the eonian times.
Administrations and their boundaries are not
determined by inferences and deductions of this kind, but by exact and intelligent
discrimination. There is no reason why the beginning and end should be similar. In fact,
logical deduction would come to the opposite conclusion, for the other administrations do
not conform to any such rule. The underlying thought of the administrations is variety --
God wished to demonstrate what is in man by varying the conditions in which he is placed.
and the end is always different from the beginning because man always fails. Hence there
is no call for a correspondence of any kind.