By   D. M. PANTON, B. A.


The study of the dispensations – by “dispensations” we mean marked spiritual sections into which God has divided the history of mankind – so far from being merely an interesting Bible study, is vital to our understanding of the Bible; and, even more important, it is vital to our pleasing God.  If (for example) we were to begin practising Circumcision and observing the Passover – once most definite commands of God – so far from pleasing Him, we should definitely provoke the displeasure of the Most High.  Why?  Because we would be acting out of our “dispensation”: we should be ignoring the fresh revelations God has made for a fresh epoch.  The knowledge and practice of dispensational truth is vital to our approval at the Judgment Seat of Christ.  So the Holy Spirit says: “Study to show thyself” – put heart and soul into making yourself – “approved unto God” – an approval won long after conversion, and wholly dependant on intense application – “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing” – neither wantonly mutilating, nor lumping the Scriptures together as one, but correctly dividing: the word is used of the priests’ division of the sacrifices: serving the truth into its right joints and correct sections, as a master surgeon – “the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2: 15).




Four is the number of the earth: its elements are four – earth, fire, air, and water; its seasons are four – spring, summer, autumn, winter; its empires are four – Chaldea, Persia, Greece, Rome; its human divisions, four – “tribes, peoples, nations, and tongues;” and so on indefinitely: so also four are the great Dispensations into which the history of this earth, so long as it exists, is divided: the Patriarchal. Beginning with Adam and lasting (roughly) until Abraham – two thousand years – we know extremely little.  Whatever of primitive revelation it may have had, nothing – with the exception of a fragment from Enoch (Jude 14) – has survived to our own day: it was the era of CONSCIENCE, when conscience, acquired in Eden, was the guide; it was (in Scripture typology) starlight (Rev. 12: 1); what light it had revolved around the twelve “Patriarchs,” God‑chosen fathers of the human race, the Stars of the Void. Its fundamental was this: “Gentiles which have no law are a law unto themselves; in that they shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another, accusing or else excusing them” (Rom. 2: 14).




The next dispensation was the Legal; that is, the age of written and revealed LAW, spanning another two thousand years, from Abraham to John the Baptist; the Moon (Rev. 12: 1) incomparably brighter than the Stars, but only drawing its light from a still unrisen Sun.  In this age God selected a single nation – Israel - to whom He revealed His law, and whom He placed under ideal conditions, so as to conduct a gigantic experiment over two millenniums - to see if man could work out his own salvation by obedience: so that all mankind might learn - what, of course, God knew from the first - that under no conceivable conditions can man, the sinner, produce a righteousness in which to appear before God.  So the bedrock principle of the Law was: “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book ol the law to do them”    (Gal. 3: 10).




The third dispensation is the Christian, spanning another two thousand years, from the first advent of Messiah to the second: far the most peculiar - indeed wholly unique - of the dispensations, it is not starlight, nor moonlight, but the rising of the Sun of GRACE.  The gigantic experiment of salvation by works having utterly failed, God - as is His wont, in such a case - sweeps the board clean; sends Messiah, as man’s substitute, to work out a perfect righteousness for the salvation of the race; is calling out a people from all nations - called the “Church”* - on the principle of salvation through grace alone; and commands the entire action of this People to be based on grace also. Its fundamental is this: “By grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2: 8).


[* It should not be overlooked that the “church” existed before this time, for we read of Israel, after they left Egypt and passed through the Red Sea, described as: “This is the Moses ... this is the one [Moses] having been in the church in the desert with the angel speaking to him in the Mount Sinai and with the fathers of us, who received oracles living to give to you(Acts 7: 37- 39, Greek).]




The last dispensation before the old earth is finally destroyed - the Millennial - covers the closing thousand years of the world’s history, and is the second rising of the Sun - this time the Sun of RIGHTEOUSNESS.  It is the great epoch of justice, or judgment: in it the Messiah returns, to enforce righteousness on the whole earth, and in it also the Church is judged for her works: it is an epoch of an iron rod over the nations of the world, ending at last in the judgment of the great White Throne.  Grace will as much disappear in judgment as law disappeared in grace.  Its fundamental is this: “The day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his works” (Rom. 2: 5).


So now we can summarise. Conscience - Law - Grace - Judgment; Conscience - two thousand years, Law – two thousand years, Grace - two thousand years, and then the Sabbatic Rest - one thousand years*; these are the four great God-divided sections of history, in each of which the Divine principles and attitude are wholly distinct, and so the principles and attitude of God’s people also (Eph. 5: 1, R.V.). And the four divisions - and this is how we know they are God-made sections, and not man-made fancies - are deeply separated by great outbursts of miracle: at the close of the Patriarchal Age, the Flood, and the judgments in Egypt and the Wilderness; at the close of the Legal Age, the stupendous miracles of Christ and His Apostles; at the close of the Christian Age, the Last Judgments and the Advent; and at the close of the Millennial Age, the annihilation of the old heavens and earth, and the creation of new.


[* Such is the traditional prophecy of Enoch:- Two thousand years, the Void; two thousand years, Law; two thousand years, Messiah; and one thousand years, the Kingdom of God. – D. M. PANTON.]


Now the supreme peril we have to avoid is confounding the dispensations, and living out of our own.  The confusion in triany minds is astounding.  Some, like the Roman Catholics, put the Law in place of the Gospel: others, like Tolstoi, press grace to the utter denial of all law: others, like the Gnostics, are so upset by the sharp contrast between law and grace that they say the two come from rival Gods: the ordinary Evangelical seems to say that we are under grace for justification, but under law for sanctification.  Now the truth is this.  Jews, to-day, choose to keep themselves under the Law of Moses, and so will be doubly judged: Gentiles - so long as they remain Gentiles are under the law of conscience, and Gentile rulers are commissioned by God to administer State law: we believers are taken wholly from under the Law of Moses, and are under law to Christ alone.  “For Christ is THE END” - the final finish, the perfect completion – “of the law unto [the obtaining of] righteousness” - whether the passive righteousness of justification, or the active righteousness of sanctification – “to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10: 4).  That is, our rule is never the Old Testament, but always the New: Old Testament promises, commands, practices, must be left to the Old Testament; while the Church [of today] concentrates, heart and soul, on Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypse.  If a command under the Law is repeated by the Spirit under the Gospel, we obey it; but we obey, it not because it is in the Law, but because it is in the Gospel. Confounding the dispensations is the root of all Sacerdotalism, which falls back to law and a fleshly religion of sacramental works; it is the root of the Higher Criticism, which, stumbled by the curses and blood-draught of the Old Testament, fails to understand the profound and purposed chasm between Law and Grace; it is the chief intellectual sin into which Christians have fallen all down the ages - a sin which, by affording an escape from the exacting commands peculiar to our dispensation, forfeit reward; and, in its final development, it is branded by God with one of the most solemn designations of the Bible – ‘Babylon,’ confusion, unholy mixture, spiritual adultery.*


[* The Gospels, together with Acts opening with Peter and closing with Paul (Gal. 2: 7), are a hinge, an exquisite melting of the old into the new; but the awful central event ‑ the actual advent of Godhead ‑ is the watershed after which (Acts 5: 11) the ‘Church,’ though foretold (Matt. 16: 18) and legislated for (Matt 17: 17) by our Lord, is stated for the first time as now on earth; and, spanning and embracing all the Epistles, it last appears as a corporate entity within the Apocalypse, and on the threshold of judgment.  Too sharp a severance of the Testaments, or still subtler sub-divisions of the New, tend to Gnosticism: the confusion of the Testaments culminates in Rome.  Our Lord, the golden hinge, is both a Minister of the circumcision (Rom. 15: 8) and the Head of the Church (Eph. 1: 22).]


Finally, the junctions of the dispensations (1 Cor. 10: 2) so merge into one another as to dovetail, interlace, overlap, interlock.*  Enoch was rapt some hundreds of years prior to the Flood, and the slow construction of the Ark further accentuated a dying age, while yet the twelve final Patriarchs were still unborn: the birth-moment of the Law it is impossible to lodge exactly - whether in Abraham’s call, or Passover night, or the Decalogue on Sinai, or the consecration of the Temple: Law died slowly, as Grace drew on - Grace dawning with the Baptist, unfolding with Christ’s ministry, definitely arrived with the Advent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, left alone and supreme with the burning of the Temple; so also huge world upheavals, accelerating judgments, silent withdrawals, grace-ebb and judgment-rise ‑ no hard, black line divides this Age from the next.  But the penumbra is upon us.  EACH JUNCTION HAS SEEN AN ADVENT OF GOD.  God came down at the birth (Gen. 3: 8) and in the death-moments (Gen. 18: 21) of the Patriarchal Age: God came down in Law’s birth on Sinai (Exod. 19: 20); God came down when Law died, and Grace was born (Matt. 1: 21): WE ARE NOW AWAITING AN ADVENT OF GOD.*


[* It is of great practical importance for us, in a closing age, to visualize vividly these overlapping age-ends; a mysterious belt of border-land, dark, confused, piebald with elements both of the dying age and the age unborn.  It is in this travail-era with which God always appears to furnish Prophets.  An exceedingly striking example is the survival of the Temple, with operative sacrifices, for forty years after the erection of the Spiritual Temple in the upper room: a reversal of which is probably coming - a rebuilt Temple erected in Jerusalem before rapture gives the signal of a removed Spiritual Temple.      - D. M. PANTON.]


[** That is, after the Great Tribulation: “Immediately after the distress of those days ... At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, with power and great glory.  And he will send his angels ... and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other ... When you” -  [i.e., “disciples,” the word embraces all followers of Christ; there is no distinction between Jew or Gentile, we are all ONE in Christ Jesus.] - “see ALL these things, you know that it” [the Second Advent of Christ/Messiah] – “is near . . .” (Matt. 24:29-33).]








“Ye desire again to be in servitude from above” (Gal. 4: 9).


The servitude of old-time saints was appointed (Gal. 4: 9; Heb. 2: 15).  But redeemed ones now ‘have not received the Spirit of servitude again to fear’ (Rom. 8: 15).  Hence the Galations wished to put themselves back to another dispensation.  ‘Days and months, and times and years’ belonged to the period before Christ.  But if believers should wish to re-establish Jewish feasts to-day, they would sin against God.  To re-instate the seventh day, to arrange a Jewish-Christian assembly, to erect elaborate buildings for worship, to ordain an earthly priesthood, to introduce musical instruments in worship, to approve of Christians taking part in warfare, to enter into vows and oaths – all these things are un-dispensational, and thus against the mind of God.  Some of His people see this as to some matters, but hesitate in others.  And when we pray for an all-round realization of His will, in the Spirit, how we need to pray for victory over the subtle contrast-error; for some have the swing of the pendulum, and deny the Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Day, which are graciously given from above, and fitted for a people viewed in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”  – PERCY W. HEWARD.


Over all the earth

You reign on high,

Every mountain and stream.

Every sunset and sky.

But my one request,

Lord my only aim:

Is that You reign in me again.


Lord reign in me,

Reign in Your power;

Over all my dreams,

In my darkest hour;

You are the Lord of all,

So won’t You reign in me again.


Over every thought,

Over every word,

May my life reflect

The beauty of my Lord.

‘Cos You mean more to me,

Than any earthly thing,

So won’t you reign in me again.


[“I am the Vine; you [my disciples] are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers ... If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, AND IT WILL BE GIVEN YOU” (John 15: 5-7).  


Dare we interpret the above passage in any other way than it being a conditional promise of God to His redeemed people? Particularly, when we know of some, who have had in time past, because of their disobedience, experienced the withdrawal of the Holy Spirit from their lives?  


“I’ll go out as before and shake myself free  - said Samson, unaware of the consequences of disobedience, and believing the Power of God could not be taken from him -  “but he did not know that THE LORD HAD LEFT HIM” (Judges 16: 16: 20, N. I. V.)]