Spurgeon on Dispensationalism

Every now and then, I’ll hear someone say that Dispensationalism is not new; that it’s been around since the early church. They may point to stray quotes from Ireneaus and other church fathers to bolster their position. Regrettably, their position rests on an obfuscation on what, exactly, Dispensationalism is.

Will the real Dispensationalism stand up?

Let’s start with definitions.

a system of order, government, or organization of a nation, community, etc., especially as existing at a particular time.

Note that there is nothing specifically relevant to Christian theology in this definition. In other words, if a person reads their Bible, they might naturally observe that different “dispensations” were in effect for Adam and Eve (pre-fall), than for, say, Abraham or Moses or Paul. Does that then make them a Dispensationalist (big “D”)?

In a word, no!

Almost without exception, every Christian scholar of every stripe believes that God uses different distinct epochs/ages/dispensations over human history. A Dispensationalist (Classical and Traditional Dispensationalist) believes much more than this. They believe:

  1. Sharp distinction between Israel and the Church (both in the past and in the future, with God having two distinct plans for the two distinct peoples)
  2. Insistence on historical-grammatical interpretation
  3. Progressive Revelation of God’s glory through history

As Ryrie himself says, “The essence of dispensationalism, then, is the distinction of Israel and the Church. This grows out of the dispensationalists consistent employment of normal or plain interpretation, and it reflects an understanding of the basic purpose of God in all His dealings with mankind as that of glorifying Himself thought salvation and other purposes as well.” This view is affirmed by Scofield, Chafer, Ironside, Hodges, MacArthur and many others.

But what do we do for Believers who affirm points 2 and 3, but not 1? All of Church history prior to the 1800s falls into this group, and we certainly can’t call them Dispensationalists!

Is it really new?

Dispensationalism was started by Darby in the 1800s. Some people would dispute that claim, saying that he merely popularized it. Usually this rebuttal arises when one waters down what Dispensationalists believe.

But here’s a rather telling quote from a contemporary of Darby, Charles Spurgeon:

“Distinctions have been drawn by certain exceedingly wise men (measured by their own estimate of themselves), between the people of God who lived before the coming of Christ, and those who lived afterwards. We have even heard it asserted that those who lived before the coming of Christ do not belong to the church of God!

We never know what we shall hear next, and perhaps it is a mercy that these absurdities are revealed at one time, in order that we may be able to endure their stupidity without dying of amazement. Why, every child of God in every place stands on the same footing; the Lord has not some children best beloved, some second-rate offspring, and others whom he hardly cares about.

These who saw Christ’s day before it came, had a great difference as to what they knew, and perhaps in the same measure a difference as to what they enjoyed while on earth meditating upon Christ; but they were all washed in the same blood, all redeemed with the same ransom price, and made members of the same body.

Israel in the covenant of grace is not natural Israel, but all believers in all ages. Before the first advent, all the types and shadows all pointed one way —they pointed to Christ, and to him all the saints looked with hope. Those who lived before Christ were not saved with a different salvation to that which shall come to us. They exercised faith as we must; that faith struggled as ours struggles, and that faith obtained its reward as ours shall”

Charles Suprgeon
Devotional Classics of C H Spurgeon, p122

Spurgeon’s comment tells us this much:

  • Dispensationalism (big “D”) was new to his day, teaching many new things yet unheard in Christendom
  • Dispensationalism taught the Church did not include OT saints
  • Spurgeon insisted that the OT saints were indeed part of the Church
  • People before Christ did not stand in the same light of revelation as NT saints (ie, progressive revelation)
  • In some way, Israel is not “natural Israel”, but rather, all believers of all ages

Very telling indeed.

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