« PreviousContinue »
cover the earth as the waters do the channels of the sea, we shall be assured that we are on the brink of a volcano, whose tremendous throes have long foreboded destruction, and in whose yawning gulf the fairest works of the old, and the most splendid scenes of the new creation shall be swallowed up in undistinguishable ruin.*
This is no caricature or imaginary picture. He must be very ignorant of what is passing around him, who does not know, that I have given but a faint and subdued sketch of the effects that have already resulted from mistaken speculations on the meaning of unfulfilled prophecy, and from indigested and unscriptural notions of the present dispensation.
A dispensation of religion is a particular form of the divine administration of the church, and of the world in relation to the church. In this view of the matter, there have been several dispensations or forms of the revealed administration of heaven, all adapted to the purpose of God for the time, and all tending to the same great end. The present dispensation supposes that there may have been one or more past dispensations, and that there may be a dispensation yet to come. It may be in itself complete, or it may bear some relation both to a
* See Note C.
former and a future economy. It may be the conclusion or completion of that which has passed away; and the preparation for something that is to come. We cannot therefore, I apprehend, arrive at correct views of its nature, without forming some correct estimate of what preceded it, and having some general notion of what is to follow it.
That changes of dispensation, in the sense in which I have explained the expression, have already occurred, and that one more is yet to follow, cannot for a moment be doubted by any one who is even superficially acquainted with the scriptures. Such changes, however, by no means imply any fickleness or actual change on the part of God. It is not, indeed, so much change as progress we are called to mark. The gradual developement of the successive parts of a great plan, so far from evincing alteration of purpose on the part of the contriver, is often a proof of the contrary; affords evidence of the penetrating wisdom and forethought which foresees future contingencies, and effectually provides against their defeating the original design. The light of the early dawn, by whose medium we imperfectly see surrounding objects, and often mistake their nature, is of the same character, and proceeds from the same source, with that meridian brightness which converts objects of terror or dis
gust into a scene of surpassing and ravishing splendour. So it is with the dispensations of God. The morning star, which threw a faint and twinkling ray on the once fair, but then gloomy scenes of paradise, was the harbinger of the brighter and steadier light of a distant period. The light which then dawned, though occasionally dimmed, and sometimes seemingly overpowered by the dark atmosphere through which it had to penetrate, was never afterwards entirely withdrawn. On the contrary, it gradually, though slowly, increased, diffusing through many ages a pale but celestial radiance, till at last it burst forth upon an astonished world, in the peerless splendour of the Sun of righteousness.
The first of the divine dispensations was adapted to man in a state of primeval innocence and purity. It placed him on the ground of equitable right and treatment. Its object was to make trial of the moral integrity and fidelity of a creature, formed holy and happy, but entirely dependent on God. Nothing occurred but what had been foreseen, and for the consequences of which full preparation had not been made. The creature's fall, though deeply mysterious, did not frustrate the divine intention, or necessarily involve any change on the part of God, except in the revealed method of treatment. Mercy rejoiced against judgment
a new view was presented of the character of the Most High, and the boundless resources of his wisdom and benevolence were discovered to the intelligent universe. Then began the reign or the dispensation of grace; by which, to the angels, principalities, and powers, in heavenly places, Jehovah has been manifesting, in his conduct to the church, his manifold wisdom.*
The destruction of the old world, and its renovation by the waters of the deluge, brought a new discovery of God's future intentions, and placed the earth and its inhabitants under another covenant or dispensation, the benefits of which all human creatures enjoy, and some of the provisions of which are to last till the earth shall be destroyed and purified by a deluge of fire.
The selection of Abraham and his seed was a farther manifestation of the divine designs, and brought along with it fresh discoveries of that future blessing which all the nations of the earth are ultimately to inherit. The choice of Abraham was an exercise and display of sovereign mercy; his justification by faith in the divine promise was designed as the pattern of the justification of all believers ; the influence of his faith on his character was intended to illustrate the operation of that powerful principle; while in the preservation and treatment of the Abrahamic family, God at once illustrated various parts of his own character-established the truth of former discoveries, and prepared the way for the accomplishment of future designs of mercy. So perfect is the correspondence between the dispensation of Abraham and that of Jesus, that all the children of faith are declared to be the children of Abrahain, and blessed with him.* If we be Christ's, we are assured that we are then Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise ; of heirs of that world which was promised to the father of the faithful, through the righteousness of faith ;* and which is insured to all believers, by the engagements of God's covenant.
* See Note D.
But the present dispensation stands in a peculiar relation to the covenant made with Israel at Sinai, which it has entirely superseded, and with which it is often contrasted in scripture. So important is a right understanding of the Mosaic covenant, to a correct knowledge and due appreciation of the blessings of the present covenant, that I believe I hazard no mistaken observation when I say, that ninetenths of the mistakes which have beclouded and injured christianity, have arisen from the
* Gal. iii. 7-9.
† Gal. iii. 29.
Rom. iv. 13, 16.