The Four Gospels and Their Relation to the Church
HOWEVER they may differ in regard to minor details of their various systems, practically all ultra-dispensationalists are a unit in declaring that the four Gospels must be entirely relegated to a past dispensation (in fact, according to most of them, they are pushed two dispensations back), and, therefore, are not to be considered as in any sense applying to this present age. It is affirmed with the utmost assurance that the Gospels are wholly Jewish. Inasmuch as we are told in the Epistle to the Romans (15: 8), that "Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers," the position is taken that the records of the Evangelists deal solely with this phase of things, and that there is nothing even in the utterances of our Lord Himself in those books that has any special place for the present dispensation.
Yet a careful consideration of the very passage in which these words are found would seem to negative this entire theory and prove that it is absolutely groundless, for when the apostle is stressing true Christian behavior, he refers the saints back to the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus when here on earth. Notice the opening verses of Romans 15. We are told that the "strong should bear the infirmities of the weak, and not seek to please themselves, but that each one should have in mine the edification of his neighbor," having Christ as our great example, "who pleased not Himself, but of whom it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached Thee fell on Me."
We are then definitely informed that not only what we have in the four Gospels, but what we have in all the Old Testament is for us, "for whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." Here there is no setting aside of an earlier revelation as though it had no message for the people of God in a later day simply because dispensations have changed. Spiritual principles never change; moral responsibility never changes, and the believer who would glorify God in the present age must manifest the grace that was seen in Christ when He walked here on earth during the age that is gong. It is perfectly true that He came in exact accord with Old Testament prophecy and came under the law, in order that He might deliver those who were under the law from that bondage. He was in reality a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, not-observe-to fulfill at His first coming the promises made unto the fathers, but to confirm them. This He did by His teaching and His example. He assures Israel even in setting them to one side, that the promises made beforehand shall yet have their fulfillment.
But, observe, it is upon this very fact that the apostle bases present grace going out to the Gentiles, for he adds in verse 9:
But in Matthew, which is preeminently the dispensational Gospel, the Lord is presented as the Son of David first of all. Then when it is evident that Israel will refuse His claims, He is presented in the larger aspect of Son of Abraham in whom all the nations of the earth shall be blessed. The break with the leaders of the nation comes in chapter twelve, where they definitely ascribe the works of the Holy Spirit to the devil. In doing this, they become guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, the crowning sin of that dispensation, which our Lord declares could not be forgiven either in that age or in the one to follow. In chapter thirteen, we have an altogether new ministry beginning. The Lord for the first time opens up the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven, revealing things that had been kept secret from the foundation of the world, namely the strange and unlooked-for form that the kingdom would take here on earth after Israel had rejected the King and He had returned to Heaven. This is set forth in the seven parables of that chapter, and gives us the course of Christendom during all the present age.
As a rule, the ultra-dispensationalists would ignore all this and push these seven parables forward into the tribulation era after the Church, the Body of Christ, has been taken out of this scene. But this is to do violence to the entire Gospel and to ignore utterly the history of the past 1900 years. just as in Revelation two and three we have an outline of the history of the professing Church presented under the similitude of the seven letters, so in Matthew 13 we have the course of Christendom in perfect harmony with the Church letters, portrayed in such a way as to make clear the distinction between the Church that man builds and that which is truly of God. In chapter sixteen of Matthew's Gospel, the Lord declares for the first time that He is going to build a Church or assembly. This assembly is to be built upon the Rock, the confession of the apostle Peter that Christ is the Son of the living God. How utterly vain it is to try to separate this declaration from the statement in the Ephesian Epistle where we read,
The complete setting aside of Israel for the present age is given us in chapter 23: 37-39,
In Matthew twenty-four, we are carried on to the days immediately preceding that time when the Son of Man shall appear in glory, and we find the people of Israel in great distress, but a remnant called His "elect" shall be saved in that day.
I pass purposely over chapter twenty-five as having no particular bearing on the outline, because a careful consideration of it would take more time and space than is here available. The closing chapters give us the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and then the commission of His apostles. People who have never investigated Bullingerism and its kindred systems will hardly believe me when I say that even the great commission upon which the Church has acted for 1900 years, and which is still our authority for world-wide missions, is, according to these teachers, a commission with which we have nothing whatever to do, that has no reference to the Church at all, and that the work there predicted will not begin until taken up by the remnant of Israel in the days of the Great Tribulation. Yet such is actually the teaching. In view of this, let us carefully read the closing verses of the Gospel:
In view of all this, may I direct my reader's careful attention to the solemn statement of the apostle Paul, which is found in I Timothy, chapter 6. After having given a great many practical exhortations to Timothy as to the instruction he was to give to the churches for their guidance during all the present age, the apostle says,
But here we are told that such "know nothing," but are really in their spiritual dotage, "doting about questions and strifes of words." The dotard is generally characterized by frequent repetition of similar expressions. We know how marked this symptom is in those who have entered upon a state of physical and intellectual senility. Spiritual dotage may be discerned in the same way. A constant dwelling upon certain expressions as though these were all important, to the ignoring of the great body of truth, is an outstanding symptom. The margin, it will be observed, substitutes the word "sick" for "doting;" "word-sickness" is an apt expression. The word-sick man over-estimates altogether the importance of terms. He babbles continually about expressions which many of his brethren scarcely understand. He is given to misplaced emphasis, making far more of fine doctrinal distinctions than of practical godly living. As a result, his influence is generally baneful instead of helpful, leading to strife and disputation instead of binding the hearts of the people of God together in the unity of the Spirit.
The well-known passage in the closing chapter of Mark's Gospel, which gives us another aspect of the great commission, having to do particularly with the apostles, is a. favorite battleground with the ultra-dispensationalists. Ignoring again the entire connection, they insist that the commission given in verses fifteen and eighteen could only apply during the days of the book of Acts, inasmuch as certain signs were to follow them that believe. As the commission in Matthew has been relegated by them to the Great Tribulation after the Christian age has closed, this one is supposed to have had its fulfillment before the present mystery dispensation began, and so has no real force now. They point out, what to them seems conclusive, that in this commission, as of course that in Matthew, water baptism is evidently linked with a profession of faith in Christ. They are perfectly hydrophobic as to this. The very thought of water sets them foaming with indignation. There must on no account be any recognition of water baptism during the present age. It must be gotten rid of at all costs. So here where we read that our Lord said, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature; he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16: 15,16), which would seem to indicate world-wide evangelism, looking out to the proclamation of the glad glorious Gospel of God to lost men everywhere, this commission must nevertheless be gotten rid of somehow. The way they do it is this: The Lord declares that certain signs shall follow when this Gospel is proclaimed. These signs evidently followed in the days of the Acts. They declare they have never followed since. Therefore, it is evident that water baptism is only to go on so long as the signs follow. If the signs have ceased, then water baptism ceases. The signs are not here now, therefore no water baptism. How amazingly clear (!!), though, as we shall see in a moment, absolutely illogical. The signs accompanied preaching the Gospel. Why continue to preach if such signs are not now manifest?
The Matthew commission makes it plain that baptism in the name of the Trinity is to go on to the end of the age, and that age has not come to an end yet, whatever changes of dispensation may have come in. Now what of this commission in Mark? Observe first of all that our Lord is not declaring that the signs shall follow believers in the Gospel which is to be proclaimed by the Lord's messengers. The signs were to follow those of the apostles who believed, and they did. There were some of them who did not believe. See verse eleven: "And they, when they had heard that He was alive and had been seen of her, believed not." Then again, notice verse thirteen: "They went and told it unto the residue; neither believed they them." And in the verse that follows, we read: "Afterward He appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen Him after He was risen." Now our Lord commissions the eleven, sends them forth to go to the ends of the earth preaching the Gospel to every creature. There is nothing limited here. It is not a Jewish commission. It has nothing to do with the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. It is a world-wide commission to go to all the Gentiles, and to go forth preaching the Word. Responsibility rests upon those who hear. They are to believe and be baptized. Those who do are recognized among the saved. On the other hand, He does not say, "He that is not baptized shall be damned," because baptism was simply an outward confession of their faith, but He does say, "He that believeth not shall be damned."
Then in verses seventeen and eighteen, we have what Paul later called "the signs of an apostle."
What then is the conclusion? It is wrongly dividing the Word of Truth to seek to rob Christians of the precious instruction given by our Lord Jesus in the four Gospels, though fully recognizing their dispensational place. It is an offense against Christian missions everywhere to try to set aside the great commission for the entire present age. It is not true that a definite limit is placed in Scripture upon the manifestation of sign gifts, and that such gifts have never appeared since the days of the apostles.