A Letter to a Boston Minister About Dispensationalism

Dear Frank:

True, the so-called “amillennial” doctrine is said by modern dispensationalists to be dangerous. We were taught this in the Bible School founded by Dr. C. Scofield, the father of American dispensationalism. But we have asked them, especially Baptist dispensationalists, where they find support, for example, for their premillennialism in any of the creeds of the church? Will they find it in their “Philadelphia Confession”? Some have answered us with the cliché, “No creed, but Christ.” In answer we tried to show our “Fundamentalist” brethren that they cannot defend themselves with the platitudes of Modernism. And there lies a danger! But search the great creeds of the Protestant Church of the ages, the Westminster Confessions, the Reformed Confessions, The Netherland Confession, Canons of Dordt and the Heidelberg Catechism, and find that they furnish no basis whatever for either dispensationalism or premillennialism. They uphold the real, substantial and eternal kingdom of Christ which shall be forever. But they know nothing of a premillennial reign. When we say this, we hear the Dispensationalists (Arminian to a man) claim that then the creeds are inadequate and need eschatological development. But if we begin to interpret the creeds on predestination, election, reprobation and the fact that they contain no “common grace” (except in the mouth of the Arminian), then we hear the objection that the confessions are sufficient; we need no additional standards!

But our premillennialist friends must face the problem of the ground and basis for their own theory. For within the ranks of premillennialists there are not only the “pre-tribulationists” (that Christ returned before the Great Tribulation), but the post-tribulationists” who are but the next logical step from the amillennial position. Proof that the premillennialist must reexamine his entire position! There is an increased interest in eschatology revealing that dispensationalists are unable to answer such works as O. T. Allis’ “Prophecy and the Church,” and H. Hoeksema’s “The Book of Revelation.” Yet many, though they are more slowly drawn off from Armininism, are being led to see the errors and inconsistencies of dispensationalism.

Recall the basic principle of interpretation used by dispensationalists, that of extreme literalism. They often ask, Is Scripture to be interpreted literally, or spiritually? We answer, Both! depending, of course, on the context and the usage all Scripture makes of its own vocabulary. But it is false to distinguish between the literal and the spiritual. Scripture, rather distinguished between the natural and the spiritual. We are asked, Is Israel literal or spiritual? One might also ask, Is the New Birth literal or spiritual? It is both, if “literal” be understood to mean that it is objectively real. But “natural” it is not; it is spiritual, a spiritual objective reality. But dispensationalism’s literalistic viewpoint concerning, e.g., Isaiah 66 and Revelation 20 overthrows the spiritual meaning of Scripture. Treat Isaiah 53 in this same absolute literalism and nothing remains but “the old, rugged cross” of wood, which stood “on a hill far away.” But the Cross is much more than a Roman gibbet. But how shall we interpret the concept “virgin”? naturally or spiritually? In Isaiah 7:14 there is no question that the word is to be understood in the natural sense. We are assured of this by the Holy Spirit in Matthew 1:23. However, “virgin” in Jeremiah 31:4 can be taken in no other sense than the spiritual. Both of these passages are by nature prophetic; both use the same term, yet it has both a natural and a spiritual usage.

So it is with the passages usually appealed to by dispensationalists. Zephaniah 9:9 contains both natural and spiritual elements. Our King is said to come “having salvation.” Make this salvation natural (“literal”, as they erroneously distinguish), and Christ is made a mere political and economic deliverer. Furthermore, the fact that “thy King” came upon an ass, and not a camel, war horse, chariot or palanquin of state is indicative of the spiritual character of His kingdom. The whole emphasis of the Book of Zechariah is predominantly spiritual, and its natural aspects are subservient to the spiritual. The same is true of Psalm 41:9 which speaks of “lifting up the heel against” Messiah. To interpret this in the natural sense would require a physical kicking of Christ on the part of Judas, a thought repugnant to Scripture. The natural and the spiritual, then should be distinguished, not confused, nor garbled in one and the same text of Scripture as dispensationalists do. Who but Modernists question the natural and physical presence of Christ before the tribunal of God in intercession for us? Nonetheless, the priesthood of Christ is preeminently spiritual. His work there does not consist in natural prostrations and genuflections.

The Incarnation was both natural and supernatural: coming bodily, visibly, and from heaven! Yet this does not warrant interpreting biblical concepts in the natural sense exclusively. What is natural about a chain which can bind a spirit being? What is natural about a bottomless pit? And shall a natural dragon deceive the nations? Dispensationalism has a mutilated hermeneutical principle. So the “thousand years” are not natural years, but a figure of an indefinite period of time. Both Luke 1 and II Samuel 7 teach that Christ’s kingdom is not for a mere thousand years, but “forevermore.” In Psalm 89:29, “His seed” may not be understood in the natural sense, for this would limit the passage to Solomon and tribe of Judah lineage. If dispensationalists were consistent here they would put Christ and all true believers out of the scope of Psalm (Galatians 3:16, 29).

Why isn’t an extreme literalness applied to Matthew 11:28? This would make the rest of Christ a natural rest, so that Jesus calls the physically tired, and His promise is reduced to a guarantee against insomnia. This is to lose the scriptural conception of rest which is to enter into the enjoyment of a perfect finished work (The Cross!). To what absurdities this method of interpretation leads! The throne of David is to be restored in the strict natural sense. A resurrection of pieces of furniture! The natural David himself is to rule on the “thousand year” throne, according to Hosea 3:5. The resurrected sons of Zadok will be restored to their levitical priesthood according to Jeremiah 33 and Ezekiel 40, whereas this priesthood has been forever set aside in favor of the unchangeable priesthood which is after the order of Melchizedek. Here is a reversion to the type in the face of the family and actually realized Antitype!

You are already familiar with the root error of dispensationalism which fosters the idea of two distinct peoples of God, Israel and the Church, a saved natural Israel with natural blessings unto eternity, and a saved spiritual church with t different category of blessings. Thus dispensationalists intentionally dichotomise the Word, making one part for Israel, “their Scripture, “ and another part for the Church, “our Scripture.” The truth is, within the organism of the one true church of all ages and of both Testaments, there are two seeds (Genesis 3:15), the spiritual and the carnal; there are two Israels (Romans 9:6), elect Israel and reprobate Israel; and two churches, the true church and the false church. But the spiritual seed, the Israel of God and the true church are identical! The promises of God belong to that one, same people. The carnal seed, reprobate Israel and the false church are also essentially one, and of them God swore with an oath that they would never enter into His rest! Thus God’s promises are not only unconditional, but have a basic unity all through Scripture, are made to the one people of God in every age (believers, the elect), and flow from The Covenant, which is necessarily and essentially one throughout all the books of the Bible. The true Israel always had and shall for ever have all the blessings that Jesus died to purchase for them. Other blessings there are none!

You see, everything we have is founded on the Reformed conception of absolute election. Dispensationalists, to be sure, do speak of an unconditional election of Israel as a nation; so expect the restoration of a Jewish state. But the true Israel was never distinguished because it was of the Jews, but because it was of Christ (Galatians 3:26-29). And Romans 9-11, which says nothing of the restoration of the Jews to their own land, or their enjoyment of special rights or privileges, does tell us of an election that is God’s eternal, absolute, unconditional choice of all His people from all eternity, not out of any preference to good in them, and even before they did any evil, – all according to His eternal purpose which He works according to the counsel of His sovereign will. This doctrine of election is the heart of the Gospel. Then let “Fundamentalists” be truly fundamental and hold the heart and core of the Gospel which alone will guarantee preservation from “the error of the wicked”.

Originally Published in:

Vol. 19 No. 9 January 1960