The Dispensation of the Fullness of Times
“Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.” —Ephesians 1:8-13
God has many counsels but only one purpose and that purpose is fully brought before us in these verses. In carrying out this purpose He has His counsels in regard to the people of Israel and to the nations of the Gentiles. “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed,” He said to Abraham. And, He has His formerly hidden counsel, now made known, in regard to the Church which is “the fullness—the completion—of Him that filleth all in all.” He has His counsels in regard to the glorious coming kingdom when our Lord Jesus shall reign from the river to the ends of the earth. But all these are but different parts of His one glorious purpose.
“He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence.” We may think of this first of all as the display of His divine wisdom and intelligence; but there is more than that, there is the subjective side. “He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence—intelligence.” That is, God, through His Word, through the revelation of His purpose given to His believing people, to those who search His Word, believe His Word, and enter into His truth, gives wisdom and intelligence in divine things which no one else ever had in all the ages of the past. While there were unnumbered saints of God in former dispensations, none had the intelligence in divine things which you and I ought to have.
Even “the angels of His might” never had the intelligence of His wonderful plan that the weakest Christian may now have if he will. We are told that angels are learning the wisdom of God in us. He never gave to them a complete revelation of what was coming; but they are learning the wisdom, the counsels, the purpose of God, as they behold His grace displayed in us. The Church then is an object lesson to angels. It was given to us to enter into these things and not merely for intellectual gratification but in order that the truth might build us up in Christ, might form us morally and make us what God would have us be. “And every man that hath his hope set on him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). We are not to view divine mysteries simply as lines of truth upon which to exercise our human intelligence; but we are to be sanctified through the truth. The revelation that God has given should so grip our souls and exercise our consciences that it will lead us to behave as a people truly strangers and pilgrims down here, looking for that glorious era which Christ will bring in when He returns.
“He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and intelligence,” as this word, prudence, really means. “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will.” We need to remind ourselves that this word, mystery, so frequently used in the New Testament does not necessarily mean something mysterious, something difficult of apprehension, but rather a secret which no one could understand until it was revealed. The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, the mystery of the lawlessness of Babylon, the great mystery of Christ and the Church, the mystery of the rapture, the mystery of Israel’s present rejection as illustrated in the olive tree of Romans 11, once hidden secrets which no man could understand, are now opened up to the people of God, and so it is the responsibility of a minister of Christ to expound these mysteries to the saints. We read that such are “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1). The draw from the treasure that God has given them things new and old and open them up to God’s people so that they may enter into the good of them.
What is the mystery of His will? “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.” Here, succinctly, clearly, in one brief verse we have the summing up of the mystery of God. Everything is working on to this one near-at-hand “divine event toward which the whole creation moves,” when God will head up everything in Christ.
What is meant by a dispensation? The word, dispensation, is used a number of times in the English New Testament, and other words are also used to translate the same Greek word, sometimes stewardship, order, administration, and here, dispensation. We find that the original word has been brought right over into English; it is our word economy. “That in the economy of the fullness of times he might head up everything in Christ.” What is an economy? An economy is an ordered condition of things. Domestic economy is the ordering of a house.
But the economy of one house is not necessarily the economy of every other house. If Christians would only bear that in mind, it would save a great deal of confusion. Then there is political economy. The ordering of the affairs of one nation is not the economy of another. The economy of Soviet Russia is not, and I hope will never be, that of the United States of America; the economy of Fascist Italy is not the economy of Democratic England. These nations have their own ways of ordering their affairs and if one came from Soviet Russia to the United States and attempted to order his conduct according to the economy of Russia, it would not be tolerated here. It might be lawful and right there, but not here. And so there are these various economies running through the Word of God. A dispensation, an economy, then, is that particular order or condition of things prevailing in one special age which does not necessarily prevail in another.
There is a difference between a dispensation and an age. An age is a period of time in which a particular economy prevails. There was the economy before the flood when God was dealing with men according to conscience. We do not know just how God’s children met and carried on a public testimony in those days. All that we have concerning that particular time is given us in two or three brief chapters. But after the flood, there was a new economy, civil magistracy was instituted by God for the restraint of human conduct. Then we see God calling Abraham out and making him to be the beginning of a new race of people to whom He entrusted a new economy, the promise of the coming Seed, through whom all nations of the earth should be blessed. And then at Mount Sinai the law was given to the people of Israel. That economy was in force until our blessed Lord cried, “It is finished,” on Calvary’s cross. Now in the present age of the grace of God, we have this wonderful dispensation of the Holy Spirit in which the Gospel of God is being sent out into all the world. There is no one favored nation but God’s grace goes out to all nations. We are not under law as a principle either of salvation or of life but we are under grace, saved by Christ, kept by Christ, called upon to walk in Christ to the praise of the glory of His grace. By and by there will be another glorious economy, “The dispensation of the fullness of times.” That will be in the last glorious age which has been called ever since the dawn of the Christian era, “The Millennium,” “The Reign of Righteousness,” when
“Jesus shall reign where’er the sun,
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom spread from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.”
It is not a dispensation of blessing merely for this world but heaven and earth will be brought into wonderful unity and heavenly saints and earthly saints will find their headship in Christ.
“That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.” How important then that we know something about what God is doing, that we understand intelligently our dispensational place in the ways of God. Into what confusion of mind many Christians have fallen because though they are living in this age and are under our special dispensation, they are trying to behave according to another dispensation, confusing law with grace.
How many Christians need to understand these distinctions. They are in confusion of mind all their lives because they do not see the difference between God’s order for the house of Israel of old, and for the house of God, the Church, which is the “pillar and ground of the truth,” in this present age, to be succeeded by the glorious dispensation of the fullness of times yet to come in what we generally call the millennium. St. Augustine said, “Distinguish the ages and the Scriptures are plain.”
So God has revealed to us His purpose of grace. He has opened up the good pleasure of His will that we might understand what His plan is for Israel, the Church, and the world. What a wonderful time it will be when everything un-christian will be put down, when the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ will be owned not only by all in heaven but by all on Earth. This is the time referred to in Colossians one, where we read in verse 20, “Having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself: by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.” Notice there are only two spheres when Scripture speaks of the future reconciliation. It never includes the sad unhappy abode of the lost, it simply says that all things in heaven and all things in earth are some day to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. But Scripture also speaks of the subjugation of all things, of how God is going to subdue all things to Christ, “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow of things in heaven and things on earth and under the earth.” All created intelligences will own the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ but all in heaven and all on earth are to be reconciled to Him in the dispensation of the fullness of times when He will “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.”
And then the Apostle, speaking as a Jew by nature, as one who belongs to the people to whom the message first came, says, “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated—(being marked out beforehand)—according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ” literally, “who pre-trusted in Christ.” God has made wonderful promises to Israel to be fulfilled when “they shall see the King in His beauty and shall cry, “This is our God, we have waited for Him.” Israel in that day will be born again and will turn to the Lord. But Paul himself, an Israelite, says, “We (he and his companions) have already trusted in Christ,—we have pre-trusted in Him before this day of His glorious revelation.”
“In whom ye Gentiles also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise.” You see,—first those of the kindred according to the flesh and then those of the nations who were alienated and enemies from God by wicked works.
Notice that the greatest objective then for all Christians is that which so many of God’s beloved people sometimes neglect, it is the truth of the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Church’s complete blessing awaits His coming, every individual’s blessing awaits His coming, the redemption of our bodies awaits His coming, the conversion of Israel awaits His coming, and the full redemption of all the Gentile peoples awaits the coming of our blessed Saviour. How we should long for this great event, watch for it as one watches for the morning. Frances Havergal has expressed the Christian’s attitude in a beautiful way:
“Thou are coming, O our Saviour!
Coming, God’s anointed King!
Every tongue Thy Name confessing,
Well may we rejoice and sing.
Thou art coming! Rays of glory
Through the veil Thy death has rent,
Gladden now our pilgrim pathway,
Glory from Thy presence sent.
“Thou art coming! Thou art coming!
We shall meet Thee on Thy way;
Thou art coming! We shall see Thee,
And be like Thee on that day.
Thou art coming! Thou art coming!
Jesus, our beloved Lord;
O the joy to see Thee reigning,
Worshipped, glorified, adored!
“Thou art coming! Not a shadow,
Not a mist, and not a tear,
Not a sin, and not a sorrow,
On that sunrise grand and clear.
Thou art coming! Blessed Saviour,
Nothing else seems worth a thought:
O how marvelous the glory,
And the bliss Thy pain hath bought.
“Thou art coming! We are waiting
With a ‘hope’ that cannot fail,
Asking not the day or hour,
Anchored safe within the veil.
Thou art coming! At Thy table
We are witnesses of this,
As we meet Thee in communion,
Earnest of our coming bliss.”
May it be ours to enter more and more fully, by reverent, prayerful study of and meditation upon the Word of God, into the apprehension of the glorious purpose of His grace that we may walk now in the light of that coming dispensation when Christ shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied!