Dispensationalism A Blind Legalism
by Rev. R. C. Harbach
A False Antithesis
Between Law and Grace
The Apostle John wrote in his gospel, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (1:17) John referred to the law as the day of shadows, and grace and truth as the realities. The law provided Israel with a copy of things to come. Grace and truth brought the genuine articles. The law furnished the sketch, while grace and truth completed the finished picture. The “Scofield Reference Bible” at this point is then in error. When we have here is not a contrast between law and grace, but a comparison of the two sides of one truth. Law and grace are not any more antithetical than law and truth. Sin and grace are antithetical, which antithesis, however, is not here in view. It is superficial to say “Law is connected with Moses and works; grace with Christ and faith...” For law is also. connected with Christ (Mt. 5:17) and with faith. (Rom. 3:31) Also Moses is connected, with grace! (Ex. 33:12, 13, 16, 17, 19) Nor are works really antithetical to faith, as the Epistle of James proves. It is. worse to say that, “Law demands that blessing be earned; grace is a free gift...” The law never demanded that blessings be earned. The purpose of the law was to show that blessings could not be earned! It is true that the law demanded what grace gives. But although “grace is a free gift,” the law, too, was a gift, and a gift of love at that, as the preface to the Ten Commandments proves. Also in this connection, two things should be kept in mind: (a) The command is to love (Dt. 11:l, 13, 22), and (b) The law was granted by grace. (Ps. 119:29)
The Scofield footnote goes on to say, “As a dispensation, grace begins with the death and resurrection of Christ... The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ...” This is a failure not only to see that if “acceptance of Christ” were made a condition of salvation, no one could be saved (cp. Isa. 53:3a with John 5:40; 6:44), but also is a failure to see what God has been dispensing throughout all the ages, namely, grace. All the dispensations of time are the various dispensations of God’s grace. There are different dispensations, but always of the same grace of God. Then, in the fulness of times, it is not true that at last we are through with “legal obedience as the condition of salvation,” for the simple reason that legal obedience never was the condition of salvation. There are not two ways of salvation, one in the dispensation of law, by works, and the other in this dispensation, by grace. The Lord never had but one way of salvation throughout all the dispensations of His covenant. It was always and only by grace. The Old Testament saints were saved the same way we are, by grace through faith, apart from works; only they looked prospectively to Christ crucified, while we look retrospectively to Him. But Scofield became entangled with the inconsistency of two ways of salvation in his note on I John 3:7. There he wrote, “The righteous man under law became righteous by doing righteously; under grace he does righteously because he has been made righteous...” Here is salvation in the old dispensation by works (for attach “conditions” to salvation, and you make it “by works”), while in the new dispensation it is by grace only. But both David and Paul deny that the righteous man under law became righteous by doing. For the old covenant describes the blessedness (salvation) of the man to whom God imputes righteousness without doing! (Rom. 4:6) The righteous in that dispensation, too, as well as in this one, were righteous not because they became so by their doing, but because God imputed righteousness to them. In the old and the new dispensations there are not objectively two different righteousnesses, one a by-works righteousness, and the other a by-faith righteousness. The “by-works righteousness” was an invention of the Pharisees, who legalistically turned the law from the rule of gratitude that it was (Ps. 119:62) into a system of self-righteousness.
Grace, the Way of Salvation
in All Dispensations!
The way of salvation has always been the same. The plan of God for the whole human race has been at all times the same, and has been, is and shall be executed upon the same principles that always directed this same plan to its same destined end. In the admittedly different dispensations of God’s plan, the chief difference lies in the ever fuller and more complete revelation He has progressively made of it through the ages.
Although we may legitimately speak of many dispensations of God’s covenant, there are basically but three, the Patriarchal, the Mosaic and the Christian; or, more fundamentally, but two, the Old and the New Dispensations. In all of them, the Lord has always manifested His sovereign grace. It is worse than a great mistake to believe that grace is limited to this Christian era. It does not properly distinguish, to call this age “the dispensation of grace.” Were not all the other ages dispensations of grace? Of course, the Dispensationalist will answer, No, which he does because of a wrong understanding of John 1:17, above, and of Eph. 3:2. He thinks, according to the footnote in the Scofield Reference Bible at Matt. 28:19, that the dispensation of grace began “with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Now, “under grace, God freely gives to the believing sinner eternal life, accounts to him a perfect righteousness, accords him a perfect position,” in fact, this dispensation is marked by the salvation of all who believe, and judgment upon the profane world and apostate church. But the truth is, this has always been the case from the beginning, from Abel onwards, from the times of the sons of God and the daughters of men unto the present.
Of that day it is recorded, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord,” (Gn. 6:8) and that- in times which were so bad that the Lord was grieved in His heart because of them. The earth was corrupt before God and filled with violence, so much so, that God~no longer could stand the sight of it. This was the end, as far as He was concerned! He would destroy all -flesh, except for “a remnant according to the election of grace.” God reserved to Himself one family out of those wicked, corrupt, reprobate generations. Sovereign grace saved them from the prevailing apostasy. Grace was evident in Noah by the saving faith God had given him, (Heb. 11:7) and by works of obedience and righteousness. (II Pet. 2:5) Noah was delivered from that wicked world by the flood not because of anything in him, for he was a man of like passions with us, ’ (Gen. 9:21f) but of grace only.
All of the patriarchs lived in an age of grace, according to the truth expressed in Romans 4. Abraham was justified by grace. He, as well as Noah and Enoch, lived by faith, not by works. Lot, too, “a believing sinner” to whom God accounted “a perfect righteousness,” (II Pet. 2:7f) found grace, mercy and salvation in God’s sight (Gn. 19:19). The patriarchs did not have this truth and experience withheld from them, for they all coveted the Lord’s gracious favor, as evident in Joseph’s “God be gracious unto thee” to Benjamin, (43:29) Was it not grace that God clothed Adam and Eve with the coats of skins? Was it not grace that God redeemed Israel out of Egypt? that He gave them manna from heaven and--water-from the Rock? (For remember, the manna and ‘water were types of Christ and “that Rock was Christ.“) If this be acknowledged, then the patriarchal age was an age of grace. This Scofield himself as much as admits on page 20 of his Bible.
Grace Exchanged for Law?
However, with the Mosaic dispensation, this is regarded as changed. That is, at Sinai and the giving of the law (Ex. 19 and 20) the “dispensation of law” began. According to Scofield and his note on Ex. 19:3, in the dispensations prior to the law “the people... hitherto... had been the objects of free grace” but “the dispensation of promise ended when Israel rashly accepted the law. (Ex. 19:8) Grace had prepared a deliverer (Moses), provided a sacrifice for the guilty, and by divine power brought them out of bondage... but at Sinai they exchanged grace for law.” (note on Gen. 12:1) Now in the first place, this is wrong because it implies that God’s people were not “under law” previous to Sinai, but they surely were: Ex. 16:27, 28. In the second place, this is wrong because it implies that they were not the objects of free grace from Sinai onward. But this is not so, for the righteousness of God without the law (and that means “righteousness by grace”) has been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.” (Rom. 3:21) Will anyone say that this does not mean that grace was revealed also in the days of the law? It should be plain to anyone who knows how to make use of a Bible concordance that Israel knew grace after they had received the law at Sinai. For very shortly after the law was given, after the golden calf, Israel was judged for this sin with a very severe judgment -three thousand were executed by the sword. Yet “the people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness, even Israel.” (Jer. 31:2) It hardly is now necessary to point out, in the third place, that this view, that Israel acted rashly in accepting the law, i.e., in so doing gave up grace, is wrong! For Moses, in the receiving of the law, had the Lord proclaim to him, “The Lord, the Lord, merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin...” (Ex. 34:5ff). Why! from the beginning of this so called “dispensation of law” to its end the saints therein lived on the strength of this promise of grace given to Moses; SO David (Ps. 86:5, 15; 103:8-13), so Nehemiah (9:17, 31), Hosea (14), Joel (2:13), Jonah (4:2) and Micah (7:18-20)!
Immediately after the giving of the law, the Lord guaranteed, “I will come unto thee and I will bless thee.” (Ex. 20:24) No “earthly blessing” this, but a promise of grace along with the law, as is plain from the “judgments” immediately following as further enlargement on the law, in which (under Scofield’s heading, The Law, the judgments) the Lord assures, “I am gracious!” (22:27) At the end of the dispensation of law it is lately promised that God will be gracious unto “us” of the old covenant (Mal. 1:9). In the age from Sinai to Calvary the children of Israel were not dismissed from any worship service without this blessing by the high priest: as found in Num. 6:23-27. (Underscore: bless, gracious, peace!) This from the “legal dispensation,” yet Christians could desire no more! The great difference between that Mosaic and this Christian dispensation is that then grace was reposited in one nation, but now it is poured out to all nations !