Part 1: The Dispensation of Grace
by Pastor Cornelius R. Stam
Mystery or Prophecy?
We have often insisted that while the prophets “testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow,” they knew nothing of the present period of grace which lies between our Lord’s suffering and His kingdom glory.
“The dispensation of the grace of God,” we read in Ephesians 3, was “a mystery” only made known “by revelation” to Paul, some years after the rejected Christ had returned to heaven. In verse 5 he says that “in other ages” it was “not made known.” In verse 8 he calls it “the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God.” In Romans 16:25 he says it was “kept secret since the world began.” In Colossians 1:26 he insists again that it was “hid from ages and from generations.”
But there are still thousands of sincere believers who do not see this. They think that the prophets predicted the reign of grace as well as the reign of Christ. Thus they lose some of the joy of that great surprise of grace which God planned for sinners “before the world began” (II Tim. 1:9), but “kept secret since the world began” (Rom. 16:25).
One of the Scriptures which troubles them most is I Peter 1:10: “Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you.” They say that this proves conclusively that the dispensation of Grace was prophesied beforehand and was no mystery at all.
But here again we must distinguish between grace in a dispensation and the dispensation of Grace. Peter is not speaking of the reign of grace here, but of the grace that will prevail during the reign of Christ. This is clear from the 13th verse, where he exhorts his Jewish Christian brethren, “Hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Remember that like Christ on earth, Peter was a minister of “the Circumcision” (Rom. 15:18; Gal. 2:7). His message to the believing Jews had the kingdom reign of Christ in view.
The prophets had clearly predicted that God would judge the world for rejecting His Son and would enthrone Christ in spite of them. He did not do this immediately, however. In matchless mercy, He deferred the judgment and offered salvation to all who would receive it as a free gift through the merits of Christ. And so, while Christ is not yet reigning, grace reigns. “That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign” (Rom. 5:21).
An over-abounding grace is the outstanding characteristic of God’s dealings with man in “this present evil age.”
When Saul of Tarsus became the leader of an organized rebellion against Christ, God in love reached down to save him, choosing him as the very agent through whom He would proclaim grace to a lost world.
Listen to his testimony and his message:
“Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious, but…the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant” (I Tim. 1:13,14).
“Not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many” (Rom. 5:15).
“But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20).
“In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace; wherein He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence” (Eph. 1:7,8).
“Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).
“And God is able to make all grace abound unto you, that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (II Cor. 9:8).
“For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God” (II Cor. 4:15).
Do you wonder why we say that an over-abounding grace is the outstanding characteristic of God’s dealings with man in “this present evil age”? Surely grace is reigning. Otherwise the thunders of God’s judgment would roll and He would bring in the reign of Christ.
Though, in his first epistle, Peter told the believing Jews to “hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” he later learned something of that greater grace which God was to manifest in deferring the judgment of the nations and the reign of Christ, and, as we shall see, he learned it from Paul.
As Israel refused to repent and Christ did not return, some began to cry “Where is the promise of His coming?” (II Pet. 3:4).
Peter now answers this beautifully. He says “Beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” And note, this is not a lame explanation offered today at the close of the age of Grace. This statement was made at the dawn of the age.
Peter goes on, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count [it], slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (II Pet. 3:8,9 cf. I Tim. 1:16 “all longsuffering”). So the delay must not be counted slackness on God’s part, but longsuffering, and since “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day,” this delay might continue for any amount of time, even though the signs of the last days had already begun to appear (Acts 2:16,17).
How did Peter know this? He certainly didn’t find it in prophecy.
Before we quote the significant closing words of his epistle let us remember Paul’s word in Ephesians 3:1-3. “For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation He made known unto me the Mystery….”
How beautifully this harmonizes with the closing words of Peter’s second epistle! He tells them not to count the delay slackness, but says “…account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you” (II Pet. 3:15). No wonder he says in the closing verse “But grow in grace!”
Peter has learned why “the revelation of Jesus Christ” is being delayed. May we learn it too. God is waiting because of “His great love,” because He is loathe to judge.
How long He will continue to wait we cannot tell. We can only say to the unsaved, “We then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain….Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (II Cor. 6:1,2). And to the saved, “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15,16).
THE MEANING OF GRACE AND HOW THIS AFFECTS US
Ask the average believer what the Bible word “grace” means, and he will doubtless reply “unmerited favor.”
Actually, however, grace is much more than this.
Subjectively, it is that loving attitude, or disposition, on God’s part, from which all His kindness toward us flows.
Objectively, it is all the kindness that flows from His love toward us.
Thus we read in Ephesians 2:2-6 that we were “the children of disobedience” and therefore “by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us,
“Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
“And hath raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
Note: This passage begins with those who were “children of disobedience” and “children of wrath” and, saving them “by grace,” gives them a position in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus!
God’s grace to us as sinners was great indeed, for:
“In [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His [God’s] grace” (Eph. 1:7).
But now, having given us a position in His beloved Son, God’s grace goes out to us in still greater measure.
Ephesians 1:6 declares that God has “made us accepted [Lit., “engraced us”] in the Beloved.” “The Beloved”! What a name for the Son of God’s love!
Beholding us in Christ, God loves us and delights in us more than any father ever delighted in his son, or any grandfather in that precious grandchild.
Thus, while in Ephesians 1:7 we read that we have “redemption…the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace,” in Ephesians 2:7 we see these riches of grace increased to us “exceedingly,” now that we occupy a position “in the Beloved”:
“That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace….”
“…in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus”!
What a prospect! Through the ages of eternity God will lavish His loving kindness upon us to demonstrate to all the universe “the exceeding riches of His grace”!
THE NATURE OF GRACE
To a young Christian who kept bemoaning his failures and lack of spiritual growth, and wondering how God could love him, a more mature believer responded substantially as follows:
“When I leave here and return to my home I will pick up my little baby girl and put her on my knee. Tired as I am, I will dandle her on my knee and, somehow, looking into that darling face and those pretty blue eyes, I will soon feel rested and refreshed.
“This is strange, in a way, for she does not love me. She doesn’t even know what love is.
“She doesn’t appreciate my problems and has no sympathy for me. My heart can be burdened with grief or filled with anxiety, and my mind vexed with difficult problems, but she doesn’t even know or care. She just keeps gurgling and giggling at the attention I lavish upon her.
“She doesn’t contribute one cent toward the needs of our family; indeed, she costs me a great deal of money and will for years to come. Yet I love that child more than I can say. There is no sacrifice I would not make for her; no good thing I would not gladly give her.”
Such is the grace of God towards us, His children. It does not depend upon our faithfulness to Him or our appreciation of His love to us. He loves us with an unspeakable love and keeps lavishing upon us “the riches of His grace” simply because we are His children in Christ, the Beloved.
And strangely, is it not precisely this fact that proves to be our greatest incentive to give ourselves to Him in loving service and sacrifice!