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The progressiveness of Divine Dispensations.

It has pleased God that the revelation of his mind concerning the salvation of sinners should pass through various and progressive degrees, or stages, of advancement, which, in theological nomenclature, are called, different dispensations. It is to such a delivery of revelation in various and successive parts and parcels, that Paul alludes in the commencement of his epistle to the Hebrews. “God who in sundry parts and in various manners, spake of old to the fathers by the prophets, hath now in these last days of the Jewish dispensation and beginning of the gospel age, spoken to us by his Son," Heb. i, 1.*

As a gradual progressiveness is visible in works which are acknowledged to be of God, such successive dispensations in divine revelation can be no valid objection either to its reality, or to its certainty. Even if divine revelation had been given instantaneously, and not in successive portions and degrees, it would, nevertheless, have been various and progressive in its character and influence, according to the respective capacities and personal circumstances of each individual to whom it was proposed. This would be a dull world, if every man in it were of the same gradation of intellect, and if successive generations derived no information or improvement from their predecessors. Rational beings, however large their capacities, can know nothing of God any farther than God manifests himself; and He manifests himself in his works and in his word, which are all multiplied instances and evolutions of his power, wisdom, and goodness. The full light of an instantaneous revelation would probably be inconsistent with the frame of the human faculties, and incompatible with a state of discipline and probation. If such a revelation would not overwhelm and oppress the faculties with the splendor of its blaze, it would probably render them inactive, so that there would be no more praise-worthiness in accepting a testimony from God, than there is in receiving light from the sun? And such a condition of things could not be a state of probation.

* M'LEAN on the Epistle to the Hebrews, works, vol. v, in loc.

Rational beings are so constituted and so circumstanced, under the discipline of moral government, as to be capable of progressively tending and advancing towards moral greatness and strength of character. The light of prophecy reveals that the whole mass of human population is capable of this progression, and that by the diffusion of religion, liberty, and the arts, the people of the globe will, as a body, advance to such moral worth and manliness of character, as to be ashamed of oppression and slavery, falsehood and wrong, envy and war.

As for the church of Christ, the entire testimony of the scriptures is unequivocal and certain, that it shall thus progressively advance to the full proportion of manly growth and masculine vigor; when it shall display and exercise, not the puny and tender limbs of an infant, but the nerves, and bones, and muscles of full-grown men; and when its sanctuary shall be not so much the nursery of babes, as the home of a gigantic generation. All the various dispensations of religion, and all the different talents and offices in the church are only an apparatus of divine government, “for perfecting the saints, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” This progressiveness of the church does not terminate in the church. It affects other intelligences in the universe; for through the church the manifold, and the perpetually unfolding, wisdom of God is made known to principalities and powers in heavenly places, who desire to look into these things, and as they look, advance in the knowledge of the works and ways of God.

While the progressive dispensations of revelation were suited to the circumstances of the faculties of man, and in harmony with other works and ways of God, we must think that such an arrangement was intended to do honor to the Person and to the atonement of Jesus Christ. “For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honor than that house."*


The influence of the Atonement retrospective as well

as prospective.

1. The doctrine of the atonement has been prominent and foremost among the articles of religion under

* “If we had notice of a certain stranger being about to come into a country, and should observe that a great preparation was made for him, great things were done, many alterations made in the stale of the whole country, many hands employed, persons of great note engaged in making the preparation; and all the affairs and concerns of the country ordered so as to be subservient to the design of entertaining that person; it would be natural for us to think, surely, this is some extraordinary person, and it is some very great business that he is coming upon. How great a person, then, must He be, for whose coming the great God of heaven and earth, and Governor of all things, spent FouR THOUSAND YEARS in preparing the way! Soon after the world was created, and from age to age, he has been doing great things, bringing mighly events to pass, accomplishing wonders without number, often overturning the world in order to it

. He has been causing every thing in the state of mankind, and all revolutions and changes in the habitable world, from generation to generation, to be subservient to this great design. Surely this must be some great and ex. traordinary Person, and a GREAT WORK INDÉED it must be, about which he is coming."-Pres. Edwards' 'llist. of Redemption,' works, vol. V., p.


every dispensation. There never has been a dispensation of mercy towards mankind since the expulsion frorn Eden, without a marked reference to sacrifice and atonement. Though every succeeding dispensation has improved on the preceding, yet every one of them has had the same leading elements and principles. In every dispensation we find a universality of aspect, a Sabbath of holy retirement, an atonement for wrong, an imputation of sin and worthiness, the church membership of children, seals of outward ordinances, liableness to failure, and frustration only through unbelief. The principle of atonement has always been in the foreground of every dispensation, as might be witnessed in Abel, in Noah, in Abraham, in Job, in Moses and the prophets. In the Christian dispensation the atonement is all in all; and even in the celestial dispensation at the close of probation, the Lamb of atonement will always be in the midst of the throne.

2. The holy scriptures are the code and the chronicle of these dispensations. Some, indeed, boldly assert that they have read the scriptures repeatedly, and have never been able to find the atonement there. Whatever may

have been the success of these Zoilan inquirers, the apostles, and Jesus Christ himself, assert that they found the doctrine of the atonement in the Old Testament, and that “Jesus Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.” As to the New Testament,

. the Jews and the Greeks found this doctrine in the addresses of the apostles, and made it a ground of serious objection against their ministrations. Had the apostles preached in the style of modern Socinians, and determined to purge their creeds and discourses of this doctrine, the Greek would not have been offended, nor would the Jew have stumbled. The Judaizing teachers had early introduced among the Galatians a doctrine without the Christian atonement, but the apostle distinctly and broadly avers, that such a doctrine is entirely ANOTHER GOSPEL, and brands it as accursed,” though it were delivered by an angel from heaven.

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3. The reason why the doctrine of the atonement is found under every dispensation, is, because the influence of the atonement reached and affected


dispensation. The atonement was available in every age of the world. The scriptures are decided and clear with regard to the retrospectiveness of the death of Christ. He is represented as a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Peter says, that men are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, who verily was fore-ordained before the foundation of the world, but was MANIFEST in these last times. Paul also says, that there was a covenant confirmed of God in Christ with Abraham, four hundred and thirty years before the giving of the law by Moses; and that believers, like Abraham, were saved by that covenant, and not by the Mosaic institutious. The atonement of Christ is represented as buying off the punishment due for the sins committed under previous dispensations, and as vindicating the justice of God in forgiving them. The death of Christ was for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant. God set him forth as a propitiation to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. Rev. iii, 8. 1 Peter i, 19, 20. Heb. ix, 15. Rev. iii, 25.

4. The arrangement that the atonement should have a retrospective influence is consistent with the whole of God's moral government. We find that, unlike physical causes, moral causes operate long before they come into actual existence themselves. Thus did the deluge affect the interests of many before it came to pass; the possession of the land of Canaan operated on the Israelites long before they inherited it; the advent of the Messiah had the same retrospective influence, and the moral provision of a day of judgment sends back an influence that reaches to the dawn of time. Thus may the atonement of Christ, from "the hour" in the garden, send back a worthiness, that was always available for sinful man. Hence the hundred


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