The Dispensations
1 John 2:18-23
Little children, it is the last time: and as you have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists…

How could those days of primitive Christianity be called the last days, inasmuch as since those days eighteen hundred years have elapsed, and still the world's history has not reached its close? The answer is obvious. The whole period lying between the first advent and the present year of grace is but one oeconomy; and it is destined to be the last oeconomy, under which man is to be tried. What is a dispensation — Οἰκονομία? Οἰκονομος is the administrator of a household, the lord of a family, he who dispenses to the household their portion of meat in due season. It is a certain measure, more or less, of moral light and help meted out by God, the great Householder, to His human family for the purpose of their probation. Any and every light and help which man has from heaven constitutes, strictly speaking, a dispensation. It seems, moreover, to be a principle of God's dealings that the light and knowledge having been once supernaturally communicated, shall thenceforth be left to radiate from its centre, to diffuse itself among mankind, by the ordinary means of human testimony. Let us now proceed to review the leading dispensations under which mankind has been placed.

1. A single arbitrary restriction, issued merely as a test of obedience, was the first of them. The threat of death, in ease of disobedience, was a moral help to our first parents, tending to keep them in the narrow path of obedience and happiness. But it did not enable them to stand. They broke the commandment, and they fell.

2. The fall had in some mysterious manner put our first parents in possession of a moral sense, or faculty of discerning between good and evil, independently of Divine precept. To second and aid the remonstrances of this faculty, the heads of the human family had such bitter experience of the fruits of transgression as would abide with them to their dying day. Into this experience of the results of transgression was infused, lest man should despair, an element of faith and hope. Who shall say whether man, with these powers brought to bear upon him, may not retrieve his ground and return in true penitence to the bosom of his Father? So the dispensation of experienced punishment on the part of the parent, of ancestral precept on the part of the children began and run its course. But it proved an utter failure. The principle of sin, engendered in its primeval act, ate into the moral nature of man like a gangrene, until at length blasphemy and immorality stalked rampant upon the earth, and the vices of human kind, like the stature of the men of those days, towered to a gigantic height.

3. While the shades of guilt were thus deepening towards a night of utter depravity, and the few faithful ones in the line of Seth shone but with the feeble ray of glowworms amid the surrounding darkness — an additional dispensation was instituted in the announcement of the deluge to the Patriarch Noah, and the direction associated with it, to commence the building of the ark. What a stirring voice from heaven was this! What a Divine trumpet note of warning in the ears of a generation sinking deeper every moment into the fatal torpor of moral insensibility! At length, when Divine patience had had her perfect work the flood OEconomy came to its close amid outpoured torrents and gushing fountains of the deep.

4. When the stage of the earth had been cleared by the flood for another probation of the human race, a new measure of light and help was meted out by God, or, in other terms, a new dispensation was introduced. Human law was now instituted and sanctioned by heaven. It was now to be seen whether man's innate depravity would break through this barrier of restraint also.

5. It was succeeded by the dispensation of Divine law, promulgated with the most awful solemnity, and having annexed to it the most tremendous sanctions.

6. With Samuel and the succession of prophets, as many as spoke or wrote after him, commenced a new era, about three hundred and fifty years after the giving of the law. And of this dispensation the distinguishing characteristic is, that it was constantly expanding itself, that fresh accessions were continually being made under it to man's moral and spiritual resources, that it was a light continually increasing in brightness, shining more and more unto the perfect day when the Sun of Righteousness should rise with healing in His wings.

7. And now at length men's yearnings and anticipations were to be realised. The last hour of the world's day — or, in other words, the final dispensation under which man was to be tried — was at hand. The great Deliverer appeared and revealed a wholly new arrangement, or series of arrangements, under and in virtue of which God would henceforth deal with man.

(1) Perfect absolution from the guilt of past sin — an absolution obtained in such a manner as should effectually strike the chord of love and gratitude in every heart of man.

(2) A communication of Divine strength through outward means.

(3) A perfect and explicit law embodying the purest morality which it is possible to conceive. But as man was still, under this final dispensation, in a state of probation, and a state of probation is not and cannot be a final or fixed state, the mind was still thrown forward by predictions of the Second Advent, to a period when He, in whom the heart and hope of God's people is bound up, shall come again to receive them to Himself, and to visit them with eternal comfort, while vengeance, terrific vengeance, is taken upon all who, though the new dispensation has been proclaimed to them, shall not have taken shelter under the refuge which it provides. We have now passed in review the various dispensations under which man has been placed; and, thus furnished for the fuller understanding of our text, we revert to the solemn asseveration of the apostle, that this under which we live is the final oeconomy, and that with its close will terminate forever the probation of mankind.

(Dean Goulburn.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.

WEB: Little children, these are the end times, and as you heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen. By this we know that it is the final hour.

St. John's Last Hour
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