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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Brethren Writer C.H. Mackintosh (and Other Dispensationalists), So Close and Yet So Far

Below are some quotes from 19th Century Plymouth Brethren writer C.H. Mackintosh. It's important to see how far the professing church has fallen from Paul, including the movement Mackintosh was integral in expanding.

From my experience, the doctrines espoused in most Plymouth Brethren and classic dispensationalist circles have fallen from where they used to be. It appears that classic Acts 2 dispensationalism has tumbled into confusion in recent years.

I fellowshipped among the Plymouth Brethren for a decade. I want my intentions to be clear here. I do not question their commitment to the Lord and their reliance on His word over all. It was in those ranks that I discovered the life-altering truths of a dispensational understanding of scripture. I give all honor due to men like John Nelson Darby (I have a daughter with Darby as a her middle name in his honor), William Kelly, F.W. Grant, and C.H. Mackintosh. Tremendous teachers and writers. I also would be remiss if I didn't note the significant impact of contemporary Brethren teachers like William MacDonald, William King, Steve Hulshizer, Randy Amos, Tom Taylor, John Phillips, and many many more.

And, although they (and other writers such as A.C. Gaebelein and Sir Robert Anderson) walked me to the threshold of the Mystery, they did not enter into full blessing (as far as I can glean from their works). While I dare not question their commitment to Christ or cast any shadow on their work an evangelists, I still despair that they did not enter the land. I am not the judge of another man's servant, but I am responsible, as an individual, to test all they teach. After reading Harry Ironsides' false accusations of what is commonly called "ultra-dispensationalism" I want to be careful to accurately reflect these men in their own words.

In our last study we saw how easily error or complacency or busying ourselves with unbiblical practices slips in when we do not understand the different callings and hope in scripture. When you don't enter in, some will begin to slip farther and farther away. Let's take a look at where classic dispensationalists once were.

We have looked at topics like the New Covenant in previous posts and have noted from scripture how it is yet future and centered on the people and nation of Israel. This truth is often at the root of the drift. However, it used to be understood among all dispensationalists, but you can hardly find that position held today (while there are, thankfully, a few exceptions).

[The Church’s] new proffered blessings in this dispensation do not consist in being permitted to share Israel's earthly covenant [i.e. the New Covenant], which even Israel is not now enjoying; but rather, through the riches of grace in Christ Jesus, they are privileged to be partakers of a heavenly citizenship and glory. Those who would intrude the Mosaic system of merit into the Church's heaven-high divine administration of super-abounding grace either have no conception of the character of that merit which the law required, or are lacking in the comprehension of the glories of divine grace (Systematic Theology IV:19).” 
-Lewis Sperry Chafer

I do not say we, Christians, have got the new covenant itself, but we have got the blood of the new covenant. We have that on which the new covenant is founded. The new covenant itself supposes the land of Israel blessed and the house of Israel delivered, but neither the one nor the other has become true yet. 
– William Kelly

[T]he ministry of Jesus is more excellent, because He is the Mediator of a better covenant, spoken of in Jeremiah 31, which is here quoted [Heb 8]; a clear and simple proof that the first covenant was not to continue. We again find here that particular development of the truth which was called for by the character of the persons to whom this letter was addressed [the Hebrews]. The first covenant was made with Israel; the second must be so likewise, according to the prophecy of Jeremiah… Although there is no difficulty here, it is important to have light with regard to these two covenants, because some have very vague ideas on this point, and many souls, putting themselves under covenants, that is, in relationship with God under conditions in which He has not placed them-lose their simplicity, and do not hold fast grace and the fullness of the work of Christ, and the position He has acquired for them in heaven. A covenant is a principle of relationship with God on the earth-conditions established by God under which man is to live with Him. The word may perhaps be used figuratively, or by accommodation. It is applied to details of the relationship of God with Israel, and so to Abraham (Gen.15), and like cases; but, strictly speaking, there are but two covenants, in which God has dealt with man on earth, or will-the old and the new. The old was established at Sinai. The new covenant is made also with the two houses of Israel. The gospel is not a covenant... 

John Nelson Darby

While these men never embraced (as far as we have record) a full understanding of the Dispensation of the Mystery, they did understand the distinctive and particular nature of the New Covenant and its relation to Israel alone. Yet today, many so-called dispensational meetings (including many Plymouth Brethren gatherings) would shun these men if they taught this from their pulpits.

Of all these men connected with Classic Dispensationalism (or Acts 2 Dispensationalism), the two who seem to have come closest to the a full understanding are Sir Robert Anderson and C.H. Mackintosh. Anderson in his finest work, The Silence of God, he speaks of the "Pentecostal Age" which he states ended at the end of the Acts. Here is is a clear statement on the place of the Book of Acts.

Acts of the Apostles - a book which is primarily the record, not, as commonly supposed, of the founding of the Christian Church, but of the apostasy of the favored nation… And we have turned to the Acts of the Apostles to find how fallacious is the popular belief that the Jerusalem Church was Christian. In fact, it was thoroughly and altogether Jewish.   
Sir Robert Anderson

Mackintosh never fully embraced (that I can tell) the full understanding of the Dispensation of the Mystery as revealed in Ephesians either, but he comes awfully close. His words, "we may expect that the truth of the Church’s heavenly character will only be apprehended and carried out by a very small and feeble minority," are certainly true. His description of the minority who embrace Paul's unique gospel as "deserted and despised" is also true. He laments, "it is to be feared, few really enter into it.

“Have we here [Acts 3] the development of the Church? No, the time had not yet arrived for this . . . . . The Church as seen in the opening of the Acts exhibits but a sample of lovely grace and order . . . . . but not anything beyond what man could take cognizance of and value. In a word it was still the Kingdom, and not the great mystery of the Church. Those who think that the opening chapters of Acts present the Church in its essential aspect, have by no means reached the divine thought on the subject.” 
-Miscellaneous Writings of C.H. Mackintosh, Vol. V

Peter gives us no instruction for the Body. Mackintosh recognized this late and was concerned that so little of Christendom sees the differences between the hope of the Kingdom in Israel (still the hope of the Acts Age) and the inheritance of the "one new man" of Ephesians. Pentecost, The Acts, was not the start of something, but the beginning of an end.

“Let us see what this ‘Mystery’ this ‘gospel’ . . . . . really was, and wherein its peculiarity consisted. To understand this is of the utmost importance, what therefore, was Paul’s gospel? Was it a different method of justifying a sinner from that preached by the other Apostles? No, by no means . . . . . the peculiarity of the gospel preached by Paul had not so much reference to God’s way of dealing with the sinner as with the saint; it was not so much how God justified a sinner as what He did with him when justified. Yes, it was the place into which Paul’s gospel conducted the saint that marked its peculiarity . . . . . Paul’s gospel went far beyond them all (i.e. other servants of God). It was not the Kingdom offered to Israel on the ground of repentance, as by John the Baptist and our Lord; nor was it the Kingdom opened to Jew and Gentile by Peter in Acts three and ten; but it was the heavenly calling of the Church of God composed of Jew and Gentile, in one Body, united to a glorified Christ by the presence of the Holy Ghost. 
The Epistle to the Ephesians fully develops the mystery of the will of God concerning this. There we find ample instruction as to our heavenly standing, heavenly hopes and heavenly conflict . . . . . ‘He hath raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus’. It is not that He will do this, but ‘He hath’ done it. When Christ was raised from the dead, all the members of His Body were raised also; when He ascended into heaven, they ascended also; when He sat down, they sat down also; that is, in the counsel of God, and to be actualized in the process of time by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven . . . . . Believers did not know this at the first; it was not unfolded by the ministry of the twelve, as seen in the Acts of the Apostles, because the testimony to Israel was still going on, and so long as earth was the manifested scene of divine operation, and so long as there was any ground of hope in connection with Israel, the heavenly mystery was held back; but when earth had been abandoned and Israel set aside, the Apostle of the Gentiles from his prison at Rome, writes to the Church and opens out all the glorious privileges connected with its place in the heavens with Christ.”  

Mackintosh goes on to comment on the fact that so few believers have had “eyes to see” and ability to grasp such exalted and wonderful teaching. The blinding power of tradition and the pull earthwards of the senses all combine to prevent this: 

“We have seen how long it was ere man could take hold of it . . . . . and we have only to glance at the history of the Church for the last eighteen centuries to see how feebly it was held and how speedily it was let go. The heart naturally clings to earth and the thoughts of an earthly corporation is attractive to it. Hence we may expect that the truth of the Church’s heavenly character will only be apprehended and carried out by a very small and feeble minority . . . . . to understand all this requires a larger measure of spirituality than is to be found with many Christians.” “. . . . . Those who will maintain Paul’s gospel find themselves, like him, deserted and despised amid the pomp and glitter of the world. The clashing of ecclesiastical systems, the jarring of sects, and the din of religious controversy will surely drown the feeble voice of those who would speak of the heavenly calling and rapture of the Church . . . . . I am deeply conscious of how feebly and incoherently I have developed what I have in my mind concerning the doctrine of the Church, but I have no doubt of its real importance and feel assured that, as the time draws near, much light will be communicated to believers about it. At present, it is to be feared, few really enter into it.
-Mackintosh as quoted in The Berean Expositor, 1970, Vol 45

And yet classic dispensationalists in our day find talk of the Dispensation of the Mystery as revealed by Paul after the end of the Acts Age to be foreign, even heretical to the faith. Unless we step into this blessing, we can know all about the promises, yet never experience them. 

By not fully embracing the Dispensation of the Mystery, Classic Dispensationalism has retreated back to practices and beliefs held by sacramentalist and Reformed (Replacement) churches. Even F.W. Grant (Chief Men Among the [Plymouth] Brethren) saw what would come with the diminishing of the plan of God for Israel.


“To take from Israel what is hers is only to diminish her and not enrich ourselves; nay, what has been called in this way the spiritualizing of the promises has led most surely and emphatically to the carnalizing, and the legalizing, of the Church.” 
-F.W. Grant

Sadly, many of his own Plymouth Brethren brothers and sisters have lost sight of Israel's New Covenant and have claimed it as their own. But that is to be expected. If you see the "Body" at Pentecost and in the Book of Acts, confusion will follow. That confusion, as Grant saw, but failed to recognize across all this theology, has led to churches embracing sacraments, Israel's ordinances, and the imposition of manmade laws on congregants. 

And you can hardly blame them. Without teachers who will "compare the things that differ," men will crave ritual and earthly ordinances. Without understanding that all our blessings in this age are "spiritual blessings," men will crave the carnal.