ADMINISTRATIONS AND DISPENSATIONS
BY: A. E. KNOCH
CHARTS showing “dispensational truth” have been among the most helpful of all human devices used by God to aid our dull intellects in the apprehension and comprehension of His plans and purpose. Just as, in geography, it is far easier for us to form an idea of the size, shape, and distinctive features of any land by consulting a map, than by reading an account of it in words alone, so a chart graphically presents to our eyes the whole, or a given part of God’s work in a way by which we can grasp it at a glance. I do not think we should do without charts, but I would remind myself and others, that they are only a help, and must never be made the foundation of our faith.
In my early life of faith I spent much time making and unmaking charts in considerable variety. My experiences may be helpful, so I will record a few impressions, which they have left, upon my mind. As all the charts I had ever seen had seven dispensations, all my earlier ones were like these. But I found it difficult to determine exactly what a “dispensation” was, so I soon had more than seven. It began to dawn upon me that I was not using the word “dispensation” correctly, so I changed over to the word “economy.” This was very helpful, as it enabled me to get rid of my previous impressions and to begin anew with a scriptural expression as a basis. It also enabled me to give “dispensation” its true meaning, so that I had both dispensations and economies on my charts.
Of one chart I was particularly fond. It was shaped like the face of a clock. I began with creation and swept clear around so that, at the consummation, I arrived at the same point. It made a complete cycle, so that the eonian times were compared with a day of twenty-four hours. In fact, at that time, I imagined that the eonian times would be a period of about twenty-four thousand years, the time that it takes the sun to circle the ecliptic. I took great pains in getting it up, having all the lettering set up in type so that I could paste it on. Brother Burns, then in New York City, asked to see it when finished, so I sent it to him. In some way while being carried about, it was lost, so I never saw my precious chart again.
Before making another of the same kind I stopped to think the matter over. The advantages of the clock shape were more philosophical than scriptural. Some important points were not shown, indeed, could not be shown. So I made up my mind to start with Scripture, and leave the shape to be selected later. I determined to make the chart of administrations (or economies, as I called them), and to add the dispensations. The word oikonomia, (stewardship or administration) does not occur very often in the Scriptures, but it is used of the present, so I made this the base line, or point of departure, for the whole.
But, while grace is the special dispensation in this economy (Eph.3:2), its prime feature as an administration is secrecy (Eph.3:9). So I proposed to illustrate this in my new chart by folding it out of sight. This was the principal point that I could not incorporate into the clock chart. Now that I saw the importance of this, I was glad that the old chart had been lost. This is why, when I see a new chart, I always look to see if any attempt has been made to suggest the secrecy of the present economy, for that rests directly on the expressed word of God. In the present era this point should be emphasized above all others, for it is divine in a sense that much else on a chart cannot be. Only two economies are actually so named, that of the complement of the eras (Eph.1:10) and “the secret administration which has been concealed” (Eph.3:9). On this we may base our faith. The other economies are a matter of intelligence, and we cannot contend for them as we can for this.
At first I was not clear whether I should call this “the economy of grace” or “the secret economy.” Then I saw that the genitive “grace” gives us the dispensation, which underlies it. In other administrations it is sometimes difficult to find a satisfactory name, and also to express the dispensation which accompanies it. But in this administration we are not left to guess. The dispensation is grace. The administration is secret. This became a key to so much precious truth that I feel that we have neglected it in later years. I would advise all to consult the chart in the Divine Calendar once again. It is also a key to the readjustment of our faith shown in the smaller chart called “The Spheres of Blessing.” Let us stress this key conception of this economy. It was a secret. God Himself concealed it. Let us not introduce it into God’s previous revelation and let us always keep this before us in our charts, or we will be tempted to forget, and confound our secret economy with others which had been previously revealed.
Having fixed the name and dispensation of this present administration, I sought to find both for all other eonian times, so as to be sure I had a real administration, for there are many different kinds of eras and epochs in God’s Word which do not involve a change in God’s methods of dealing with mankind. This double check usually serves to identify and distinguish the administrations from other periods. After much rearranging and testing, I found twelve, not seven. At first the number was disconcerting, for seven alone seemed satisfactory. But then my eyes were opened to the fact that twelve is the number of administration, not seven. Thus the number seemed to confirm my findings. I have seen other lists since then, I have considered objections, I have tried to view them critically, but so far, I see no good reason for any change.
Some of the names are not taken from the Scriptures, which fact I have always deplored. Yet it is not easy to find a single word to cover the ground. I still think that “Innocence” is the best name for the first economy, for it expresses God’s arrangement for man as no other does. But perhaps we should use “Creation,” The Creation Administration. The dispensation is perhaps best expressed by the word Paradise. To be sure, it carries with it the idea of appreciated blessing, which does not fit, but, as we have no experience like Adam, who did not know good, we have no word to cover it.
The term “transition” is also unknown to the Scriptures, so should be avoided in giving names. But, in this case, there is one at hand. The word “readjust” has no place in most English versions, but is used for the very important function of describing that process which was necessary in order to introduce the present secret economy. The whole of the book of Acts is a series of shiftings, especially Paul’s part of it. Hence the term Readjustment is a good name for the administration before the present.
To further clarify the distinction between administrations and dispensations we have made a special chart in which the administrations are piled one upon another and the dispensations represented by a variety of lines, in order to distinguish each one easily. This is not presented as authoritative by any means, so far as the details are concerned. In fact it will show how reticent we should be in some particulars. The main intent is to present so much detail that the general impression will remain firmly fixed, that is, that dispensations are usually permanent, and pass over into the succeeding economies, but that each administration has its own character, which passes away with it.
It will be seen at a glance that administrations become more complex, as more and more gifts are dispensed, most of which, though they characterize one economy, pass on to the following ones. We will take a rapid glance at each, and count up the dispensations in each administration; and note the disappearances, as well as some questionable matters. If anyone differs from this in details, we will not press the points, for these thoughts are not nearly so important as the absolute and wholehearted belief in what is written in the Word. If objection is taken to making ours a secret administration, by a dispensation of grace, this would be going against what is written, and we would protest. But if objection is made to any other detail let each one adapt his own copy to his own insight.
Creation: In this all that God gave is comprehended in one word, Paradise. Perhaps Nature would be a better word. God gave Adam his whole environment. Only a part of this has come down to us, so we have put only half as many dots to indicate this dispensation as continuing, until we come to the last two economies, where Paradise is, in a sense, restored. And, indeed, it goes right on beyond the eons.
Conscience: Here half of Paradise continues, but the Curse is the main characteristic. This goes right on, unabated until the Kingdom administration. Yet even this and the next are not entirely free from traces of it so a short dash is placed in each. This must not be confused with doom, which is absent from the last administration.
Government: Paradise and the Curse continue and Authority is added. This continues, with some changes, particularly the eras of the nations, when it is put into the hands of the gentiles, and especially in the eons of the eons, when it is found in the hands of Israel and her Messiah. We could leave it out of the kingdom administrations, because, through Christ, authority is in the hands of God, but it seems better to put it into the hands of Christ as the Son of Mankind, and darken the line to indicate the iron rule of Messiah in the millennium, but not in the new earth.
Promise: Here we have half Paradise, the Curse, Authority, and the new dispensation, Promise. It continues right through to the Kingdom, when it largely vanishes in fulfillment. Hence we have only a slight indication then, and even less in the last economy.
Law: Paradise, Curse, Authority, and Promise are carried on, yet Law is the principal feature of God’s dealings with the earth. But here matters become too complex for a simple chart, for Law applies to but a small minority of mankind. In the Readjustment and the Secret economy it is crowded aside by grace. But it is not entirely without effect on these eras, so we put in a mere dot. In the Complement of the eras, when God dwells with mankind, it seems to be nearly absent.
Incarnation: More complex still! Paradise, Curse, Authority, Promise, and Law are all on the scene, to which comes the personal presence of the Messiah, bringing a measure of Grace and Truth, connected with His own people Israel. It can hardly be carried on in His absence, so is discontinued until His return. The present and part of the previous administration, are based on the repudiation of all physical ties, even those of Christ. Yet it forms the background for some truth, so we have put a single dot in each.
Pentecost: Every previous dispensation is represented, except the Incarnation (which, as a background, we give a dot), and to these is added the gift of the holy spirit, especially for power. We have the holy spirit homing in us and spiritual blessings far above those of Pentecost. Still the gift as then given did not continue through the Readjustment, and is absent today. Yet we have the spirit, so leave dots to indicate its presence.
Readjustment: A most complex and changeable era! The first four dispensations continue, but the Law really is nothing but a background, as it is today (for which we give it a dot), the Incarnation is recognized at first, but later is particularly put outside its scope, while the Spirit is really continued, but greatly modified. Because of its changing character I did not consider it an administration for some time. But certain very important dispensations or gifts, such as Justification and Conciliation were not given in the Pentecostal economy or in the Secret, though they prepared for this era, and God dealt with the nations at that time in a very special way, so it has a good claim to inclusion among the administrations.
Secret: Not really very complicated but often made so by not noting that all of the dispensations from the time of Abraham’s circumcision–the Law, the Grace and Truth which accompanied the Incarnation, and the Pentecostal Spirit– practically fall away, remaining simply as a background (for which they get a dot on the chart). This is because in this era Grace is dispensed in a measure which overflows the law and the flesh. But it has become very complicated in theology because three dispensations, the law of Moses, the teaching of Jesus, and the Spirit’s testimony to the coming kingdom in the book of Acts, have been mixed with it or have partly replaced it.
Judgment: The era of Indignation practically reverts to the Pentecostal era, only adding the divine wrath. But the Indignation exhausts itself, and does not continue in the following administrations. Here we have a telling example of the fact that dispensations are not perpetual. How like a God of love to wait so long before venting His indignation and then causing it to cease, in contrast to almost all His other dispensations!
Kingdom: Now matters are beginning to improve. Paradise is to some extent restored. The Curse is partly removed. Authority is enforced with an iron club, hence we blacken the line. The Promises largely retire, having been fulfilled. The Law continues, written in their hearts. The return of Christ brings with it the Grace and Truth of the Incarnation. The Spirit produces the powers of the coming eon. But the last three preceding dispensations, Justification-Conciliation, transcendent Grace, and Indignation have no place. The great gift of that day will be Justice. Righteousness will reign.
Complement: The last administration is much the same as the Kingdom, but with more of Paradise restored, less of the Curse, a vanishing amount of Authority because it is no longer needed, few Promises, because they have been fulfilled, except those pertaining to unbelievers, little Law, as there are few law breakers, but it will see the fullness of the Grace and Truth of the Incarnation and of the Spirit, with a vanishing dispensation of Justice, because of the lack of evil.
Only in the heavens is the Justification, Reconciliation, and Grace which is ours to be found in the coming economies, hence they are not noted on the chart.
The Consummation: This is no administration like the rest, but it is worthwhile to see in it the ripe result of all the previous dispensations. We may expect more than Paradise. The Curse will be entirely absent. Authority will be abrogated. The Promises will all be fulfilled. The Law will not be needed. Grace will do its greatest work in the vivification and Justification of all. Indignation and Justice will give place to Reconciliation. The result of all of God’s administrations and dispensations will be the revelation of Himself as Love and its enshrinement in the heart of every one of His blood-bought creatures.
If this brief consideration of the subject has shown the difference between distinct administrations and cumulative dispensations, and the exceptional character of this present secret administration, which is really a reaction from the previous ones, since Abraham’s circumcision, when God turned from mankind to deal with Israel, it will have effected its purpose. Too often, in the past, have we spoken of “dispensational truth” when we really meant administrational distinctions. Much of the haziness, which still hangs about the subject, would vanish if we would be more accurate in our use of the key words. And let us not base our faith on the chart, but on the Scriptures which have suggested it, and of which it is but a faulty expression.
The question has been propounded, “If, in the past, there were two dispensations running at the same time, will it not also be so in the future? Will not the body-church remain on earth until the middle of the seventieth week?” Such questions arise partly from the inexact translations, but principally from a lack of knowledge of the character of the administrations. It is generally supposed that the present “dispensation” overlapped in the past. Crudely as this is expressed, it is true. The grace of the present was gradually introduced. But it should not be made the basis of reasoning about the end of this administration. If there is to be any deduction, it should be like this. Now, grace is dispensed. This was present in measure before the administration commenced because the previous administration was preparatory to this. But this administration is not preparatory to the next. In fact the next administration prepares for another eon, for the eons of the eons, which differ radically in character from the present evil eon. This is in man’s day that will be in Jehovah’s day. This deals with a celestial allotment, that with a terrestrial. This is concerned with the body of Christ, that with the bride of the Lambkin. Principally however, this is in the era of conciliation (which it has in common with the previous administration), while the next is the administration of indignation, the very opposite. When stepping into the next administration we cross the most important threshold, the sharpest, with the greatest contrast between any two administrations, because it coincides with the crisis of the eonian times.
Administrations and their boundaries are not determined by inferences and deductions of this kind, but by exact and intelligent discrimination. There is no reason why the beginning and end should be similar. In fact, logical deduction would come to the opposite conclusion, for the other administrations do not conform to any such rule. The underlying thought of the administrations is variety — God wished to demonstrate what is in man by varying the conditions in which he is placed. and the end is always different from the beginning because man always fails. Hence there is no call for a correspondence of any kind.
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ADMINISTRATIONS AND DISPENSATIONS [Adolph E. Knoch] 1