S. D. Gordon’s “Dispensationalism”
S. D. Gordon (1859-1936) was a popular writer and speaker in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Born in Philadelphia, at the age of twenty-five Gordon became affiliated with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), with which he served at various secretarial levels for more than ten years. During this period he developed some public speaking skill and became a popular lecturer on devotional biblical themes.
Between 1896 and 1900 he traveled to Europe and the Orient as a missionary. Gordon authored some twenty-five books, the majority of which were devotional books under the general theme, Quiet Talks, e.g. Quiet Talks on Prayer, Quiet Talks on Service, etc. The Quiet Talks series has been collected and reprinted many times, having sold in the neighborhood of some two million copies.
In 1906 Gordon produced a volume called Quiet Talks About Jesus, which, among other things, set forth his view of dispensational premillennialism. Dispensationalism is the idea that the entire history of human creation can be divided into seven distinct periods which correspond to the seven days of the earth’s first week. The seventh day of the initial week supposedly foreshadows the “millennial” reign of Christ upon the earth, commencing at the time of his return. The term “premillennial” hints that Jesus’ final coming will “precede” that one-thousand-year earthly reign.
One of the leading “champions” of premillennial dispensationalism was C. I. Scofield (1843-1921), whose major defense of the dogma was set forth in the popular Scofield Reference Bible published by Oxford University Press in 1909. Scofield defined a dispensation as “a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.” He postulated that seven dispensations “are distinguished in Scripture.” These supposedly are: Innocency (sic), Conscience, Human Government, Promise, Law, Grace, and Kingdom (1909, 5).
One of the unusual things about Gordon’s work was that he carried some of the premises of Dispensationalism to their utmost logical conclusions, which many dispensationalists have been resistant to do in view of the radical nature of these ideas. Professor Ernest Kevan of London Bible College has described one aspect of dispensationalism.
One of the main turning points in dispensationalist teaching is the view which is taken regarding “the kingdom.” It is held that the Old Testament predicted the re-establishment of David’s kingdom and that Christ himself intended to bring this about. It is alleged, however, that because the Jews refused his person and work he postponed the establishment of his kingdom until the time of his return. Meanwhile, it is argued, the Lord gathered together “the church” as a kind of interim measure (1999, 352).
This theory contains a number of shocking implications.
(1) This dispensational view implies that the Old Testament prophets, who predicted that Jesus would “re-establish David’s kingdom” during his earthly ministry were, in fact, false prophets. The message the prophets foretold (with chronological precision) never did unfold—according to the dispensational prophetic calendar! The theory contends that Christ did not receive the “kingdom” when he ascended back to the Father—as Daniel prophesied, and the Lord himself declared (cf. Daniel 7:13-14; Luke 19:12ff).
(2) The dispensational theory reflects upon the plan and power of Christ as the Son of God. In a chapter titled “Some Surprising Results of the Tragic Break,” Gordon contends that Matthew’s Gospel “explains the adjournment of the kingdom for a specified time” with “the Church filling a sort of interregnum in the Kingdom. The Kingdom is to come later when the Church mission is complete.” The gentleman contended that while Jesus fulfilled the prophecies regarding “the Messiah in every detail personally,” he did not fulfill “the national features” regarding the Kingdom, and this was “because of the nation’s unwillingness. That is the Matthew Gospel” (2003, 98; emphasis in original). No, it is not the “Matthew Gospel.” It is the dispensational perversion of the gospel of Christ.
According to dispensationalism, the Jewish rebellion “trumped” the sacred plan and forced an emergency measure! The divine plan failed in purpose in that it did not anticipate the Jewish rejection; it failed in power in that a new facility (“Plan B”—the Church) had to be implemented to rectify the failure of “Plan A”—the establishment of the Kingdom. This concept contradicts the numerous Old Testament prophecies that clearly foretold the Jewish rejection of the Messiah centuries before that rebellion was realized (Psalm 2:1ff; 118:22ff; cf. Matthew 21:42; Isaiah 53:1ff; cf. Luke 22:37).
(3) Dispensational ideology suggests that the church was not a part of the original plan of human redemption. Such a notion is painfully antagonistic to the declaration of Paul the apostle. The inspired writer declared that the “church” was a feature of the “manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose [plan] which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:10-11; see also Daniel 2:44; Isaiah 2:2-4; especially consider Isaiah 11:9-10, and Paul’s application of this text to the church in Romans 15:12).
A Shocking Assertion
Gordon’s most shocking assertion of all, however, has to do with the death of Christ. In chapter two of Quiet Talks About Jesus, titled, “The Plan for Jesus’ Coming,” I ran across this stunning statement regarding the testimony of the Old Testament prophets:
Like a lower minor strain running through some great piece of music are the few indications of what God foreknew, though He did not foreplan, would happen to Jesus. A sharp line must always be drawn between what God plans and what He knows will happen (2003, 58; emphasis added).
“Could I have misunderstood this statement?,” I asked myself. It appears plain enough—yet utterly incredible. I therefore read further. And here it is again—plainer even than before.
Why did Jesus die? . . . It can be said at once that His dying was not God’s own plan. It was a plan conceived somewhere else, and yielded to by God (2003, 85; emphasis added).
Gordon goes on to explain that God’s original plan for human salvation was in the sacrificial animal offerings of the Old Testament. As he expressed it: “That plan was given in the old Hebrew code.”
There are numerous questions that arise in view of this theory.
First, why did God initially implement a plan of salvation that, from its very nature, could never have been efficacious? An inspired writer affirmed that “it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4); such sacrifices could never “make perfect” those who attempted to draw near to God (v. 1).
Second, if the death of Christ “was not God’s own plan,” whose was it? Surely not Satan’s, for the plan involving the death of Jesus was/is the appropriate and efficient mode for human redemption (Romans 3:21-26). Satan would never have willingly worked on behalf of mankind’s salvation. He is our “enemy” (Matthew 13:28), not a friend.
Third, if the plan involving Jesus’ death was not originally of divine design, but only “yielded to by God,” does not that make the Almighty subservient to some other power? To employ the common and crude metaphor, but seemingly applicable in this instance, the “tail wagged the dog.”
Fourth, if one is allowed to separate God’s “foreknowledge” from his redemptive “plan” involving the death of Jesus (as argued in the quotation above), how is Acts 2:23 to be explained? In this text Peter declares that Christ was “delivered up” (i.e., to death) by “the determinate counsel” (a counsel out of which a determination came) and “foreknowledge of God.” There is no way that this inspired affirmation can be harmonized with the theory under review.
It scarcely is necessary to point out that this distorted teaching is a most fitting example of what happens when one embarks upon a road of theological error and, as frequently is the case, becomes progressively ensnared in deeper levels of confusion. Attempting to “patch” the system will be a futile effort. Scrapping the entire scheme and beginning at ground “zero” is the only reasonable solution.
Our religious friends, who have wandered into the confusing maze of dispensational premillennialism, would compliment themselves wonderfully by abandoning this ideology and starting again with a fresh perspective of Heaven’s plan for human salvation.
- Gordon, S. D. 2003. Quiet Talks About Jesus. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image.
- Kevan, Ernest F. 1999. Millennialism. Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology. Peabody, MA: Hendrikson.
- Scofield, C. I. 1909. The Scofield Reference Bible. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.