A compleat history, or Survey of all the dispensations and methods of religion

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JOHN EDWARDS: PROTO-DISPENSATIONALIST?
John Edwards (1637-1716) was an Anglican, a Calvinist, a covenant theologian, a postmillennialist, and a surprisingly vigorous defender of the future
, complete conversion of national Israel and their restoration to the land of Judah.
Despite being postmillennial, he acknowledges that a universal adherence to premillennialism characterized the first three centuries of the church (651-53). He traces the view to Papias, “who pretended he had it from St. John and from the Disciples of the Apostles with whom he was acquainted,” and admits that Jerome and Augustine “were the first fathers that writ against this Millennary Reign” (653).
Despite his rejection of premillennialism, however, he argues extensively (691-721) from Scripture for the conversion and restoration of national Israel, at a time when nothing seemed less likely. He not only corroborates universal ancient testimony to this belief (691-92) but also asserts (693) that belief in a national conversion of the Jews was the majority opinion in his day. (Interestingly, he doesn’t credit any of these ancient sources as “pretending” to have it from apostolic sources.) He admits that this conclusion was a significant change of opinion for him, but close inspection of Scripture eventually convinced him (715). He discusses Lev. 26; Dt. 30; Is. 11, 60; Hos. 3; Amos 9; Zech. 12 etc; Lk. 2, 21; 2 Cor. 3; and especially Rom. 11.
Edwards espouses a basic CT framework. The three “grand economies” are: (1) State of Innocency (Creation to Fall) [= covenant of works]; (2) State of Sin and Misery (Fall to Recovery) [= covenant of works]; and (3) State of Reconciliation (Recovery to Consummation) [= covenant of grace]. However, he spends the bulk of his work breaking down the third category into its several “economies” or “dispensations” as follows: (i) Adamic or Antedeluvian; (ii) Noachical; (iii) Abrahamic; (iv) Mosaic/Jewish; (v) Gentile (concurrent with iii and iv); and (vi) Christian/Evangelical.
Dispensationlists and covenant theologians alike acknowledge that there is nothing incongruous between covenant theology and recognition of distinctive economies or dispensations within the overarching “covenant of grace.” The word or concept of “dispensation” does not a dispensationalist make. So to call Edwards a dispensationalist, or even a proto-dispensationalist (as Ryrie implies in Dispensationalism), is a bit of a stretch. However, what makes Edwards in some sense proto-typical of dispensationalism (in spite of his covenant theological framework and postmillennial persuasion) is (a) a more consistently literal OT-priority hermeneutic that results in (b) an ongoing distinction between Israel and the church. The former (a) is seen in his handling of a number of Scriptures relating to the future of Israel. The latter (b) is seen in his willingness to change his previous opinion and assert that national Israel qua Israel has a distinct future that includes national conversion and resettlement in the land—which, given his historical context, was a remarkable position of faith on his part, grounded on revelation not current events.
Layton Talbert
 

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