The Dispensation of Conscience
Dr. Joe Temple


Open your Bibles, please, to the book of Genesis. We are not going to read a passage initially and then comment on that passage because this subject is related to a number of passages of Scripture. The basic reason for teaching the Dispensation of Conscience is found in a portion of the Word of God which begins with chapter 4 of the book of Genesis and continues through verse 14 of chapter 8. We will be reading portions of it, but we will not do so initially.

We are in the midst of a discussion of the dispensations, because we believe that the dispensational study of the Word of God is the only practical way to correctly understand the study of God's Word. I believe that is what the Apostle Paul had in mind in II Timothy, chapter 2, verse 15, where he says:

II Timothy 2:

15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

We believe the only way one can rightly divide the Word of Truth is through the dispensational interpretation of the Word. We have given you a definition of a dispensation. It is one that originated with C. I. Scofield and is found in the notes of the Scofield Reference Bible. We do not believe that it can be improved upon. We want you to fix the thought firmly in your minds. A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God. A dispensation is primarily a time of testing. The designation of seven different dispensations is in all probability the simplest approach to the subject.

Second Dispensation - Conscience

We've already discussed with you the first dispensation, the Dispensation of Innocence. In this lesson, we want to discuss with you the second dispensation, the Dispensation of Conscience. We said that we would use six words to guide our thinking. These words will not always in every discussion be used in the same order. They will be mental pegs upon which you can hang the thoughts I want to leave with you. Let me give them to you again: circumstances, characters, covenant, course, climax, compassion.

In every dispensation, the circumstances are presented. The main characters are brought to our attention. The covenant upon which the dispensation is based is given. The course that it takes is described. The climax it reaches is delineated. And the compassion, so characteristic of our God and of our Christ, is shown again and again.

The second dispensation is more commonly known as the Dispensation of Conscience , but it has been designated as the Dispensation of Moral Responsibility , the Dispensation of Self Determination. I believe that since none of these terms are given in the Scriptures, one is as good as the other save for the fact that the Dispensation of Conscience is better known by that name than any other.

Circumstances Of The Dispensation

The word conscience presents to us circumstances under which this particular dispensation revolved. You are familiar with the meaning of the word conscience from an English standpoint. Considering its Latin derivation, we remind you that the word conscience is a translation of the prefix con which means “with,” and the word science, which describes knowledge. So the circumstances under which man was found in this particular dispensation was that he lived with full knowledge of good and evil.

This contrasted with the first dispensation because in that dispensation, man lived in complete innocence with no knowledge of good and evil. But there was in the Garden of Eden a tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam was forbidden to eat of the tree; he disobeyed. The Dispensation of Innocence came to an end, and the Dispensation of Conscience began because man lived with a full knowledge of good and evil.

Man's Responsibility To Do Good

Living under the circumstances described, there was placed upon man a very real responsibility. That's the reason this dispensation is called by some the Dispensation of Moral Responsibility . There are many ways that this responsibility could be described, but I prefer to draw your attention to a portion of the Word found in the epistle of James. Turn there, please, and notice chapter 4. You will recognize a passage of Scripture which is familiar to you because you have often turned to it and you have often used it. We read in verse 17:

James 4:

17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

When man is faced with the knowledge of good and evil, he is faced with the responsibility of doing good instead of evil.

Man Condemned By Conscience

If you will turn with me to the book of Romans, chapter 2, you will find the reason this dispensation is called the Dispensation of Conscience . Using the word conscience, the Holy Spirit describes the exact circumstances to which I have already eluded. In Romans, chapter 2, notice in verse 14 these words:

Romans 2:

14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

We want to present to you Phillips' translation of this same verse because he brings out some truths that I do not think the King James version does. Phillips presents these verses in this fashion:

When the Gentiles, who have no knowledge of the law, act in accordance with it, by the light of nature, they show that they have a law in themselves, for they demonstrate the effect of a law operating in their own hearts. Notice this statement, please: “…their conscience endorsing the existence of such a law, for there is something which condemns or commends their action.”

Man lived during the second dispensation under the circumstances of being commended or condemned by the very actions which he permitted to be a vital part of his existence. He could do good, and in so doing, be commended. He could do evil, and in so doing, be condemned.

Characters Of The Dispensation

The chief characters of this dispensation are familiar names to us: Adam, Cain, Abel, Seth, Enoch, Noah. This does not mean that these are the only folk who lived during this dispensation, but the truths which need emphasis revolved around these individuals. All of them are descendants of Adam, and upon two of them is the whole course of this dispensation determined. The descendants of Cain followed their forebear, Cain, in ignoring the promptings of his conscience to do good, and in so doing, developed a godless race. The descendants of Seth followed their forebear in obeying the promptings of their conscience to do good, and a godly line of the human race resulted.

Adamic Covenant

Conscience without a guiding light causes an individual to stumble in the dark. For that reason, God made a covenant with man in this dispensation, as He does in all dispensations.

You will remember that I have said unto you that a covenant is an agreement made between God and man. Some of the covenants are conditional, God saying, “If you do this, I will do this.” Other covenants are unconditional, God saying, “This is the way it is, and you will live in relation to it.”

As the first covenant made with man in the Dispensation of Innocence was known as the Edenic Covenant because it was related to what occurred in the land of Eden, the covenant made with man in the second dispensation was the Adamic Covenant because it was related chiefly to what God had to say in relation to Adam and Adam's sin.

Atmosphere Of War To Present

Turn back to the book of Genesis, please, and you will find that covenant described in chapter 3, beginning with verse 14 and concluding with verse 21. As we summarize the provisions of the covenant, we might say that, according to verses 14 and 15 in the chapter, man is to live in an atmosphere of war from the day that he is born until the day that he dies. The basic war is the war between God and the Devil, but all other wars stem from that battle of righteousness against evil. When the Devil is bound and is no longer free to roam the earth, then all wars will cease. But God said that in this Dispensation of Conscience and on through to the end, men will live in an atmosphere of war.

Covenant Related To Women

As we continue to summarize, we would say that according to verse 16 of this portion, the female members of the human race are to know sorrow in a very special way. Think over society as a whole, and think of broken hearted wives, broken hearted mothers; recognize that women bear a special burden of sorrow in a sense that man knows nothing about. Female members of the human race, according to this covenant, will bring children into the world in the midst of pain - physical pain and spiritual pain, too, as they bear the burden of rearing children and facing disappointments that they oftentimes have to face. Also according to this covenant, female members of the human race will have a desire for man and live in subjection to man in such a fashion that it will be difficult to live without the domination of man.

Life A Struggle For Men

The male members of the human race, according to this covenant, will find life a constant struggle. God never intended, according to this covenant, that it would be easy. Labor is to be very difficult, according to verses 17-19. And man will have to fight a continual battle with the earth in order to have the victory over it.

Atonement For Sin

Not stated, but certainly implied, in verse 21, is a very important condition of this covenant, and that is, for all the human race, sin was to be atoned for by the shedding of the blood of a lamb as a substitute for the sacrifice of man. I would like to suggest to you that if this is not recognized, then some features of the Dispensation of Conscience will not be understood.

Course Of The Dispensation

The covenant we have just given you was to serve as a guide for the course of this dispensation; and the course of this dispensation will be seen in the lives of the characters to whom we have already referred.

Let us now examine the course in the light of the chief characters. The chief characters who meet our attention after Adam are his two sons, Abel and Cain. You are familiar with their stories in the Old Testament. I would like for you to turn with me to the book of Hebrews in the New Testament and find a comment from the Holy Spirit which pinpoints what we need to know about them in regard to this subject. Notice verse 4 of Hebrews, chapter 11:

Hebrews 11:

4 By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

Notice the phrase, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” This verse has no meaning unless you believe that Genesis, chapter 3, verse 21, is a part of the Edenic Covenant, that God set the order for the atonement for sin by the slaying of a lamb which provided the clothing for Adam and Eve, and instilled in the heart of man this desire to obey God and atone for sin through the sacrifice of a lamb. Abel believed it; he offered to God a lamb. Cain refused to believe it, and he offered to God the work of his hands. God smiled upon the offering of Abel. He refused to accept the offering of Cain.

Cain persisted in this wilful disobedience even in the light of God's pleading with him to change his mind. In chapter 4, verse 7, of the book of Genesis, it is written that God pled with Cain to change his mind and take advantage of the sin offering that lay at his doorstep which he could offer for his sins, as Abel had for his. But Cain refused, and persisted in that open rebellion, and became the ancestor of a group of people who followed his example from bad to worse, until a man by the name of Lamech in his natural descendancy boasted that he had killed more people than Cain, and nothing could be done about it. Cain slew Abel, and for a while the descendants of Cain occupied the earth with men who were in open rebellion to God.

A Godly Line

According to chapter 4, verse 26, of the book of Genesis, Seth was born to take the place of Abel, so to speak. It is recorded there that when Seth was born, a new line of people came into the world who began to call upon the name of the Lord. Seth's line was characterized by two individuals who attract our attention. In Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 5, one of them is mentioned:

Hebrews 11:

5 By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

Enoch followed the promptings of his conscience toward good in the light that God gave him, and his life pleased the Lord. The other individual who attracts our attention in this godly line is the individual about whom this entire dispensation climaxes. His name is Noah, and we find a description of him in chapter 6 of the book of Genesis. We read in verse 8:

Genesis 6:

8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

Noah followed his conscience - promptings toward good in the light of God's revealed will, and he found grace in God's sight. The two lines, “the godly line of Seth” and “the ungodly line of Cain,” existed side by side and determined the course of this despensation.

Importance Of Rightly Dividing The Word

We will have a better understanding of the course of this dispensation if we look at it from God's standpoint. I suggest that you notice with me in the book of Genesis, chapter 6, verse 3, God's statement:

Genesis 6:

3 And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.

May I show you why it's so important to rightly divide the Word of Truth. This verse of Scripture belongs to the Dispensation of Conscience. God says, “My Spirit is only going to strive with man for one hundred and twenty years; that is all!”

I don't know how many preachers have taken this text and used it in an evangelistic meeting to beat people over the head and tell them if they didn't get right with God on the particular Sunday night he was preaching, that God's Spirit would quit striving with them, and they would walk this earth begging to be saved and never have a chance to be saved. That is the result of not rightly dividing the Word of Truth.

There is not one Scripture that tells you that God's Spirit will cease striving with you as long as there is breath in your body. The Bible does say, “he being often reproved shall suddenly be cut off, and that without remedy.” It doesn't pay to play fast and loose with God's mercy, but when God decides you have used up every opportunity presented to receive the Lord Jesus Christ, then your life is snuffed out. You don't need to go about thinking you have sinned away your day of grace. This passage of Scripture could not possibly apply, and that would be evident if you understood the dispensational interpretation of the Word of God.

God's Reaction To Man's Wickedness

God looked down upon the earth and He said, “I'm not going to put up with this much longer. I am going to wait one hundred and twenty years before judgment falls.” In the first epistle of Peter, chapter 3, verses 18-20, Peter calls this “the long suffering of God waiting in the days of Noah.” Again, in Genesis, chapter 6, verse 5, the course of this dispensation from God's standpoint:

Genesis 6:

5 And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Things were not getting better. They were getting worse. If you have not sensed this from our last discussion, let me emphasize now that things never get better! In every dispensation described in the Word of God, things go from bad to worse. If you think for a moment that this present dispensation, the Dispensation of Grace in which we live, is going to get better, then you are thinking illogically because it is completely out of pattern for it to do so. It will get worse. Notice verse 6. Things reach such an unhappy state that we read:

Genesis 6:

6 And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.

Think about that for a moment. Realize how sad a state things must have been if God said, “I'm sorry that I ever created man in the first place.” That is a terrible thing.

Climax Of The Dispensation

So we can expect nothing else than to find that this dispensation came to a natural climax. May I suggest to you that the climax of this one, the climax of the Dispensation of Conscience, was reached in verse 7 of chapter 6, where God says:

Genesis 6:

7 And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.

This was the climax. “I have had enough!” This particular dispensation lasted over sixteen hundred years. But God said, “I've had all I can take.” And the climax was reached in His determination to destroy these individuals - the creatures who lived upon the earth.

Judgment Of The Flood

Turn, please, to Genesis, chapter 7, and notice how God did what He said He would do. In Genesis, chapter 7, beginning with verse 17:

Genesis 7:

17 And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lift up above the earth.
18 And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters.
19 And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.
20 Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.

Notice this next verse particularly:

Genesis 7:

21 And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man:
22 All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.

This was the climax, the end to which the Dispensation of Conscience came. If you are thinking, you should be comparing notes and you will realize that the second dispensation, as the first dispensation, ended in failure. Man, in the first dispensation, lived in an environment of innocence and failed. Man lived in the second dispensation in an environment of conscience that had not yet been seared as a hot iron, and he failed.

The Ark - Manifestation Of God's Compassion

The purpose of God's testing is to reveal to the human race that it is utterly and hopelessly lost without a Savior. That is the reason in this dispensation, as in the others, we will see indications of the compassion of God. I'm glad that we can close our remarks with a meditation in brief on God's compassion as it was evidenced in the days of the flood.

The first indication of that compassion is found in chapter 6 of the book of Genesis where we read, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” The only reason that Noah and his family were spared was because of God's grace. That's all! And that was a manifestation of His compassion. That becomes even more definite when we read verse 14 of chapter 6, where God said to Noah:

Genesis 6:

14 Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.

The ark itself, just simply the ark, was a manifestation of the compassion of God. You will remember when we were studying the book of Genesis, that the word translated “pitch” in this verse is the same word that is used for the word atonement in the book of Leviticus, which describes the manner of God's provision for eternal life. So the ark was meant to be the symbol of God's compassionate grace. If you follow the activities further in chapter 7, verse 1, God's compassion is still evident:

Genesis 7:

1 And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation.

The invitation manifesting God's compassion still goes forth: “Come, thou and all thy family into the ark.” You will notice further down in the chapter that after all had entered into the ark, God shut the door; and the ark was borne up by the waters and came through to safety.

God Remembered Noah

I never think that the story of God's compassion in the book of Genesis is complete without the first statement of chapter 8. Maybe I'm thinking further than I need to think, but in my human heart, I cannot help but wonder what would have happened if God had forgotten Noah. That's the reason that I say to you that there is indicated to my own heart another illustration of God's compassion in the words of Genesis, chapter 8, verse 1, where we read:

Genesis 8:

1 And God remembered Noah,…

God made it possible for the waters to lower, the ark to settle, and Noah to come on dry land - another illustration of God's saving man in abject failure. One dispensation came to an end; another dispensation began.

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