Dispensations Innocence and Conscience
Man was created in innocence, placed in a perfect environment, subjected to a simple test (Genesis 3:24). Multiply and replenish the earth (Gen. 1:28).
2. Subdue the earth for their use (Gen. 1:28).
3. Exercise dominion over the animal creation (Gen. 1:28).
4. Have only a vegetable diet (Gen. 1:29).
5. Dress and keep the garden they were put in (Gen. 2:15).
and warned of the consequence of disobedience.
6. Abstain from eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:17).
He was not forced into sin but chose to do so. The dispensation ended with judgment and expulsion from the Garden Eden.
This dispensation lasted about 1,656 years from the time of Adam and Eve’s eviction from the garden until the flood (Genesis 3:8–8:22).
God left mankind to his own will and conscience, which have been tainted by the inherited sin nature. So while God did not give a specific responsibility He left man to his own devices…… The Dispensation of Conscience is so named because during this period man had nothing to guide him but his conscience. God did not give any specific commands to anyone during this dispensation. There were no “thou shalts” or “thou shalt nots;” God just left man to his own heart to guide him. Needless to say, man utterly failed in following his conscience. For the most part he hardened it and became extremely wicked. This wickedness was the cause of the flood (Gen. 6).
The five major aspects of this dispensation are 1) a curse on the serpent, 2) a change in womanhood and childbearing, 3) a curse on nature, 4) the imposing of work on mankind to produce food, and 5) the promise of Christ as the seed who will bruise the serpent’s head (Satan). Genesis 3:23 to Genesis 8:19.
With very little instruction from God during this time, man acted according to his own conscience. The evil became so overwhelming, that this dispensation ended when God destroyed all but Noah and his family in the great flood.
When Adam ate of the forbidden tree at the bidding of his wife, they both acquired something they before thought desirable but soon turned out to be a curse; that is, knowledge. After Adam ate they both quickly learned the knowledge they obtained was quite different from what the Serpent represented it to be.
It was not just “knowledge” for knowledge’s sake, but the knowledge of EVIL. Contrary to many not all knowledge is beneficial. There are some things a person should not try to learn or seek after, and the greatest of these is a knowledge of evil (Rom. 16:19; 1 Co. 14:20).
Although the Dispensation of Conscience, began with the Adamic Covenant, it does not last as long as the covenant. It is replaced by another dispensation when Noah departs the ark. Here is an important lesson: even though a covenant usually introduces a particular dispensation, the covenant and dispensation do not have to end together. A covenant can still be in effect long after its original dispensation has been replaced. Unconditional covenants can overlap each other or be in effect simultaneously, but by strict definition dispensations can not. This should become clearer as we go along.
Some may ask here, “How could God hold them accountable for being wicked when He gave them no specific laws to keep?” The answer is man has an unwritten law written in his heart or conscience (Rom. 2:14-15).
Though this law is vague compared to a written or verbal law, it will still convict a person of guilt when he contemplates evil. For instance, when Cain slew his brother Abel, he did not break any written law against murder because none was yet given, but he did break the law God had written in his heart and was therefore guilty. Like his father, Cain had a knowledge of good and evil, and he willingly chose evil.
Every accountable person even today, no matter where he is, knows murder, adultery, stealing, and the like are wrong whether he has heard of the word of God or not. These laws are embedded into every man’s conscience, but the conscience imparts no power to keep man from breaking it.
Man’s responsibility in the Dispensation of Conscience (and to those in every other dispensation who have had no contact with the Scriptures) was to simply follow his conscience. If one listens carefully to his conscience, it will convict him of sin and lead him to God for salvation (Cornelius, for example, Acts 10).
But if he doesn’t listen to it and hardens it, all he has to look forward to is judgment. Since the people from Adam to Noah ignored their conscience and followed wickedness, God was forced to bring judgment—the flood. Man fails again.
Mankind did not follow the God given conscience and received the justice he deserved, The Flood which came upon the entire earth. So Adam and his progeny failed and God’s grace being continual gave mankind another dispensation.
Daniel E. Woodhead Ph.D.
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