Wilhelmus à Brakel Comes out swinging against Dispensationalism

The conclusion of à Brakel’s chapter “The Word of God” in The Christian’s Reasonable Service is an excellent portion entitled Guidelines for the Profitable Reading of Scripture. I hope to summarize its contents in a future post, but one thing that really caught my attention was an item in his list of things to be avoided in reading the Bible.

à Brakel writes:

The second practice to avoid is that of forcing everything into a framework of seven dispensations, as the entire concept of seven dispensations is erroneous. It would be tolerable if this were limited to the Revelation of John; however, it would prevent one from ever ascertaining the correct meaning of the book of the Revelation. It is unacceptable to search for seven dispensations throughout the entire Bible, subordinating every scriptural issue to a dispensation. That would take away the true meaning, spirituality, and power from the Word.[1]

 I will not comment on Brakel’s evaluation of dispensationalism as a system, other than to say that on the whole I agree with his estimation of the fruits of it. What really surprises me is that a à Brakel knows about dispensationalism at all. I expect a Reformed theologian to criticize dispensationalism: but not one in à Brakel’s day. The Christian’s Reasonable Service was published in 1700. Everyone pretty much agrees that dispensationalism as a system was not formalized until the late 1800s and early 1900s. Where does à Brakel’s knowledge of dispensationalism come from then?

 I consulted the standard treatment on the system, Dispensationalism by Charles Ryrie, and think I found the answer:

 Pierre Poiret was a French mystic and philosopher (1646-1719). His great work, L’OEconomie Divine, first published in Amsterdam in 1687, was translated into English and published in London in six volumes in 1713. The work began as a development of the doctrine of predestination, but it was expanded into a rather complete systematic theology. In viewpoint it is sometimes mystical, represents a modified form of Calvinism, and is premillennial and dispensational.[2]

 Ryrie also lists the seven dispensations of Poiret which have a different demarcation than those of Scofield, but are nonetheless seven. As Ryrie is right to remind critics of the system, dispensationalism did not exactly fall out of the sky in 1900. Even if Ryrie’s citation of patristic authors is rightly dismissed as egregious cherry-picking, critics of the system should look for the true roots and sources of it rather than focusing all their attention on Darby and Scofield. Dispensationalism is older than you think.


[1] Willhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 79.

[2] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 65.

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