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.


Willhelmus a Brakel on Why People become Atheists: They deny the Trinity

These are the fruits of dishonoring God and of denying the generation of the Son and the procession of the Holy Ghost. First they propose the existence of three collateral persons—that is, existing side by side—which is followed by the notion of three gods, and eventually this culminates in denying the existence of God. These fruits proceed from a distaste for the old paths which are unknown to them and from a hankering for the promotion of that which is new. Such are the fruits of doubting the existence of God.[1]

It should be noted that Brakel argues that there are no “original” atheists. That is to say, no one comes out of the womb doubting the existence of God. Atheism is an alien condition: but it is one that can be arrived at. How does one become an atheist? First, by denying the orthodox teaching concerning the Trinity. Admittedly, the reasoning is somewhat circular: but if the Trinity is God, then denying the Trinity is atheism. Where does this denial of the Trinity come from? A repudiation of Holy Tradition and a desire for novelty. So Brakel sees the process as: denial of tradition, denial of the Trinity, denial of God. What is the remedy for one caught in such a trap?

“Persevere in reading God’s Word and join yourself to the godly in order to hear them speak about the delight they may have in God.”[2]

[1] Willhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 12.

[2] Ibid, 22.