Dr. Bullinger doesn't need me to defend him. He was a humble man who gladly accepted critiques of his work. He famously told Charles Welch, after Mr. Welch pointed out a concern in regard to Dr. Bullinger's exegesis of the Pauline epistles, that he would have to denounce half his own writings! He did so with a laugh. The critique was valid. He humbly accepted it. If one is to accuse him of error, he had better be precise. Publicly bearing false witness against a brother in Christ is a serious matter.
This will not be an exhaustive post in regard to one such public critique, but I did want to address a few issues. Specifically, false charges and blasphemy against E.W. Bullinger,
Let all bitterness and rage and anger and clamour and blasphemy be put away from you, along with all malice,
I refer to to this post by Dan R. Smedra: The Anglo-Catholic Errors of E.W. Bullinger
I write from the perspective a former, devout Roman Catholic. I was born, raised, and educated in the Catholic Church. Catholic school, altar boy, acolyte. Religious Education Teacher, Youth Leader, etc. I even made a trip to the Vatican. I can usually spot Catholic influence a mile away. That is why the title of Mr. Smedra's post struck me.
Again, I'm not embarking on a line-by-line defense, but I do want to address some of his accusations. We have noted before Harry Ironside's atrocious attack on Mr. Bullinger's teachings (accusing us of being universalists). That attack contained downright lies. What I see in the above referenced post is a similar mischaracterization or misinterpretation of Dr. Bullinger's teaching.
The irony here is that Bullinger (possibly more than any other teacher), very much different from what is taught in the Catholic Church, stressed the absolute singleness and individuality of Bible Study. That is, the responsibility for rightly dividing the word of truth rested solely with every individual believer. Let me quote from the conclusion to his monumental work, "How To Enjoy The Bible."
All Bible study must in the end be individual. As with ordinary bodily food: others may prepare the food and serve it up in various forms: they may cook it in more senses than one: they may present it in "made dishes": they may carve it, and cut it up, and even put it in the mouth, as with babes; but, after all, there is no more that they can do. They cannot eat it or digest it for us; they cannot assimilate it for us; even so it is with the spiritual food of the Word of God. Notwithstanding all that has been said in the foregoing pages, the great necessity remains: the work of Bible study must be, to the end, intensely personal and individual. Each one must look out the reference for himself. He must trace the words through all their occurrences where these are given; he must consider their usages; he must read the contexts; he must make his lists and tables, and do his countings for himself: for so only can he feed upon the Word and the words, and be nourished, and be strengthened himself, and grow thereby: so only will he be able to say with Jeremiah: "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; And thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart." [E.W. Bullinger]
Now let us turn to a few points from Mr. Smedra (and as we always do, we encourage the reader to read the original post, linked above, in its entirety).
Mr. Bullinger did not clearly acknowledge the necessity of the Holy Spirit's sovereign illumination of the Text. Either he believed that the Fall wasn't serious enough to render man incapable of grasping truth with one's natural abilities, or he believed in the Wesleyan doctrine of common grace, thus siding with Roman Catholicism rather than the Reformation or historic dispensationalism. [Dan R. Smedra]
This is a sweeping and irresponsible conclusion to draw simply because Dr. Bullinger taught that the believer can and should study the Word diligently. I turn back to the conclusion of Bullinger's book noted above where we find this utterly clear statement in regard to understanding scripture:
It is assumed, from the first word to the last, that the readers have passed from death unto life, and have the Divine gift of a spiritual "understanding," apart from which all that has been said will be useless. We must be able to say: "We know that the Son of God hath come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may get to know HIM that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 5:20). We have not written to convince unbelievers, though God may over-rule our work to that end. We have not written in defence of the Bible, for not only does it not need any defence of ours, but it is our own "shield" (Psa 91:4) and "sword" (Eph 6:17), without which we are defenceless indeed. We have written only for those who have "peace with God" (Rom 5:1), and enjoy "the peace of God" (Phil 4:7), and know "the God of Peace" (Rom 15:33). Only such have leisure to be occupied with God. Only such can "sit at the Lord's feet and hear His Word" (Luke 10:39, RV). All others must be "cumbered about much serving."
They must needs be occupied with themselves: either as sinners taken up with their sins, or as penitents with their repentance, or as believers with their faith, or as saints with their holiness. Unless and until we know our completeness in Christ (Col 2:10), and "believe God" when He declares that "He hath made us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col 1:12), we shall be in such a condition of conscience, and heart, and life as will not leave us any time for occupation with God. Instead of going on our way "giving thanks to God" for what He has done, we shall be giving way to mourning for what we have not done. We shall be like David when he "sat in his house" and was occupied with what he would do for the Lord. For, not until we learn what the Lord has done and purposed to do for us, shall we be ready, with David, to go in and sit before the Lord (2 Sam 7:1,18). In the former case David's thought was, "Who I am"; in the latter he was exclaiming, "Who am I, O Lord God?" [E.W. Bullinger]
Could he be more clear? There is not one scent of "common grace" here. Quite the opposite! Absolutely no one in his natural state can possibly understand scripture is the argument. He says of this extensive work on tools for understanding scripture, that the passing from death unto life by faith is absolutely necessary and "apart from which all that has been said will be useless." That is, Dr. Bullinger clearly taught that the natural man cannot understand spiritual things.
Summation of the excerpt: Without the new nature from God, which comes with a Divine Gift of Spiritual understanding, study is useless.
How could Mr. Smedra accuse Bullinger of teaching that man can "grasp truth with his natural abilities" or that he somehow believed all men have the benefits of "common grace?" Such irresponsibility! Either his scholarship is sloppy, his research incomplete, or (like Ironside before him) he chooses to grind his axe based on his assumptions, desired conclusions, and a personal disdain for Dr. Bullinger.
We end this section with Dr. Bullinger's reference to the necessity of God's hand in the use of Bullinger's own book:
May the Lord deign to use these pages, and make them to be that "guide" to a better understanding and a greater enjoyment of His own Word.
Let us now turn to the attack in regard to what Mr. Smedra calls "spiritual death."
Most seriously, [Mr. Bullinger and his followers] failed to understand the biblical truth of "spiritual death".
I find the use of quotation marks interesting. They are curiously used as the phrase is nowhere found in the pages of the Bible nor is any spirit ever said to have died. It is a doctrine of the Reformers and Reformation theology which is itself a product of Catholicism and its doctrine of "spiritual death."
Ironically, the concept of "spiritual death" has as one of its proponents, John Wesley. In doing so, Wesley (as have countless others) denies the words of the God in Genesis and promotes a lie. The phrase could be said to be a "Wesleyan doctrine," but not a "biblical" doctrine.
From John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on Genesis:
That is, thou shalt lose all the happiness thou hast either in possession or prospect; and thou shalt become liable to death, and all the miseries that preface and attend it. This was threatened as the immediate consequence of sin... Not only thou shalt become mortal, but spiritual death and the forerunners of temporal death shall immediately seize thee.
Furthermore, those that teach that unbelievers are tortured by God by fire, without hope and without end, are teaching that man is immortal. They teach that he "will not surely die." It is the lie of Satan as is the doctrine of bodiless bliss at the time of physical death. All men are mortal, believers and unbelievers. It is only in resurrection that believers "put on immortality," (1 Cor 15:54).
Christ came that men might have life. Without Christ, men have no life in them. Read the story of Lazarus in John 11. Is there any doubt that Lazarus was dead? Is there anything in the text that suggests he was waiting in bliss somewhere? What is the only hope spoken of there by Martha or by the Lord himself? RESURRECTION.
Who Is Promoting Catholic Doctrines?
The idea of a fiery pit wherein God tortures the lost is UTTERLY Catholic. It is creation of the "Early Church Fathers," borrowed from Greek mythology. It is these men to whom the Reformers and the Catholic Church bow and forsake their responsibility to study.
Bullinger, in no uncertain terms, stated that Bible Study is an INDIVIDUAL responsibility, it requires hard work, and that ONLY BELIEVERS have any hope of understanding scripture.
We are called to be WORKMEN who must STUDY in that way that we be APPROVED and not ASHAMED. Is that Catholicism? Is that a denial of the role of the Spirit? Is that "common grace?" Of course not. Bullinger calls us to do the WORK and in no way implies this is an accomplishment of the carnal nature.
Mr. Smedra quotes Lewis Sperry Chafer as though he is in conflict with Dr. Bullinger's understanding. Ironically (again), a right division of scripture reveals that instant understanding and having the words to answer all men is a Pentecostal Age truth. The Catholic understanding of the Pentecostal gifts and the Pentecostal ordinances is far more inline with Mr. Smedra than with Dr. Bullinger.
Do we imagine that Chafer would suggest that no study is of any value? That any and all believers only understand scripture in accordance with whatever the Lord gives them at the time of conversion? Of course not.
Perhaps Mr. Smedra should concern himself less with the judgment of unbelievers and his desire to see God torturing billions of men and women (torture Reformed teacher R.C. Sproul says we'll all rejoice in watching some day) and worry about his own judgment at the Bema Seat. All of us need to be concerned.
As we have noted in regard to study of the Word, we must go about it as "WORKMEN" that we may be "APPROVED" and not find ourselves "ASHAMED."
Are we to conclude from Smedra's argument that anyone, including himself, who quotes scripture in defense of, or in proposition, of, or refutation of any doctrine is denying the work of God in us? Is it an appeal to "free will" if we do so? That is, for me to refute my previous Catholic doctrines, I have to study the Bible. Such knowledge is not magically bestowed on all believers. If that were so, Paul wouldn't waste time either warning us about false teachers or warning us about being ashamed for lack of proper studying.
After quoting two lines from Bullinger's massive library of writings, Smedra states:
Again, not a word about the Holy Spirit's sovereign ministry of revealing truth (John 16:13) nor of the natural man's inability to understand spiritual things, as expounded by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2.
So, let us apply his reasoning to this assertion.
By quoting John 16:13 as part of his argument, Dan is assuming we can understand it. He must conclude that we either know the truth there or do not know the truth there based on whether God has illuminated us to its meaning. In quoting from scripture, Dan thus denies God's hand and exalts the free-will of the reader over the work of the Spirit.
That sounds like intellectual crap, because it is. But I would argue it is in line with the accusation that Dr. E.W. Bullinger taught that understanding scripture is independent of a work of God. We have clearly dispelled that blasphemy against the man.
Here is a summation of the position and it should be clear for all to see from Bullinger's writings:
A. No one can possibly understand scripture without the new nature which is a gift of God by grace through faith alone.
B. Each of us is workman who is instructed to read and study the Word of Truth for which we will answer, having our work found approved or ourselves found ashamed.
To say that by teaching the second statement, one is denying the first is nonsense and food for weak minds ready to hate.
Final irony here, Dan refers to Bullinger as "Mr. Bullinger." Yes, Dr. Bullinger's title was honorary, but Dan chose to slight him since he did not receive this honor from a university. Conversely, he quotes as an authority "Dr. L. S. Chafer" who also received only honorary doctorates.
The Spirit Works Through Study (A Basic Concept)
And we are left to ask, if ALL understanding of scripture is solely by the illumination of the Sprit apart from any effort on our part, who is to determine whether Bullinger, Chafer, or Smedra are correct on any point of doctrine? How can any Christian disagree on anything?
Denying the personal responsibility of the individual to do the hard work of a Bible student leaves us all vulnerable to pronouncements of men who claim illumination by the Spirit. A Pope and his Council, perhaps? And let me assure you, the discouraging of study on the premise that all such work is useless is a very Catholic concept.
Bullinger's critics would argue they are not teaching this, but if not, their attacks on Dr. Bullinger must be abandoned. For he taught
- the inability of the natural man to understand scripture
- necessity of the creation of the new nature by God as an act of grace
- and the responsibility of the one with the new nature to feed that nature by diligent Bible Study
Dr. Bullinger encourages all of us who have the new nature to INTESELY study God's word. In doing so, in no way does he discount the necessity of either the New Nature or the role of the Spirit.
I refer readers to an excerpt from Dr. Bullinger's "The Two Natures of the Child of God." Could he be more clear on his belief that the natural man (old nature) cannot understand truth? If a man is to understand anything, God must "deign" he do so?
“The Natural Man.” And we are told that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he get to know them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor.2:14).
In the structure of this portion of 1 Corinthians, verse 14 stands in correspondence with verse 8; which tells us that “none of the princes of this world knew the wisdom of God”, i.e., the great Secret–the Mystery–for it was “hidden” in God (Eph. 3:9), and no eye had ever seen it, or ear heard it. And even when now it is “revealed” (1 Cor. 2:10), the natural man cannot get to know it, because it is only discerned by the spirit, or the new nature within us, created and enlightened by the Holy Ghost. This is conclusive as to the character, power, inclination and condition of “the natural man”; which means man by nature, as he is born into the world.
Another of Smedra's charges, "failure to clearly understand or articulate the truth of spiritual blindness" is refuted by the statement above as here as well:
“The Old Man.” And what about him? He, we are told “is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” (Eph. 4:22). The old man is full of desires or lusts. These lusts are deceitful and deceiving. They are in all things contrary to God, contrary to His Spirit, and His Word; and to the new nature, the spirit, when it is once implanted within us. In this connection, it is called...“The Heart” i.e., the natural heart, which is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9), so deceitful that it constantly deceives and betrays us: so deceitful that none but God can really know it. The Lord Jesus has some “teaching about the heart” of the natural man in Matthew 15:19. “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”
Do any of these quotes suggest that Bullinger fails to understand the spiritual blindness of the carnal nature?
Accusing Dr. Bullinger of teaching "common grace" or enlightenment apart from the Holy Ghost is blasphemy.
More from Dr. Bullinger on the sad state of the natural man:
In the light which shined out of darkness (Gen 1:2,3) we shall see the light which has shone "in our hearts to give the knowledge of the glory of God in the face (or person) of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 4:6). No wonder that those who know nothing of this spiritual light of the New Creation know nothing of the light that was created on the first day as revealed in the record of the old creation. The natural man sees only a myth and an old wives' fable in the Creation record, and seems actually to prefer the Babylonian corruption of primitive truth. These "other Gentiles walk in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart" (Eph 4:17,18). Woe be to those who follow these blind leaders, for "they shall both fall into the ditch" they have prepared for themselves by their fleshly knowledge and worldly wisdom."
One last thought from me; the doctrine of eternal, fiery torture is both "Babylonian" and "Catholic." And it is Mr. Smedra who promotes this human Catholic tradition (along with the Satanic lie that men shall ever live), and not Dr. Bullinger. He seems to be a victim of the traditions he claims to reject.
Here a few other blog entries on this and related topics:
- Deconstruction Don Perkins' Introduction to "Hell" - Part 1
- Deconstructing Don Perkins' Introduction to "Hell" - Part 2
- How to Prevail Against the Gates of Hell
- Traditions That Interfere With True Understanding
- Another Look at "Gehenna" (Hell)
- More on the Traditional Doctrine of Hell
- Animals Are Souls And You Are Not Immortal
- The State of the Dead
- Scripturally Comforting the Bereaved - Part 1
- Scripturally Comforting the Bereaved - Part 2