Just over two years ago I came across an MA dissertation in the Central Library at Zurich. The dissertation is by David Grant Smith from the University of Virginia (1992) and entitled “The Influence of Heinrich Bullinger on Early English Covenant Theology”. As far as I can see, this work has not been published as a journal article. Nonetheless, the small section I photocopied contains a mine of information and insightful reflection on Bullinger.
The following is an extract from this dissertation where Smith makes some comments on the Common Places which is the English translation of Bullingers Summa:
“In the section entitled, ‘That God has bound man to him, unto salvation and perpetual worship’ we see this important summary, joining the covenant of God with justification by faith:
‘For religion seemeth not so much to have her name of reading as of binding. Are bound unto God, and joined in league through his free mercy (as has been said) by faith. Therefore the covenant of God and true religion are all one. And they are religious, which being (con)federates joined in league with God, do cleave unto his word and honor and serve him despising all other things.’
Here we see what appears to be faith-based and a works-based justification juxtaposed. Bullinger may have been aware of the potential to distort his doctrine legalistically, however; elsewhere in his listing of covenant conditions he adds (to my knowledge, for the first time in his writings) ‘and if it come to pass, that he do err and fall, that therefore he be not without hope of pardon, but that trusting unto God his bountifulness, he repent, and stand unto his mercy, and follow God.’ Although Bullinger uses the word ‘if’ (following the Biblical terminology of 1 John 2:1), the implication may well be that it is impossible for man to keep the covenant conditions perfectly. The law does show Christians what to do and not to do, but man cannot fulfill the law in his own strength. Those justified by faith are endued with the spirit, which impels them to live after the commandment of the law, ‘and that they do’. But this is not perfect obedience because ‘infirmity remains in the faithful throughout their lives.’ Their works are not acceptable of themselves, but because of their reconciliation by Christ, their works are ‘allowed by God’”.
David, if you are reading this out in blogosphere do please make contact. Your work deserves the recognition it justly deserves. I kick myself for not photocopying more of the dissertation when I was in Zurich that time.