August 9, 2015
The verses I posted last week were immediately taken from biblesupport.com, but a user with the handle “APSit190” responded. He never addressed the verses, of course, just complained about how divisive I was being. Here is my response to him: Read the rest of this entry »
April 13, 2014
Over the past several months, I have been refuting the doctrine put forth in the e-Sword module “5 Points of Calvinism Refuted”. Last week, I examined some questions put forth by Mr. Rudd in an effort to make the doctrine of Irresistible Grace look ridiculous. (Spoiler alert: they just made Mr. Rudd look ridiculous.) This week, we’ll look at his faulty definition and explanation of Irresistible Grace. Read the rest of this entry »
November 13, 2011
VII. Eschatology – The Doctrine of the Last Things
As with baptism, and other matters of church government, the Christian Confession of Faith does not have much to say about the doctrine of the end times. This is another matter where Christians can disagree, because this doctrine has little bearing on the doctrine of the Gospel. Here is what the Confession does have to say on the matter:
Jesus Christ will return from Heaven as He promised, the dead will be resurrected, and the whole world will be judged, all at God’s appointed time. [Psa 96:13; Dan 7:9-14; 12:1-2; Mat 16:27; 25:31-46; Mar 4:22; 13:24-27; Joh 5:28-29; Act 1:11; 17:31; 24:15; 1Co 15:23-25; 2Co 5:10; 1Th 4:15-17; 2Th 1:7-10; 2Ti 4:1; Heb 9:27-28; 2Pe 3:10-12; Rev 1:7-8; 20:11-13]1
The Confession then goes on to summarize the biblical teaching about Heaven and Hell.
All for whom Jesus Christ did not die will live eternally in the pit of Hell and will be eternally tormented for their sins. Souls who are tormented in the next life will never suffer enough to even begin to pay for as much as one sin. Scripture rejects the lie that souls in Hell cease to exist or cease to be tormented, as this is a denial that offending the infinitely holy God is an infinite crime deserving of an infinite punishment. Scripture also rejects the lie of Purgatory as well as the lie that those who perish denying the doctrines of the gospel will finally accept them in heaven. [Deu 32:22,41; Psa 9:17; Pro 27:20; Isa 33:14; Dan 12:2; Mat 3:12; 5:22; 7:21-23; 10:28; 11:22-24; 13:41-42; 25:30,46; Mar 9:42-48; Luk 16:23-24,26; Joh 3:36; 10:11,26; 12:48; Rom 2:5-9; 6:23; Gal 3:10; 2Th 1:5-9; Heb 10:26-27; 2Pe 3:7; Jud 6-7; Rev 14:9-11; 19:2-3; 20:14-15]
All for whom Jesus Christ died will live eternally in Heaven in perfect fellowship with God, as He promised them. The final state of the Church will be eternal glory with her King and Husband. He will wipe every tear from her eyes and will entirely remove all indwelling sin from her. She will worship Him in the presence of His visible glory for all eternity. [Psa 49:15; 116:8; Isa 25:8; Dan 12:2; Mat 19:29; 25:34,46; Luk 18:29-30; Joh 3:15-16; 3:36; 4:14; 6:40,47, 54; 10:28; 14:2-3; 17:2-3; Rom 2:7; 6:22-23; 8:30; 1Co 15:53-54; Gal 6:8; Phi 3:20-21; Col 3:4; Tit 1:2; 2:13; 3:7; 1Pe 1:4; 2Pe 3:13; 1Jo 2:25,28; 3:2; Rev 14:1-5; 21:2-4,22-27; 22:1-5]2
It must be admitted that Wesley had a sound view of Heaven and Hell3. And despite believing in an intermediate state for departed souls4, he rejected the doctrine of purgatory (ie. that departed souls can atone for sin in the next life by their suffering5).
But at this point there is a major discrepancy in Wesley’s thinking. It has already been shown that he believed that the saints were not preserved from falling away in this present life by God. So how does it happen that they are then preserved from falling away when they are in Heaven? After all, to use Wesley’s own words:
Were human liberty taken away, men would be as incapable of virtue as stones. Therefore, (with reverence [sic] be it spoken,) the Almighty himself cannot do this thing. (6:318, Sermon 67 On Divine Providence)
So, according to Wesley’s principles, if God took away their liberty, men could not be virtuous even in Heaven. And if their liberty remains, then is it possible for a person to sin in Heaven? If yes, then what happens to that person when he sins? Is he sent immediately and irrevocably to Hell?
But if not, then what becomes of the person’s all-important liberty? Is it taken away? Is it then possible for him to do anything virtuous (in Wesley’s terms)?
And what of those who are in Hell? Is their liberty taken away? If yes, then the full force of Wesley’s arguments against predestination come down against him:
Men are as free in believing or not believing as if he [God] did not know it at all. Indeed, if man were not free, he could not be held accountable …. (6:227, Sermon 58 On Predestination)
As he has called us to holiness, he is undoubtedly willing as well as able, to work this holiness in us. For he cannot mock his helpless creatures, calling us to receive what he never intends to give. (6:416, Sermon 76 On Perfection)
But what if the person’s all-important liberty is not taken away in Hell? What if someone in Hell sincerely repents and believes the Gospel he had scorned in life
The God of love is willing to save all the souls that he has made. This he has proclaimed to them in his word, together with the terms of salvation revealed by the Son of his love, who gave his own life that they that believe in him might have everlasting life. And for these he has prepared a kingdom from the foundation of the world. But he will not force them to accept of it; he leaves them in the hands of their own counsel; (7:317, Sermon 120 The Wedding Garment, Mar. 26 1790)
Wesley might answer that noone in Hell will sincerely repent. But how can he know that? Of all the millions and millions of souls in Hell, might there not at least be a few that sincerely repented? If nothing in this life could convince a man to sincerely repent of his sins, surely the fires of Hell would do the trick. And after all, doesn’t God (according to Wesley) love them and long for their salvation? How can he leave them screaming in the torments of Hell, when he so desperately wants to save them?
The very thought of this eternal chaos, souls in Hell making themselves fit for Heaven, and souls in Heaven making themselves fit for Hell, ought to convince us, once and for all, of the folly of placing Man’s need to be saved above God’s need to be glorified. It is God who preserves his elect from falling away from him, and it is God who hardens the reprobate in their sins. It is God who is glorified in the salvation of his people, and it is God who is glorified in the damnation of his enemies.
The Judgement Day & Future Life
Some of Wesley’s views regarding the afterlife can only be described as silly. For instance, he held that the day of judgement would last a thousand years, if not many thousands:
And from this very expression [2 Pet 3:8], some of the ancient Fathers drew the inference, that what is commonly called the day of judgment would be indeed a thousand years: And it seems they did not go beyond the truth; nay probably they did not come up to it. For if we consider the number of persons who are to be judged, and of actions which are to be inquired into, it does not appear, that a thousand years will suffice for the transactions of that day; so that it may not improbably comprise several thousand years. (5:174, Sermon 15 The Great Assize)
Even more bizarre is the view that there would be an afterlife for animals. In his sermon The General Deliverance, he begins by speculating about the condition of animals before the Fall, then goes on to describe the effect of the Fall upon their condition:
If the Creator and Father of every living thing is rich in mercy towards all; if he does not overlook or despise any of the works of his own hands; if he wills even the meanest of them to be happy, according to their degree; how comes it to pass, that such a complication of evils oppresses, yea overwhelms them? …. And as a loving obedience to God was the perfection of man, so a loving obedience to man was the perfection of brutes. And as long as they continued in this, they were happy after their kind; happy in the right state and the right use of their respective faculties. Yea, and so long they had some shadowy resemblance of even moral goodness. For they had gratitude to man for benefits received, and a reverence for him. They had likewise a kind of benevolence to each other. …. Perhaps insects and worms had then as much understanding as the most intelligent brutes have now. …. As man is deprived of his perfection, his loving obedience to God; so brutes are deprived of their perfection, their loving obedience to man.” (6:242-6, Sermon 60 The General Deliverance, emph. in orig.).
Then, he further speculates about the effect of the resurrection on the “brute creation”:
But will “the creature,” will even the brute creation, always remain in this deplorable condition? …. As a recompence for what they once suffered, while under the “bondage of corruption,” when God has “renewed the face of the earth,” and their corruptible body has put on incorruption, thy shall enjoy happiness suited to their state, without alloy, without interruption, and without end. But though I doubt not that the Father of All has a tender regard for even his lowest creatures, and that, in consequince of this, he will make them large amends for all they suffer while under their present bondage; …. May I be permitted to mention here a conjecture concerning the brute creation? What if it should then please the all-wise, all-greacious Creator to raise them higher in the scale of beings? What, if it should please him, when he makes us “equal to angels,” to make them what we are now, — creatures capable of God; capable of knowing and loving and enjoying the Author of their being? …. something better remains after death for these poor creatures also;” (6:248-51 , Sermon 60 The General Deliverance)
But Wesley did not hold these views merely for comic relief. He is in fact tying up some loose ends of his theology. As we have seen, Wesley had a wicked and idolatrous view of God. He worshiped a God after his own image. As such, Wesley’s “God” was responsible to treat all people the way Wesley himself was responsible to treat them — with fairness and equality. Therefore, Wesley’s “God” could not be allowed to simply divide the whole world into two classes and summarily pass sentence on half of them (Mt 25:32-3); he was responsible to try them all separately, and hear each case individually.
Further, Wesley’s “God” was not allowed to simply do as he will with the creatures he has made. He is even responsible to treat the animals fairly. In regard to the doctrine of Animal Resurrection, Wesley went on to say:
May it not answer another end; namely, furnish us with a full answer to a plausible objection against the justice of God, in suffering numberless creatures that never had sinned to be so severely punished? (6:251 , Sermon 60 The General Deliverance, emph. mine)
Notice the word “plausible”! How is it possible that there could be a plausible objection to the justice of God?!?! Only if Wesley’s God is not the God of Holy Scripture!!
Isa 45:6-7 …that they may know from the rising of the sun, and to the sunset, that [there is] none besides Me; I [am] Jehovah, and there is none else; forming light, and creating darkness; making peace, and creating evil.
Rom 9:20-21 Yes, rather, O man, who are you answering against God? Shall the thing formed say to the [One] forming [it], Why did You make me like this? Or does not the potter have authority over the clay, …?
Whatever God does is just, by virtue of the fact that it is God who does it. There is no such thing as a “plausible objection” against the justice of God, because this presupposes that there is a standard of right and wrong, independent, and even superior, to God himself. But on the contrary, the will of God is itself the standard of right and wrong. Wesley’s view of God was, therefore, utterly blasphemous.
1Christian Confession of FaithVII.A.; http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfvii.htm
2Christian Confession of FaithVII..B & C.; http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfvii.htm
3See 5:181, Sermon 15, The Great Assize; 6:193, Sermon 54, On Eternity; 7:323, Sermon 121, Human Life A Dream; Notes Rev 21:4, in loc; also 7:247, Sermon 112, Dives And Lazarus; Notes Luke 16:25, in loc.
November 6, 2011
VI. Ecclesiology – The Doctrine of the Church
Before getting into Wesley’s view of the doctrine of the Church, let’s look at what the Christian Confession of Faith has to say about it:
The Church is an entity created by God by the power of the gospel with Jesus Christ as her head and husband, to the praise of the glory of His grace. Wherever the true Church is found, the true gospel is always found. [Psa 2:6; 46:4-5; 48:1-2,11-13; 50:2; 99:2; 102:13-21; 111:1; 118:22; Isa 2:3; 28:16; 33:5-6; 35:8-10; 52:7; 62:12; Mat 16:18; Act 20:28; Rom 12:4-5; 1Co 12:24,27; Eph 1:6,13; 2:20-22; 5:23-32; Col 1:18; 1Th 1:1; 2Th 1:1; 1Ti 3:15; Tit 1:9; 2:15; Jam 1:21; Rev 21:12]
It is the duty of believers to assemble for worship and fellowship. [Mat 18:20; Act 2:42; Heb 10:24-25]
worship in the assembly must be conducted decently and in order, in spirit and truth, according to the commands of Scripture. [2Ch 29:30; Psa 22:22; 35:18; 89:7; 107:31-32; 149:1; Joh 4:23-24; 1Co 11:1-12:31; 14:33-40; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; 1Ti 2:1-2,8-12]1
In this section, the Confession says that the Church is created by God through the power of the Gospel. Presumably there will always be members of churches who do not truly believe the Gospel, but in every true church the Gospel will be present. Without the Gospel there is no church.
Then the Confession goes on to describe the duty of church members to “assemble for worship and fellowship”. Here the Confession refers to the following verses:
Act 2: (42) And they were continuing steadfastly in the doctrine of the apostles, and in fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
Heb 10: (24) And let us consider one another, to incitement of love and of good works, (25) not forsaking the assembling together of ourselves, as [is the] custom of some, but exhorting, and by so much more as you see the Day drawing near.
For believers, the value of worship and fellowship is that it strengthens them in the “doctrine of the apostles” and incites them to “love and good works”. Believer’s need to hear the regular preaching of the Gospel, and they need each other’s encouragement to remain strong in the faith.
Next, the Confession teaches that the worship of the Church should be conducted “decently and in order” (1Co 14:40). Confusion in the worship of God would not lead to encouragement of the people of God, but only to more confusion (1Co 14:33).
Notice, lastly, that the Confession is not here concerned with the specifics of worship, but only with the fact that worship and fellowship are commanded by Scripture. Although the specifics of worship can certainly be deduced from Scripture, this is a matter over which Christians can disagree. Therefore, the Confession is not dogmatic about the issue. This may come as a surprise to some, that the Confession allows for disagreement between Christians on any issue, but it must be remembered that the worship of God, as important as it is, is not on the same level of importance as, for example, the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus Christ. True Christians cannot disagree on whether Jesus is God in the flesh, but they can disagree on the specifics of how God is to be worshiped.
We have already discussed Wesley’s deficient view of sin. Corresponding to this, Wesley had a thoroughly inadequate view of personal accountability, and church discipline. As the Methodists increased in numbers, he organized them into ‘Societies’, and instructed them to “meet once a week, at the least.” (8:272-3, Rules Of The Band Societies, Dec. 25, 1738) His theory of personal accountability seemed to be that continual public confession of sin would discourage further sin. This was heavily promoted among the Methodists by Wesley’s ‘Band Societies.’
4. To speak each of us in order, freely and plainly, the true state of our souls, with the faults we have committed in thought, word, or deed, and the temptations we have felt, since our last meeting. …. 6. To desire some person among us to speak his own state,and then to ask the rest, in order, as many searching questions as may be, concerning their state, sins, and temptations.
Some of the questions proposed to every one before he is admitted …. 5. Has no sin, inward or outward, dominion over you? 6. Do you desire to be told of all your faults? …. 9. Consider! Do you desire we should tell you whatsoever we think, whatsoever we fear, whatsoever we hear, concerning you? …. Any of the preceding questions may be asked as often as occasion occurs; the four following at every meeting: — 1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting? 2. What temptations have you met with? (8:272-3, Rules Of The Band Societies, Dec. 25, 1738)
This practice is not only unbiblical, it is anti-biblical (Pro 11:13; Mt 6:5-6, 16-18; Eph 5:3). Rather than strengthening his people against sin in a biblical way, Wesley chose a way that seems right to a man … but in reality is only pleasing to the flesh, by giving the flesh an opportunity to boast of its sins, all with an appearance of humility and spirituality. Again, Wesley could not see the deceitfulness of sin, because he had a deficient view of the true nature of sin. He equated sin with immorality; but the two are not equal. Sin includes immorality, but it also includes religious pride, and self-righteousness (Lk 18:11, Rom 2:21, Jude 4). All the warnings in the world won’t dissuade the flesh from committing these sins. In fact, hanging them out for all the world to see, only encourages the flesh to more such sin. Correctly, Augustus Toplady labeled the Band Societies “that gossiping club.” This is clearly a violation of the command to conduct the worship of God “decently and in order” (1Co 14:40).
As with the doctrine of worship, the Confession is silent on the mode of baptism. This is another issue where Christians can disagree. It is not so fundamental to the Gospel as, say, the Incarnation. What Christians cannot disagree on, of course, is the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, which we have already examined as part of Wesley’s view of the nature of Man.
But it seems that Wesley, although professing to be a paedo-baptist, re-baptized more than one adult. In his Letter To The Rev. Mr. John Wesley, Augustus Toplady offers the following:
I could point out by name more that one who have undergone from his hand a reiteration of that sacred ceremony [baptism-CA]. …. Mrs. L.S. now living in Southwark, was baptized in a bathing-tub, in a cellar, by Mr. John Wesley; who at the time, held her down so very long under water, while he deliberately pronounced the words of the administration, that some friends of her’s who were present screamed out, thinking she was actually drowned: and she herself was so far gone, that she began to grow insensible, and was lifted out of the water but just time enough to save her life. — Yet this is the man who, in the writings which he has published to the world, professes to hold infant baptism, and that by sprinkling, not by immersion.
This story was repeated by Richard Hill, in his Review Of All The Doctrines Taught By Mr. Wesley. In his reply, Wesley denied any knowledge of the incident:
[Hill:] “When Mr. W. baptized Mrs. L.S., he held her so long under water, that her friends screamed out, thinking she had been drowned.”
[Wesley:] When? Where? I never heard of it before. (10:394, Remarks On Mr. Hills ‘Review’;Sept. 9, 1772)
But when Richard Hill repeated the story in his Farrago Double Distilled, Wesley replied:
As to the story of half drowning Mrs. L.S., let her aver it to my face, and I shall say more. (10:437, Remarks On Mr. Hill’s ‘Farrago Double Distilled’, Mar. 14, 1773)
Although still not admitting to the incident, Wesley is not as adamant in his denial as before. Then Toplady published a short article entitled A Word Concerning The Bathing-Tub Baptism:
Mr. John Wesley, having thought it convenient, in his remarks on Mr. Hill, to pretend absolute ignorance of the above mentioned operation, which he performed on Mrs. L.S. …; and the party herself, from whose own lips I had the account, having given me leave to publish her name on the occasion …; Be it known, that the person, who was the subject of ‘that blest bathing-bout’ is Mrs. Lydia Sheppard, now living in the borough of Southwark.
After this follows a more detailed account of the ‘blest bathing-bout’. Apparently Wesley never made a reply to this article, so it is impossible to ascertain his reasons for re-baptizing Lydia Sheppard. Did he believe that her original baptism had not regenerated her? Why did he immerse her, rather than sprinkle her as the Anglican Church would have required?
More than the actual re-baptism, what is interesting about this episode is the way Wesley handled the publication of it. First, he flatly denied any knowledge of it. Then when confronted with the facts, he hedged somewhat in his denial. Then, when confronted with more facts, he had no response. This is very revealing, and strongly implies that Wesley was lying in his first denial of the incident, but was too proud to confess the truth when he was finally caught in his lie.
The Christian Confession of Faith is also silent on the topic of church government. Here again, this topic is one on which Christians can disagree, because it is not a doctrine that is fundamental to the Gospel. For this reason, I do not wish to critique the Episcopalian method of church government that Wesley first adhered to, nor the Connectionalism which he later founded. But on at least one occasion, Wesley flagrantly violated the model of church government he himself confessed to believe in.
Wesley was never ordained as a bishop in the Church of England. This meant that he did not have the authority to ordain ministers for his “Methodist Societies”. Apparently he desperately wanted to do so, because in A Letter To The Rev. Mr. John Wesley &c, Augustus Toplady gives us an account of how Wesley urged a man named Erasmus (who claimed to be a bishop, of all things, of the Greek Orthodox Church) to ordain some of the Methodist preachers. And in An Old Fox Tarred And Feathered, Toplady examines Wesley’s Calm Address To Our American Colonies, (11:80-90) and produces thirty-one paragraphs that are almost word for word transcriptions of a similar pamphlet by Dr. Samuel Johnson, entitled Taxation No Tyranny. As both of these pamphlets strongly condemned the American Revolution, Toplady surmises that Wesley’s motive for this plagiarism is the possibility of being named a bishop in America, after the end of the war (assuming that the British would win; the idea that the Americans might win was unthinkable in 1775).
That Wesley had such a low view of church authority and personal accountability should not surprise us, considering how low was his view of sin. If the sin nature is so weak that it may be eliminated from a man altogether, even while he is in the body, then compromising with sin isn’t such a big danger. Using less-than-honest methods is justifiable when noble goals are in view. Again, Wesley could not see the deceitfulness of sin, because he simply had a deficient view of the true nature of sin.
1Christian Confession of FaithVI.A-C.; http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfvi.htm
September 13, 2011
III. Anthropology – The Doctrine of Man
In the preceding section, I described how John Wesley’s theology properly began with the Responsibility of Man as it’s foundational doctrine, rather than the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, or the divine inspiration of the Bible. In this section, I will show how Wesley constructed an unbiblical view of the nature of Man on that unbiblical foundation.
TheChristian Confession of Faith describes the biblical view of the nature of Man in this way:
Adam and Eve sinned by believing the devil’s lie and eating the forbidden fruit. [Gen 3:1-6] In so doing, Adam and Eve fell from their original state of innocence into a state of spiritual death and depravity. The guilt and defilement of Adam’s sin has been imputed to all whom he represented (all his natural posterity). The spiritual state of total depravity into which Adam fell has been transmitted to all whom he represented, and all whom he represented became physically subject to decay and death. [Gen 3:7-8; Gen 3:16-24; Gen 5:3-5; Psa 51:5; Rom 3:10-18; Rom 5:12-14; Rom 5:19; Rom 8:5-8; Eph 2:1-3; Eph 4:17-19]1
Here, the Confession is teaching that the sin of our first parents was legally imputed to all their natural descendants (Rom 5:19), causing all their natural descendants to be born spiritually dead, in sin and rebellion against God (Gen 5:3; Psa 51:5). This is the doctrine of Original Sin, which is the origin of the doctrine of Total Depravity (Rom 8:7).
Here is what the Christian Confession of Faith has to say about the biblical doctrine of Total Depravity:
The truth of total depravity does not mean that all men are as outwardly immoral as they possibly could be. It means that every faculty of the soul of every natural (that is, unregenerate) descendant of Adam is completely polluted with hatred to the true and living God, and all of the natural man’s thoughts, words, and deeds (even his kindness, morality, and religion) are dead works, evil deeds, and fruit unto death. It means that every natural descendent of Adam owes a debt to God’s law and justice that he cannot pay. It means that every natural descendent of Adam is spiritually dead, having no spiritual understanding, a lover of darkness rather than light, a slave of sin, unable and unwilling to obey God and come to Jesus Christ for salvation. This truth is contrary to the damnable poison known as “free will,” which seeks to make the creature independent of the Creator and seeks to make the Potter depend on the clay, according to the devil’s lie, “You shall be as God.” [Gen 3:5; Psa 14:2-3; Pro 12:10; 15:8; Isa 45:20; 64:6; Jer 13:23; 17:9; Mat 7:18; Joh 3:19-20; 6:44-45; Rom 1:20-23; 3:9-12,20; 5:12; 6:16-23; 7:5; 8:5-8; 10:2-3; 1Co 2:14; 2Co 4:3-4; Eph 2:5; 4:18; Col 1:21; 2:13; Heb 9:14; 11:6]2
This section of the Confession sets forth the doctrine of Total Depravity in positive and negative ways – first explaining the true doctrine, then exposing the erroneous doctrine.The true doctrine is that the natural man is “completely polluted with hatred to the true and living God” and “unable and unwilling to obey God and come to Jesus Christ for salvation” (Rom 10:2-3). The natural, unregenerate man is thus so defiled with sin that he hates God from the very moment of conception, and cannot do the first thing to please God by his own efforts (Heb 11:6). But conversely, and just as importantly, the Confession exposes the error that Wesley held in such esteem: “the damnable poison known as “free will,” which seeks to make the creature independent of the Creator” (Joh 6:44; Rom 8:7-8).
We have already seen that Wesley’s theology took God off from the throne of heaven, by removing from him the ultimate choice concerning who will be saved and who will not. Now, we see how Wesley exalted Man to the place which Scripture reserves for God alone.
These next quotes show how much of Salvation was, according to Wesley, dependent on the sinner’s exercise of his Free Will:
The very cornerstone of Wesley’s theology was the belief that the natural Man possesses a Free Will, capable of fulfilling conditions and sincerely seeking the Will of God. The foundational support for this doctrine of Free Will, was the doctrine that God would never give us a command that we could not follow.
As he has called us to holiness, he is undoubtedly willing as well as able, to work this holiness in us. For he cannot mock his helpless creatures, calling us to receive what he never intends to give. (6:416, Sermon 76 On Perfection)
Men are as free in believing or not believing as if he [God] did not know it at all. Indeed, if man were not free, he could not be held accountable… (6:227, Sermon 58 On Predestination)
Were human liberty taken away, men would be as incapable of virtue as stones. Therefore, (with reverence [sic] be it spoken,) the Almighty himself cannot do this thing. (6:318, Sermon 67 On Divine Providence)
In reality, however, the Responsibility of Man is not based on his supposed Free Will, but on the Sovereignty of God. The preface to the Ten Commandments is not “You really ought to do this …”, nor “These are ten great ideas …” The preface to the Ten Commandments is “I [am] Jehovah your God, who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, …” (Exo 20:2) Before giving his Law, God establishes his own divine authority to enact such laws. Whether the Israelites had the power to obey was immaterial. The Christian Confession of Faith teaches this doctrine:
Yet all men are responsible to obey the commands of God, because God, as the sovereign King of creation, has the right to command obedience from His creatures, regardless of their ability to obey. [Deu 10:16; Mat 12:13; 28:18; Joh 11:43; Act 17:30-31; Rom 2:12-16; 2Th 1:8]3
The old Arminian motto that “responsibility implies ability” simply isn’t logical. The dry bones of Ezekiel 38 had no ability to obey the command “Dry bones, live!”, yet they had a responsibility to obey. Lazarus had no ability to obey the command “Lazarus, come forth!”, yet he had a responsibility to obey. Their responsibility to obey did not come from their ability to obey (for they had none). Rather it came from the authority of the One giving the command. God has every right to command us to do that which pleases him, even if we have no power to do so. Therefore, when he commands us to believe the Gospel, we have a responsibility to do so. But this by no means implies the ability to obey that command. Notice that both of the above examples included commands that the subjects (Lazarus and the Dry Bones) obviously couldn’t obey. It was simply beyond their ability; yet they both had a responsibility to obey. So it is with the natural man.
We have already seen that Wesley had a thoroughly deficient and unbiblical view of the nature of God. It naturally follows that he would have a thoroughly deficient and unbiblical view of the nature of sin, because sin is an act of rebellion against God. Therefore, anything that diminishes the sovereignty and glory of God automatically diminishes the heinousness of sin. And in fact, Wesley had a thoroughly deficient and unbiblical view of the nature of sin, which manifested itself, first, as a belief in the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration:
It is certain our Church supposes that all who are baptized in their infancy are at the same time born again; and it is allowed that the whole Office for the Baptism of Infants proceeds on this supposition. (6:74, Sermon 45, The New Birth)
… the benefits we receive by baptism is the next point to be considered. And the first of these is, the washing away the guilt of original sin, by the application of the merits of Christ’s death. …. By baptism, we who were by nature “children of wrath” are made the children of God. And this regeneration which our Church in so many places ascribes to baptism is more than barely being admitted into the Church, …. By water then, as a means, the water of baptism, we are regenerated or born again; whence it is called by the Apostle, “the washing of regeneration.” …. Herein a principle of grace is infused, which will not be wholly taken away, unless we quench the Holy Spirit of God by long-continued wickedness. (10:192, Treatise On Baptism, Nov. 11, 1756)4
To be sure, Wesley saw the water of baptism only as a “means” by which regeneration occurs. But this doctrine reveals a dangerously deficient view of regeneration. It does not define regeneration as moving from a state of condemnation to a state of justification, because it does not see human nature as being in a state of condemnation. That is, it does not see human nature as wholly depraved and unable to do anything pleasing to God, or even prepare itself to receive the grace of God. Instead, it sees human nature as something that is essentially good, which only needs to be cleaned up a little; the “guilt of original sin” may be washed away as easily as you wash your hands. Consequently, this doctrine reveals a dangerously deficient view of sin: the insidiously evil nature of it, the deceitfulness of it, and the pervasive influence of it upon the entire soul of man. It sees sin as something bad, but not a thing that utterly defiles the whole man, body and soul. This is a direct result of Wesley’s deficient view of the glory of God, addressed in the previous chapter. When you have a god made in your own image, he is finite, and therefore neither infinitely glorious, nor infinitely righteous. Consequently, rebellion against him is not really infinite wickedness, nor could God have legitimately condemned all men to eternal destruction, because it is not infinitely deserved.
Do you think it will cut the knot to say, “… But God might justly have passed by all men?” Are you sure he might? Where is it written? I cannot find it in the word of God. (10:217, Predestination Calmly Considered)
But Wesley’s deficient view of sin did not end with Baptismal Regeneration. It also included the doctrine that Wesley is most famous for: the doctrine of Perfectionism. He defined it as, not merely the pursuit, but the actual attaining, of perfect holiness, prior to death.
1. By perfection, I mean the humble, gentle, patient love of God, and our neighbour, ruling our tempers, words, and actions. I do not include an impossibility of falling from it, either in part or in whole. …. And I do not contend for the term sinless, though I do not object against it. 2. As to the manner, I believe this perfection is always wrought in the soul by a simple act of faith; consequently in an instant5. 3. As to the time, I believe this instant generally is the instant of death, the moment before the soul leaves the body6. But I believe it may be ten, twenty, or forty years before. (11:446, Brief Thoughts On Christian Perfection, Jan 27, 1767)
Christian perfection, therefore, does not imply … an exemption either from ignorance, or mistake, or infirmities, or temptations. Indeed, it is only another term for holiness. They are two names for the same thing. (6:5, Sermon 40 Christian Perfection )
We have seen that Wesley had a deficient view, both of the true nature of sin, and also of the defiled nature of Man. We have also seen that Wesley believed Man has a Free Will, with the power to choose to obey God. Here, we see that view taken to its logical conclusion: if Man has the power to choose to obey God, he has the power to choose to obey God every single time he is faced with a moral decision. Theoretically, someone could choose to obey God perfectly for years on end.
Several persons have enjoyed this blessing, without any interruption, for many years. (6:420, Sermon 76 On Perfection)
And, indeed, whence should evil thoughts proceed, in the servant who is as his Master? “Out of the heart of man” (if at all) “proceed evil thoughts.” (Mark vii. 21.) If, therefore, his heart be no longer evil, then evil thoughts can no longer proceed out of it. (6:16, Sermon 40 Christian Perfection, emph. in orig.)
The doctrine of Perfection, then, is a logical implication of Wesley’s deficient view of sin. Consistent with his view that the nature of the unregenerate man is not wholly defiled, Wesley saw the regenerate man as capable of being wholly pure, even in his character and conduct. The sin nature, which could be so easily washed away by the water of baptism, left no trace of its existence once it was gone.
We should by no means misrepresent Wesley’s position. He never claimed that Perfection makes a Christian infallible or omniscient, or that it rendered the Atonement unnecessary. He would never have admitted the possibility that a person could have gone his whole life without sinning. He held that even those who had achieved Perfection still needed the blood of the Savior to cover the sins they committed before becoming Perfected7. Furthermore, Wesley himself never claimed to have experienced this Perfection. But, consistent with his Arminianism, he had to admit the possibility that it could happen, long before death. Once again, he represents sin as something bad, but not as something that utterly defiles the whole man. The doctrine of Perfection is, therefore, really just the logical implication of the doctrine of Free Will.
The Christian Confession of Faith describes the effect of the sin nature remaining within a regenerated Christian:
When God regenerates and converts a sinner, indwelling sin is not totally removed from a believer. A believer continues to sin against God all the days of his life, and he continues to be ashamed of and to repent of his sin. But a believer’s sin in no way forfeits his interest in Jesus Christ nor annuls God’s covenant with him. Scripture rejects the lie that man may be freed from indwelling sin in this life; anyone who says he has no sin is an unbeliever. [1Ki 8:46; Psa 32:5; 37:24; 38:18; 41:4; 69:5; 130:3; Rom 7:14-25; Jam 5:16; 1Jo 1:8-10]8
This section of the Confession also sets forth positive and negative aspects of the doctrine of Total Depravity, first explaining the true doctrine and then exposing the erroneous doctrine.First, it states that “indwelling sin is not totally removed from a believer”, but “A believer continues to sin against God all the days of his life” (1Jo 1:8-10). Then the Confession goes on to teach that “Scripture rejects the lie that man may be freed from indwelling sin in this life” (1Ki 8:46; Psa 130:3), categorically rejecting the Wesleyan view of the nature of Man, and any notion of Perfection along with it.
Wesley’s view of Perfection in Holiness was entirely unbiblical, because it rested on an unbiblical view of Sin, its nature and its consequences. Perfection was really nothing more than a natural and logical consequence of the doctrine of Free Will. Therefore, a denial of the doctrine of Free Will naturally dealt a death blow to Wesley’s whole scheme of Perfection, Baptismal Regeneration, and Man-centered theology. Wesley himself understood this:
Q. 74. What is the direct antidote to Methodism, the doctrine of heart-holiness? A. Calvinism: All the devices of Satan, for these fifty years have done far less toward stopping this work of God, than that single doctrine. It strikes at the root of salvation from sin [ie. perfection – CA], putting the matter on quite another issue. (8:337, Minutes of Several Conversations, 1789)
That is, the doctrine of Total Depravity denies the very possibility of Perfection in this life, teaching instead that the natural Man has no Free Will, but rather a Will enslaved to sin. The sin principle in Man, even in a regenerate person, still resists and struggles against the sanctifying work of the Spirit. Little wonder, then, that Wesley so consistently opposed the doctrines of Grace.
Wesley used four main arguments in support of the doctrine of Perfection. First, He appealed to commands to be “perfected” in holiness.
Q. 6. Does the New Testament afford any farther ground for expecting to be saved from all sin? A. Undoubtedly it does, both in those prayers and commands which are equivalent to the strongest assertions . . . Q. 8. What command is there to the same effect? A.(1.) “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. v. 48.) (2.) “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” (Matt. xxii. 37.) But if the love of God fill all the heart, there can be no sin there. Q. 9. But how does it appear that this is to be done before the article of death? A. First. From the very nature of a command, which is not given to the dead, but to the living. Therefore, “Thou shalt love God with all thy heart,” cannot mean, Thou shalt do this when thou diest, but [not] while thou livest. (8:296-7, Minutes Of Some Late Conversations, 1747)
We have already seen that a command to obey by no means implies the ability to obey. When God commands his people to be “perfect” in holiness, it doesn’t imply the ability to do so. It is consistent with the holiness of God to command that his people be perfect in holiness, but that command cannot be fulfilled by them, except in the person of their Substitute.
2nd, Wesley appealed to promises that Christians would be “perfected” in holiness.
Q. 4. Is there any clear scripture promise of this; that God will save us from all sin? A. There is: “He shall redeem Israel from all his sins.” (Psalm cxxx.8.) This is more largely expressed in the prophecy of Ezekiel: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. I will also save you from all your uncleannesses. (xxxvi. 25,29.) No promise can be more clear. (8:294, Minutes Of Some Late Conversations, 1747)
We have seen that we have a responsibility, but no ability to be perfect in holiness. But these promises seem to teach that God himself would perfect his people by the Holy Spirit before death. Can Christians be brought to perfection by grace? The answer is again no, because of the nature of the work performed by the Holy Spirit. His office is not to glorify his own work, or even himself, but to glorify Christ (Joh 16:14). His work is to magnify the redemptive work of the Son. His work of conforming his people to the image of the Son (Rom 8:29) is secondary. Were the Spirit to perfect his people at any time before death, he would be magnifying and glorifying his own work in them. The satisfaction which Christ paid to God’s law and justice would lose its central emphasis and importance for a Christian, which is the very opposite of magnifying the work of Christ. These promises are not, therefore, given to assure God’s people that they will be saved from their fallen sinful nature, before the time of death. Rather, the promises are given to sustain Christians in hope, until they are brought to that blessed condition.
Furthermore, let it be noted that 1 John 3:9 (“Everyone who has been begotten of God does not sin….”) is speaking of every Christian without exception. This fact is borne out by the last clause of the verse: “… and he is not able to sin because he has been born of God.” If this verse is referring to Perfection in holiness, then it must apply to every Christian without exception, not excluding the “babes in Christ”, nor the Old Testament saints, as Wesley contends (11:374-5). In fact, anyone who was not perfected in holiness would have to be considered lost!
3rd, Wesley re-interpreted Romans chapter 7 so it would apply only to the unregenerate:
What shall we say then – This is a kind of a digression, to the beginning of the next chapter, wherein the apostle, in order to show in the most lively manner the weakness and inefficacy of the law, changes the person and speaks as of himself, concerning the misery of one under the law. This St. Paul frequently does, when he is not speaking of his own person, but only assuming another character, Rom 3:5, 1Co 10:30, 1Co 4:6. (Notes On The New Testament; Romans 7:5 in loc, emph. mine)
St. Paul, having compared together the past and present state of believers, that “in the flesh,” (Romans 7:5), and that “in the spirit,” (Romans 7:6), in answering two objections, … interweaves the whole process of a man reasoning, groaning, striving, and escaping from the legal to the evangelical state. (Notes On The New Testament; Romans 7:14 in loc; emph. mine)
In other words, according to Wesley, Romans 7 is not a description of the daily struggles each and every believer has with the flesh. Rather, it describes the struggle which an unregenerate person has in coming to belief in Christ.
But the text simply will not bear this interpretation. Paul gives absolutely no indication that he has ‘changed characters’, so to speak, as Wesley contends in his note on Romans 7:5, quoted above. Paul does occasionally restate the arguments of his opponents, but he always gives some indication that he is doing it (eg, Rom 3:5 or Rom 9:19-20). Here, there is no such indication. There is absolutely no basis for believing that Paul is expressing the arguments of anyone other than himself. The experience with sin that Paul describes (eg: “I am fleshly, having been sold under sin … what I do not will, this I do … evil is present with me.” etc.) is his own experience, and therefore, it should be viewed as the experience of every Christian.
This fact is reinforced by the last verse of the chapter (v. 25), where Paul speaks of himself as serving the Law of God with his mind, but the law of sin with his flesh. This dichotomy remains true for Paul even after he has found deliverance (in the previous verse, v. 24), from the “body of death” through the work of Jesus Christ.
In fact, the language that Paul uses in Romans 7 can only be used by a regenerate man. Paul says that he “agrees with the Law” (v. 16), “desire[s] the good” (v. 19), and “delights in the Law” (v. 22). While it is true that Pharisees and other legalists claim to find delight in the Law of God, their obedience to the Law is not from delight, but from fear of its threatened punishments. Only the regenerate person can see how the righteous demands and threatened punishments of the Law are fulfilled on his behalf by the work of Jesus Christ (Rom 8:4, Gal 3:13). Therefore, only the regenerate person can truly find delight in the Law of God.
Wesley, of course, disagrees, and writes:
To have spoken this of himself, or any true believer, would have been foreign to the whole scope of his discourse; nay, utterly contrary thereto, as well as to what is expressly asserted, Rom 8:2. (Notes On The New Testament; Romans 7:7 in loc)
But the “scope” of Paul’s discourse in Romans 5-8, is the believer’s relationship with the Law (Rom 5:14, 20; 6:15; 7:1-6) and its power to condemn (Rom 7:11, 14; 8:1-4, 33-34). When he says that Christians are “fleshly”, “sold under sin”, and “captive to sin”, he is not talking about outward immorality (Rom 7:5, 21, 25). He is talking bout how a Christian’s remaining sin causes him to fall far short of the absolute moral perfection which God’s Law requires (Rom 5:20). Even a Christian’s best works are tainted with sin (Rom 7:18, 21; Gal 5:17). The person who sets a Christian free from this “law of sin” is Jesus Christ. The remaining influence of sin on a believer is never completely removed from him in this life (Rom 8:10), but Paul can still rejoice that he has been freed from the absolute dominance which the “sinful passions” had over him before he became a believer (Rom 8:2).
4th, Wesley tried to redefine sin.
… according to that definition of sin (which I apprehend to be the scriptural definition of it,) a voluntary transgression of a known law. “Nay but all the transgressions of the law of God, whether voluntary or involuntary, are sin: For St. John says, ‘All sin is a transgression of the law.’” True, but he does not say, All transgression of the law is sin. This I deny: Let him prove it that can. (6:417, Sermon 76 On Perfection, emph. in orig.)
Wesley is trying to show that transgression of a law is sin only when that law is known. Therefore, it would not be sin to violate a law you know nothing about, and consequently, one could legitimately claim to be Perfected from Sin, because no known law was being violated. But that it is possible to sin in ignorance is shown in the following passages:
Lev 4: (2) Speak to the sons of Israel saying, When a person sins against any of the commands of Jehovah through ignorance, which [is] not to be done, ….
Acts 3: (17) And now, brothers, I know that you acted according to ignorance, as also [did] your rulers.
1 Tim 1: (13) the [one] who before was a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and insolent; but I received mercy, because being ignorant I did [it] in unbelief.
Heb 9: (7) But into the second [tabernacle – CA] the high priest [goes] alone once [in] the year, not without blood, which he offers for himself and the ignorances of the people;
When it comes to sinning against the Law of God, ignorance is no excuse. It is indeed true that “All transgression of the law is sin”, the statement which Wesley above denied and challenged anyone to prove.
Does Love Fulfill the Law?
This brings us back to Wesley’s original definition of perfection: “the humble, gentle, patient love of God, and our neighbour”. Notice the great emphasis Wesley places on “love”:
What is then the perfection of which man is capable while he dwells in a corruptible body? It is the complying with that kind command, “My son, give me thy heart.” It is the “loving the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind.” This is the sum of Christian perfection: It is all comprised in that one word, Love. (6:413, Sermon 76 On Perfection)
Two points need to be made about the so-called “Summary of the Law” that Jesus formulated in Matthew 22:37-40. The first point is that, while Jesus does indeed summarize the demands of God’s Law as “loving God and one’s neighbor”, he never implies that “love” will be accepted as a substitute for obedience to God’s Law. God’s absolute holiness demands that he require perfect obedience from his creatures; even disobedient thoughts require eternal punishment at God’s hands. This means that God can never accept warm, fuzzy feelings as anything approaching a substitute for obedience to his Law. Only perfect obedience to his Law is acceptable.
The second point that needs to be made about the so-called “Summary of the Law”, is that human beings are so polluted by the presence of a sin principle in their hearts, that they can never perfectly obey even a summary of the Law! A Christian’s love for “God and one’s neighbor” is always polluted with at least some of the love of self. Even if God were to accept love as a substitute for obedience to his Law, a Christian’s love still wouldn’t measure up to the perfection which God’s holiness requires.
In summarizing the Law, therefore, Jesus was neither lowering the standards of the Law, nor teaching that Man could meet the standards of the Law. In fact, quite the opposite; he was showing how impossible it is to perfectly obey the Law of God even in summary form. This is exactly what the Christian Confession of Faith teaches about the Law of God:
The function of God’s law is to show forth God’s perfect standard of righteousness that His people may … Learn their natural inability to meet that standard, [Deu 9:4-6; Psa 130:3; Isa 64:6; Dan 9:5-11; Rom 3:19-20; 5:13, 20; 7:7-13; Gal 3:10-12; 4:24-25; Jam 2:10-11]
The “Select Regiment”
In an interesting twist, one of the most eloquent refutations of Perfectionism actually comes from John Wesley himself. It seems that at one point, he gathered together a number of Methodists who had achieved “Perfection”, with the intention of having them all live in one house. The report given by Augustus Toplady is very telling:
You formed a scheme of collecting as many perfect ones as you could, to live together under one roof. A number of these flowers were accordingly transplanted from some of your nursery-beds to the hot-house. And a hot-house it soon proved. For would we believe it? the sinless people quarelled in a short time at so violent a rate that you found yourself forced to disband the select regiment.9
Now it could be argued that just because someone, or even a large group of people, claimed to be Perfected, it doesn’t automatically follow that they really are Perfected. But this was a group which was selected by John Wesley himself, professing to be his followers, in which he seemed to have great confidence that their confession was genuine. There seems to be no reference to this event anywhere in his collected works, so it is difficult to ascertain Wesley’s reaction. But, why no mention of it? Why no comment on it? Why no response to it at all? The silence is deafening.
How Sinful is Sin?
We have seen that, notwithstanding the lip-service he paid to the doctrine of Original Sin, Wesley had only a superficial view of the sin nature. Despite believing that the nature of Man is corrupted by sin, Wesley did not see that corruption as being nearly as pervasive as Scripture teaches. Again, sin is a bad thing, but it doesn’t corrupt the whole man, body and soul. This in itself tells us that Wesley was an unregenerate man. The ministry of the Holy Spirit involves “convicting the world of sin”; it should be obvious that Wesley was utterly lacking in such a conviction. While he verbally agreed to the idea that Man is sinful, the Bible describes a very different kind of Sin than the kind Wesley believed.
In a very telling passage from a document entitled Minutes Of Several Conversations, written merely two years before Wesley’s death, we see an interesting precursor to the Freudian doctrine of Self-Esteem:
The grand objection to one of the proceeding propositions [regarding perfection – CA] is drawn from matter of fact. God does in fact justify those who, by their own confession, neither “feared God” nor “wrought righteousness.” Is this an exception to the general rule?
It is a doubt whether God makes any exception at all. But how are we sure that the person in question never did fear God and work righteousness? His own thinking so is no proof. For we know how all that are convinced of sin under-value themselves in every respect. (8:338, Minutes Of Several Conversations, 1789)
Small wonder, then, that Freudian psychology has become so incredibly popular with modern Churchianity; yes, even Calvinistic Churchianity. Essentially, they have adopted the same deficient view of sin as Wesley.
1Christian Confession of Faith III.B.1-2;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfiii.htm
2Christian Confession of Faith III.B.3;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfiii.htm
3Christian Confession of Faith III.B.4;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfiii.htm
6Note that Wesley believed that the moment of perfection was generally the moment before death. His theology simply could not allow him to see death as putting off a body polluted with sin. As has been said, his view of sin was deficient: it was a bad thing, but did not wholly defile a man.
7However, he did admit the possibility that someone could be born sinless: “Q. But if two perfect Christians had children, how could they be born in sin, since there was none in the parents? A. It is a possible, but not a probable, case;” (11:400, Plain Account Of Christian Perfection) But this startling admission involves Wesley in a sticky problem; someone born without sin would never need the blood of Christ to be qualified for fellowship with God; his own perfect character and conduct would be sufficient to merit God’s favor towards him.Thus the salvation of God’s people could be accomplished without the blood of Christ.
8Christian Confession of Faith V.C.5;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfv.htm
9A Letter To The Rev. Mr. John Wesley &c (The Complete Works Of Augustus Toplady, Sprinkle Publ., 1987 ) p. 725 ( http://grace-for-today.com/357.htm , 9/20/03)