February 12, 2012
Previously, I have looked at how Spurgeon was able to speak peace to Arminians and Catholics, based on his false Gospel. I also looked at how Spurgeon theorized about God abandoning some of his own sovereignty, and how he made himself the objector to Paul’s doctrine of active reprobation. Last week, I also looked at Spurgeon’s doctrine of Creation.
Spurgeon Swallows It At Once
The following are excerpts (in red) from Charles H. Spurgeon’s sermon entitled “Salvation by Knowing the Truth” and my comments (in black).
“God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”–1 Timothy 2:3, 4.
MAY GOD THE HOLY GHOST guide our meditations to the best practical result this evening, that sinners may be saved and saints stirred up to diligence. I do not intend to treat my text controversially. It is like the stone which makes the corner of a building, and it looks towards a different side of the gospel from that which is mostly before us. Two sides of the building of truth meet here. In many a village there is a corner where the idle and the quarrelsome gather together; and theology has such corners. It would be very easy indeed to set ourselves in battle array, and during the next half-hour to carry on a very fierce attack against those who differ from us in opinion upon points which could be raised from this text. I do not see that any good would come of it, and, as we have very little time to spare, and life is short, we had better spend it upon something that may better tend to our edification. May the good Spirit preserve us from a contentious spirit, and help us really to profit by his word.
Why, of course, Mr. Spurgeon! You wouldn’t want to say anything controversial now, would you? After all, you have the biggest “church” in England, and you want to keep it that way! The Metropolitan Tabernacle got huge for a reason, didn’t it? It certainly wasn’t because you said anything that would offend those carnal minds sitting in your pews, was it? On the contrary — the ears need to be tickled, the carnal need to go away happy, the wicked hearts need to be soothed with words of peace. Now you wouldn’t want to rock the boat, would you? You wouldn’t want to say that those who believe that God wants every man without exception to be saved are unregenerate, would you? Of course not — you don’t believe that yourself. You speak peace to John Wesley, who said of this passage, “Who willeth seriously all men – Not a part only, much less the smallest part. To be saved – Eternally.” Yes, you agree with John Wesley, your brother in Satan. You’re one big happy family with the God-haters.
It is quite certain that when we read that God will have all men to be saved it does not mean that he wills it with the force of a decree or a divine purpose, for, if he did, then all men would be saved. He willed to make the world, and the world was made: he does not so will the salvation of all men, for we know that all men will not be saved. Terrible as the truth is, yet is it certain from holy writ that there are men who, in consequence of their sin and their rejection of the Savior, will go away into everlasting punishment, where shall be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. There will at the last be goats upon the left hand as well as sheep on the right, tares to be burned as well as wheat to be garnered, chaff to be blown away as well as corn to be preserved. There will be a dreadful hell as well as a glorious heaven, and there is no decree to the contrary.
So, if this will does not have “the force of a decree or a divine purpose,” then there is a less forceful, less purposeful will in God? There is a hierarchy of desires in God, such that there are some desires that have great irresistible force, while others are irresistible to some and can be thwarted by others? Well, Mr. Spurgeon, you don’t believe the same Bible I do. My Bible says, “But He [is] in one [mind], and who can turn Him? Yea, His soul desires, and He does [it].” (Job 23:13) “declaring the end from the beginning, and from the past those things which were not done, saying, My counsel shall rise; and, I will do all My desire” (Isa 46:10).
What then? Shall we try to put another meaning into the text than that which it fairly bears? I trow not. You must, most of you, be acquainted with the general method in which our older Calvinistic friends deal with this text. “All men,” say they,–“that is, some men”: as if the Holy Ghost could not have said “some men” if he had meant some men. “All men,” say they; “that is, some of all sorts of men”: as if the Lord could not have said “all sorts of men” if he had meant that. The Holy Ghost by the apostle has written “all men,” and unquestionably he means all men.
Charles Spurgeon, you fool! And you claim to be a preacher of the Word? You are a joke. The Holy Ghost did not write “all men”! He did not write English! The Holy Ghost wrote Greek! The Holy Ghost wrote pantas anthropous! [Since the web browser doesn’t support Greek letters, I must put English letters for Greek.] Now the question is, what does pantas anthropous mean? Does it mean every single human being without exception? If it does, then would you say that John 12:32 means that Jesus will draw all men without exception to Himself? Hmmm, let’s check …
Well, well! You preached a sermon on this very passage entitled “The Marvelous Magnet”! So let’s see if this “Marvelous Magnet” draws every single individual without exception. Here’s what you say:
The text says that Jesus Christ will draw all men unto himself. Now, all men who hear of Jesus Christ at all are drawn, but they do not all yield. Some of them pull back, and the most awful thing that ever happens to a man is when he pulls back till Jesus lets him go. What a fall is that, when the drawing power is taken away, and the man falls backward into a destruction which he himself has chosen, having refused eternal life, and resisted the Saviour’s power! Unhappy is the wretch who strives against his own salvation. Every man that hears the gospel feels some measure of its drawing power. … Does not Jesus sometimes tug hard at your conscience-strings, and, though you have pulled back, yet has he not drawn and drawn again? … Do not pull back, lest his drawing should cease, and you should perish.
Incredible. There it is. You believe that Jesus Christ, “The Marvelous Magnet,” draws all without exception to Himself, but that drawing is not effectual for all without exception. Some can resist the Savior’s power. I guess the “magnet” that you believe in isn’t so “marvelous” after all, is it? Your god’s grace can be resisted. Your god is not my God, Mr. Spurgeon. My God has power over every single man without exception. When my God draws someone, that person has no power to pull back against the Almighty. Your god is the weakling god of Arminianism.
At least you’re consistent. Wherever the English Bible says “all men,” you believe it is every person without exception. So let’s see what this means when we come to Romans 5:18:
“Therefore as by the offence of one [judgment came] upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one [the free gift came] upon all men unto justification of life.”
So, according to you, Mr. Spurgeon, God says in Romans 5:18 that by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the free gift came upon every single human being without exception unto justification of life. You MUST interpret it that way, because, after all, according to you, the Holy Spirit said, “all men,” and if the Holy Spirit had wanted to say “all men whom Christ represented,” the Holy Spirit would have said so. So what are people doing in hell, Mr. Spurgeon? You must believe that God LIED when He said that the free gift came upon every single human being without exception unto justification of life!
I know how to get rid of the force of the “alls” according to that critical method which some time ago was very current, but I do not see how it can be applied here with due regard to truth.
Since when do you have “due regard to truth,” Mr. Spurgeon, you liar?
I was reading just now the exposition of a very able doctor who explains the text so as to explain it away; he applies grammatical gunpowder to it, and explodes it by way of expounding it.
Yeah, those people who actually apply the rules of grammar in exegesis — who needs them when you have Mr. Spurgeon to give you the “real” meaning, which he claims to have been written by the Holy Spirit in English!
I thought when I read his exposition that it would have been a very capital comment upon the text if it had read, “Who will not have all men to be saved, nor come to a knowledge of the truth.” Had such been the inspired language every remark of the learned doctor would have been exactly in keeping, but as it happens to say, “Who will have all men to be saved,” his observations are more than a little out of place.
Who are you, Mr. Spurgeon, to say that this man’s “observations are more than a little out of place”? You, who say that the Holy Ghost wrote “all men” instead of “all kinds of men”! And do I not note a bit of hypocrisy here? You said you don’t want to be controversial or get into wrangling, but when it suits your purpose, you will engage in wrangling against those who would interpret this verse in a way that gives all glory to God. Ah, I know where you’re coming from, you hypocrite. If someone wrangles against your brothers in Satan, the Arminians, then it is from a “contentious spirit.” But if you wrangle against someone who interprets a passage in an anti-Arminian way, then it’s okay. Yeah, I get it.
My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture.
Since when were your doctrinal views ever consistent? And if your doctrinal views are inconsistent with the Bible, then what does it say about your doctrinal views?
I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater.
Oh — so you think that orthodoxy and inspiration are sometimes incompatible. Since your “orthodoxy” takes a back seat to “inspiration,” then you are either saying that the inspired Word of God is not orthodox in some places or that you are really not orthodox. Which one is it?
I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God. I never thought it to be any very great crime to seem to be inconsistent with myself; for who am I that I should everlastingly be consistent?
So that’s what you consider “orthodoxy,” Mr. Spurgeon? Consistent views with yourself? Well, Mr. Spurgeon, I have some news for you: orthodoxy is the STRAIGHT DOCTRINE that comes from SCRIPTURE, NOT FROM ANY MAN.
But I do think it a great crime to be so inconsistent with the word of God that I should want to lop away a bough or even a twig from so much as a single tree of the forest of Scripture. God forbid that I should cut or shape, even in the least degree, any divine expression. So runs the text, and so we must read it, “God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”
So when the English Bible says “all,” it always means “all without exception,” eh, Mr. Spurgeon? After all, “the Holy Spirit said ‘all'”!
Does not the text mean that it is the wish of God that men should be saved? The word “wish” gives as much force to the original as it really requires, and the passage should run thus–“whose wish it is that all men should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.”
And how would you know about the original, Mr. Spurgeon? You just said that “a very able doctor” had no business applying the rules of Greek grammar to this passage!
As it is my wish that it should be so, as it is your wish that it might be so, so it is God’s wish that all men should be saved; for, assuredly, he is not less benevolent than we are.
Ah, Spurgeon, here’s your god — a god who wishes that everyone without exception would be saved. And you accurately say that your god is just like you — just as you wish that it should be so, your god wishes that it should be so. Your god is made in your own image. You fashion an idol that is like you.
Then comes the question, “But if he wishes it to be so, why does he not make it so? ” Beloved friend, have you never heard that a fool may ask a question which a wise man cannot answer, and, if that be so, I am sure a wise person, like yourself, can ask me a great many questions which, fool as I am, I am yet not foolish enough to try to answer.
Of course you’re not able to answer it, you fool. Your god is a god of contradictions. Your god is a god who wishes something would happen yet does not make it happen.
Your question is only one form of the great debate of all the ages,–“If God be infinitely good and powerful, why does not his power carry out to the full all his beneficence?” It is God’s wish that the oppressed should go free, yet there are many oppressed who are not free. It is God’s wish that the sick should not suffer. Do you doubt it?
I don’t just doubt it, I oppose it. It is not God’s wish that every single sick person without exception should not suffer. If a sick person is suffering right now, it is because God desires that he suffer. For whatever God desires, THAT HE DOES. That’s the God of the Bible. That’s not the touchy-feely poor excuse for a god that you believe.
Is it not your own wish? And yet the Lord does not work a miracle to heal every sick person. It is God’s wish that his creatures should be happy. Do you deny that?
I most certainly deny that it is God’s wish that every single one of his creatures should be happy. If a person is not happy right now, it is because God desires that he not be happy. That’s the God of the Bible. That’s not the touchy-feely poor excuse for a god that you believe.
He does not interpose by any miraculous agency to make us all happy, and yet it would be wicked to suppose that he does not wish the happiness of all the creatures that he has made.
Okay, great! Mr. Spurgeon, you call me wicked! Excellent! Now I know I’m on the right track!
He has an infinite benevolence which, nevertheless, is not in all points worked out by his infinite omnipotence; and if anybody asked me why it is not, I cannot tell. I have never set up to be an explainer of all difficulties, and I have no desire to do so. It is the same old question as that of the negro who said, “Sare, you say the devil makes sin in the world.” “Yes, the devil makes a deal of sin.” “And you say that God hates sin.” “Yes.” “Then why does not he kill the devil and put an end to it?” Just so. Why does he not? Ah, my black friend, you will grow white before that question is answered. I cannot tell you why God permits moral evil, neither can the ablest philosopher on earth, nor the highest angel in heaven.
God does not permit evil; He decrees and causes evil. And He does it for His own glory. He caused sin to come into the world in order to (1) glorify Himself in the salvation of the elect, (2) humble His people and cause them to continually need the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and (3) glorify Himself in the damnation of the reprobate.
This is one of those things which we do not need to know. Have you never noticed that some people who are ill and are ordered to take pills are foolish enough to chew them? That is a very nauseous thing to do, though I have done it myself. The right way to take medicine of such a kind is to swallow it at once. In the same way there are some things in the Word of God which are undoubtedly true which must be swallowed at once by an effort of faith, and must not be chewed by perpetual questioning. You will soon have I know not what of doubt and difficulty and bitterness upon your soul if you must needs know the unknowable, and have reasons and explanations for the sublime and the mysterious. Let the difficult doctrines go down whole into your very soul, by a grand exercise of confidence in God.
Oh, yeah, Mr. Spurgeon — don’t think about things that show your god to be a contradictory god. Just “swallow them by faith.” Don’t chew on them, because it will show your god to be a two-faced, “yes” and “no” god — just take a big gulp and believe contradictory things. Those “difficult doctrines” shouldn’t be contemplated, they should just be accepted. What a bunch of bull.
GOD IS A LOGICAL GOD AND NEVER CONTRADICTS HIMSELF. If you believe in a god who wishes something would happen that he does not cause to happen, YOU BELIEVE IN A FALSE GOD. You are encouraging your listeners to swallow a contradiction — to not think about the fact that they believe in a contradictory god. You are encouraging them to just open wide and swallow heresy “by faith.” “Oh, don’t think about it,” you say, “Just accept it.” So all the unthinking dolts like you just swallow their blasphemous notion of god and go on their merry way, thinking that they have “just accepted” some profound truth that they don’t understand. Talk about the blind leading the blind.
I thank God for a thousand things I cannot understand. When I cannot get to know the reason why, I say to myself, “Why should I know the reason why? Who am I, and what am I, that I should demand explanations of my God?” I am a most unreasonable being when I am most reasonable, and when my judgment is most accurate I dare not trust it. I had rather trust my God. I am a poor silly child at my very best: my Father must know better than I.
I do not doubt, Mr. Spurgeon, that you are a most unreasonable being when you are most reasonable. I would go further to say that you are also a most unreasonable being when you are most unreasonable. But don’t expect the people of God to be like you. The people of God know that God is REASONABLE and that believing what He says in His word is REASONABLE and thus NON-CONTRADICTORY. You are saying that believers need to be unreasonable, and when they are unreasonable, that is when they are really “swallowing things by faith” and are thus the closest to the truth. But you know what? You have just turned the truth on its head. It is when believers are REASONABLE that they believe the truth, because the TRUTH is REASONABLE. And the TRUTH is NON-CONTRADICTORY.
An old parable-maker tells us that he shut himself up in his study because he had to work out a difficult problem. His little child came knocking at the door, and he said “Go away, John: you cannot understand what father is doing; let father alone.” Master Johnny for that very reason felt that he must get in and see what father was doing–a true symbol of our proud intellects; we must pry into forbidden things, and uncover that which is concealed.
So how does this story relate to the text at hand? What God says in His Word is NOT CONCEALED! So when God says that He wishes all kinds of men to be saved, this is not a “forbidden thing” or a “concealed thing” — it is a WIDE OPEN, OUT IN PLAIN VIEW thing! And yet you would call those of us who think on these things and who believe that God is non-contradictory to be proud. Oh, Mr. Spurgeon, you sound so humble to the carnal mind. “I’m a fool. I’m a silly child. I don’t know anything. I just swallow contradictory truths by faith.” Oh, how humble this sounds to the deluded minds of your unregenerate audience! But it is the height of pride. It is proud and arrogant to say that God is unable to convey His truth to His people in His Word without contradiction. You self-righteous arrogant hypocrite — it is YOU who are full of pride!
In a little time upon the sill, outside the window, stood Master Johnny, looking in through the window at his father; and if his father had not with the very tenderest care just taken him away from that very dangerous position, there would have been no Master Johnny left on the face of the earth to exercise his curiosity in dangerous elevations.
Oh, how quaint. A nice little story to go with the sermon. Tickle, tickle. And it is nothing but vain wind.
Now, God sometimes shuts the door, and says, “My child, it is so: be content to believe.” “But,” we foolishly cry. “Lord, why is it so?” “It is so, my child,” he says. “But why, Father, is it so?” “It is so, my child, believe me.” Then we go speculating, climbing the ladders of reasoning, guessing, speculating, to reach the lofty windows of eternal truth.
This is no speculation or guessing. God reveals His truth in His Word. And since God is a logical, non-contradictory God, all of the truth that He reveals is logical and non-contradictory. There IS, however, REASONING. Yet you, Mr. Spurgeon, would have the people to throw reasoning out the window, throw thinking out the window, and just take a big gulp of contradictions “by faith.” “Oh, it doesn’t matter if it’s contradictory,” says your god, “Don’t think about it. Just believe it.” That’s not my God.
Once up there we do not know where we are, our heads reel, and we are in all kinds of uncertainty and spiritual peril. If we mind things too high for us we shall run great risks. I do not intend meddling with such lofty matters. There stands the text, and I believe that it is my Father’s wish that “all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.” But I know, also, that he does not will it, so that he will save any one of them, unless they believe in his dear Son; for he has told us over and over that he will not. He will not save any man except he forsakes his sins, and turns to him with full purpose of heart: that I also know. And I know, also, that he has a people whom he will save, whom by his eternal love he has chosen, and whom by his eternal power he will deliver. I do not know how that squares with this; that is another of the things I do not know. If I go on telling you of all that I do not know, and of all that I do know, I will warrant you that the things that I do not know will be a hundred to one of the things that I do know.
“I don’t know how my god wishes, desires, things to happen that he does not make come to pass. I don’t know how this god of mine, who says he is sovereign and accomplishes everything he desires, doesn’t accomplish everything he desires. But no matter, I will just swallow it all whole without chewing on it, because since it’s contradictory, it’s too high and lofty for me. I just know it’s true. So stop thinking about it so much. So what if it’s a contradiction. So what if some people think they have the true meaning by looking at the context. Don’t bother yourselves with such things. Just take it on faith. Faith is the opposite of reason, you know. If you do too much reasoning, you won’t be able to take things on faith. Take that leap of faith, wherever it takes you, even if it seems wrong and contradictory and unreasonable. Go on and leap. Go on and swallow. It won’t hurt a bit.”
And so we will say no more about the matter, but just go on to the more practical part of the text.
As if the truth that God wishes that all kinds of men be saved is not practical.
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December 4, 2011
Appendix A: John Wesley’s Vicious Attacks On Augustus Toplady
For those who believe I am too harsh in saying that Wesley made “vicious attatcks” on Augustus Toplady, consider the following incidents. (Please note that this appendix is not intended as an endorsement of either Augustus Toplady or James Hervey; it is only intended to illustrate a specific instance of the conflict between the two of them and John Wesley. For more discussion on the spiritual state of Augustus Toplady, see here.)
In 1769, Augustus Toplady published his translation of Jerome Zanchius’ Absolute Predestination. Consequently, we find among Wesley’s collected letters the following, addressed to Walter Sellon, and dated December 30, 1769:
And pray add a word or two to Mr. Toplady, not only with regard to Zanchius, but his slander on the Church of England. …. He does certainly believe himself to be the greatest genius in England. (13:44)
Apparently Sellon was contemplating a reply to Toplady on a number of issues. But the final form was not entirely decided upon. Wesley’s next letter to Sellon, dated February 21, 1770, reads:
Do not make too much haste. Give everything the last touch. It will be enough if the papers meet me at Manchester before the end of March. I believe it will be the best way to bestow a distinct pamphlet on Mr. Toplady. Surely wisdom will die with him! I believe we can easily get his other tract, which it would be well to sift to the very foundation, in order to stop the mouth of that vain boaster. (13:45)
Apparently, something was brewing. Now, considering the opposition between Wesley and Toplady, one would have certainly expected Wesley to make an attempt at refuting a book entitled Absolute Predestination. But what came next was beyond belief. In March of 1770, a tract was quietly circulated among the Wesleyan Methodists, bearing the title The Doctrine Of Absolute Predestination Stated And Asserted By The Reverend Mr. A— T—.(14:190) Notice that the initials in the title of this tract are not Wesley’s, but those of Augustus Toplady. The “Advertisement” reads:
It is granted that the ensuing tract is, in good measure, a translation. Nevertheless, considering the unparalleled modesty and self-diffidence of the young translator, and the tenderness wherewith he treats his opponents, it may well pass for an original.
1. When all the transactions of providence and grace are wound up in the last day, he (Christ) will then properly sit as judge, and openly publish, and solemnly ratify, if I may so say, his everlasting decrees, by receiving the elect, body and soul into glory: and by passing sentence on the non-elect (not for having done what they could not help, but) for their wilful ignorance of divine things and their obstinate unbelief; for their omissions of moral duty, and for their repeated iniquities and transgressions; Doctrine Of Absolute Predestination
2.In the last day Christ will sit as Judge and openly publish and solemnly ratify his everlasting decrees, by receiving the elect into glory, and by passing sentence on the non-elect (not for having done what they could not help, but) for their wilful ignorance of divine things and their obstinate unbelief; for their omissions of moral duty, and for their repeated iniquities and transgressions which they could not help. Wesley’s Abridgement, p.9
The final paragraph of this abridgement reads:
The sum of all is this: One in twenty (suppose) of mankind are elected; nineteen in twenty are reprobated. The elect shall be saved, do what they will: the reprobate shall be damned, do what they can. Reader, believe this, or be damned. Witness my hand, A– T–.
Again, the initials are those of Augustus Toplady, but the name of John Wesley or Walter Sellon does not appear anywhere within it. This despicable tactic is, if anything, worse than plagiarism or rumor-mongering. It is putting words into Toplady’s mouth, words that he certainly would never have uttered himself. Toplady wrote a scathing reply, dated March 26, 1770, entitled A Letter To The Rev. Mr. John Wesley Relative To His Pretended Abridgement Of Zanchius On Predestination2.
Whether my view of the doctrine itself be, in fact, right or wrong is no part of the present enquiry: the question is, have you quoted me fairly? Blush, Mr. Wesley, if you are capable of blushing. For once publicly acknowledge yourself to have acted criminally: unless, to use your own words on another occasion, “shame and you have shook hands and parted.”
In almost any other case, a similar forgery would transmit the criminal to Virginia or Maryland, if not to Tyburn. If such an opponent can be deemed an honest man, where shall we find a knave? –What would you think of me, were I infamous enough to abridge any treatise of yours, sprinkle it with interpolations, and conclude it thus: Reader, buy this book, or be damned, Witness my hand, John Wesley? 3
You have obliquely given me a sneering lecture upon “modesty, self-diffidence,and tenderness” to opponents: and it must be owned, that the lesson comes with a peculiar grace and quite in character from you. The words sound well: but, like many other prescribers, you say and do not. Go now, sir, and dazzle the credulous with your mock victory over the supposed reprobation of “nineteen in twenty.” Go on to chalk hideous figures on your wainscot; and enjoy the glorious triumph of battering your knuckles in fighting them. But father no more of your hideous figures on me. Do not dress up scare-crows of your own, and then affect to run away from them as mine. I do not expect to be treated by Mr. John Wesley with the candour of a gentleman, or the meekness of a Christian; but I wish him, for his reputation’s sake, to write and act with the honesty of a heathen. 4
In January of 1771, the letter was republished with an introduction that contained the following:
Nine months are now elapsed since the first publication of this letter; in all which time Mr. W. has neither apologized for the misdemeanor which occasioned his hearing from me in this public manner, nor attempted to answer the charges entered against him. Judging, probably, that the former would be too condescending in one who has erected himself into the leader of a sect, and that the latter would prove rather too difficult a task, and involve him in a subsequent train of fresh detections, he has prudently omitted both. …. The reason is obvious. Mr. W. is a red-hot Arminian: and the sagacious doctors can discern, with half an eye, that Arminianism lies within a bowshot of Socinianism and Deism. 5
In March of 1771, Wesley published a revision of his collected works, with a Preface that contained the following incredible statement:
In revising what I had wrote on so many various subjects and occasions, and for so long a course of years, I found cause for not only literal or verbal corrections, but frequently for correcting the sense also. I am the more concerned to do this, because none but myself has a right to do it. (1:iii, Preface To The Third Edition)
In August of 1771, Wesley finally responded to Toplady’s Letter with a tract entitled The Consequence Proved, which began with these words:
Mr. Toplady, a young, bold man, lately published a pamphlet, an extract from which was soon after printed, concluding with these words:– “The sum of all is this: One in twenty, suppose, of mankind are elected; nineteen in twenty are reprobated. The elect shall be saved, do what they will: The reprobate shall be damned, do what they can.” A great outcry has been raised on that account, as though this was not a fair state of the case; and it has been vehemently affirmed, that no such consequence follows from the doctrine of absolute predestination.
I calmly affirm, it is a fair state of the case; this consequence does naturally and necessarily follow from the doctrine of absolute predestination as here stated and defended by bold Mr. Augustus Toplady. (10:370, The Consequence Proved)
Several points should be made about these paragraphs. Notice first, that Wesley made no attempt to deny his involvement in the production of this pamphlet. Secondly, observe that in his quote of the final paragraph, Wesley has entirely omitted the phrases “Reader, believe this or be damned”, and “Witness my hand, A– T–.” Thirdly, notice that he has entirely sidestepped the issue of whether he had a right to abridge Toplady’s translation of Zanchius. Toplady had never insisted that “this was not a fair state of the case.” Rather, he had said, “Whether my view of the doctrine itself be, in fact, right or wrong is no part of the present enquiry: the question is, have you quoted me fairly?” And lastly, let us also notice that it happens to be gloriously true that “The elect shall be saved, do what they will:” while “The reprobate shall be damned, do what they can.” The elect shall be saved no matter how worthless and defiled their good works are, while the reprobate shall certainly be damned, no matter how much they sin (for that is all they can do). This, of course, isn’t quite what Wesley had in mind.
Presumably, Wesley meant that a belief in predestination naturally produces a fatalistic Antinomianism, causing people who fancy themselves elect to live dissolute lives, believing that it makes no difference to their election. Further, he apparently meant that a belief in predestination discourages those who fancy themselves reprobate from repentance. There is also the unspoken charge that Toplady thought he knew the number of the elect and the number of the reprobate. Then Wesley went on to say that, on the basis of Calvinism, sin could not exist, and God could not judge the world:
Mr. Toplady says, “God has a positive will to destroy the reprobate for their sins.” (Chap. 1) For their sins! How can that be? I positively assert, that (on this scheme) they have no sins at all. They never had; they can have none. For it cannot be a sin in a spark to rise, or in a stone to fall. And the spark of the stone is not more necessarily determined either to rise or to fall, than the man is to sin …. God himself did “predestinate them to fill up the measure of their iniquities;” …. So, “God decreed the Jews to be the crucifiers of Christ, and Judas to betray him.” (Chap. 4.) Whose fault was it then? You plainly say, It was not his fault, but God’s. For what was Judas, or ten thousand reprobates besides? Could they resist his decree? (10:372, The Consequence Proved)
How then can the Judge of all the earth consign them to everlasting fire, for what was in effect his own act and deed? I apprehend, then, this is no fallacious objection, byt a solid and weighty one; and defy any man living, who asserts the unconditional decree of reprobation or preterition (just the same in effect,) to reconcile this with the scriptural doctrine fo a future judgment. I say again, I defy any man on earth to show, how, on this scheme, God can “judge the world in righteousness.” (10:374, The Consequence Proved)
These accusations are serious, and shall be dealt with in turn.
The charge of Antinomianism is one that has been leveled against salvation by the grace of God even since the days of Paul the Apostle (Rom 3:8). Modern predestinarians would do well not to panic when such an accusation arises, let alone concede the argument; instead they should take a lesson from Paul:
Rom 3:31 Then do we make law of no effect through faith? Let it not be! But we establish the law (emph. mine – CA).
The doctrine of predestination doesn’t encourage lawlessness, it makes obedience to the law possible! A belief in the doctrine of predestination allows a saint to seek to please God out of gratitude for what he has already done in the person of Jesus Christ, and confidence that God himself will complete the work, all based on the certainty of eternal election. Just as it gives Christians assurance that our efforts in evangelism will be successful (no matter what the outward appearance), so it provides for us a basis for true repentance, obedience, and good works.
We have already seen that Wesley’s Perfectionism produces Antinomianism. But the foundation of Perfectionism is the Arminian doctrine of Free Will. The following quote, cited by Augustus Toplady, shows us the that the true foundation of Antinomianism is, not Unconditional Election, but Free Will:
“This … was the refuge and χρεσφφυδετοον of that grand propagator of Arminianism, Mr. Thompson [one of the translators of the 1611 KJV — CA]. When he was in a fit of intemperance, if any one reminded him of the wrath of God threatened against such courses, he would answer, I am a child of the devil to-day; but I have free-will; and to morrow I will make myself a child of God.” Hickman’s Animadv. on Heylin, p.91, and 227.
Free-Will, in exalting Man above God, is the very essence of Antinomianism, and careless living. It encourages independence from God, and therefore causes Man to sit in judgement over God, reject any Scripture which Man doesn’t happen to like, speak peace to those who also believe in Free Will, and persecute those who don’t.
Toplady responded to The Consequence Proved with a public letter entitled More Work For Mr. John Wesley:
The point of enquiry, then is, Whether the elect themselves can be ultimately saved without being previously sanctified by inherent grace, and, (if adult) without evidencing that sanctification (according as ability and opportunity are given), by walking in the way of God’s commandments. …. The elect could no more be saved without personal holiness than they could be saved without personal existence. And why? because God’s own decree secures the means as well as the end, and accomplishes the end by the means. The same gratuitous predestination which ordained the existence of the elect as men ordained their purification as saints: and they were ordained to both, in order to their being finally and completely saved in Jesus Christ with eternal glory. …. God resolved that Hezekiah should live fifteen years longer than Hezekiah expected. Hezekiah might therefore, according to Mr. Wesley’s plan have argued thus: “God has promised me fifteen years of life to come. Ergo, Live I shall, do what I will: die I shall not, do what I can. I will therefore neither eat, drink, nor sleep. Nay, I will tie a millstone round my neck and throw myself headlong into the sea, from the highest precipice I can find.” I answer, No. For it was as much comprised in God’s decree that Hezekiah should eat, drink, and sleep, during those fifteen years; and that he should not jump into the sea with a millstone about his neck; as that fifteen years should be added to his life. 6
In response to the charge that “the reprobate shall be damned, do what they can”, Toplady wrote:
… John offers a query: “Can they avoid it” [i.e. can the reprobate avoid punishment] “by any thing they do?” Let me also put a query to the querist: can you prove that any one of them ever did what he could to avoid it? If this cannot be proved, it does not follow that “the reprobate shall be damned, do what they can.”7
Wesley was proceeding from the assumption that Man has a Free Will, and can repent any time he feels like it. But these verses teach otherwise:
John 1:13 who were born not of bloods, nor of [the] will of [the] flesh, nor of [the] will of man, but [were born] of God. [emph. mine — CA]
Acts 5:31 This One God [has] exalted [as] a Ruler and Savior to His right [hand], to give to Israel repentance and remission of sins. [emph. mine — CA]
Philippians 1:29 because it was granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer on His behalf. [emph. mine — CA]
That God does not give justifying faith to all is no excuse for those who continue in sin. No one is discouraged from repentance on the basis of their reprobation, just as no one is called to repentance on the basis of their election. Both of these assertions are really caricatures of biblical predestination. They are both false because, just as we must not approach the Father through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, so we must not approach the Father through the electing work of the Father himself. Rather, we are called to approach the Father through the atoning work of the Son.(Jn 14:6) No sinner should ever be discouraged from seeking the Lord for fear he might not be elect. Let that sinner look to the Crucifixion, not Election, to be saved. (Jn 12:32)
We have already examined the accusation that Predestination eliminates the accountability of Man. But here, Wesley asserts further that there can be no Final Judgment. Toplady responds:
For absolute predestination is the very thing that renders the future judgment certain: God hath appointed [εστησεν , hath fixed] a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained [ωρισεν , decreed:] Acts xvii. 31. –Nay, says Mr. John, “It requires more pains than all the men upon earth and all the devils in hell will ever be able to take:” viz. to reconcile the doctrine of reprobation with the doctrine of a judgment day. Be not quite so fiery, meek Mr. John. It might perhaps be for your interest … to find that reprobates cannot be judged. But feed not yourself with such delusive hope. I have already shewn that even the most flagrant sinners sin voluntarily, notwithstanding the inevitable accomplishment of God’s effective and permissive decrees. Now they who sin voluntarily are accountable: and accountable sinners are judicable: and if judicable, they are punishable. 8
Lastly there is the desperate accusation that Toplady could determine the number of elect and the number of reprobate all by himself. In his A Letter To The Rev. Mr. John Wesley ,Toplady had already written:
Let me likewise ask you when or where I ever presumed to ascertain the number of God’s elect? Point out the treatise and the page, wherein I assert that only “One in twenty of mankind are elected.” The book of life is not in your keeping, nor in mine. The Lord, and the Lord only, knoweth them that are his. He alone who telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them all by their names, calleth also his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out, first from a state of sin into a state of grace, and then into the state of glory. Yet, … it is but too certain that in the Scriptures are such awful passages as these: Broad is the way and wide is the gate which leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat: while on the other hand, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few therebe that find it”. — “Many are called, but few chosen.” –“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” — “There is a remnant, according to the election ofgrace”. Declarations of this tremendous import, instead of furnishing you with fuel for contention, and setting you on a presumptuous and fruitless calculation of the number that shall be saved or lost, should rather bring you on your knees before God, with your hand upon your breast and this cry in your lips: “Search me, O Lord, and try me; prove me also and examine my thoughts. Shew me to which class I belong. Give me solid proof that my name is in the Lamb’s Book of Life, by making it clear to me that I am in the faith.9
Now he adds:
In his printed letter to the late truly reverend and amiable Mr. Hervey, he charged that incomparable man, and the Calvinistic party in general, with holding the reprobation of “nine out of ten (See Wesley’s Preservative, p.235). In March 1770, we were charged with holding as above, that “nineteen in twenty are reprobated (See Wesley’s pretended Abridgment of Zanchius, p. 12.).” In February 1771, we were charged with holding the reprobation of “forty-nine out of fifty (See a Scurrilous Letter, signed John Wesley, in Lloyd’s Evening Post, for Friday, March 1, 1771.).” And now, about five months after, the glass is sunk 30 degrees lower, and in “The Consequence Proved” stands again at “nineteen out of twenty.” Next spring I suppose it will rise to ninety-nine out of a hundred.10
No predestinarian (so far as I am aware) has ever attempted to calculate the exact number of the elect; or the reprobate either, for that matter. This is simply a straw-man. Yet Wesley was so enamored with this straw-predestinarian that he wrote, in reference to the “The Gospel Magazine” (edited by Wm. Gadsby):
[It] intended to show, that God is not loving to every man; that his mercy is not over all his works; and, consequently, that Christ did not die for all, but for one in ten, for the elect only.
This comfortable doctrine, the sum of which, is, God before the foundation of the world, absolutely and irrevocably decreed, that “some men shall be saved, do what they will; and the rest damned, do what they can.” (14:279, General Preface to The Arminian Magazine: …1778-1791)
In 1778, Wesley published A Letter To The Rev. Mr. Thomas Maxfield, dated February 14. It ended with the following astounding question:
Bitterness and wrath, yea, low, base, virulent invective, both Mr. Richard and Mr. Rowland Hill (as well as Mr. Toplady) have poured out upon me, in great abundance. But where have I, in one single instance, returned them railing for railing? (11:483)
Later in 1778, Augustus Toplady became severely ill, and did not expect to live long. At this time, a rumor circulated that he had died in a delirium, recanting his Calvinism, and requesting to see John Wesley. On Sunday, June 14, to the great surprise of his congregation, Toplady appeared, ascended the pulpit, and was able to speak a few words. His testimony was printed a week later, under the title The Rev. Mr. Toplady’s Dying Avowal of his Religious Sentiments.
“Whereas, some time since, a wicked, scandalous and false report was diffused in various parts of this kingdom, by the followers of Mr. John Wesley; purporting, that I have changed some of my religious sentiments, especially such of them as relate more immediately to the doctrines of grace, I thought it my indispensible duty, on the Sunday after I received this information, which was the 13th of June last, publicly to declare myself … Now, I do publicly aver, that I have not, nor ever had, any such intention or desire; and that I most sincerely hope my last hours will be much better employed than in conversing with such a man. To which I added “so certain am I, of all that I have ever written, that were I sitting up in my dying bed with a pen and ink in my hand, and all the religious and controversial writings I ever published (more especially those relating to Mr. John Wesley, and the Arminian controversy), whether respecting facts or doctrines, could at once be displayed to my view,I should not strike out a single line relative to him or them.11
He went on to say:
Toplady died August 11th, 1778. Very soon after this a second rumor was circulated that he had “died in black despair, uttering the most horrible blasphemies;”. Richard Hill wrote a public letter to Wesley:
Nay, it was even positively alleged, that you told Mr. Thomas Robinson of Hilderthorpe, near Bridlington, in Yorkshire, and the Rev. Mr. Greaves, curate to Mr. Fletcher of Madeley, that the account published concerning Mr. Toplady’s death was a gross imposition on the public; for that he died in black despair, uttering the most horrible blasphemies; and that none of his friends were permitted to see him. …. Now, sir, as many living, respectable witnesses can testify that Mr. Toplady departed this life in full triumph of faith, … you are earnestly requested, for the satisfaction of your friends, thus publicly to assure the world, that you never advanced any thing of this sort to Mr. Robinson, Mr. Greaves, or to any other person; or else that you will produce your authority for your assertions; 13
A few months later, this letter was republished with a second letter to the same effect, and a list of names of people who had been present with Toplady at the time of his death. They were all “willing to testify upon oath, if required, that all the particulars published to the world in the late Memoirs, relative to the illness and death of the late Rev. Augustus Montague Toplady are strictly true;” This list included Toplady’s doctor and nurse. Here was a golden opportunity for Wesley to publicly clear himself from the charge of violating the Ninth Commandment, yet he never seems to have answered these letters.
September 26, 2011
IV. Christology – The Doctrine of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ
Having examined Wesley’s view of Scripture, God, and Man, the next doctrine to be examined is Wesley’s view of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The Person of Christ
Here is how The Christian Confession of Faith summarizes the doctrine of the person of Jesus Christ:
There is only one man among the descendants of Adam born without a sinful nature, and this is Jesus of Nazareth, God the Son incarnate. He was born of a virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit, contracting no guilt or defilement from Adam. He was totally and completely without sin. [Isa 7:14; 53:9; Mat 1:25; Luk 1:31-35; 2Co 5:21; Heb 4:15; 7:26-27; 1Pe 2:22-23; 1Jo 3:5]
Jesus of Nazareth is really and truly God as well as really and truly human. He is the only descendant of Adam with two natures, human and divine. These two natures are continually without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation. Scripture rejects the lie that Jesus Christ was merely human and not fully divine. It likewise rejects the lie that Jesus Christ was a supernatural being but not fully human. [Deu 18:15; Psa 2:7; 110:1; Isa 9:6; Luk 2:7; Joh 1:1,14,18; 3:16,18; 5:18; 8:58; 10:30-33; Act 20:28; Rom 1:3; 1Co 15:47; Gal 4:4; Phi 2:6-8; Col 1:15; 1Ti 3:16; Tit 2:13; Heb 1:1-5; 5:5; 1Jo 4:9, 15; Rev 1:17-18]1
These two sections of the Confession teach that Jesus was both God and Man. The first section teaches that Jesus is “God the Son incarnate”, and that he was born of a virgin, and thus did not receive any “guilt or defilement from Adam”. The second section describes the relationship of his two natures (“without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation”), and refutes the twin heresies that Jesus was either human, but not divine, or divine, but not human.
Anyone who reads the Bible with any seriousness will immediately recognize the great importance of the doctrine of Christ’s person. 1John 2:22-23 displays the life or death issue of believing in the person of Jesus Christ:
1Jo 2: (22) Who is the liar, except the [one] denying, [saying] that Jesus is not the Christ? This is the antichrist, the [one] denying the Father and the Son. (23) Everyone denying the Son does not have the Father. The [one] confessing the Son also has the Father.
Anyone who truly believes in the Jesus of the Bible is saved, while anyone who does not is lost. Wesley himself seemed to understand the vital importance of this doctrine:
Not that I can at all believe the ingenious dream of Dr. Watts concerning “the glorious humanity of Christ,” which he supposes to have existed before the world began, …. And I am afraid it was the grand means of turning that great man aside from the faith once delivered to the saints; — that is, if he was turned aside; if that beautiful [sic] soliloquy be genuine which is printed among his Posthumous Works, wherein he so earnestly beseeches the Son of God not to be displeased because he cannot believe him to be co-equal and co-eternal with the Father. (6:273, Sermon 62 The End Of Christ’s Coming)
Notice that, although he is willing to reserve judgement in case the “soliloquy” is a forgery, Wesley is still able to judge Watts lost if the “soliloquy” was genuine; because in that case, Isaac Watts did not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. As far as Wesley was concerned, this fact alone would be enough to judge Isaac Watts lost. And most professing Christians would probably agree with Wesley’s assessment.
But “confessing [the] Son”, as John puts it, involves a lot more than merely confessing that Jesus is both Man and God. It involves believing in the doctrine of his person (both human and divine) and the doctrine of his work of justifying his people on the Cross (Isa 45:24, Jer 9:24, Gal 6:14).
It is exactly at this point that many professing Christians (even those who claim to believe in the Effectual, or Limited, Atonement of Christ) will balk, because it means that those who make a profession of faith in Christ will have to be judged based on their belief of doctrine! And yet this is exactly what the Bible commands in places such as:
Mat 7: (15) But beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inside they are plundering wolves. (16) From their fruits you shall know them. Do they gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? (17) So every good tree produces good fruits, but the corrupt tree produces evil fruits. (18) A good tree cannot produce evil fruits, nor a corrupt tree produce good fruits. (19) Every tree not producing good fruit is cut down and is thrown into fire. (20) Then surely from their fruits you shall know them.
Joh 7: (24) Do not judge according to sight, but judge righteous judgment
1Jo 4: (1) Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone forth into the world.
Judging a professing Christian according to the doctrine he holds is absolutely essential for judging saved and lost, since it is impossible to believe in a doctrine-less God, a doctrine-less Christ, or a doctrine-less Gospel. Isaac Watts is a perfect example of this; if the so-called “soliloquy” is genuine, Isaac Watts did not believe in the doctrine of the deity of Christ. And Wesley made his judgement of Watts based on this doctrine. It follows then, that when a professing Christian is willing to make judgments of saved and lost based on the doctrine of Christ’s person, but refuses to make judgments of saved and lost based on the doctrine of Christ’s work, that person is not really refusing to make judgments based on doctrine alone, as they often claim. In reality, they are simply making judgments based on selected doctrines; ie. doctrines that they select for themselves, rather than letting themselves be guided by the doctrines that are put forth in Scripture as standards for judgment. And, as we shall see, Scripture puts just as much emphasis on the importance of the effect of Christ’s work as it does on the importance of his divinity.
It must be said that John Wesley was sound in his view of the person of Christ2. He believed that Jesus Christ was both Man and God. Therefore, my judgment of him has nothing to do with his belief in the doctrine of Christ’s person, and everything to do with his view of the doctrine of Christ’s work. What we shall see is that Wesley believed in the doctrine of Universal Atonement (ie. the teaching that the blood of Jesus Christ atones for the sin of all human beings without exception). But before discussing Wesley’s view of the work of Jesus Christ in greater detail, let’s review what the Bible and the Christian Confession of Faith have to say about the work of Christ.
The Work of Christ
The work of Jesus Christ to justify his people is a necessary consequence of the Justice of God. God the Father imputed the sins of his elect people to Jesus Christ, and then poured out the full wrath of his offended Justice upon Christ (2Cor 5:17, 1Pet 3:18). God was therefore just in punishing a man who, in his own character and conduct, was completely innocent (Luk 23:14-15, Heb 7:26, 1Pet 2:22). Furthermore, God imputed the righteousness of Christ to the elect, so that even though they are sinful in their character and conduct, he may bless them justly (Psa 85:10, Rom 5:9, Col 2:13). The righteousness of Jesus Christ, and the blood that symbolizes it, is therefore central to the Gospel message, because according to the Justice of God, the righteousness of Christ demands the salvation of any person to whom it is given (Rom 8:34). If God were to give that righteousness to a person, and then send that person to Hell anyway, he would be unjust in doing so; he would, in effect, be demanding double payment for the same sins. Further, he would also be unjust in requiring that his Son suffer for the sins of a person, and then refusing to give his Son the reward which was promised (Isa 53:12).
The Biblical doctrine of the work of Christ is summarized in the Christian Confession of Faith:
When He became incarnate, Jesus Christ was made subject to the law of God and obliged to obey all its precepts. He did this perfectly, to the minutest detail. [Psalm 40:8; Isa 50:5; Mat 3:15; 2Co 5:21; Gal 4:4; Heb 2:14-15; 4:15; 7:26; 1Pe 2:22-23; 1Jo 3:4-5]
The consummate act of obedience that Jesus Christ paid to the law was in suffering the ultimate penalty for the disobedience of His people that the law demanded. Thus, while upon the cross, Jesus Christ, as a perfect representative, substitute, and sacrifice for His people, became a curse for His people and suffered the unmitigated fury of God the Father, which was equivalent to suffering the very pains of hell. This was not for any guilt He had contracted Himself but for the sins of His people. Their guilt was imputed to Him, and He suffered the penalty their sins deserved. His finished work on the cross appeased God’s wrath in full toward all for whom He died and paid the ransom price in full for all for whom He died, guaranteeing the salvation of all for whom He died. [Gen 22:13; Exo 12:3-13; Lev 16:21-22; 17:11; Psa 22:1-18; 32:1; Isa 53:1-12; Dan 9:24-26; Zec 13:7; Mat 26:28; 27:35-50; Mar 15:24-37; Luk 23:33-46; 24:46; Joh 11:49-52; 19:16-30; Act 17:3; 20:28; Rom 3:24-25; 5:6-11; 1Co 1:30; 5:7; 6:20; 15:3; 2Co 5:21; Gal 1:4; 2:20; 3:13; 4:5; Eph 1:7; 2:13-17; Col 1:14,20-22; 2:13-14; 1Th 5:10; 1Ti 2:6; Tit 2:14; Heb 2:9-10,17; 9:12-14,26-28; 10:10-18; 13:12; 1Pe 1:18-19; 2:24; 3:18; 1Jo 1:7; 2:2; 3:5; 4:10; Rev 1:5; 5:9]3
Let’s look at some of the verses that the Confession refers to, and notice what they have to say about the work of Jesus Christ. In particular pay close attention to what the Bible has to say about what the work of Jesus Christ accomplishes on behalf of all people for whom it was intended:
Exo 12: (13) And the blood shall be a sign to you, on the houses where you [are]. And I will see the blood, and I will pass over you. And the plague shall not be on you to destroy, when I strike in the land of Egypt.
The blood of the lamb, which typifies the blood of Jesus Christ, caused God to pass over the house. The blood was not put on every house in Egypt, but only on the houses of Israelites. And the blood did not fail to cause God to pass over the house; no Israelite had to add his works or decisions to the blood on the doorposts, because the blood alone was sufficient to cause God to pass over the house. Each and every house that had the blood of a lamb on the doorposts was saved from destruction; there were no exceptions.
Now consider how this verse relates to the doctrine of Universal Atonement. If Universal Atonement were true, then the blood of Jesus Christ ought to cause the wrath of God to “pass over” the sins of all human beings without exception! Yet, as even Wesley would admit4, it manifestly does not.
Isa 53: (11) He shall see [the fruit] of the travail of His soul; He shall be fully satisfied. By His knowledge the righteous One, My Servant, shall justify for many, and He shall bear their iniquities.
The work of Jesus Christ caused many people to be justified. It did not potentiallyjustify a people, if only they would do their part; it actually justified many people, just as Jesus actually bore their sins. Each and every person whose sins were borne by Jesus Christ was justified by his work.
Now consider how this verse relates to the doctrine of Universal Atonement. If Universal Atonement were true, and the work of Jesus Christ were intended for all people without exception, then the work of Jesus Christ ought to have justified all people without exception. But again, as even Wesley would admit, it manifestly does not
Rom 5: (9) Much more then, being justified now by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath through Him.
The blood of Jesus Christ justifies his people, and saves them from the wrath of God. Each and every person who is justified by the blood of Christ is saved from the wrath of God. And again, if Universal Atonement were true, and the blood of Jesus Christ were intended to justify every person without exception, then every person without exception would be “saved from the wrath” of God. Yet they are not.
2Co 5: (18) And all things [are] from God, the [One] having reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and having given to us the ministry of reconciliation, (19) as, that God was in Christ reconciling [the] world to Himself, not charging their deviations to them, and having put the Word of reconciliation in us.
Jesus Christ reconciles his people to God. Each and every person for whom the blood of Christ was poured out, is reconciled to God, and does not have their deviations charged to them. If Universal Atonement were true, and the blood of Jesus Christ were intended to justify every person without exception, then every person without exception would be “reconciled to God”. Yet they are not.
Gal 1: (4) who gave Himself for our sins, so that He might deliver us out of the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,
All for whom Jesus Christ gave himself for their sins are delivered from the present evil age. And if Universal Atonement were true, and the blood of Jesus Christ were intended for every person without exception, then every person without exception would be “delivered out of the present evil age”. Yet they are not.
Heb 5: (9) and having been perfected, He came to be [the] Author of eternal salvation to all the [ones] obeying Him,
All for whom Jesus Christ died receive eternal salvation. And again, if Universal Atonement were true, and the blood of Jesus Christ were intended for every person without exception, then every person without exception would “receive eternal salvation”. Yet they do not.
This selection of verses is only a small fraction of the verses which show the effectual benefits of the blood of Jesus Christ towards all for whom his blood was intended. Every one of those verses gives the lie to the doctrine of Universal Atonement, because those benefits are plainly intended for all people for whom Christ died, yet they plainly do not extend to all people without exception.
This goes back to what the work of Christ shows us about the justice of God revealed in the Gospel: the righteousness of Christ demands the salvation of all for whom Christ died (Rom 8:34). Any doctrine that denies this basic truth is a denial of the Gospel.
Wesley’s Doctrine of the Work of Christ
So exactly what did Wesley believe about the work of Jesus Christ? What did he believe about the blood and righteousness of Christ? Did his views glorify or deny the justice of God? Did he believe it secures full remission of sins, fellowship with God, and final glory in Heaven, for all whom Christ represented? Or did he consider it worthless, securing only a conditional pardon for those who exercise their Free Will?
Wesley obviously believed that the Grace of God was “bought for every child of man,” but not given to every child of Man, as the justice of God would require. He believed that Jesus Christ suffered the unmitigated fury of God against the sins of all men without exception, but that God refuses to accept this suffering on behalf of millions of people for whom it was intended. He believed that Jesus Christ suffered the just penalty that God’s law and justice demanded for the sins of all people without exception, but then God refuses to reward Jesus with the souls of the people he (supposedly) redeemed. Wesley believed that the Grace of God is “actually given to every one that believeth” and withheld from every one that believes not, regardless of the fact that Jesus (supposedly) already purchased the gift of God’s grace on their behalf. Wesley’s blasphemous doctrine of Universal Atonement utterly denies the justice of God revealed in the work of Jesus Christ.
Justification & Imputation
This brings us to the twin doctrines of Justification and Imputation. The Christian Confession of Faith describes imputation in this way:
The perfect righteousness that Jesus Christ established is imputed to every one of God’s people in time. Because of this imputed righteousness, they are declared blameless before God and reconciled to God. Christ’s righteousness imputed demands God’s favor and fellowship toward them. [Job 29:14; Psa 32:2; 85:10-11; Isa 53:11; 61:10; Jer 23:5-6; Rom 3:21-22; 4:6-8; 5:9-11,17-19; 8:1,31-39; 1Co 1:30; 2Co 5:18-21; Eph 5:25-27; Col 1:21-22; Tit 3:6-7]5
Imputation is a legal term, meaning “to charge to the account of another”. It is a legal concept, denoting the “counting” or “attributing” of something to a person. This concept can be seen in the following verses:
Mar 15: (28) And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with [the] lawless.”
Rom 8: (36) Even as it has been written, “For Your sake we are killed all the day; we are counted as sheep of slaughter.”
Mark 15:28 says that Jesus Christ was “numbered” or “counted” with transgressors. While Jesus was never a transgressor himself (1Pe 2:22), he was legally “numbered” or “counted” with transgressors in the light of God’s law and justice. Romans 8:36 says that Christians are “numbered” or “counted” as sheep for the slaughter. While Christians are the people that God loves and cherishes, they do not hold their own lives as more important than the glory of God, and are willing to “count” themselves as sheep to be slaughtered. This is what it means to “impute” or “attribute” or “charge to the account of” a person.
Similarly, the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to the account of his people is shown in the following verses:
Psa 32: (2) Blessed [is] the man to whom Jehovah does not charge iniquity, and in whose spirit there [is] no guile.
Rom 4: (6) Even as also David says of the blessedness of the man to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
2Co 5: (21) For He made the [One] who knew no sin [to be] sin for us, that we might become [the] righteousness of God in Him.
The perfect righteousness which Jesus Christ established on the cross is “imputed”, or “charged to the account of” every single believer. It is because of this righteousness that God “does not charge iniquity”, and “counts righteousness apart from works”. It is because of this righteousness that Christians “become [the] righteousness of God in Him”.
We have already seen that God is so holy that he cannot have fellowship with anyone who has the slightest taint of sin; therefore sinful human beings can only enjoy fellowship with God if righteousness is charged, or imputed, to their account by someone else. That righteousness can only be established by someone who is himself completely without sin. The only human being who could possibly establish such a righteousness is Jesus Christ. The imputation of his perfect righteousness is effectual to secure the favor and fellowship of God, for all to whom it is given. This is taught in the Christian Confessionof Faith:
At the same time a sinner is regenerated, he is adopted into God’s family and set apart from the world. He is counted to be as holy and acceptable before God as Jesus Christ Himself, is made to be at peace with God, and enters into fellowship with God based on the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. [Job 29:14; Psa 85:8; Isa 26:3; Isa 32:17; Isa 61:10; Joh 1:12; Joh 17:21-23; Rom 3:22; Rom 4:6-8; Rom 5:1-2; Rom 5:19; Rom 8:14-17; Rom 8:33-39; 1Co 1:30; 1Co 6:11; 2Co 5:21; Gal 3:26; Gal 4:5-7; Eph 1:4-5; Eph 2:14-19; Eph 3:11-12; Eph 5:25-27; Col 1:20-22; 2Th 2:13; Tit 3:7; Heb 2:10-11; 1Jo 1:3; 1Jo 3:1; Rev 21:7]6
Just as the righteousness of God demands that he show wrath and judgment towards those who have sin charged to their account, so also his righteousness demands that he show favor and fellowship towards those who have righteousness charged to their account. Once the righteousness of Jesus Christ is charged to the account of a person, those sins can never again bring him under the wrath and condemnation of God. The justice of God demands that that person cannot be punished for those sins, because Jesus Christ has already been punished in that person’s place, and satisfied the requirements of the justice of God on the sinner’s behalf. This imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ to the account of the believer is therefore the effectual means of the justification of a believer. It is this imputation, and subsequent justification, which establishes peace and fellowship between the believer and God, because the believer is cleared from the sin that is charged to his account by the law of God.
But even this imputation could not happen without a second imputation, the imputation of the sins of the believer to the account of Jesus Christ. Although Jesus was completely sinless in his own character and conduct, he was, in the eyes of God’s law and justice, charged with the guilt and defilement of the sins of his people. It was for this reason that the only man who was ever truly and completely innocent in his own character and conduct, could suffer the just wrath and fury of God, and die the death of a criminal. God’s righteousness demands that no innocent person should suffer the just penalty which sin deserves. Yet Jesus suffered the penalty which sin deserves, and died upon the cross, not for his own sins, but for the sins of his people which were charged to his account. The only way in which the suffering of Jesus Christ could be consistent with the justice of God is if the sins of his people were imputed to him. This is taught in the Christian Confessionof Faith:
The consummate act of obedience that Jesus Christ paid to the law was in suffering the ultimate penalty for the disobedience of His people that the law demanded. Thus, while upon the cross, Jesus Christ, as a perfect representative, substitute, and sacrifice for His people, became a curse for His people and suffered the unmitigated fury of God the Father, which was equivalent to suffering the very pains of hell. This was not for any guilt He had contracted Himself but for the sins of His people. Their guilt was imputed to Him, and He suffered the penalty their sins deserved. His finished work on the cross appeased God’s wrath in full toward all for whom He died and paid the ransom price in full for all for whom He died, guaranteeing the salvation of all for whom He died. [Gen 22:13; Exo 12:3-13; Lev 16:21-22; 17:11; Psa 22:1-18; 32:1; Isa 53:1-12; Dan 9:24-26; Zec 13:7; Mat 26:28; 27:35-50; Mar 15:24-37; Luk 23:33-46; 24:46; Joh 11:49-52; 19:16-30; Act 17:3; 20:28; Rom 3:24-25; 5:6-11; 1Co 1:30; 5:7; 6:20; 15:3; 2Co 5:21; Gal 1:4; 2:20; 3:13; 4:5; Eph 1:7; 2:13-17; Col 1:14,20-22; 2:13-14; 1Th 5:10; 1Ti 2:6; Tit 2:14; Heb 2:9-10,17; 9:12-14,26-28; 10:10-18; 13:12; 1Pe 1:18-19; 2:24; 3:18; 1Jo 1:7; 2:2; 3:5; 4:10; Rev 1:5; 5:9]7
It is here that we can most vividly understand the justice and righteousness of God. His holiness and righteousness demands that all sin and rebellion against him should be punished to the fullest. God hates sin with the utmost hatred, and will never allow it to go unpunished, even when it is charged to the account of the son whom he loves (Joh 3:35). Jesus suffered in indescribable agony (Mar 15:34) to propitiate the wrath of God against the sins of his people, which were charged to his account.
Wesley’s Doctrine of Imputation& Justification
The doctrines of Imputation and Justification that Wesley preached were very different from the kind which the Bible teaches. But rather than teaching an outright denial of the Scriptural doctrines of Imputation and Justification, Wesley taught that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness was given to all human beings, but that the blessing of justification did not necessarily follow from that imputation.
Wesley believed that the righteousness of Christ was imputed to all men without exception, but the blessing of justification would not be given to all men without exception. This, of course, is impossible. If God were to impute the righteousness of Christ to the account of a sinner without justifying that sinner, then he would be unjust himself, and so would cease to be God. The justice of God demands that all who have the righteousness of Christ charged to their account be justified in the sight of God.
Furthermore, it is simply not possible that the righteousness of Christ could be imputed to a person, and atone merely for the sin of Adam, while leaving the actual sins of that person untouched. Either the blood of Christ is effectual to atone for all the guilt of a sinner, or it is powerless to atone for all the guilt of a sinner. It cannot merely atone for part of the guilt that is charged to a sinner’s account. The justice of God demands that all who have the righteousness of Christ charged to their account be justified and declared wholly righteous in the sight of God.
The impossibility of God’s imputing the righteousness of Christ to the account of sinners, and then failing to justify those same sinners can be seen from Wesley’s answer to the question, why do some sinners go to Hell?
How came this rich man to be in hell? It does not appear that he was a wicked man, in the common sense of the word; that he was a drunkard, a common swearer, a Sabbath-breaker, or that he lived in any known sin. It is probable he was a Pharisee; and as such was, in all the outward parts of religion, blameless. How then did he come into “the place of torment?” If there was no other reason to be assigned, there is a sufficient one implied in those words, (“he that hath ears to hear, let him hear!”) “Thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things;” — the things which thou hadst chosen for thy happiness. Thou hadst set thy affection on things beneath: And thou hadst thy reward: Thou didst receive the portion which thou hadst chosen, and canst have no portion above. ” (6:248-9, Sermon 112 Dives And Lazarus)
9. If then you fear bringing damnation on yourself by this, you fear where no fear is. Fear it not for eating and drinking unworthily; for that, in St. Paul’s sense, ye cannot do. But I will tell you for what you shall fear damnation;– for not eating and drinking at all; for not obeying your Maker and Redeemer; for disobeying his plain command; for thus setting at nought both his mercy and authority. Fear ye this; for hear what his Apostle saith: “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all.” (James 2:10.) (Sermon 101)
The problem with that answer is that unbelief is a sin; but according to the theory of Universal Atonement, that sin is already paid for, so it shouldn’t be a barrier to justification at all. So Wesley, and every other advocate of Universal Atonement must either admit that all people will eventually go to heaven, or Jesus did not die for the sins of all people without exception.
The imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ to the account of the believer is the effectual means of the justification of a believer. Therefore, without the twin doctrines of Imputation and Justification, the Gospel simply would not be good news. It would be no “Gospel” at all. And that is a perfect description of Wesley’s false gospel. It is not good news at all, but the filthy rags of self-righteousness, disguised as Christianity.
The State of Those Who Deny the Effectual Work of Christ
The Christian Confession of Faith goes on to describe the terrible state of those who deny the biblical teaching of the effectual work of Christ:
Those who deny the effectual work of Jesus Christ, claiming instead that the blood of Jesus Christ atoned for everyone without exception, including those in hell, deny the very heart of the gospel. They do not believe that it is the work of Jesus Christ alone that makes the difference between salvation and damnation; instead, these self-righteous boasters believe that it is the effort of the sinner that makes the difference between salvation and damnation. These blasphemers deny that Jesus Christ made full satisfaction for sins and that Jesus Christ accomplished and ensured salvation for all whom He represented. They trample underfoot the precious blood of Jesus Christ, treating it as something of no value. They glory and boast in themselves, for whatever one believes makes the difference between salvation and damnation is what one boasts and glories in. There is not a single one of these blasphemers who is a child of God. [Psa 25:14; 74:18; 94:4; 139:20; Pro 30:12-13; Isa 28:14-18; 42:8; 48:11; Joh 16:8-14; Rom 3:27-28; 4:2; 10:3; 16:17-18; 1Co 2:12; 2Co 10:3-6; Gal 1:8-9; 6:14; Eph 2:8-9; Phi 3:18-19; 1Ti 4:1; 2Ti 3:2-5; 4:3-4; Heb 10:29; 1Jo 2:22-23; 4:6; 2Jo 9]8
The gospel is not merely the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If it were, then the death, burial, and resurrection of any mere man would have sufficed. What makes the death of Jesus Christ so important is not the fact of it, but what was accomplished by it. The death of Jesus Christ secured the salvation of all for whom it was intended. The Atonement atones. It doesn’t just make sinners saveable, it saves. To say that Jesus poured out his life blood for someone who goes to Hell anyway is intolerable blasphemy of the first order. It insinuates that Jesus Christ is powerless in bringing about what he desires. It shamelessly teaches that Jesus endured the torment which the wicked deserve, only to have God refuse to pass over them, even though the blood of the Lamb (supposedly) covers them. Thus, rather than Limited Atonement, it is really Universal Atonement that makes God unjust; he requires the penalty for sin first from the hand of Jesus Christ, then at the sinner’s hand as well. Wesley saw the blood of Jesus Christ as virtually worthless. It only secured the possibility of any sinner being saved. It only made sinners savable. It certainly did not mean the difference between Heaven and Hell. The vast majority of those for whom it was intended eventually go to Hell. It was poured out for all without exception, and was only made effectual by the will of Man. To put it simply, this is blasphemy. And the state of those who deny the effectual work of Christ in saving all those for whom he died is the same as those who deny that Jesus is God in the flesh: they are lost, unregenerate, and without God. If they die in this horrible state, as Wesley apparently did, then their reward will not be eternity in heaven, but in the torments of Hell, along with all the other unrepentant enemies of God.
1Christian Confession of Faith IV.A.1-2;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfiv.htm
3Christian Confession of Faith IV.C.1-2;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfiv.htm
5Christian Confession of Faith IV.C.3;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfiv.htm
6Christian Confession of Faith V.C.2;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfv.htm
7Christian Confession of Faith IV.C.2;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfiv.htm
8Christian Confession of Faith IV.C.6;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfiv.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)
September 4, 2011
II. Theology Proper – The Doctrine of God
We have seen that Wesley’s Man-centered theology allowed for instruction from God outside of the Bible. Now it is time to examine how this Man-centered theology affected Wesley’s view of the most important subjects in the Bible.
First and foremost, the Bible is God’s revelation of himself to his people. The righteousness and glory of God is the very heart of the gospel (Isa 45:21, Rom 1:17). He shows his glory to his people, revealing to them that he is “a just God and a Savior.” The truth that he guides us into is an understanding of “the true [One] … his Son Jesus Christ.” (I Jn 5:20) This true knowledge of the true God is foundational to a true understanding of the Gospel. Here is what the Christian Confession of Faith has to say about the knowledge of himself that God reveals to his people:
God is an infinite being and therefore impossible for finite beings to
fully comprehend. [1Ki 8:27; Job 9:10; Isa 40:28; 46:9; Joh 1:3; Act
17:24-25; Rom 11:33-36]
However, God is not unknowable. He has purposed to glorify Himself
among His people by imparting the fear of God to them; that is, causing them
to understand His infinite glory, divine nature, and perfect attributes
through the Scriptures. God does not give a knowledge of Himself to some of
His regenerate people while withholding that knowledge from the rest, for
this would mean that God causes some of His regenerate people to attribute
their salvation to themselves, which can never be. [Exo 20:2-6; Psa 40:3;
50:15; Pro 1:7; 2:5; 9:10; Isa 29:23; 38:19; 43:1-13,21; 45:20-25; Mat
13:11-12,16; Joh 8:32; 16:8-11; 17:3,6-7; Rom 6:17-18; 9:23-26; 10:2-4; 2Co
4:3-6; Eph 1:17-19; Phi 3:8; Col 1:4-6; 1Jo 5:20]1
From these two sections we see that although God is infinite, “and therefore impossible for finite beings to fully comprehend,” he has chosen to reveal himself to his people for his own glory, and that this knowledge is common to all of his people. There may be degrees of understanding among God’s people, and they may or may not be able to articulate that knowledge which God has revealed; but they are never completely without a saving knowledge of “His infinite glory, divine nature, and perfect attributes”.
The Sovereignty of God
The Confession goes on to summarize the Bible’s teaching about God and his attributes:
God absolutely controls all actions and events; nothing at all happens
by chance or merely by His permission. All actions and events happen because
of His sovereign decree, including the sins of men and angels. Contrary to
the aspersions of the enemies of God, this doctrine does not attribute sin
to God; instead, it provides great comfort for believers. [Gen 50:20; Exo
4:21; 7:3; 9:12; Deu 2:30; 32:39; Jos 11:20; 1Sa 2:6-8,25; 2Sa 17:14; 2Ch
10:15; 11:4; 25:20; 36:22; Job 12:14-25; 23:13-14; 26:7-12; Psa 105:25;115:3; 135:5-7; Pro16:4,33; 21:1; Isa 40:23-26; 42:9; 43:13; 45:6-7;
46:9-11; Jer 18:6; 52:3; Eze 17:24; Hab 1:6,12; Joh 19:11; Act 2:23;
4:27-28; Eph 1:11; Rev 17:17]2
God is in full control of every event in his created world, including the thoughts and sinful actions of men (Pro 21:1, Act 4:27-28, Rev 17:17). This is the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, and it forms the basis of faith in the Gospel:
Because God sovereignly orders all things, He is able to keep all His
promises. Because God is a God of truth, He is faithful to keep all His
promises. [Deu 7:8-10; Jos 21:44-45; 23:14; 2Sa 23:3-5; Psa 89:24-37;
132:11; Isa 45:23; 46:9-11; 54:9-10; Jer 33:20-21,25-26; Act 13:32-33; Rom
15:8-9; 2Co 1:19-20; 1Th 5:24; Tit 1:1-3; Heb 6:13-20; 2Pe 3:9-13]3
The doctrine of the sovereignty of God is indispensable to the Gospel, because it assures the believer that God has the power to infallibly keep all of his promises. This is the true source of comfort and security for a believer, because it assures him that his final salvation is not dependent on his own varying decisions and imperfect obedience to the Law of God, but on God’s perfect ability to keep every single one of his promises (Jos 21:45, Jer 33:20, Eph 1:11).
But even though the sovereignty of God is indispensable to the Gospel, Wesley was more than willing to dispense with it. As we shall see, Wesley’s “Gospel” simply did not exist for the glory of God, but for the convenience of Man: Man was sick, Man needed some help, and God obligingly came to the rescue. Wesley attempted to make salvation dependent on the decisions of Man by removing the sure foundation of God’s sovereignty from the Gospel. Naturally, a God who is sovereign over all of his creation is totally incompatible with such a Man-centered “Gospel”, so another foundation had to be found. The new foundation that Wesley turned to as a replacement for the sovereignty of God, was human responsibility. Notice how, in the following quotes, Wesley cannot just jettison the doctrine of the sovereignty of God — he has to do so under the cover of magnifying the responsibility of Man:
The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility
It is worth noting here that the responsibility of Man is not destroyed by the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. So far from being destroyed by the sovereignty of God, the responsibility of Man is actually based on the sovereignty of God! This is explicitly taught by the Christian Confession of Faith:
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; Mat 28:18; Joh 11:43; Act 17:30-31; Rom 2:12-16; 2Th 1:8]4
The Scriptures teach that God is not only in full and absolute control of the universe, but that he is also infinitely holy, infinitely righteous, and infinitely good. Therefore God is himself the standard of right and wrong, and whatever he commands his creatures to do, they are morally obligated to obey. This is how God could command the Israelites to slaughter the Philistines (men, women, and children), without a violation of the 6th Commandment (Exo 20:13, Deu 7:2, 1Sa 15:13).
Since the sovereignty of God is the true basis for the responsibility of Man, anything that magnifies the sovereignty of God actually magnifies the responsibility of Man. Conversely, anything that degrades the sovereignty of God actually diminishes the responsibility of Man. It is a supreme irony of John Wesley’s theology that in seeking to exalt the responsibility of Man, he actually succeeded in undermining it, because he undermined the critical doctrine of the sovereignty of God in its pursuit (Jer 2:13). Not only did this have the effect of actually diminishing the responsibility of Man, it also became necessary for Wesley to teach that God is under definite moral obligations when dealing with his erring creatures:
Wesley believed that a doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty over the world would make it morally impossible for God to judge the world. For Wesley, this argument proceeded naturally from his belief that the foundation of the Gospel was human responsibility, and anything that supplanted that foundation (such as the sovereignty of God), would tend to detract from human responsibility, and consequently God’s justice and judgment of the world.
The only possible way God’s sovereignty would make it impossible for him to judge the world is if God somehow had a higher moral order imposed upon him. But the only way that could be possible is if a being higher than God had imposed such a moral order upon him; and then God would be unfit to be God, and unfit for worship. Indeed, the true object of worship ought to be that supposed higher being!
An argument similar to Wesley’s was raised against the Apostle Paul. Notice how he refutes it:
Rom 3: (5) But if our unrighteousness commends the righteousness of God, what shall we say? [Is] God unrighteous who lays on wrath? I speak according to man. (6) Let it not be! Otherwise, how will God judge the world? (7) For if in my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I yet judged as a sinner? (8) And not (as we are wrongly accused, and as some report us to say), Let us do bad things so that good things may come, [the] judgment of whom is just.
Paul was accused of destroying human responsibility, because he preached salvation by grace apart from works. Ironically that accusation, like the one raised by Wesley, was cloaked in a seeming concern that exalting the sovereignty of God too much would undermine the responsibility of Man. I have already shown that the foundation of the Gospel is divine sovereignty, not human responsibility. Here, the Apostle shows us that not only is the sovereignty of God vital to the Gospel, but it is also vital to the responsibility of Man, and consequently, God’s ability to judge the world. Paul says that those who accused him of undermining Man’s responsibility were justly condemned (v 8), because they were preaching a “God” who is unrighteous (v. 5), and therefore could not judge the world (v. 6). Contrary to Wesley’s claim that God could not judge the world if he were sovereign over it, it is actually the truth that God cannot judge the world unless he is sovereign over it!
Notice how the objection that was raised against Paul cannot be raised against Wesley. Noone could ever accuse Wesley of over-emphasizing the glory of God, or undermining the responsibility of man. He was too busy exalting the responsibility of man over the glory of God, contrary to the example of the Apostle! In fact, as we shall see, Wesley will go on to raise this very same objection to the doctrine of unconditional election.
A “Gospel” which depends on a God who is not sovereign is uncertain, doubtful, and prone to failure; and the “Gospel” that Wesley proclaimed depended on a “God” who was not sovereign. Indeed, his “Gospel” depended on making Man sovereign over God, forcing God to wait patiently on the decree of Almighty Man to let God save him. Wesley’s “Gospel” was thus as uncertain, doubtful, and as prone to failure as the whims and decisions of Man.
Predestination: The Covenant
The doctrine that God is in sovereign control of all things in his creation, including the sinful thoughts and actions of men, implies that God has determined in advance who will be saved, and who will not be saved. And indeed, this is precisely what Scripture teaches, as summarized by the Christian Confession of Faith. However, it is important to note that predestination is not taught in the Bible as merely an abstract display of God’s power, but as a means for securing the salvation of the people whom God loves. This love which God has for his people, especially as they are considered as being under the authority of Jesus Christ, is expressed in the form of a covenant; first, a covenant made with Jesus himself, and second, a covenant made with God’s elect people under Jesus’ authority:
In eternity past, God the Father covenanted with God the Son, Jesus
Christ, to glorify Himself by saving a particular, elect people, and those
only, from the guilt and defilement of sin, by the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. [Psa 89:19-37; Isa 49:5-6; 53:11-12; Luk 22:29; Joh 6:37-40; 10:29; 17:2,9; Gal 3:16-18; 2Ti 1:9]5
In covenanting with Jesus Christ, God the Father covenanted with all
the elect in Jesus Christ, to be their God and to reveal His divine love,
mercy, grace, and wisdom to them by saving them through the work of Jesus
Christ their Redeemer. [Gen 13:14-16; 17:4-8,19; Deu 4:35; 7:9; 2Sa 23:5;
Psa 65:4; 67:2; 105:8-10; 111:9; 132:11; Isa 43:10-12; 55:3-4; 61:6-9; Mat
13:11; Mat 24:22,24,31; Mar 13:20,22,27; Luk 1:68-75; 18:7; Joh 17:2-3; Act
13:48; Rom 8:28-30,33; 9:11-16,23; 11:26-27; Eph 1:4-14; Col 3:12; 2Th 2:13; 2Ti 2:10; Tit 1:1; Heb 6:13-14; 8:6-12; 1Pe 1:1; 2:9]6
This covenant, made with a specific set of people, who alone are the objects of God’s love, obviously destroys any notion of God hastening to the aid of all Mankind, then passively waiting for the result, longing for them to be “persuaded” to believe his Gospel. Wesley’s response to this doctrine, however, was not to refute it, but simply to ridicule it:
The questions Wesley has raised, above, are fully answered by the Scripture references printed to the right of his quote, as well as the Scripture references cited by the Confession, above.
Predestination: God’s Love for the World
Without a theory of particular, covenantal love as a foundation for the proclamation of the Gospel, Wesley substituted in its place a doctrine of universal love, and a universal salvific will in God:
The last two quotes, above, are especially important here, because they are taken from Wesley’s Notes on the New Testament, and refer to two verses that have traditionally been used to support a theory of God’s universal salvific will.
First is John 3:16, which reads “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that everyone believing into Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The Christian Confession of Faith explains these words as referring to “all men without distinction”, not “all men without exception”7
Wesley explains the words “all men” as referring to God’s love for “all men under heaven; even those that despise his love, and will for that cause finally perish”; that is, all men without exception. But the context does not support Wesley’s interpretation, because Jesus is there speaking to Nicodemus, a Pharisee (v. 1). At that time, the question being debated by the Rabbis was not whether all human beings without exception were the objects of God’s love, but whether any of the Gentiles were so loved by God. Most of the Rabbis were of the opinion that the Messiah’s mission would be to judge and destroy the nations of “the world”8. Jesus’ teaching that God’s love extended beyond the borders of Israel, to the nations of “the world”, likely came as a severe shock to this “teacher of Israel” (v.10). Indeed, so great was the hatred of the Jews for this doctrine that it became the occasion of the first persecution of Jesus by the Jews (Luk 4:25-28); but Paul asserts that this very doctrine is the “mystery of Christ” (Eph 3:4-6).
Notice how the word “world” is used in the following verses:
Luk 12: (30) For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need these things.
Joh 12: (19) Then the Pharisees said to themselves, Observe that you gain nothing. Behold, the world has gone after Him.
1Jo 5: (19) We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the evil.
In each of these verses, the word “world” cannot mean “all men without exception”. Clearly the only meaning that can be given in each verse is “all men without distinction”.
Similarly, 1Ti 2:4, which reads “who desires all men to be saved and to come to a full knowledge of truth.” Wesley explains the words “all men” as referring to God’s desire to save all men without exception, “Not a part only, much less the smallest part.”
Again, the Christian Confession of Faith explains these words as referring to “all men without distinction”, not “all men without exception”9. And again, the context shows what Paul means by the phrase “all men” in verse 1: “I exhort [that] petitions, prayers, supplications, [and] thanksgivings be made on behalf of all men….” Surely, Paul is not commanding that “petitions, prayers, supplications, [and] thanksgivings” be made on behalf of all men without exception, but on behalf of all men without distinction. This command would be especially relevant in a time when Christians were severely persecuted by the “kings and all the ones being in high position” (v. 2). The temptation for these Christians to refuse to pray for the rulers and magistrates who were persecuting them must have been strong. Therefore, Paul is commanding Christians to pray for all men without distinction (kings and commoners, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, etc.) because God has his elect scattered among all men without distinction.
Predestination: Unconditional Election
The doctrine of eternal, unconditional predestination clearly removes the preconditions of salvation from the hands of Man and places them exclusively in the hands of God. Knowing this, John Wesley passionately hated eternal predestination, and exchanged it for a theory of indeterminate, conditional election, and an indeterminate decree:
Wesley’s theory of an indeterminate decree sets forth a God who, before time began, looked forward through history, and saw who would believe and who would not. He then “predestined” those who would believe to eternal life, and those who would not to eternal death. This ingenious theory has a certain attraction to it, because it seems to make use of the scriptural doctrine of God’s foreknowledge. But note that the actual agent of salvation in this scheme is the sinner, not God. The absurdity of this theory can be set forth with a few simple illustrations.
First, consider the case of the Apostle Peter. It is certainly true that before time began, God could look down through history and see that Peter would one day believe the Gospel, and be eternally saved. Now I ask you, could Peter have avoided believing the Gospel, and going to heaven? If the Arminian answers, “Yes, Peter could surely have avoided believing the Gospel, and going to heaven, if he had so desired,” then I ask you, what was it that God foresaw about Peter? If God foresaw that Peter would be regenerated and finally glorified, then Peter must eventually become regenerated and finally glorified. Peter could not avoid being eternally saved, or else God’s foreknowledge is a meaningless term. The Arminian is caught in a bind, because if God foreknew that Peter would be regenerated and finally glorified, then it is impossible that Peter could be eternally lost.
Next, consider the case of Judas. Just as with Peter, it is certainly true that before time began, God could look down through history and see that Judas would betray Christ, and be eternally lost. Now I ask you, could Judas have avoided betraying Christ, and being eternally lost? If the Arminian answers, “Yes, Judas could surely have believed the Gospel, and gone to heaven, if he had so desired,” then I ask you, what was it that God foresaw about Judas? If God foresaw that Judas would betray Christ, and be eternally lost, then Judas must eventually betray Christ, and be eternally lost. Judas could not avoid being eternally lost, or else God’s foreknowledge is a meaningless term. The Arminian is caught in a bind, because if God foreknew that Judas would betray Christ, and be eternally lost, then it is impossible that Judas could be eternally saved. If one admits to the doctrine of God’s foreknowledge, then the doctrine of eternal, unconditional election is virtually a forgone conclusion.
Now consider the case of Pharaoh’s dream, from chapter 41 of the book of Genesis.
Genesis 41: (1) And it happened at the end of two years of days, Pharaoh was dreaming. And, lo, he was standing by the River. (2) And, behold! Seven cows [were] going up from the River, beautiful of appearance and fat of flesh; and they were feeding in the reeds. (3) And, behold, seven other cows [were] going up after them from the River, evil of appearance and lean of flesh. And they were standing beside the cows on the lip of the River. (4) And the evil-appearing and lean-fleshed cows were eating the seven cows of beautiful and fat appearance. And Pharaoh awoke.
In this dream, Pharaoh was made to view events that would take place over the next 14 years. Joseph interpreted this dream to mean that Egypt was about to endure seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine (v. 29-31).
Now suppose that Pharaoh actually tried to assert that he himself had in fact decreed that there would be seven years of plenty and seven years of famine to come on Egypt. Could this assertion possibly be taken seriously? Any idiot can see that Pharaoh did not have the slightest role in determining which of the coming years would be years of plenty and which of the years would be years of famine. Pharaoh was entirely a passive observer, merely receiving information that had already been determined in advance by someone else. Yet this is precisely the role that is given to God by the Wesleyan theory of an indeterminate decree. This theory so fully removes God from his sovereignty over creation that he is reduced to being a mere spectator over events which he dare not orchestrate, lest (forsooth!) he infringe upon the critically important free-will of Man.
Here again, Wesley’s arguments against the doctrine of unconditional election were voiced against the Paul the Apostle:
Rom 9: (19) You will then say to me, Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will?
But how does the Apostle answer the objection? Not, as per Wesley, by insisting on the vital role of free-will in the salvation of man, but by insisting on the vital role of the sovereignty of God in the salvation of man:
Rom 9: (20) 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?
This very objection to Paul’s doctrine demonstrates how wrong Wesley was about the nature of predestination. Not only can this objection not be raised against Wesley’s doctrine of an indeterminate decree, but Wesley himself raises it against the doctrine of unconditional election. We have already seen that Wesley’s arguments against unconditional election depend on the premise that God cannot hold people accountable if God has already determined whether they will go to Heaven or Hell. After all, who resists his will?
At this point, it will be instructive to examine in detail a sermon which Wesley preached and printed on the topic of predestination. The sermon is called “Free Grace” (7:373, Sermon 128), and it is famous in Calvinistic circles because George Whitefield responded to this sermon with A Letter from George Whitefield to the Rev Mr. John Wesley In Answer to Mr. Wesley’s Sermon entitled: “Free Grace” 10, that has been reprinted many times. Whitefield’s letter will also be examined in some detail here.
But while many Calvinists have read Whitefield’s Answer, comparatively few have seen Wesley’s actual sermon. For the sake of comparison, I will place quotes from Wesley’s sermon and Whitefield’s response in parallel columns. Notice that in these quotes, Wesley makes the accusation that the doctrine of Election destroys: (1) Preaching; (2) Holiness, Love, & Meekness; (3) Comfort; (4) Good Works; (5) the doctrine of Revelation.
Whitefield’s response here is exactly right. Wesley thinks he has put forth a logical dilemma that invalidates the doctrine of predestination from the very beginning: the elect will be saved whether they hear the preaching of the Gospel or not, and the non-elect will be damned whether they hear the preaching of the Gospel or not. But Whitefield demonstrates a third alternative which is that God, in his sovereignty, has decreed that the elect will be saved by the means of preaching (Rom 10:9). Thus, the preaching of the Gospel is as crucial to the salvation of the elect as the rising sun, or the falling rain, is to the growing plants: God could have caused plants to grow without either sun or rain, but has instead decreed that the sun and rain will be the instruments through which plant growth will occur. In the same way, God has decreed that the preaching of the Gospel will be the instrument through which the elect will hear and believe the Gospel.
Here, Wesley tries to apply his ‘logical dilemma’ to the Christian’s striving for holiness: it is of no need to the elect, because they will inevitably be saved, with or without it; and it is of no need to the non-elect, because they will inevitably be lost, with or without it. But again, Whitefield puts forth a third alternative which is that striving for holiness may well be the means by which God brings his blessings to a Christian.
This time, however, Whitefield’s answer to Wesley’s ‘dilemma’ is not quite so appropriate as was his previous answer. The truth is that a Christian does not merely strive for holiness from the bare possibility that God will bless him, but out of love and thankfulness for what God has already accomplished on his behalf, and for what God has promised to do in the future. (And we have seen that those things which God has promised can only absolutely come about if God is absolutely sovereign over the universe.) This teaching is put forth in the Christian Confession of Faith:
The function of God’s law is to show forth God’s perfect standard of righteousness that His people may … strive to obey Him out of love, thankfulness, and a desire to glorify Him. [Exo 20:20; Deu 6:1-9; Deu 6:10-19; Deu 6:20-25; Deu 8:1-10; Deu 8:11-18; Deu 10:12-13; Deu 13:4; Jos 1:8; Jos 23:6; 1Sa 15:22; Psa 1:2; Psa 119:2; Psa 119:4-6; Psa 119:10-11; Psa 119:16; Psa 119:55; Psa 119:60; Psa 119:72; Psa 119:77; Psa 119:97; Psa 119:109; Psa 119:112; Psa 119:129; Psa 119:166-168; Ecc 12:13; Mat 22:37-40; Joh 14:15; Joh 14:21; Rom 6:1-2; Rom 6:11-13; 1Co 6:20; Eph 5:15-21; Heb 12:28-29]11
This section of the Confession is discussing the relationship of the Christian to the Law. Among other things, the Law is a guide for Christians, to show them what is pleasing to God, and what is not pleasing to him. What is of importance here is that the motive that prompts a Christian to obey God is “love, thankfulness, and a desire to glorify Him.” This love, thankfulness, and desire to glorify Him is a result of the sure and certain work that Jesus Christ has done on behalf of the Christian’s soul; and that sure-ness and certainty is grounded in the absolute sovereignty of God.12 As with human responsibility, a Christian’s striving for holiness is not destroyed by the sovereignty of God, it is based on the sovereignty of God!
It is appropriate to note here that Wesley, in applying his ‘logical dilemma’ about predestination to a Christian’s striving for holiness, merely speaks in generalities. He does not provide any specific names of predestinarians who use predestination as an excuse for their sin in this way. But in a later exchange with Augustus Toplady on the same topic, Wesley received a specific example of an Arminian who definitely used free-will as an excuse for his sin:
“This … was the refuge and [Greek – kresfudeton] of that grand propagator of Arminianism, Mr. Thompson. When he was in a fit of intemperance, if any one reminded him of the wrath of God threatened against such courses, he would answer, I am a child of the devil to-day; but I have free-will; and to morrow I will make myself a child of God.” Hickman’s Animadv. on Heylin, p.91, and 227.13
Unlike Wesley, Toplady does not give vague and nameless accusations against the doctrine of free-will. Instead, he presents us with a specific person (who, incidentally was Andrew Thompson, one of the translators of the 1611 King James Bible) who deliberately planned how to use free-will as an excuse for his sin.
Whitefield is surely correct in saying that a doctrine should not be judged “entirely from the practice of some that profess to hold” it. So, for example, it is not fair to judge Christianity on the basis of the Crusades or the Salem witch trials, both of which can be condemned by Christians on the basis of Matthew 5:43-44. Both the Crusaders and the witch-hunters were doing things that Jesus forbade, so they cannot be used as proof that the rest of his teachings were false. Similarly, someone who believes in predestination, yet lives in open sin, can be condemned by his own doctrine, in that God has sovereignly commanded that his people flee from sin, and pursue holiness. The fact that God has predestined even the sins of his own people does not exonerate them from their sins, any more than it exonerated the sins of Herod, Pilate, Judas, or anyone else connected with the execution of Jesus Christ. Their sins were predetermined (Act 4:27-28), but they were still responsible for their sins.
I have been in contact with a number of people who professed a belief in predestination, but were very careless about sin. It should be noted, however, that none of these people used predestination as an excuse for their sin; they were simply unconcerned with it, indicating that they did not really understand the significance of the doctrines they professed to hold. Nor did they understand the connection that the Bible makes between predestination and holiness (the verses that Whitefield referred to – 2 Thess. 2:13 and Col 3:12-13 – are good examples). By its very nature, predestination condemns anyone who would seek to use it as an excuse for their sin.
But the doctrine of free-will does not escape so easily when an Arminian lives in open sin. Mr. Thompson’s behavior goes well beyond the case of someone who lives in a manner contrary to the values he professes to hold. He deliberately planned how to use free-will as an excuse for his sin. Certainly, most Arminians would be disgusted at the reasoning of Mr. Thompson. But the conclusion that he arrived at is a perfectly logical deduction from the doctrine of free-will. If I have the power within myself to make myself a child of God, then I can exercise that power whenever I please. Why not enjoy your sin for as long as you can? Why not ‘live like the devil Monday through Saturday’, as long as you get yourself ‘cleaned up’ on Sunday?
An Arminian might well argue that a person never knows when he will die, so he should be careful to avoid sin, pursue holiness, and repent of any known sin. But this argument does not resolve the basic problem that Arminianism has, which Mr. Thompson so craftily exploited for the purpose of excusing his sin. The problem is that free-will makes Man the determining factor in his own salvation. Free-will allows Man to take a little more time to enjoy his sin before becoming a child of God, if that is what Man wants. Free-will allows Man to experiment with being a child of God, and then go back to being a child of the devil, if Man decides against being a child of God. Free-will allows Man to vacillate between being a child of God and a child of the devil a thousand times a day, if it suits Man’s pleasure. Free-will thus makes an absolute mockery of the sovereignty of God in salvation. With Man so obviously in control of his own eternal destiny, would anyone believe that God has any sovereignty whatsoever in the salvation of his people?
Furthermore, the Arminian argument that “a person never knows when he will die, so he should be careful to avoid sin, pursue holiness, and repent of any known sin”, only serves to highlight another fundamental problem with free-will, which is that if a person, at the moment of his death, fails to “avoid sin, pursue holiness, and repent of any known sin” then he would be lost forever! This consideration ought to terrify anyone who seriously contemplates the infinite holiness and majesty of God, and the perfect hatred he has for sin. It ought to cause a serious Arminian to spend every waking hour trying to remember and repent of every known sin, never knowing if he has failed to avoid or repent of some sin that might finally condemn him to hell. Thus, the assurance, comfort, and security of the Gospel, which is made absolutely certain by divine predestination, is utterly dissolved by the doctrine of free-will.
This leads into Wesley’s next argument against Predestination:
Here again, Whitefield’s answer to Wesley is appropriate, but it still doesn’t cover the full argument that Wesley is making. Wesley could not himself know from experience whether the doctrine of election promotes or undermines Christian happiness and comfort. To a Christian however, the doctrine of election provides great comfort and happiness, because it assures him that God has predetermined all of his trials, all of his successes, all of his failures, all of his good works, and all of his sins. The doctrine of election assures a Christian that all of his efforts at evangelism will ultimately accomplish the will of God, whether that will is for a given person to be saved, or for him to be hardened. And election assures a Christian that God will not, cannot, abandon him, forsake him, or otherwise fail to bring him to final glory. And unlike the Arminian, a Christian need never fear that he has failed to repent of all his sins, or that he might revert to a lost state before his death, and so be eternally lost, because God has predestined even the repentance and perseverance of his elect people. This is taught in the Christian Confession of Faith:
When God saves a person, He preserves that person from ever returning to a state of lostness and from ever being punished in hell. [Psa 31:23; Psa 37:24; Psa 37:28; Psa 55:22; Psa 66:9; Psa 121:3-8; Pro 2:7-8; Jer 32:39-40; Joh 6:40; Joh 10:28-29; Rom 8:30-39; Eph 1:13-14; Phi 1:6; 2Th 3:3; 2Ti 1:12; 2Ti 4:18; 1Pe 1:3-5; Jud 1:24]14
But Wesley’s argument approaches the question from the perspective of the unsaved. Does the unsaved person need to fear that he might be reprobate?
Not at all. Before a person comes to believe the Gospel, it is simply impossible to know if he is elect or reprobate. That distinction is known only to God, and he has not chosen to reveal it to us. This doctrine is also taught in the Christian Confession of Faith:
The exact number of the elect is known only to God Himself; it cannot be increased or diminished. The elect of God are scattered among every tribe, nation, and language on earth. [Deu 29:29; Joh 6:37-39; Joh 10:14; Joh 17:9, 2Ti 2:19; Rev 7:9]15
A person who wants to know whether he is elect or reprobate before he will believe the Gospel is enquiring about the wrong thing. He must first believe the Gospel, and then, and only then, will he know that he is one of God’s elect. A soul, even an elect soul, is not saved by believing in the predestinating work of God the Father, but in the propitiating work of God the Son. But once a soul has truly come to believe in the propitiating work of God the Son, then the assurance, comfort, and security of the predestinating work of God the Father is his by right.
Now, Wesley might well deride this assurance, comfort, and security as merely “a notion, a speculative belief, a bare opinion” but a doctrine, any doctrine, is far more definite and infallible than any feelings a person might have. Feelings change with a person’s attitudes, emotions, and circumstances, but doctrines do not. This is why the Christian Confession of Faith explicitly grounds the assurance of salvation, not on feelings, emotions, or any kind of sentimentality, but exclusively on the doctrine of the Gospel:
God gives every believer assurance of salvation. The believer’s assurance does not lie in his obedience to the law, his continued repentance, or anything else but in the sure and certain promise of God through the work of Jesus Christ alone received by faith. [2Sa 23:5; Psa 5:11; Psa 9:10; Psa 32:10; Psa 34:22; Psa 62:1-2; Psa 62:5-7; Psa 64:10; Psa 125:1; Psa 130:7-8; Psa 147:11; Isa 26:3; Isa 32:17; Jer 17:7-8; Nah 1:7; Rom 5:1; Rom 8:15-16; Rom 8:33-39; Rom 9:33; 2Co 1:18-22; Eph 3:12; Phi 1:6; Col 2:2; 1Th 1:5; 2Ti 1:12; Heb 6:11; Heb 6:16-19; Heb 10:22; Heb 11:1; Rev 5:9]16
Contrary to what Wesley believed, a Christian does not derive his happiness from “a feeling possession of God in [his] heart”, but from the doctrine of the Gospel, and its necessary implication, eternal predestination.
Here again, Whitefield’s answer is on the right track, but it doesn’t adequately respond to Wesley’s argument, which is essentially that Calvinists cannot feel any love for the “evil and unthankful”, and so cannot do any good deeds toward them. Whitefield here presents his own personal experience with the doctrine of predestination. He has already wondered aloud how Wesley can know that a belief in predestination destroys the “comfort of religion”. The same question could be presented here: how can Wesley know that predestinarians have less love for the lost than those who believe in free-will, since he never believed in predestination himself?
But a more direct answer to this argument is that Christians do not do good works from a love to the people involved, but from a love to God. This argument has already been proven, above, in answer to Wesley’s charge that the doctrine of election “has a manifest tendency to destroy holiness in general”. So far from destroying “holiness in general” the doctrine of election inspires a Christian to good works from “love, thankfulness, and a desire to glorify” God.17
Whitefield’s answer to Wesley’s final accusation is as appropriate as was his answer to Wesley’s first accusation. Wesley thinks he has put forth a logical dilemma that finally invalidates the doctrine of predestination: the elect will be saved whether the Gospel is revealed to them from the Scriptures, or not; and the non-elect will be damned whether the Gospel is revealed to them or not. But again, Whitefield demonstrates a third alternative which is that God, in his sovereignty, has decreed that the elect will be saved by the means of the revelation of the Gospel from the Scriptures. Thus, the revelation of the Gospel is as crucial to the salvation of the elect as the rising sun, or the falling rain, is to the growing plants: God could have caused plants to grow without either sun or rain, but has instead decreed that the sun and rain will be the instruments through which plant growth will occur. In the same way, God has decreed that the revelation of the Gospel from the Scriptures will be another instrument (besides preaching) through which the elect will come to believe the Gospel.
The Doctrine of Reprobation
So far, despite the fact that Whitefield approached Wesley as his brother in Christ, Whitefield’s letter has been logical and biblical in refuting Wesley’s accusations against Election. But, there is one important area where Whitefield was not quite as logical. The fact is that Wesley’s sermon doesn’t begin with an examination of the doctrine of Election, but with an examination of the doctrine of Reprobation:
But methinks I hear one say, “This [reprobation] is not the predestination which I hold: I hold only the election of grace. What I believe is no more than this …. the rest of mankind God leaves to themselves: So they follow the imaginations of their own hearts, which are only evil continually, and, waxing worse and worse, are at length justly punished with everlasting destruction.” Is this all the predestination which you hold? Consider; perhaps this is not all. Do not you believe God ordained them to this very thing? If so, you believe the whole decree. … I would ask one or two questions: Are any who are not thus elected saved? or were any, from the foundation of the world? Is it possible any man should be saved unless he be thus elected? If you say, “No”, you are but where you was [sic]; you are not got one hair’s breadth farther; you still believe, that, in consequence of an unchangeable, irresistible decree of God, the greater part of mankind abide in death, without any possibility of redemption; inasmuch as none can save them but God and he will not save them. You believe he hath absolutely decreed not to save them; and what is this, but decreeing to damn them? It is, in effect, neither more nor less; it comes to the same thing; (7:374-5, Sermon 128 Free Grace)
Wesley began his sermon with a discussion of Reprobation because he knew very well how strongly the flesh hates this doctrine. It is the one doctrine which is most disagreeable to the carnal mind. It was disagreeable to Wesley’s carnal mind because it most effectively dethroned his idolatrous god — the one who loves everyone equally, and wishes that everyone could be saved. In its place, Reprobation enthrones the Lord God Almighty — the Potter who has every right to do with his creatures as he alone sees fit. It is no coincidence that the Arminians at the Synod of Dordt began with the same tactic, or that many modern Arminians make use of it. To the carnal mind, this is the weak spot in the “armor” of Predestination. Historically, of course, most Calvinists have tried to duck around this “nasty implication” of Election, by pleading a Passive Reprobation. Whitefield himself replied to this part of Wesley’s sermon:
I frankly acknowledge: I believe the doctrine of reprobation, in this view, that … the rest of mankind, after the fall of Adam, being justly left of God to continue in sin, will at last suffer that eternal death which is its proper wages.
But this reply fails to answer Wesley’s accusation, “You believe he hath absolutely decreed not to save them; and what is this, but decreeing to damn them? It is, in effect, neither more nor less; it comes to the same thing;”. If Active Reprobation is rejected because it seems to make God a tyrant, is Passive Reprobation a proper substitute? The answer of course, is that God cannot be a tyrant, no matter what he does. Whatever he does is just, by virtue of the fact that it is God doing it. If he determines to cause a certain people to choose death over life, he is perfectly just in doing so. Active Reprobation should not be so easily dismissed.
Let the following Scripture verses decide if there is such a thing as Active Reprobation:
Exo 9: (12) And Jehovah hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to them, as Jehovah had said to Moses.
Psa 105: (25) He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants.
Rom 9: (18) So, then, to whom He desires, He shows mercy, And to whom He desires He hardens.
Rev 17: (17) For God gave into their hearts to do His mind, and to act in one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.
Obviously the Bible does not teach, as Whitefield and other tolerant Calvinists would have it, that men harden themselves. In these verses, the Bible teaches that God actively hardens the hearts of the reprobate, and actively causes them to hate his Gospel, and persecute his people, for the purpose of glorifying his justice in damning their souls to Hell. And this is the teaching of the Christian Confession of Faith:
God actively causes the reprobate to hate His glory, persecute His people, and oppose His gospel, that He may justly punish them. [Exo 7:3; 9:12; Jos 11:20; 1Sa 2:25; Psa 105:25; Rom 9:18; Rev 17:17]
God does not have any love toward the reprobate or any desire to save them, for God does not show love at the expense of His justice. The good things that God gives to them in this life lead only to their destruction, increasing their guilt for their thanklessness to God. Jesus Christ did not die for the reprobate in any sense, and they do not benefit in any sense from His death. …. [Psa 2:4-5; 5:5-6; 11:5; 73:11-12; 92:7; Pro 3:32-33; 11:20; 12:2; 16:4-5; 17:15; Joh 3:16; 15:22; 17:9; Rom 9:13; 1Ti 2:4; 1Pe 2:8; 1Jo 2:2; 4:10]18
That the doctrine of Reprobation should fill us with fear and trembling is readily granted. It should make us fall before our Maker in the most profound humiliation. That we should not preach on it more often than we preach on Election is also granted. Reprobation must always be subservient to Election; it causes the elect to be thankful that they are not of the number of the reprobate. And, contrary to Wesley’s assertion that we cannot help thinking of any particular man as a reprobate, we can only conclude that someone was reprobate when they have died in unbelief. So long as a person is alive, there is always a possibility that God will regenerate him in the future, no matter how hardened he may be currently. However, by no means should we make attempts to soften the Bible’s testimony about the Sovereignty of God, simply because Arminians don’t like it.
We should also notice that the argument Wesley used to attack Passive Reprobation is the very same argument that is used today by those predestinarians who uphold Active Reprobation: Passive Reprobation is inconsistent and illogical. Regrettably, too many Moderate Calvinists rejoice in inconsistency, and delight in “paradox”, apparently in an attempt to make Calvinism more attractive to Arminians. They should take a lesson from Wesley and realize that in pleading “paradox” they succeed in fooling only themselves. Wesley saw right through such equivocation.
Did Wesley Believe The Truth?
But there is yet another aspect of Wesley’s sermon which we never seem to hear about. Towards the end of his reply, Whitefield says, “I purposely omit making any further particular remarks on the several last pages of your sermon.” The pages he refers to are eye-opening.
For, Seventhly, it is a doctrine full of blasphemy; of such blasphemy as I should dread to mention, but the honour of our gracious God, and the cause of his truth, will not suffer me to be silent. In the cause of God, then, and from a sincere concern for the glory of his great name I will mention a few of the horrible blasphemies contained in this horrible doctrine. …. This premised, let it be observed, that this doctrine represents our blessed Lord, “Jesus Christ the righteous,” “the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth,” as an hypocrite, a deceiver of the people, a man void of common sincerity. … yea, it represents the most holy God as worse than the devil, as both more false, more cruel, and more unjust. … This is the blasphemy clearly contained in the horrible decree of predestination! And here I fix my foot. Here I join issue with every assertor of it. You represent God as worse than the devil; more false, more cruel, and more unjust. …. This is the blasphemy for which (however I love the persons who assert it) I abhor the doctrine of predestination,…. He forceth us to be damned; for we cannot resist his will. [cf Rom 9:19-20 — CA] ….” O how would the enemy of God and man rejoice to hear these things were so! …. Sing, O hell, and rejoice, ye that are under the earth! For God, even the mighty God, hath spoken, and devoted to death thousands of souls, from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof! Here, O death, is thy sting! Here, O grave, is thy victory! Nations yet unborn, or ever they have done good or evil, are doomed [cf. Rom 9:11 — CA] never to see the light of life, but thou shalt gnaw upon them for ever and ever! Let all those morning stars sing together, who fell with Lucifer, son of the morning! Let all the sons of hell shout for joy! (7:381-4, Sermon 128 Free Grace, emph. in original)
These quotes should settle forever the Moderate Calvinist objection that “Arminians are Calvinists when they are on their knees”; the implication being that Arminians secretly believe Predestination, though they won’t admit it. Do these quotes give the impression that Wesley secretly believed Predestination, but just couldn’t quite admit it? Can anything be clearer than that Wesley was one of “those not believing the truth, but who have delighted in unrighteousness.” (2 Thess 2:12)?
Obviously Wesley had a thoroughly deficient view of the glory of God; he believed that God was in heaven, looking helplessly down on the world and wishing he could do something about it, if only people would let him. This is not the true and living God of the Bible; this is not even a sincere misunderstanding of the Bible. This is a demonic lie, an idolatrous monster pawning itself off as Almighty God. This is a lie of Satan; albeit not one that proclaims itself to be a lie of Satan, but one that disguises itself as an angel of light. Yet for that very reason, it is all the more insidious.
In the previous chapter, we saw how the Bible condemns false teaching about God and his work as idolatry. There, I defined idolatry as “attributing a characteristic to God that he doesn’t possess, or not attributing to him a characteristic that he does possess.” Idolatry is not merely carving an idol and bowing down to it. Almost anything can be an idol, including a person or even an idea. For example, the Roman Catholic conception of Mary is idolatrous, because she is seen as necessary to intercede on our behalf with Jesus. But on the contrary, only Jesus can intercede for us, because not only is he the one who has partaken of our flesh and blood (Heb 2:14), but he is also the one who is the “express image” of God (Heb 1:3). Therefore, he alone is worthy to be our intercessor (Job 9:33, Heb 2:17). To say that God accepts the intercession of Mary is to attribute a characteristic to God that he doesn’t possess — the willingness to accept the prayers and intercessions of a mere human, based on that person’s own merits. Another example of idolatry is the Arian view of Jesus taken by Jehovah’s Witnesses. They have refused to attribute to Christ the nature of God. Does it really matter if they name their idol “Jesus”? Of course not! It’s still an idol!
For the same reason, I label the Wesleyan jesus an idol. Wesley’s conception of God was far removed from the God of the Bible. And the differences were not merely trivial, or the result of a “sincere misunderstanding”. The “God” in whom Wesley trusted, and the “Jesus” whom he preached, were the polar opposites of the God and Jesus of the Bible. Wesley’s “Gospel” was not based on such a sure foundation as the sovereignty of God, and therefore, it was the polar opposite of the Gospel of the Bible.
1Christian Confession of Faith II.A.1-2; www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfii.htm
8For details of this controversy, see John Gill, Exposition of the Entire Bible in Joh 3:16, and John Lightfoot, A Commentary of the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, in Joh 3:17
12See Christian Confession of Faith, II.C.3 and II.C.4.; www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfii.htm
13Works of Augustus Toplady (Sprinkle Publications, Harrisonburg, VA , 1987) p. 579