April 20, 2014
Over the past several months, I have been refuting the doctrine put forth in the e-Sword module “5 Points of Calvinism Refuted”. Last week, we examined our author’s faulty definition and explanation of Irresistible Grace. This week, we’ll look at some of the author’s arguments against this gospel doctrine. (To see the rest of the posts in this series, select ‘Steve Rudd’ from the ‘Categories’ drop down list to the right.) Read the rest of this entry »
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