October 27, 2011
V. Soteriology – The Doctrine of Salvation
By far the most important doctrine taught by Wesley was his gospel. The doctrines examined above are all foundational to this one. The gospel a man believes is that which reveals his heart; it reveals the grounds upon which he is resting for salvation and peace with God. A man can believe many wrong things (in Eschatology, or Ecclesiology, for example), but if he believes the Gospel, he will go to Heaven. And a man can be correct in everything else, but if he does not believe the Gospel, he will go to Hell. It is as clear cut as that. The Gospel is the one thing that matters above all else.
Here is how the Christian Confession of Faith defines the Gospel:
The gospel is God’s promise to save His people, giving them all the blessings of salvation from regeneration to final glory, conditioned exclusively on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, totally apart from the sinner’s works and efforts. It reveals the righteousness of God – how God is just to justify the ungodly based on the work of Jesus Christ alone. The gospel is not merely the fact that Jesus lived, died, and rose again, considered apart from the purpose of these truths, which were accomplished to establish a righteousness for all whom Jesus represented. [Gen 15:5-6; Psa 103:2-12; Psa 130:3-4; Isa 1:18; Isa 45:21-25; Jer 33:14-16; Mat 1:21; Joh 3:16; Act 13:32-39; Rom 1:16-17; Rom 3:21-26; Rom 4:5-8; Rom 4:13-25; Rom 10:4; Rom 10:15; 1Co 15:1-8; 2Co 1:20; 2Co 5:21; Eph 1:3-23; Eph 2:1-22; Eph 3:6; Col 1:5; 2Ti 1:1; 2Ti 1:9-10; Heb 10:4-17]1
As I have said, the Gospel is not merely the life, death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It includes that, but it involves more; specifically, why he endured a life, death, burial, and resurrection. The Gospel is God’s promise to save sinners, giving them remission of sins, fellowship with himself, and the full inheritance of grace, exclusively based on the righteousness established by Jesus Christ alone (Gen 3:15, Isa 53:5, Rom 3:21-23, I Pet 3:18). As you can see, there are a lot of implications to this message. Any message that bases salvation, or any part of it, to any degree on the sinner is a false gospel that can only lead its followers to hell (Matt 15:14).
It is by this message, this Gospel, that Wesley’s “gospel” must be judged, not the sinful desires and inclinations of our own hearts. People by nature are inclined to believe that anyone is saved whose behavior is moral and sincere. But who was more moral and sincere than the Pharisees? Who was more moral and sincere than Saul of Tarsus? The question is not whether a person is moral and sincere, but what is the reason for their morality? The only morality acceptable to God is morality based on a selfless desire to please and glorify God alone. Among sinful humanity, this kind of morality can only come from thankfulness for what God has already accomplished for the sinner in the person of his Son. Did Wesley have this kind of thankfulness, or was his morality based on a need to persevere in the faith? Did he believe and preach that salvation was conditioned on Christ alone, or that it was conditioned on John Wesley? Was he relying on his faith as the basis of his acceptance with God? Was he relying on something other than the merits of the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ to recommend him to God?
Is Faith a Condition for Justification?
These five quotes, above, put forth a very common heresy (though most who proclaim it aren’t usually this bold and forthright about it): that faith is the condition of justification. Can this be? Looking back at our definition of “the Gospel”, we see that it cannot possibly be. Not if the whole of Salvation is “conditioned exclusively on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, totally apart from the sinner’s works and efforts”. Instead, saving faith believes that it was Christ who met all the conditions! This is taught by the Christian Confession of Faith:
Faith is not a condition of or prerequisite to salvation; instead, faith believes that Jesus Christ alone met all the conditions for salvation. … [Isa 45:24-25; Isa 51:5; Luk 17:10; Joh 1:12-13; Joh 5:24; Joh 6:29; Act 13:39; Rom 3:20-28; Rom 4:1-5; Rom 4:14-25; Rom 5:1; Rom 9:16; Rom 9:30-33; Rom 11:6; Gal 2:16; Gal 3:6-12; Gal 5:2-6; Eph 2:8-9; Phi 3:9; Heb 11:4; Heb 11:7]2
There are no conditions that a sinner can meet in order to by justified. Any other Gospel is anathema (Gal 1:8), even if it does have “a form of godliness” (2 Tim 3:5), as Wesley’s false gospel certainly did.
We must not be distracted by the fact that, both in his sermons and in his hymns, Wesley talked about salvation being a free gift, and that it was accomplished by grace. The problem is not that he didn’t use these phrases; the problem is that when he used them, he didn’t mean what the Bible means by them. Wesley saw human free will as taken away by the Fall, but restored by the Grace of God:
I only assert, that there is a measure of free-will supernaturally restored to every man, (10:229-31, Predestination Calmly Considered)
We both [Wesley and Fletcher] steadily assert that the will of man is by nature free only to evil. Yet we both believe that every man has a measure of free-will restored to him by grace. (10:392, Remarks On Mr. Hills ‘Review’; Sept. 9, 1772)
Therefore, he could at one moment speak of salvation being entirely by the grace of God, and in the next moment, speak of Man fulfilling conditions for salvation. What he believed all along was that salvation is accomplished by Man fulfilling conditions; and that the grace of God simply allowed Man to meet those conditions. This is a very far cry from what the Bible means by the term “grace”.
Next, there is the question of whether one can lose his salvation. Let’s look at what the Confession teaches about the doctrine of Preservation:
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]
There are sins that God, in His sovereign preserving grace, keeps His people from committing. Any sin that God says proves lostness is, by definition, a sin that a believer cannot commit, even temporarily. These include believing in a false gospel, confessing belief in a false gospel, and speaking peace to one who brings a false gospel. [Jer 8:11; Mat 7:18; Mat 24:24; Mar 16:16; Luk 6:45; Rom 10:3; Gal 1:8-10; 1Jo 1:8; 1Jo 1:10; 1Jo 2:22-23; 2Jo 1:9-11]3
What you believe about this doctrine reveals much about what you believe the Gospel really is, because if you believe that a person can lose his salvation, it means that you believe that his salvation was originally conditioned on the sinner, rather than on Christ. Let’s look at what Wesley believed about this doctrine:
Clearly, Wesley taught a salvation conditioned on the sinner, rather than conditioned on Jesus Christ alone. The fact that he insisted it could not be accomplished without the grace of God is irrelevant.
A very subtle heresy is addressed in the last sentence of the last quote, above. If salvation cannot be conditioned on any requirement that the sinner can meet, then can salvation be conditioned on something the Holy Spirit enables the sinner to do? Wesley believed the answer was “Yes”, and taught it in no uncertain terms.
This is one of the greatest of Satan’s lies, that Man is enabled to meet conditions for salvation by the work of the Holy Spirit. Notice that this is not an outright denial of the Gospel; it does not claim to have a salvation conditioned on the sinner, but on the work of God. However, the condition is still one that is met by the sinner. Now matter how much theoretical emphasis is placed on the work of God in regeneration, the condition of a sinner’s acceptance with God is still his own faith, rather than the work of Jesus Christ. And, as we saw with the doctrine of Perfectionism, the work of the Holy Spirit is not even to glorify himself, much less the sinner. His work is to glorify Jesus Christ alone.
Salvation is not conditioned on the gracious work of God the Spirit, any more than on the gracious work of God the Father. If salvation is not exclusively conditioned on God the Son, there is no salvation at all.
Ordo Saludis – the Order of Salvation
Having seen that Wesley placed the ultimate condition for salvation entirely in the hands of Man, we must now examine how Wesley viewed the Ordo Saludis, or Order of Salvation. The Ordo Saludis is the order in which the several steps of Salvation occur for every individual. The great importance of the Ordo Saludis will be seen once it is set out systematically.
First, according to Wesley, the person sincerely uses their Free Will to repent.
Repentance absolutely must go before faith; fruits meet for it, if there be opportunity. By repentance, I mean conviction of sin producing real desires and sincere resolutions of amendment; and by “fruits meet for repentance”, forgiving our brother; (Matt. vi. 14,15;) ceasing from evil, doing good; (Luke iii. 3, 4, 9, &c) using the ordinances of God, and in general obeying him according to the measure of grace which we have received. (Matt. vii. 7; xxv. 29) But these I cannot as yet term good works; because they do not spring from faith and the love of God. …. repentance, or conviction of sin, and fruits meet for repentance, precede that faith whereby we are justified: (8:47 & 51, A Farther Appeal To Men Of Reason And Religion, Dec 18, 1745)
Second, God gives Saving Faith to that person.
Q. 12. What is sincerity? A. Willingness to know and do the whole will of God. …. Q. 14. But can it be conceived that God has any regard to the sincerity of an unbeliever? A. Yes, so much, that, if he persevere therein, God will infallibly give him faith. …. Q. 20. Is not sincerity what St. Paul terms a willing mind, ? (2 Cor. viii. 12) A. Yes: If that word be taken in a general sense. For it is a constant disposition to use all the grace given. (8:288, Minutes of Some Late Conversations, May 13, 1746)
Third, the person exercises Saving Faith, meeting the condition for salvation.
… God now vouchsafes, on one only condition (which himself also enables us to perform) both to remit the punishment due to our sins, to reinstate us in his favour, and to restore our dead souls to spiritual life, as the earnest of life eternal. …. Faith, therefore, is the necessary condition of justification; yea, and the only necessary condition thereof. (5:55 & 62, Sermon 5 Justification By Faith, emph. in orig.)
Fourth, the person becomes elect.
… all who suffer Christ to make them alive are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God,” …. (7:385, Sermon 128 Free Grace)
I believe election means, Secondly, a divine appointment of some men to eternal happiness. But I believe this election to be conditional, as well as the reprobation opposite thereto. I believe the eternal decree concerning both is expressed in those words: “He that believeth shall be saved, he that believeth not shall be damned.” And this decree, without doubt, God will not change, and man cannot resist. (10:210, Predestination Calmly Considered)
“For whom he did foreknow” as believing, “he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (10:218, Predestination Calmly Considered)
This Order of Salvation demonstrates exactly how much of salvation in Wesley’s theology was dependent on the work of Man, and how much was dependent on God. Despite Wesley’s insistence that God still receives the glory for salvation even when free will is the deciding factor, let it be noted that at every step of the Ordo Saludis, Wesley saw Man as active, and God as either passive, or supplying the opportunity for Man to take the lead. Thus, not only the critical deciding factor of free will is attributed to Man, but also repentance, the act of saving faith (God gives the ability to exercise Saving Faith, then waits to see whether the sinner will properly use it), and even personal election all stem from actions performed by the sinner.
This, of course, is the fatal consequence of even beginning to place Salvation in the hands of Man. God will have all the glory for salvation, or he will have none. When one begins taking tiny pieces of the Ordo Saludis from God, one finds that all the rest must be taken as well. Logically, salvation is either “Of the Lord” or “Of Man”. It cannot be half-and-half. It cannot even be 99% God and 1% Man. Any attempt at bringing the effort of Man into salvation, no matter how seemingly innocuous, is utterly destructive of the Gospel, and proud rebellion against God. Once again, we see that Wesley’s gospel νexalts Man, and abases God; let it be anathema (Gal 1:6).
The Nature of Faith
Before getting into what Wesley believed about the nature of faith, let’s look at what the Christian Confession of Faith has to say about it:
Faith is the instrument through which a believer receives the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ and is justified. No man is justified before God by works. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone is diametrically opposed to salvation by works. Scripture rejects the lie that man is able to keep the law of God or even a mere summary of the law as a means of gaining God’s favor, let alone that he is able to obey the law beyond what God requires. [Isa 45:24-25; Isa 51:5; Luk 17:10; Joh 1:12-13; Joh 5:24; Joh 6:29; Act 13:39; Rom 3:20-28; Rom 4:1-5; Rom 4:14-25; Rom 5:1; Rom 9:16; Rom 9:30-33; Rom 11:6; Gal 2:16; Gal 3:6-12; Gal 5:2-6; Eph 2:8-9; Phi 3:9; Heb 11:4; Heb 11:7] 4
This section of the Confession has much to say about the role of faith in salvation, but it does not specifically define the term “Faith”. Let’s look at an important section of Scripture that shows us the nature of faith:
Heb 11: (1) Now faith is [the] essence of things being hoped, the evidence of things not having been seen. (2) For by this the elders obtained witness. (3) By faith we understand the ages to have been framed by [the] Word of God, so that the things seen [should ] not come into being out of things that appear. (4) By faith Abel offered a greater sacrifice to God than Cain, by which he obtained witness to be righteous, God testifying over his gifts; and through it, having died, he yet speaks. (5) By faith “Enoch” was translated so as not to see death, and “was not found, because God translated him.” For before his translation, he had obtained witness to have been pleasing to God. (6) But without faith [it is] impossible to please [God]. For it is right [that] the [one] drawing near to God should believe that He is, and [that] He becomes a rewarder to the [ones] seeking Him out.
Although these verses are specifically discussing the nature and effects of true, God-given faith, we can draw a few conclusions about the nature of faith in general. Verse 1 of Hebrews 11 tells us that “faith is [the] essence of things being hoped”. The word which is here translated “essence” is “υποστασισ”5, which literally means “support” or “foundation”, but more abstractly means “assurance” or “confidence”.
Verse 1 of Hebrews 11 also tells us that “faith is … the evidence of things not having been seen.” The word which is here translated “evidence” is “ελεγκο”6, which literally means “conviction”, “proof”, or “evidence”. Taken together, these two words (“υποστασισ” & “ελεγκο”) show us that a vital part of the nature of faith is the conviction, or the assurance, of some proposition, or set of propositions.
This presupposes that the person who has faith has a knowledge of those propositions. So a suggested definition of faith is: knowledge of, and assent to, a proposition, or set of propositions.
Verse 6 of Hebrews 11 confirms this definition further. There, we are told that the person who has faith believes in God’s existence and goodness. The idea here is that God has revealed to us a set of propositions about himself, his son, and his gospel. Those who have faith are convinced, or assured, that these facts are true, on the basis that it is God who has revealed them. Faith, therefore, reveals a basic trust and confidence in the honesty and goodness of God. Paul elaborates on this point extensively in chapter 4 of Romans:
Rom 4: (3) For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.” (4) Now [to one] working, the reward is not counted according to grace, but according to debt. (5) But to the [one] not working, but believing on Him justifying the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. … (13) For the promise [was] not through Law to Abraham, or to his seed, [for] him to be the heir of the world, but through a righteousness of faith. … (16) On account of this, [it is] of faith, that [it be] according to grace, for the promise to be certain to all the seed, not to that of the Law only, but also to that of [the] faith of Abraham, who is father of us all, (17) according as it has been written, “I have appointed you a father of many nations;” before God, whom he believed, the [One] making the dead live, and calling the things that are not as [if] they were. (18) [He] against hope believed in hope, for him to become a father of many nations, according to what has been said, “So shall your seed be.” (19) And being about a hundred years [old], not weakening in faith, he did not consider his body to have died already, nor yet the death of Sarah’s womb, (20) and did not stagger by unbelief at the promise of God, but was empowered by faith, giving glory to God, (21) and being fully persuaded that what He has promised, He is also able to do. (22) Because of this, “it was also counted to him for righteousness.”
Abraham knew of God’s promise, as well as God’s power and willingness to keep his promises (verse 17). Furthermore, Abraham was personally assured, or convinced, that God would keep his promise, no matter what the outward circumstances appeared to be (verse 21). Abraham’s faith, then, consisted of knowledge and assurance, and these two components form the basis of faith..
What, then, is the proposition (or propositions) that faith has knowledge and assurance of? What is the object of true faith?
Eph 1: (13) in whom also you, hearing the Word of Truth, the gospel of your salvation, in whom also believing you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,
Here, Paul tells us that those who have faith7, and are therefore “sealed with the Holy Spirit”, believe the “Word of Truth”, which he also describes as “the gospel of your salvation”. This then is the difference between true faith, and any false faith: true, godly faith believes the doctrines of the Gospel, while a false faith does not.
In his very first printed sermon, however, Wesley put forth a very different definition of true faith:
What faith is it then through which we are saved? … it is not barely a speculative, rational thing, a cold, lifeless assent, a train of ideas in the head; but also a disposition of the heart. (5:9, Sermon 1, Salvation by Faith)
There are a number of glaring errors here. First, there is the suggestion that a propositional faith is “cold” and “lifeless”. We have already seen that the faith of Abraham was propositional, and that it was anything but cold or lifeless.
Next is the dichotomy Wesley imagines to exist between the head and heart. This dichotomy is a modern, romantic invention, not based on Scripture. In Scripture the heart is the organ that thinks (Gen 6:5, Pro 23:7, Isa 10:7, Php 1:7), plans (Job 17:11, Pro 16:9, Heb 4:12), and meditates (Psa 119:11, Pro 4:4, Isa 33:18, Luk 2:51). Therefore, Scripture verses that show us the role of the “heart” in salvation are not talking about the role of feelings and emotions, but the role of thoughts and doctrines:
Rom 6: (17) But thanks [be] to God that you were slaves of sin, but you obeyed from [the] heart the form of doctrine to which you were delivered.
Rom 10: (9) Because if you confess [the] Lord Jesus with your mouth, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from [the] dead, you will be saved. (10) For with [the] heart [one] believes unto righteousness, and with [the] mouth [one] confesses unto salvation.
2Co 3: (15) But until today, when Moses is being read, a veil lies on their heart.
Heb 13: (9) Do not be carried away by various and strange doctrine; for [it is] good [that] the heart be confirmed by grace, not by food, in which those walking [in them] were not profited.
A “disposition of the heart”, if taken in a biblical sense, would mean “thoughts”, “ideas”, and “doctrines”, not exactly what Wesley was trying to put forth.
Lastly is the assertion that saving faith believes in something more than propositions. That the Gospel consists entirely of propositions has already been shown. A “proposition-less” Gospel simply cannot exist, because the very definition of faith is “knowledge of, and assent to, a proposition”. Therefore, all beliefs about the Gospel (including Wesley’s belief in Free Will, Perfection, and Universal Atonement, just to name a few) are propositional by their very nature, because it is impossible to have faith in anything besides a proposition. Notice that in attempting to add something to the definition of faith beyond “mere” propositions, Wesley has utterly failed to define what that certain something is. He simply calls it “a disposition of the heart”. But precisely what is this disposition? Without a measurable definition of this “disposition”, how will I know if I possess it? Or, for that matter, if anyone else possesses it?
Here, Wesley attempts to provide an answer to the question “What is this disposition of the heart?” (as opposed to a “train of ideas in the head”):
But what is the faith which is properly saving; which brings eternal salvation to all those that keep it to the end? It is such a divine conviction of God, and the things of God, as, even in its infant state, enables every one that possesses it to “fear God and work righteousness.” And, whosoever, in every nation, believes thus far, the Apostle declares, is “accepted of him.” He actually is, at that very moment, in a state of acceptance. (7:198-9, Sermon 106, Saving Faith)
This quote seems to define the “disposition of the heart” that Wesley believed was an integral part of true faith. But in fact it does nothing of the sort. After all, the Pharisees seemed to have a profound “fear of God” and impeccable “works of righteousness”, yet we know that they did not believe the Gospel, because they did not believe in the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity.
Wesley was so eager to denigrate the necessity of propositions and doctrines for the Gospel, that he was willing to teach that the devils believe every word of the Bible:
These articles of our faith [Christ’s incarnation, substitutionary death, resurrection, ascension, exaltation, second coming, judgment] the devils believe, and so they believe all that is written in the Old and New Testament. … Christian faith is, not only to believe that holy Scripture and the Articles of our faith are true, but also to have a sure trust and confidence, … (5:22-3, Sermon 2 The Almost Christian)
For the devil believes, and cannot but believe, all that is written both in the Old and New Testament to be true. (6:395, Sermon 74 Of The Church)
10. Only beware thou do not deceive thy own soul with regard to the nature of this faith. It is not, as some have fondly conceived, a bare assent to the truth of the Bible, of the articles of our creed, or of all that is contained in the Old and New Testament. The devils believe this, as well as I or thou! And yet they are devils still. But it is, over and above this, a sure trust in the mercy of God, through Christ Jesus. It is a confidence in a pardoning God. It is a divine evidence or conviction that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not imputing to them their” former “trespasses;” and, in particular, that the Son of God hath loved me, and given himself for me; and that I, even I, am now reconciled to God by the blood of the cross. (5:84-85, Sermon 7, The Way To The Kingdom)
The Bible does not say very much about what the devils believe, so the theory that they believe “all that is written in the Old and New Testament” is speculation. The book of James says, in chapter two, that the devils believe in the existence of God. This would make them monotheists, perhaps even Trinitarians, but it is quite a stretch from saying that the devils believe in a Trinitarian formula, to saying that they believe in Christ’s substitutionary death, let alone every word of the Bible. Even granting that the devils probably believe most of what is written in the Bible, I find it hard to believe that they can really believe in all of the Bible, including the description of the Devil’s final defeat, imprisonment, and eternal damnation, from Revelation, chapter twenty.
No matter what the devils believe about the contents of the Bible, the fact remains that the Gospel does not benefit them in any way. In order to atone for the sins of his people, Jesus had to be born in their “likeness”. He was not born in the likeness of the fallen angels, and so could not atone for their sin. Therefore, no matter what propositions the devils believe, the Gospel will be of no use to them. The fact that they believe in any proposition from the Bible cannot be used as an argument against the view that the Gospel consists of propositions.
Ironically, Wesley went on to make a couple of statements about the nature of saving faith that actually demonstrate the propositional nature of faith:
Faith in general is a divine, supernatural “ελεγκοs”8evidence or conviction, “of things not seen,” not discoverable by our bodily senses, as being either past, future, or spiritual. Justifying faith implies, not only a divine evidence or conviction that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself;” but a sure trust and confidence that Christ died for my sins, that he loved me, and gave himself for me. Repentance, indeed, God had given him before; but that repentance was neither more nor less than a deep sense of the want of all good, and the presence of all evil. (5:60-61, Sermon 5 Justification By Faith; emph. in orig.)
8. The gospel, (that is, good tidings, good news for guilty, helpless sinners,) in the largest sense of the word, means, the whole revelation made to men by Jesus Christ; and sometimes the whole account of what our Lord did and suffered while he tabernacled among men. The substance of all is, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners;” or, “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end we might not perish, but have everlasting life;” or, “He was bruised for our transgressions, he was wounded for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”
9. Believe this, and the kingdom of God is thine. By faith thou attainest the promise. “He pardoneth and absolveth all that truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his holy gospel.” As soon as ever God hath spoken to thy heart, “Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee,” his kingdom comes: Thou hast “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (5:85, Sermon 7, The Way To The Kingdom, emph. in orig.)
We have already examined the Bible’s use of the word “ελεγκο”, above. Here, Wesley not only teaches that true faith does indeed consist of “ελεγκο”, or “conviction”, “proof”, or “evidence” of the truth of the Gospel, but even supplies us with a proposition that saving faith believes. Admittedly, that proposition is “Universal Atonement”, but even so, it is a proposition, that “cold, lifeless assent”, that “train of ideas in the head” that he so dreaded. In a backhanded way, this quote actually confirms the view that the Gospel consists of propositions.
Nevertheless, Wesley was not prepared to consistently teach that the gospel is propositional. For Wesley, the object of saving faith did not have to be clearly understood:
I believe the merciful God regards the lives and tempers of men more than their ideas. I believe he respects the goodness of the heart, rather than the clearness of the head; and that if the heart of a man be filled (by the grace of God, and the power of his Spirit) with the humble, gentle, patient, love of God and man, God will not cast him into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels, because his ideas are not clear, or because his conceptions are confused. (7:354, Sermon 125 On Living Without God)
Here, Wesley asserts that God respects the “goodness of the heart”, even though Psalm 16:2, Jeremiah 17:9, and Romans 3:10-18 all teach that there is no goodness at all in the heart of man. Obviously, this relates back to Wesley’s deficient view of sin, discussed in a previous chapter. But it is also relevant for professing Christians today. It is uncanny how close Wesley’s view of faith was to that of most twenty-first century Protestants. To them, faith is just some sort of mystical, undefinable … essence. No one really knows what faith is, no one really wants to define it. The only thing anyone can agree on is that faith is definitely not merely belief in true doctrines and propositions.
We have already seen, in the first chapter, that Wesley looked for direction from God apart from the Bible. Now Wesley is not only claiming that instruction from God, but even true faith can come through dreams and visions.
Q. 16. Do we not discourage visions and dreams too much, …? A. We do not intend to do this. …. And we cannot deny that saving faith is often given in dreams or visions of the night; (8:284, Minutes of Some Late Conversations, June 25, 1744)
Of course, this makes a certain amount of sense if a “disposition of the heart” is more important than doctrine, as Wesley believed. When the content of faith is not doctrines or propositions, then the medium of the message can take many forms other than the preaching of the Gospel, contrary to Romans 10:14 and Ephesians 1:13.
By denying the necessity of doctrine and propositions for the Gospel, Wesley has seriously broadened the very definition of faith, far beyond the biblical teaching. By thus broadening the definition of faith, Wesley has rendered impossible, not only a judgment of one’s own state before God, but in fact all judgments of saved and lost.
Judging Saved and Lost
Not all readers will agree that it is even necessary to judge professing Christians saved and lost, to pass a judgment on their regeneration, and standing before God. The Christian Confession of Faith has much to say on this issue:
God requires of His people that they love and fellowship with each other. Love of the brothers in Jesus Christ is an inevitable fruit of salvation. [Psa 101:6; Psa 133:1; Joh 13:34-35; Joh 17:20-21; Gal 6:10; Phi 1:27; Phi 2:2-4; Phi 3:16; 1Jo 1:7; 1Jo 2:9-11; 1Jo 3:11; 1Jo 3:14-16; 1Jo 3:23; 1Jo 4:7; 1Jo 4:11; 1Jo 4:20-21; 1Jo 5:1]9
The Confession begins its discussion of judging saved and lost by first examining the need for a Christian to fellowship with, and identify himself publicly with, other believers. Contrary to popular opinion, the need for judging saved and lost does not arise from any mean-spiritedness, arrogance, or self-righteousness, but from a need for fellowship with other Christians.
One of the main proofs that believers love their brothers in Jesus Christ is that they do not speak peace to their brothers’ enemies. They obey God’s command to separate themselves from the world and false Christians. [Exo 34:15-16; Deu 13:1-3; Psa 1:1; Psa 26:4-5; Psa 101:3-8; Pro 4:14-15; Pro 9:6; Joh 15:19; Rom 16:17-18; 1Co 5:11; 1Co 10:21; 2Co 6:14-18; Eph 5:7-12; 1Ti 6:3-5; 2Ti 3:5; 1Jo 2:15-16; 2Jo 1:10-11; Rev 18:4]10
Continuing with the theme of Christian fellowship, the Confession goes on to explain how genuine Christian fellowship involves more than mere identification with fellow Christians. It also includes joining with them in spiritual warfare against a common enemy.
For these reasons, as well as to witness the gospel to the lost, it is necessary for believers to make judgments concerning who is unregenerate (including who are false Christians) and who is regenerate. The standard by which believers are to make these judgments is whether or not the person being considered believes the gospel. [Isa 8:20; Isa 45:20; Mat 7:15-20; Mar 16:16; Luk 6:43-45; Joh 7:24; Rom 10:1-3; 1Co 5:11-12; Gal 1:8-9; 1Jo 4:1; 1Jo 4:6; 2Jo 1:9]11
Here, the Confession gives us the absolute standard by which judgments of saved and lost must be made: the Gospel. When a person believes the Gospel, they are saved; when they do not believe the Gospel, they are lost. It is as plain, simple, and clear cut as that. If Christians could not make these kinds of judgments, then they could neither know whom to fellowship with, nor whom to witness to. As these actions are both commanded for Christians, it is absolutely necessary for Christians to make judgments of saved and lost.
Some people may show by their lawless way of life that they do not believe the gospel, but no one can demonstrate by his law-keeping that he believes the gospel; for there are many whose lives appear to conform to the law of God who are yet unregenerate. Therefore, let no man be judged by his reputation, good works, sufferings, appearance, or any other standard but the gospel. [1Sa 16:7; Mat 7:21-23; Mat 23:25-28; Mar 16:16; Luk 18:11-12; Rom 1:21-32; Rom 2:1-2; Rom 10:1-3; 1Co 6:9-10; 2Co 11:13-15; Gal 1:8-9; Gal 6:14-16; 2Th 2:12]12
This section of the Confession refutes the notion that a person should automatically be judged saved, or even just given the benefit of the doubt, because they are moral and sincere. The absolute standard for judging saved and lost is the Gospel, not morality.
Those who refuse to judge by this standard alone, preferring instead to judge by reputation, appearance, religious zeal and dedication, or a false gospel, show that they place no value on the gospel and thus show themselves to be unregenerate. All who consider at least some believers in a false gospel (e.g., believers in universal atonement) to be their brothers in Jesus Christ are unregenerate. [Deu 29:19; Pro 17:15; Isa 5:20; Jer 8:10-12; 1Co 13:6; 1Th 5:3; 2Jo 1:11]13
Finally, the Confession shows us the unregenerate nature of those who refuse to judge by the standard of the Gospel alone, and wish to substitute some other standard. If they do not recognize the supreme importance of Gospel doctrine, it can only be because they do not themselves believe the doctrine. And those who do not believe in the doctrines of the Gospel are themselves unregenerate.
“Peace! Peace!” Where There Is No Peace
Rejecting the absolute sovereignty of God in the salvation of his people, Wesley was free to speak peace to all sorts of people who couldn’t otherwise be considered brethren in Christ. Reading his works, one is tempted to cry out (contrary to the apostles in Matthew 19:25) “Who then can be lost?” This, of course, is the reason he was able to preach to thousands and thousands of people during his lifetime. He was willing to tell them that their sincerity was pleasing to God, their free will was what made them to differ, and God loved everyone equally — effectively removing the offense of the Cross. Modern Calvinists have taken this lesson to heart: If you want big churches, with lots of ornaments, lots of members, and lots of income, just speak peace to as many as you can; just remove the offense of the Cross. Don’t tell them that “all our righteousnesses [are] as a menstruous cloth.” (Isa 64:6) Don’t tell them that salvation is not for the sake of Man, but for the glory of God (Isa 48:11, Rom 3:4). Don’t tell them that all who are saved understand and confess the need for the righteousness of Christ (John 16:8, Rom 10:3, 1 John 2:23). After all, God loves them all alike, and would never want us to do anything to offend them in any way (2 Cor 2:15-16). Just set aside all doctrinal distinctives, ridicule such distinctives as unimportant, and embrace all men, without ever questioning their sincerity, let alone their salvation. Never mind their doctrine; judge them by their experience.
Men may differ from us in their opinions, as well as their expressions, and nevertheless be partakers with us of the same precious faith. It is possible they may not have a distinct apprehension of the very blessing which they enjoy: Their ideas may not be so clear, and yet their experience may be as sound, as ours. (5:238, Sermon 20 The Lord Our Righteousness, emph. mine)
It is well known that he [Mr. Law] absolutely and zealously denied the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, as zealously as Robert Barclay, who scruples not to say, “Imputed righteousness! — imputed nonsense!” The body of the people known by the name of Quakers espouse the same sentiment. Nay, the generality of those who profess themselves members of the Church of England are either totally ignorant of the matter, and know nothing about imputed righteousness, or deny this and justification by faith together as destructive of good works. To these we may add a considerable number of the people vulgarly styled Anabaptists, together with thousands of Presbyterians and Independents, lately enlightened by the writings of Dr. Taylor. On the last, I am not called to pass any sentence: I leave them to Him that made them.
But will any one dare to affirm that all Mystics, (such as Mr Law in particular) all Quakers, all Presbyterians or Independents, and members of the Church of England who are not clear in their opinions or expressions, are void of all Christian experience? — that, consequently, they are all in a state of damnation “without hope, without God in the world?” However confused their ideas may be, however improper their language, may there not be many of them whose heart is right toward God, and who effectually know “the Lord our righteousness”? (5:243, Sermon 20 The Lord Our Righteousness, emph. mine)
Wesley’s amazing ability to speak peace to almost anyone, gives us a good idea of what he thought to be most important in life: unity. To this, the Gospel, and the glory of God were secondary. Never mind that someone believed things that were glaringly contrary to biblical teaching, never mind that they believed things that exalted Man and abased God, the all-important thing is unity, so avoid offending them at all costs. This, of course, makes it a critical necessity to judge people by their experiences rather than doctrine. Doctrine divides, and destroys the all-important unity between professing Protestants.
But then, why stop there? Why stop at speaking peace to unsaved Protestants?
The human righteousness of Christ, at least the imputation of it, as the whole and sole meritorious cause of the justification of a sinner before God, is likewise denied by the members of the Church of Rome; by all of them who are true to the principles of their own Church. But undoubtedly there are many among them whose experience goes beyond their principles; who, though they are far from expressing themselves justly, yet feel what they know not how to express. Yea, although their conceptions of this great truth be as crude as their expressions, yet with their hearts they believe: They rest on Christ alone, both unto present and eternal salvation. (5:242, Sermon 20 The Lord Our Righteousness, emph. mine)
Take a moment to think about what Wesley is saying. Members of the Church of Rome formally deny that they are saved by faith alone, yet they really are saved by faith alone, because they have such wonderful experiences. Let every Moderate Calvinist who denies the salvation of Roman Catholics, but defends the salvation of Wesley take careful notice: the very same argument used to defend Wesley is here used by Wesley himself to defend Roman Catholics! This is where your defense of a false gospel takes you! It is inevitable, because subjecting doctrine to experience is the very reverse of Scriptural teaching. (And if this applies to Catholics, much more so to professing Protestants.)
Isa 8:20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, [it is] because there is no dawn to them!
Rom 10:10 For with [the] heart [one] believes unto righteousness, and with [the] mouth [one] confesses unto salvation.
2 Jn 9 Everyone transgressing and not abiding in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. The [one] abiding in the doctrine of Christ, this one has the Father and the Son.
This appeal to experience as taking precedence over doctrine is entirely unbiblical, and yet it is precisely the argument used by many Calvinists to defend the salvation of John Wesley himself. We get told, “Look at his good works, his beautiful hymns, his zeal, etc. etc. etc.” ad nauseam. “After all, Arminians are Calvinists when they’re on their knees!”; which is really to say, “Sure, he said he didn’t believe in the Absolute Sovereignty of God in salvation, but we know what he really meant!” But, unless it can be proven otherwise, it would be best if we simply assume that Wesley actually meant what he actually said. Scripture requires us to judge saved and lost, not by experiences, but by doctrine, specifically, the doctrine of the Gospel (Gal 1:8, 6:14). Therefore, it is necessary to evaluate Wesley’s works, hymns, etc. by his doctrine, and not vice versa. Anything else is exalting our experiences over the authority of the Word of God.
We have already seen that Wesley accepted many Roman Catholic principles, including free will and the use of idols for teaching purposes. But he went much farther than this. In 1749, Wesley wrote A Letter To A Roman Catholic, which is a virtual introduction to the Catholics And Evangelicals Together document: the same absence of the critical word alone, the same emphasis on all the immorality that floods the world, the same emphasis on what we have in common, the same studied avoiding of the real issues that divide us.
Now, can nothing be done, even allowing us on both sides to retain our own opinions, for the softening our hearts towards each other, the giving a check to this flood of unkindness, and restoring at least some small degree of love among our neighbors and countrymen? …. I think you deserve the tenderest regard I can show, were it only because the same God hath raised you and me from the dust of the earth, and has made us both capable of loving and enjoying him to eternity; were it only because the Son of God has bought you and me with his own blood. How much more if you are a person fearing God, (as without question many of you are,) and studying to have a conscience void of offense towards God and towards man? …. I believe that he was made man, joining the human nature with the divine in one person; being conceived by the singular operation of the Holy Ghost, born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as before she brought him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin. …. I say not a word to you about your opinions or outward manner of worship. …. Use whatever outward observances you please, but put your whole trust in him; but honor his holy name and his word, and serve him truly all the days of your life. …. Does your tender love to all men not only the good, but also the evil and unthankful, approve you the child of your Father which is in heaven? …. This and this alone14, is the old religion. Are we not thus far agreed? Let us thank God for this, and receive it as a fresh token of his love. But if God still loveth us, we ought also to love one another. We ought, without this endless jangling about opinions, to provoke one another to love and to good works. Let the points wherein we differ stand aside; here are enough wherein we agree, enough to be the ground of every Christian temper, and of every Christian action. O brethren, let us not still fall out by the way! I hope to see you in heaven. …. O let you and I (whatever others do) press on to the prize of our high calling! that being justified by faith, we may have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; (10:80-86, A Letter To A Roman Catholic, Dublin, July 18, 1749)
Let no one be surprised at Wesley’s unquestioning acceptance of Roman Catholics as his brothers in Christ. Despite Wesley’s protests that most, if not all, Papists were predestinarians (14:280-1), the truth is that the Roman Catholic Church formally teaches the doctrines of free will and universal atonement, the cornerstone and capstone of Wesley’s theology. When you have these two things in common, the rest follows naturally. Modern Moderate Calvinists should not be wringing their hands in anguish, wondering how Wesley could do such a thing, but rather, they should be asking themselves the questions, what does this say about Wesley? What does this say about Arminianism, in general? Overtures to Roman Catholics are not something dreamed up by the present generation of Evangelical Arminians. It is the natural tendency of Arminianism, because both systems share the same basic presuppositions, and come to similar conclusions. Both begin with the Free Will of Man (rather than the glory of God), and both end with a salvation conditioned on fallen Man (rather than on Christ alone). Both have Man as the Alpha, and Man as the Omega of Salvation. Both are therefore anti-Christian, and both are Satanic.
Why then do so many ersatz-Calvinists find such an attraction to Arminianism? Why do they steadfastly, and willingly, refuse to see that Arminianism is the natural ally of Roman Catholicism? And, what is worse, it is a natural ally to Roman Catholicism that exists right within the “Protestant” camp. It is the “Achan” who lives next door, smiles to them at church, perhaps lives right within their own house. But unless they deal with it as the deadly heresy that it is, it will continue to be an “Achan”, and they should stop acting so surprised that Arminians continue to make overtures to Roman Catholics. They saw it coming and intentionally looked the other way.
Now one might suppose that, having spoken peace to Roman Catholics, Wesley would not be prepared to speak peace to those who made no formal profession of Christianity. But in fact, he was prepared to do just that:
… nor do I conceive that any man living has a right to sentence all the heathen and Mahometan world to damnation. It is far better to leave them to Him that made them, and who is ‘the Father of the Spirits of all flesh;” who is the God of the Heathens as well as the Christians, and who hateth nothing that he hath made. (7:353, Sermon 125 On Living Without God)
So when Paustoobee, an Indian Chief, of the Chickasaw nation in North America was asked. “Why do you think the Beloved Ones (so they term God) take care of you?” …. (6:313, Sermon 67 On Divine Providence, emph. in orig)
And so we may say, Is he the God of the Christians, and not of the Mahometans and Heathens? Yea, doubtless of the Mahometans and Heathens also. His love is not confined: “The Lord is loving unto every man, and his mercy is over all his works.” (6:319, Sermon 67 On Divine Providence)
It should by no means surprise us that Wesley was able to speak peace even to “Mahometans and Heathens”. After all, according to Wesley, God’s “love is not confined:” he loves everyone in the world equally, and wishes that everyone in the world would believe in him. He really wants to save everyone, and now that he’s taken care of all that complex theological stuff, exactly how he does so is unimportant! This is the devastating effect that free will and universal atonement have on one’s theology. God’s glory in the Gospel is forced to take a back seat to Man’s need to be saved.
In view of this, we can only wonder why so many Calvinists constantly bemoan the idea that Predestination destroys any zeal for evangelism. We are told that there is a need for balance; and this so-called “balance” usually takes the form of universal aspects of the atonement. But the truth is actually the reverse: the true basis of evangelism is really predestination, and the true enemy of evangelism is universal atonement! The predestinarian has an assurance that God will sovereignly call all those for whom Christ died (Jn 6:39, Rom 8:29); he will override their natural hatred of Christ and the Gospel, by the medium of preaching (Jn 6:44, 1 Cor 1:21). The Arminian has no such assurance. But it really doesn’t matter since people don’t have any hatred for Christ and his Gospel. And since God will accept the “sincerity” of even Moslems and heathens, why bother sending and supporting missionaries (beyond bringing Western Civilization to the poor, backward heathen) ?
“Peace! Peace!” – Well, Except for Those Predestinarians!
We have seen that Wesley believed that experience and sincerity were the primary indicators to determine whether a person was saved or lost. As a result, he was willing to speak peace to those Calvinists, such as George Whitefield, who believed the same and were willing to water down the distinctive points of their doctrine, or at least keep quiet about them. He even preached Whitefield’s funeral sermon, at Whitefield’s request. However, he could be downright hostile towards others who would not reciprocate in compromising and peace-speaking:
I dare not insist upon any one’s using the word Trinity, or Person. I use them myself without any scruple, because I know of none better: But if any man has any scruple concerning them, who shall constrain him to use them? I cannot: Much less would I burn a man alive, and that with moist, green wood, for saying, “Though I believe the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; yet I scruple using the words Trinity and Persons, because I do not find those terms in the Bible.” These are the words which merciful John Calvin cites as wrote by Servetus15 in a letter to himself. (6:201, Sermon 55 On The Trinity, May 8, 1775)
When the Reformation began, what mountainous offenses lay in the way of even the sincere members of the Church of Rome! They saw such failings in those great men, Luther and Calvin! Their vehement tenaciousness of their own opinions; their bitterness toward all who differed from them; their impatience of contradiction, and utter want of forbearance, even with their own brethren. (8:242, A Farther Appeal To Men Of Reason And Religion Dec 18, 1745)
… St Augustine himself. (A wonderful saint! As full of pride, passion, bitterness, censoriousness, and as foul-mouthed to all that contradicted him, as George Fox himself.) …. “But St. Augustine says:” — When Augustine’s passions were heated, his word is not worth a rush. And here is the secret: St. Augustine was angry at Pelagius: Hence he slandered and abused him, (as his manner was) without either fear or shame. And St. Augustine was then in the Christian world, what Aristotle was afterwards: There needed no other proof of any assertion, than Ipse dixit: “St. Augustine said it.” (6:328-9, Sermon 68 The Wisdom of God’s Counsels, emph. in orig.)
Has the truth (so Mr. J. termed what many love to term the doctrine of free grace) a natural tendency to spoil the temper? to inspire pride, haughtiness, superciliousness? to make a man “wiser in his own eyes, than seven men that can render a reason?” Does it naturally turn a man into a cynic, a bear, a Toplady? Does it at once set him free from all the restraints of good nature, decency, and good manners? (10:413-14, Remarks On Mr. Hills ‘Review’;Sept. 9, 1772; emph. in orig.)
“But Bishop Cowper” — I object to him, beside his being a hot, bitter Calvinist, that he is a dull, heavy, shallow writer. (10:442, Remarks On Mr. Hill’s ‘Farrago Double Distilled’; Mar. 14, 1773)
I want to make it clear that in bringing up Wesley’s nastiness toward these men (Calvin, Luther, Augustine, Toplady, and Cowper), I am not necessarily endorsing these men. Let them be judged by the same standard as Wesley: by the Gospel they preached. Nevertheless, they were subjected to this kind of abuse at Wesley’s hands because they either refused to speak peace to him, or to other Free-Willers of their day.
But amazingly, despite the vicious attacks Wesley made upon staunch predestinarians, his constant refrain was for “tolerance”.
But some may say, I have mistaken the way myself, although I take upon me to teach it to others. It is probable many will think this, and it is very possible that I have. But I trust, wherinsoever I have mistaken, my mind is open to conviction. I sincerely desire to be better informed. I say to God and man, “What I know not, teach thou me!” … For, how far is love, even with many wrong opinions to be preferred before truth itself without love! We may die without the knowledge of many truths, and yet be carried into Abraham’s bosom. But if we die without love, what will knowledge avail? Just as much as it avails the devil and his angels! (5:5-6, Preface to Sermons; cf. 1Cor 13:6)
Have patience with us, if we are in an error; yea, suffer us to enjoy our error. (6:424, Sermon 76 On Perfection)
To colour our own devilish temper, we pronounce our brethren children of the devil! …. Go and learn that truly catholic love which “is not rash,” or hasty in judging; that love which “thinketh no evil;” which believeth and hopeth all things;” which makes all the allowance for others that we desire others should make for us! Then we shall take knowledge of the grace of God which is in every man, whatever be his opinion or mode of worship; …. Let the time past suffice for strife, envy, contention; for biting and devouring one another. Blessed be God, that ye have not long ago been consumed one of another. From henceforth hold ye the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (6:181, Sermon 53 On The Death Of Mr. Whitefield)
What, if I were to see a Papist, an Arian, a Socinian, casting out devils? If I did, I could not forbid even him, without convicting myself of bigotry. Yea, if it could by supposed that I should see a Jew, a Deist, or a Turk, doing the same, were I to forbid him either directly, or indirectly, I should be no better than a bigot still. O stand clear of this! But be not content with not forbidding any that cast out devils. It is well to go thus far; but do not stop here. If you will avoid all bigotry, go on. In every instance of this kind, whatever the instrument be, acknowledge the finger of God. And not only acknowledge, but rejoice in his work, and praise his name with thanksgiving. (5:491, Sermon 38 A Caution Against Bigotry)
But after the all vicious assaults Wesley made on Augustus Toplady, to name just one, the plea for “tolerance!” rings a little hollow.
Wesley’s Gospel was one that dethroned God, and enthroned Man in his place. It made Man the Alpha and Omega of his own salvation, giving Man the entire power to initiate, continue in, and/or terminate his own salvation. It made Man the centerpiece of salvation, while God waited around hoping against hope that Man would obey him, and persevere long enough to be finally saved. Thus it is that Arminianism fulfills the Devil’s first lie to Man: “You shall be as God.” (Gen 3:5)
1Christian Confession of Faith V.B.1;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfv.htm
2Christian Confession of Faith V.C.4;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfv.htm
3Christian Confession of Faith V.D.1-2;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfv.htm
4Christian Confession of Faith V.C.4;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfv.htm
9Christian Confession of Faith V.E.1;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfv.htm
10Christian Confession of Faith V.E.2;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfv.htm
11Christian Confession of Faith V.E.3;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfv.htm
12Christian Confession of Faith V.E.4;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfv.htm
13Christian Confession of Faith V.E.5;http://www.outsidethecamp.org/ccfv.htm