I was recently reading Lee Gatiss’ collection of essays on Reformed theology and history when I ran across his article called, “Strangely Warmed: John Wesley’s Arminian Campaigns.” I have to admit I have not read much of Wesley’s writing (though what I have read has been less than impressive). Since Gatiss mentioned Wesley’s oft-preached sermon on Romans 8:32, I thought I should read it. In doing so, I found that Gatiss’ point is correct: Wesley was a firm, ferocious, and fierce opponent of unconditional election.
Wesley’s sermon that I’m referring to, interestingly called “Free Grace,” was published and republished quite a few times during his life. It should be noted that the sermon is not at all an expository sermon on Romans 8:32. Instead, it is a tirade against one of the doctrines of grace, specifically, the sovereignty of God in election. Here are a few excerpts:
“Manifestly does this doctrine tend to overthrow the whole Christian Revelation by making it contradict itself. …[This doctrine] is a doctrine full of blasphemy; of such blasphemy as I should dread to mention….”
“[This doctrine] destroys all his (God’s) attributes at once: it overturns both his justice, mercy, and truth; yea, it represents the most holy God as worse than the devil, as both more false, more cruel, and more unjust.
“No scripture can prove that God is not love, or that his mercy is not over all his works; that is, whatever it prove beside, no scripture can prove predestination.
So near the end of the sermon when Wesley said, “I abhor the doctrine of predestination,” he wasn’t exaggerating! And, as others have noted, when Wesley’s heart was “strangely warmed” he did not change his views on the doctrines of grace and election. In fact, Gatiss notes, Wesley’s opposition to Calvinism grew. Gatiss puts it this way: “His heart was always strangely warmed against it.” Similarly, as many know of Wesley, he taught perfectionism and was foggy on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. At one point George Whitefield told Wesley they were preaching two different gospels!
Why is this worth pointing out? Well, as Gatiss notes, Wesley may have done Christian good in his life, “but we may also want to go on and ask whether celebrity men of action can really be so easily excused a little dodgy theology on basic issues of salvation.” “…The extravagant Arminian eccentricities of the great and famous John Wesley have been hushed up or too easily excused – by Wesley, his followers, by [J. C.] Ryle, and others.” It’s incorrect to paint Wesley as a solid evangelical who was patient and exceedingly tolerant. Here is one of Gatiss’ main points:
“Wesley raised the temperature of debate amongst evangelicals in the eighteenth century. For one supposedly devoted to evangelical unity and peace, his heart and pen were strangely warmed against Calvinists and Calvinism. His behavior and tone have too often been excused or covered up, and many have been blinded by his celebrity and reputation, or wanted to keep him and his followers onside. That has sometimes led to something of a whitewash. In response we must do better church history, which, as Oliver Cromwell said about portrait painting, is best done ‘warts and all.'”
[The above info is found in and quoted in the 8th chapter of Cornerstones of Salvation.]