John Wesley’s Hatred of Predestination

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.]

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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Predestination Must Be Preached (Augustine)

Scripture teaches predestination.  For two examples, consider Ephesians 1 and Romans 9.  In these chapters, Paul says that before the foundation of the world, God chose a certain number of people to salvation in Christ.  He did this not based on man’s merits or choice, but his own mercy and sovereign will.  Election is therefore unconditional; it’s not conditional upon a person’s choice, will, or works.  In the early 5th century Augustine echoed Scripture’s teaching on this point as did others later in church history.  The Reformers also taught this truth in the 16th century and the doctrine of unconditional election is found in the Reformed Confessions.

In fact, the Reformed Confessions say that this truth of election must be taught and preached:  Here’s article 14 of the 1st point of doctrine in the Canons of Dort:

“As the doctrine of divine election by the most wise counsel of God was declared by the prophets, by Christ himself, and by the apostles, and is clearly revealed in the Scriptures both of the Old and the New Testament, so it is still to be published in due time and place in the Church of God, for which it was peculiarly designed….”

Augustine said the same thing around 1,200 years before the Canons of Dort were written:

Wherefore, if both the apostles and the teachers of the Church who succeeded them and imitated them did both these things—that is, both truly preached the grace of God which is not given according to our merits, and inculcated by wholesome precepts a pious obedience—what is it which these people of our time think themselves rightly bound by the invincible force of truth to say, “Even if what is said of the predestination of God’s benefits be true, yet it must not be preached to the people”?

It must absolutely be preached, so that he who has ears to hear, may hear. And who has them if he has not received them from Him who says, “I will give them a heart to know me, and ears to hear”? Assuredly, he who has not received may reject; while, yet, he who receives may take and drink, may drink and live. For as piety must be preached, that, by him who has ears to hear, God may be rightly worshipped; modesty must be preached, that, by him who has ears to hear, no illicit act may be perpetrated by his fleshly nature; charity must be preached, that, by him who has ears to hear, God and his neighbours may be loved—so also must be preached such a predestination of God’s benefits that he who has ears to hear may glory, not in himself, but in the Lord.

Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Gift of Perseverance,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 546–547.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Reformation and Election (Van Dixhoorn)

I recently started reading this resource in my Logos library: T&T Clark Companion to Reformation Theology.  One article that stands out is Chad Van Dixhoorn’s work on election.  In this essay, Van Dixhoorn talks about the historical background of election, the definition, the various views, the Synod of Dort, Amraldianism, and so forth.  I appreciate how he summarized the Reformed view of election, which is drawn exclusively from Scripture:

At this juncture in Protestant history the precise nature of divine foreknowledge was not yet contested; each side in the dispute would agree that Scripture indicates that God has known all things “from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). Indeed, the Reformed were willing to press further the extent of God’s knowledge. In his arguments against Pighius, Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499–1562) argues that God does not only know all that has happened and will happen. He also knows all that could happen. His knowledge is more extensive than His foreknowledge. Vermigli does not supply scriptural support for his argument, but others would, reflecting on passages like 1 Samuel 23. There David posed a series of questions to God, first about King Saul, and then about the townspeople of Keilah, querying whether they would hand him over to Saul if the despot demanded it. The point made by Reformed exegetes is that this line of questioning was not too hard for God, for there is no scenario or counterfactual which God does not already know.

But when debating Pighius, the Reformers could not help but turn to the locus classicus of predestination, Romans 9. There the divine announcement is heard, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” even “before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad.” And “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” The passage was particularly useful because it brings up the question of human responsibility as Paul anticipates his readers’ response: “why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” And Paul provides the divine response in the form of two questions: “Who are we to talk back to God?” And “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” They concluded that election is God’s free choice only, and that the number of His elect is immune to addition or subtraction. God did not peer into the future in order to find sparks of faith that He could fan into flame. He did not predestine people to salvation because He predicted their good works, or knew they would persevere in the Christian life. There is nothing in human beings that motivated His choice. He set no conditions that He needed to foresee before He would choose the objects of his grace. There was no cause other than His own love that set God in motion toward the salvation of sinners.

Chad Van Dixhoorn, “Election,” in T&T Clark Companion to Reformation Theology, ed. David M. Whitford, T&T Clark Companion (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2012), 91–92.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

God’s Free Grace Made the Difference (Henry)

Matthew Henry's Commentary There’s an old hymn called, “How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place.” When we sang it last Sunday during worship, the following lines stuck out:

Why was I made to hear Your voice, and enter while there’s room,
when thousands make a wretched choice, and rather starve than come?

‘Twas the same love that spread the feast that sweetly drew us in;
else we had still refused to taste and perished in our sin.

Scripture says it this way: In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:4-5 NIV).  Paul also talks about this extensively in Romans 9, where he says that God’s election of some to salvation has nothing to do with their merit, but his mercy: I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion (Rom. 9:15).  Election is unconditional!  Matthew Henry wrote well on this theme as he commented on Romans 9:

All God’s reasons of mercy are taken from within himself. All the children of men being plunged alike into a state of sin and misery, equally under guilt and wrath, God, in a way of sovereignty, picks out some from this fallen apostatized race, to be vessels of grace and glory. He dispenses his gifts to whom he will, without giving us any reason: according to his own good pleasure he pitches upon some to be monuments of mercy and grace, preventing grace, effectual grace, while he passes by others.

The various dealings of God, by which he makes some to differ from others, must be resolved into his absolute sovereignty. He is debtor to no man, his grace is his own, and he may give it or withhold it as it pleaseth him; we have none of us deserved it, nay, we have all justly forfeited it a thousand times, so that herein the work of our salvation is admirably well ordered that those who are saved must thank God only, and those who perish must thank themselves only, Hos. 13:9.

Applying this general rule to the particular case that Paul has before him, the reason why the unworthy, undeserving, ill-deserving Gentiles are called, and grafted into the church, while the greatest part of the Jews are left to perish in unbelief, is not because those Gentiles were better deserving or better disposed for such a favour, but because of God’s free grace that made that difference.

 

Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2217.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Election and Sovereign Grace (Boston)

The Whole Works of Thomas Boston, Volume 1: An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Part 1 In Ephesians 1 and Romans 9-11 Paul teaches what has been called unconditional election.  That is, the reason God has chosen some for salvation in Christ but not others is found in him and in his sovereign will.  Election is not based on man’s choice or faith, but on God’s sovereign good pleasure (eudokia; Eph 1:5b).  Thomas Boston explained this aspect of God’s sovereign grace in election quite well (I’ve edited the quote slightly to make it more readable):

Behold here the freedom and glory of sovereign grace, which is the sole cause why God did not leave all mankind to perish in the state of sin and misery…. He was no more obliged to the one than the other. Why did he choose any of the fallen race of men to grace and glory? It was his mere good pleasure to select some, and pass by others. He could have been without them all, without any blemish either on his happiness or justice; but out of his mere good pleasure he set his love on a select number, in whom he will display the invincible efficacy of his sovereign grace, and thereby bring them to the fruition of glory.

This proceeds from his absolute sovereignty. …If he had pleased, he might have made all the objects of his love; and if he had pleased he might have chosen none, but have suffered Adam and all his numerous offspring to sink eternally into the pit of perdition. It was in his supreme power to have left all mankind under the rack of his justice; and, by the same right of dominion, he may pick out some men from the common mass, and lay aside others to bear the punishment of their crimes. There is no cause in the creature but all in God. It must be resolved into his sovereign will.

So it is said in Romans 9:15 & 16 where God speaks to Moses, ‘I will have mercy, on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy.’ And yet God did not will without wisdom. He did not choose hand over head and act by mere will without reason and understanding. An infinite wisdom is far from such a kind of procedure. But the reason of God’s proceedings is inscrutable to us, unless we could understand God as well as he understands himself. The rays of his infinite wisdom are too bright and dazzling for our weak and shallow capacities. The apostle acknowledges not only a wisdom in his proceeding, but riches and a treasure of wisdom; and not only that, but a depth and vastness of these riches of wisdom; but was wholly incapable to give a scheme and inventory of it. Hence he cries out in Romans 11:33, ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!’ Let us humbly adore the divine sovereignty. We should cast ourselves down at God’s feet, with a full resignation of ourselves to his sovereign pleasure.

Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Part 1, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 1 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1848), 311–312.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Is Predestination Central in Calvinism?

There’s much more to Reformed theology than the doctrines of grace (TULIP).  Similarly, there’s more to the doctrines of grace than predestination.  This needs to be said and repeated since some say that the central dogma of Calvinism is predestination, that predestination is at the core of the doctrines of grace.  Michael Horton gave some helpful points to refute this error:

  1. Calvin was not the first Calvinist.  The standard medieval view affirmed unconditional election and reprobation and held that Christ’s redemptive work at the cross is ‘sufficient for the world, efficient for the elect alone.’  …On even the most controversial aspects of predestination, Calvin’s view can scarcely be distinguished from that of Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Archbishop Thomas Bradwardine, and Gregory of Rimini.  …In fact, some of Luther’s strong comments in ‘The Bondage of the Will’ make Calvin moderate by comparison.
  2. Calvin was not the only shaper of the Reformed tradition.  Although his formative influence is justly recognized, he regarded himself as a student of Luther.  The Strasbourg Reformer Martin Bucer also left a decisive imprint on Calvin, as on a whole generation, including Archbishop Thomas Cramner.  …Heinrich Bullinger, John Knox, Jan Laski, Girolamo Zanchi, and Peter Martyr Vermigli were also among the many contemporaries of Calvin who shaped Reformed teaching, not to mention the following generations of leaders who refined and consolidated the gains of the sixteenth century.
  3. It is interesting that John Calvin never identified predestination or election as a central dogma.  He spoke of the doctrine of justification as ‘the primary article of the Christian religion,’ ‘the main hinge on which religion turns,’ the principal article of the whole doctrine of salvation and the foundation of all religion.’  Obviously he considered predestination an important doctrine.  But he was not only unoriginal in his formulation; he did not raise it to the level of a central dogma.  As B.B. Warfield has pointed out, Calvin’s emphasis on God’s fatherly love and benevolence in Christ is more pervasive than his emphasis on God’s sovereign power and authority.

“None of this is to diminish the obvious importance of election in Reformed theology, but it does serve to dissuade us from regarding it as a central dogma or as a uniquely Calvinistic tenent. …The truth is, there isn’t a central dogma in Calvinism, although it is certainly God-centered – and, more specifically, Christ-centered, since it is only in the Son that God’s saving purposes and action in history are most clearly revealed. …With Melanchthon and Bullinger leading the way, covenant theology emerged as the very warp and woof of Reformed theology.  Even this is not a central dogma, however, but more like the architectural framework.”

Michael Horton, For Calvinism, pp 28-30.

Shane Lems

God’s Decrees Are… (Boston)

The Works Of Thomas Boston: Volume 1 by [Boston, Thomas] The Bible teaches that God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11 NIV). This means that whatever God decrees comes to pass and whatever comes to pass God has decreed.  This includes the details of creation, predestination, providence, and so forth.  I like how Thomas Boston defined the properties of God’s decrees using Scripture.  He said the following about God’s decrees:

  1. They are eternal.  God makes no decrees in time, but they were all from eternity. So the decree of election is said to have been ‘before the foundation of the world,’ Eph. 1:4.  …If the divine decrees were not eternal, God would not be most perfect and unchangeable, but, like weak man, should take new counsels, and would be unable to tell everything that were to come to pass.
  2. They are most wise: ‘According to the counsel of his will.’ God cannot properly deliberate or take counsel, as men do; for he sees all things together and at once. And thus his decrees are made with perfect judgment, and laid in the depth of wisdom, Rom. 11:33. ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God I how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!’
  3. They are most free: ‘according to the counsel of his own will’; depending on no other, but all flowing from the mere pleasure of his own will, Rom. 11:34. ‘For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counselor?’  …So his decrees are all absolute, and there are none of them conditional. He has made no decrees suspended on any condition without himself.
  4. They are unchangeable. They are the unalterable laws of heaven. God’s decrees are constant; and he by no means alters his purpose, as men do, Ps. 33:11. ‘The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.’ Hence they are compared to mountains of brass, Zech. 6:1. As nothing can escape his first view, so nothing can be added to his knowledge.
  5. They are most holy and pure. For as the sun darts its beams upon a dunghill, and yet is no way defiled by it; so God decrees the permission of sin, …yet is not the author of sin: 1 John 1:5. ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all,’ Jam. 1:13, 17. ‘God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man. With him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.’
  6. They are effectual; that is, whatsoever God decrees comes to pass infallibly, Isa. 46:10. ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.’ He cannot fall short of what he has determined.

This is an edited summary of a larger helpful discussion on God’s decrees found in volume 1 of Boston’s Works.  It’s found on pages 158-159 for those interested.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI