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Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical notes. Volume I. The History of Creeds.
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§ 111. Analysis of Arminian Methodism

THE SEMI-ANGLICAN DOCTRINES.

The Twenty-five Articles represent the doctrines which Methodism holds in common with other evangelical Churches, especially with the Church of England. They are an abridgment of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, with a view to simplify and to liberalize them. Wesley omitted the political articles, which apply only to England, and those articles which are strongly Augustinian, especially Article 17, of Predestination (which teaches unconditional election to salvation and the perseverance of the elect), Art. 13, of Works before Justification (which are said to have the nature of sin), and Art. 8 (which indorses the three Creeds). On the other hand, Art. 10, of Free Will, which teaches (with Augustine, Luther, and Calvin) the natural inability of man to do good works without the grace of God, is literally retained (Meth. Art. 8).

Minor doctrinal changes were made in Art 2 (Art. 2), where the clauses 'begotten from everlasting of the Father,' and 'of her [the Virgin's] substance,' are omitted (either as doubtful or lying outside of a creed);16991699   Emory, in his History of the Discipline, inserts the clause, 'begotten of everlasting from the Father,' as adopted in 1784, but omitted in 1786 and in later editions, perhaps by typographical error. A Methodist correspondent (Rev. D. A. Whedon) suggests to me that Wesley may have made a distinction between the eternal Sonship and the eternal Generation, and may have maintained the former, but questioned the latter as referring to the manner rather than the fact. Prof. Pope, the latest Methodist writer on Dogmatics, avoids this question as belonging to the transcendental mysteries (Christ. Theol. p. 272). in Art. 9 (7), where the last clauses, which affirm the continuance of original sin in the regenerate, are left out (as inconsistent with Wesley's view of perfection); in Art. 16 (12), where 'sin after justification' is substituted for 'sin after baptism' (to avoid the doctrine of baptismal regeneration); in Art. 25 (16), of the Sacraments, where the words 'sure witnesses and effectual,' before 'signs of grace,' are stricken out (which betrays a lowering of the doctrine of the Sacraments); in Art. 34 (22), where 'traditions of the Church' are changed into 'Rites and Ceremonies.'

These omissions and changes are significant, and entirely consistent with Methodism, but they are negative rather than positive. Wesley eliminated the latent Calvinism from the Thirty-nine Articles, but did not put in his Arminianism, nor his peculiar doctrines of the Witness of the Spirit and Christian Perfection, leaving them to be derived from other documents of his own composition.

THE ARMINIAN DOCTRINES.

The five points in which Arminius differed from the Calvinistic system are clearly and prominently brought out in Wesley's writings, though mostly in the form of popular and practical exposition and exhortation. He put the name of Arminius on his periodical organ, and struck the keynote to the Arminian tone of Methodist preaching. The Arminian features of Methodism are, freedom of the will (taken in the sense of liberum arbitrium, or power of contrary choice) as necessary to responsibility; self-limitation of divine sovereignty in its exercise and dealings with free agents; foreknowledge as preceding and conditioning foreordination; universality of redemption; resistibility of divine grace; possibility of total and final apostasy from the state of regeneration and sanctification.

Calvinism and Methodism agree in teaching man's salvation by God's free grace, in opposition to Pelagianism and Semipelagianism. But Calvinism traces salvation to the eternal purpose of God, and confines it to the elect; Methodism makes it dependent on man's free acceptance of that grace which is offered alike to all and on the same terms. Calvinism emphasizes the divine side, Methodism the human.17001700   Dr. Warren, 1.c. p. 140, states the difference in an extreme form, which would subject Methodism to the charge of downright Pelagianism: 'Nach der Methodistischen Auffassung des Heilsverhältnisses Gottes und des Menschen hängt das Heil oder Nicht-Heil eines jeden Menschen lediglich von seinem eigenen freien Verhalten gegenüber den erleuchtenden, erneuernden und heiligenden Einwirkungen des heiligen Geistes ab. Verhält man sich gegenüber diesen Einwirkungen empfänglich, so wird man hier, und einst dort, selig werden; verschliesst man sein Herz gegen dieselben, so wird man hier, und auf ewig im Tode verbleiben. Mit dieser Grundanschauung hängen alle sonstigen Eigenthümlichkeiten des Methodismus, wie z. B. seine eigenthümliche Freiheitslehre, seine Betonung der Wirksamkeit des heiligen Geistes, seine Lehre von der christlichen Vollkommenheit, und dergleichen, eng zusammen. Seinem innersten Geist und Wesen nach ist er eine Auffassung des Christenthums vom Standpunkte der christlichen Vollkommenheit oder der völligen Liebe.' Herein Methodism entirely agrees with Arminianism, and is even more emphatically opposed to the doctrines of absolute predestination, limited atonement, and the perseverance of saints than Arminius was, who left the last point undecided.

Wesley began the thunder against the imaginary horrors and blasphemies of Calvinism which has since resounded from innumerable Methodist pulpits. He defines predestination to be 'an eternal, unchangeable, irresistible decree of God, by virtue of which one part of mankind are infallibly saved, and the rest infallibly damned; it being impossible that any of the former should be damned, or that any of the latter should be saved;' and then he goes on to show that this doctrine makes all preaching useless; that it makes void the ordinance of God; that it tends directly to destroy holiness, meekness, and love, the comfort and happiness of religion, zeal for good works, and the whole Christian revelation; that it turns God into a hypocrite and deceiver; that it overturns his justice, mercy, and truth, and represents him 'as worse than the devil, more false, more cruel, and more unjust.' 'This,' he says, 'is the blasphemy clearly contained in the horrible decree of predestination, and for this I abhor it (however I love the persons who assert it).' To this decree he sets over the other decree, 'I will set before the sons of men life and death, blessing and cursing; and the soul that chooseth life shall live, as the soul that chooseth death shall die.' The elect are all those who 'suffer Christ to make them alive.'17011701   Sermon liv., on Free Grace (Rom. viii. 32), preached at Bristol. It follows immediately after the eulogistic funeral discourse on the Calvinistic Whitefield. His brother Charles wrote a polemical poem on 'The Horrible Decree,' in which his poetic genius left him, as may be inferred from the following specimens:    'O Horrible Decree,
   Worthy of whence it came!

   Forgive their hellish blasphemy,

   Who charge it on the Lamb.'

   'To limit Thee they dare,

   Blaspheme Thee to Thy face,

   Deny their fellow-worms a share

   In Thy redeeming grace.'

   In another poem, on 'Predestination,' he prays:

   'Increase (if that can be)

   The perfect hate I feel

   To Satan's Horrible Decree,

   That genuine child of hell;

   Which feigns thee to pass by

   The most of Adam's race,

   And leave them in their blood to die,

   Shut out from saving grace.'

   How infinitely superior to these polemical effusions is his genuine hymn:

   'Jesus, lover of my soul,'

   which a Calvinist may sing as heartily as a pious Methodist will join in his antagonist's (Toplady's):

   'Rock of Ages, cleft for me.'

The vehemence of this opposition to the doctrine of predestination must be explained in part from the subjective and emotional nature of Methodist piety, which exposes it much more to an antinomian abuse of this doctrine than is the case with the calm intellectual tendency, of Calvinism.

On the other hand, however, the 'evangelical' Arminianism of Wesley, as it is called, differs from the Dutch Arminianism, as developed by Episcopius and Limborch, and inclines as much towards Augustinianism as Arminianism inclines towards Pelagianism. In this respect it resembles somewhat the Lutheran anthropology of the Formula of Concord, though it differs altogether from its christology and sacramentalism.

1. Methodism holds a much stronger view of original sin than Arminianism, and regards it not simply as a disease or weakness,17021702   Episcopius calls the peccatum originis an infirmitas or calamitasor malum, but not a malum culpæ and malum pœnæ. Limborch calls it malum naturale, not peccatum nostri respectu. See Winer, Comp. Symb. pp. 60 sqq. but as a total depravity that unfits man altogether for co-operation with the grace of God towards conversion. Wesley, Fletcher, and Watson describe this natural corruption in consequence of Adam's fall in the darkest colors, almost surpassing the descriptions of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin; but they deny the personal responsibility of Adam's posterity for his fall or the doctrine of original guilt; and herein they agree with the Arminians and the Quakers.

2. Methodism teaches the freedom of will as a gift of prevenient grace, which is given to every man as a check and antidote to original sin; while Arminianism, with its milder view of the fall, allows man a certain freedom of will in a weakened state as an inherent and inherited power of nature.

3. Methodism lays greater stress on the subjective experience of conversion and regeneration. Its preaching is essentially radical evangelistic revival preaching, which rouses the sinner to a sense of his danger, and the paramount necessity of an immediate, sudden, and radical change of heart and life.

THE ORIGINAL DOCTRINES OF METHODISM.

To these modifications of Arminianism must be added a few doctrines which Methodism claims as its own contributions to the better understanding of the Christian system.

1. The doctrine of the universality of divine grace, not only in its intention, but in its actual offer. Herein Methodism resembles the Quaker doctrine of universal light. It is assumed—on the ground of Paul's parallel between the first and second Adam (Rom. v.)—that all men are born into an order of saving grace, as well as into an order of sin. Adam brought a universal seed of death, but Christ brought a universal seed of life, which is available for all who do not reject it.17031703   'No man living,' says Wesley, 'is without some preventing grace, and every degree of grace is a degree of life. There is a measure of free will supernaturally restored to every man, together with that supernatural light which enlightens every man that cometh into this world.' 'That by the offense of one, judgment came upon all men (all born into the world) unto condemnation, is an undoubted truth, and affects every infant as well as every adult person. But it is equally true that by the righteousness of One, the free gift came upon all men (all born into the world—infants and adults) unto justification.' D. D. Whedon (Biblioth. Sacra, 1862, p. 258): 'Under the redemptive system, the man is born into the world, from Adam, a depraved being. It is as a depraved being that he becomes an Ego. But instantly after, in the order of nature, he is met by the provisions of atonement.' 'Every human being,' says Warren, 'has a measure of grace (unless he has cast it away), and those who faithfully use this intrusted gift will be accepted of God in the day of judgment, whether Jew or Greek, Christian or heathen. In virtue of Christ's mediation between God and the fallen race, all men since the first promise, Gen. iii. 15, are under an economy of grace, and the only difference between them as subjects of the moral government of God is that, while all have grace and light enough to attain salvation, some, over and above this, have more and others less' (Vol. I. pp. 146 sq.). Pope (pp. 239–248) distinguishes this doctrine from the Augustinian, Pelagian, Semipelagian, Tridentine, Lutheran, Calvinistic, and Arminian, and says that there is no doctrine which 'so irresistibly and universally appeals for its confirmation to the common conscience and judgment of mankind.' For by virtue of the universal atonement, man, though born in sin, is held guiltless until he arrives at the point of personal responsibility.

While Romanism and Lutheranism save those only who are brought into contact with the Church and the Sacraments, Calvinism those only who are elect from eternity, Methodism brings the opportunity of salvation to all men in this present life, though in different forms and degrees, so that they are actually saved if they do not incur the guilt of rejecting salvation by unbelief. Hence all children are saved if they die before they commit actual sin. Though born in sin, they are not held guilty before the age of responsible agency. They are saved by the same power of the universal atonement which saves adults; though there is a difference of opinion as to the regeneration of infants before death.17041704   Dr. D. D. Whedon (Biblioth. Sacra, 1862, p. 258) remarks on this point: 'That the dying infant is saved, and saved by the atonement, we all agree. But his precise condition, as affected by the atonement, while a living infant, seems to be a somewhat undecided matter. Probably a large majority of the Methodist Episcopal Church have, for some time past, held, without much discussion, that the living infant was both unjustified and unregenerate, and yet upon his death he obtained both blessings. This making death the condition of justification and regeneration appears to many hardly logical, and not without danger. Mr. Wesley's earlier expressions of opinion indicated a holding of the churchly doctrine of baptismal regeneration in infancy. His later indications of opinion indicate that he held all infants to be members of the kingdom of heaven; and he also held that regeneration is a condition to membership in the kingdom of heaven; but he does not expressly draw the inference that all infants are regenerate. Fletcher maintained the doctrine both of infant justification and regeneration. Dr. Fisk held to infant justification. Our baptismal service first declares, in its Scripture lesson of infants, that "of such is the kingdom of God," and yet declares "that none can enter into the kingdom of God unless he be regenerate." But neither here is the inference expressly drawn. The subject is a matter of calm discussion, and perhaps the number of those holding the doctrine of infant regeneration has decidedly increased.' On the same ground all heathen may be saved who do not neglect their opportunities. Ability and opportunity are the measure of responsibility, and God requires no more from man than he empowers him to perform. Christ's atonement covers the deficiency of ability in the case of infants, and the deficiency of opportunity in the case of the heathen.

Fletcher distinguishes three dispensations in this general economy of grace: the dispensation of the Father, embracing the heathen and Mohammedans, who know God only from his general revelation in nature, providence, and the conscience; the dispensation of the Son, for those who live within the limits of Christendom and the reach of the gospel; and the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, for those who have an experimental knowledge of the regenerating and sanctifying Spirit. Wesley, Watson, and Pope teach essentially the same view of the universality of grace.

2. The next distinctive doctrine of Methodism is the Witness of the Spirit or the assurance of salvation (Rom. viii. 15, 16). It is a double and concurrent witness of God's Spirit and of our spirit concerning our justification. The former is objective and divine, and antecedes; the latter is subjective and human, and follows. The Holy Spirit bears testimony to our spirit that by faith we are the children of God. This testimony is immediate and direct, and follows the work of justification and regeneration. On the ground of this testimony the believer feels assured of his present acceptance with God, and has a hope of his final salvation, but he is at the same time guarded against carnal security by the fear of a total and final fall from grace. Hence there are so many backsliders, who constitute a special class among Methodists.17051705   Comp. the three sermons of Wesley on the Witness of the Spirit (x.–xii.), Vol. I. pp. 85 sqq. He traced this doctrine to his contact with some Moravians on his voyage to Georgia (1735), whose childlike trust and serene cheerfulness led him to exclaim: 'I, who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God.' He meant conversion from legal bondage to evangelical freedom and a sense of assurance of pardon. He subsequently visited Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians in Germany to study their discipline (1739). Watson (Vol. II. p. 271) distinguishes four views on the testimony of the Spirit, and thus states his own, which agrees with Wesley's: 'It is twofold; a direct testimony or "inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God witnesses to my spirit that I am a child of God; that Christ hath loved me, and given himself for me, that I, even I, am reconciled to God" (Wesley's Sermons); and an indirect testimony, arising from the work of the Spirit in the heart and life, which St. Paul calls the testimony of our own spirit; for this is inferred from his expression, "And the Spirit beareth witness with our spirit, etc." This testimony of our own spirit, or indirect testimony of the Holy Spirit by and through our own spirit, is considered confirmatory of the first testimony.' Pope (p. 465): 'Assurance is the fruit, not the essence of faith. . . .Perfect faith must be assured of its object. . . . The internal assurance of faith is a privilege that all may claim and expect; seasons of darkness and depression and uncertainty are only the trial of that faith of assurance.'

Herein the Methodist doctrine differs from the Calvinistic doctrine of assurance which is based, not on subjective feeling, but on the divine promises and the unchangeable decree of God's election, and which covers not only the present state, but the whole process to its final completion, conditioned by the perseverance of saints as the final test of genuine conversion.17061706   The Westminster Confession, Ch. XVIII., says that true believers 'may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace, and may rejoice in hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed.' This assurance is 'founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the testimony of the Spirit witnessing with our spirit that we are the children of God.' It is not of 'the essence of faith,' and may be 'shaken, diminished, and intermitted,' yet revived again in due time and keep us from utter despair.

3. The last and crowning doctrine of Methodism, in which the Quakers likewise preceded it, is Perfectionism. It is regarded as a mighty stimulus to progressive holiness, and forms the counterpart of the doctrine of apostasy, which acts as a warning against backsliding. It is derived from such passages as Matt. v. 48; Phil. iii. 15; Heb. vi. 1; x. 14; 1 John iii. 6; v. 18. Methodist perfection is not a sinless perfection or faultlessness, which Wesley denied,17071707   In his sermons on Temptation, Vol. II. p. 215, and on Perfection, Vol. I. p. 356; Vol. II. p. 168: 'The highest perfection,' he says, 'which man can attain while the soul dwells in the body, does not exclude ignorance and error and a thousand infirmities.' but a sort of imperfect perfection, from which it is possible to fall again temporarily or forever.17081708   Meth. Catech. No. 3, p. 37: 'It is the privilege of every believer to be wholly sanctified, and to love God with all his heart in the present life; but at every stage of Christian experience there is danger of falling from grace, which danger is to be guarded against by watchfulness, prayer, and a life of faith in the Son of God.' It is entire sanctification or perfect love (1 John ii. 5; iv. 12), which every Christian may and ought to attain in this present life. From this state all voluntary transgressions or sinful volitions are excluded, though involuntary infirmities may and do remain; in this state all the normal qualities are possessed and enjoyed in their fullness. As to the attainment of perfection, it comes according to the prevailing view from gradual growth in grace, according to others by a special act of faith.17091709   Wesley has two sermons on Christian Perfection, one on Phil. iii. 12 (Vol. I. p. 355), and one on Heb. vi. 1 (Vol. II. p. 167). He distinguishes, (1) angelic, (2) Adamic, (3) absolute perfection—all of which he denies to man in his present state—and (4) the relative perfection, which he claims for him under the gospel dispensation, namely, perfect love to God. From 1 John iii. 6 and v. 18, he reasons, 'A Christian is so far perfect as not to commit sin' (Vol. I. p. 365). He affirms that several persons have enjoyed this blessing of freedom from sin without interruption for many years, and not a few unto their death, as they have declared with their last breath (Vol. II. p. 174). Pope says (p. 527): 'The Spirit is imparted in this fullness for the perfect consecration of the soul to the Triune God: this is called the love of God perfected in us. The commandment requires from us in return the perfect love of the soul to God and man; and this perfection, promised to faith working by love, is abundantly attested as the possible and attained experience of Christians.' Pope distinguishes the Methodist theory of perfection from the ascetic, the fanatical, the Pelagian, the mystical, the Romanist, the imputationist (modern Calvinistic), and the Arminian (p. 535); and he mentions five characteristic marks of the Methodist doctrine, the chief of which is entire consecration to God in perfect love (p. 540).


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