Wednesday, April 2, 2008

John Calvin and John Wesley

It may surprise some of our readers to find these two men linked in a title, but to us there is nothing odd. We have been reading Wesley nearly as long as we have been reading Calvin, and indeed our first volumes of Calvin, the two volumes of his Commentary on Genesis in the Calvin Translation Society edition of 1850, came from the library of the Wesleyan theological Institution (latterly Richmond College), Richmond, Surrey (bookplate illustrated). So the two men are quite linked in our mind.
We are not of the sort of men who can make a sermon out of the commentaries of others, yet the commentaries we have most often consulted are those of Calvin and the Notes on the New Testament of John Wesley.

Theologically, of course, we are closer to John Calvin than to Wesley, but we would maintain that we are second to no Wesleyan in our admiration for Mr. John Wesley as a man and a preacher. We are not Romanist, but we maintain that there are few more hallowed places in England than a certain place on the City Road in London, where Wesley's chapel faces Bunhill Fields across the road. If there is a place of Protestant pilgrimage in London, it is that place. We have often visited that place, and knelt in silent prayer in the little courtyard under which lie the mortal remains of John Wesley, 'in sure and certain hope of the resurrection of life.'
We have preached in a Wesleyan chapel and a presbyterian church. Calvin and Wesley are a part of our life and our Christian heritage.

Why Wesley and Calvin? We feel that both men have been largely treated in the same way, either whitewashed or vilified in general. They are great men, but neither saints nor monsters. As with all great men their faults were great as well as their virtues, and so their admirers have commonly seen only their virtues, whilst their detractors have only seen their faults. Both men await standard biographies that will portray them as they were, as men.

Wesley and Calvin were very different men in many ways, not simply doctrinally. Calvin was a reticent, quiet man who rarely talked about himself, and whose life is therefore often quite difficult to chronicle, he suffered from ill-health, and was happily married, though for too short a time. He died at a relatively early age. Wesley, on the other hand, recorded his life in great detail and enjoyed amazingly good health until his last years. Wesley's marriage was a complete disaster, and he died at a ripe old age. Calvin's work was done while based in one place, while Wesley travelled throughout the British Isles. And Wesley, of course, was an Arminian of a type (there are different kinds of Arminian).

We hold, having read all the writings of John Wesley and most of those of Calvin, that both men were true Christians. But Wesley's mind had been poisoned against Calvinism, which he seems never to have understood correctly. He thought that Calvinists believed that "the elect shall be saved do what they may, the reprobate shall be damned, do what they will." No Calvinist has ever held this. We hold that the elect are called to good works, to sanctification, and that the reprobate are damned for their own sins.
John Wesley's theology, as found in his collected works, is simply not integrated. In the face of those who said that Divine providence was simply general, he taught that God's providence was particular, and asked sagely "what is a general without particulars?" Well, is not Wesley right? So what is a 'general' election of a class without particular election of the members of that class? What is a general redemption unless it is the redemption of particulars? Wesley's logic demolishes his Arminianism. We have often quoted him in preaching as our Arminian interlocutor, in order to avoid the objection that we shoot at a straw man in our responding to free-will teaching.
In Calvin's case, we agree with the marrow of his doctrine whilst condemning some of the things he did, most notably in the Servetus case. In Wesley's we agree with much of what he did whilst dissenting from his Arminianism and perfectionism. No-one is perfect, and Wesley's theology is a muddle, not a system.

Calvinism has been charged with encouraging a morbid introspection, but Wesley could be as morbidly introspective as any Puritan. His doctrine of 'Christian perfection' (which is a perfect mess and quite unintelligible, even after multiple readings) led him to condemn himself in the most amazing terms:
In one of my last [letters] I was saying that I do not feel the wrath of God abiding on me; nor can I believe it does. And yet (this is the mystery), I do not love God. I never did. Therefore I never believed, in the Christian sense of the word. Therefore I am only an honest heathen

Wesley was faced by men who had never known the sinfulness of their own hearts, saying that THEY were sinless. And his guileless soul believed them, which plunged him into this deep depression.
It is this very experimental knowledge of the sinfulness of sin that convinces us that Wesley was a true Christian. He speaks not as the hypocrite, but as Paul does when he cries out "Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Had Wesley ever claimed to be perfect, then we would have doubted his salvation indeed!

We have the portraits of Calvin and Wesley on our wall. There we shall keep them, as we keep their writings. And from the lives of both we shall continue to draw encouragement and challenge.


John Lofton, Recovering Republican said...

Hope you visit, please, our Reformed/Neo-Puritan web site Here’s our “Mission Statement.” God bless you all – and He does bless us when we OBEY Him.

John Lofton, Editor
Recovering Republican

Mission Statement
“For the nation and kingdom that shall not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.” — Isaiah 60:12.

As Christians, we are commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ to teach all nations — including ours — to observe all things He has commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). This means bringing into captivity to Christ all areas of life and thought. This means destroying arguments that are against the knowledge of God (II Corinthians 10:5). In obedience to these commands of our Lord, this Web site is established. We covet your prayers for our success in obeying Him.

We are seriously concerned about, deeply grieved by and lament the fact that far too many of today’s so-called “Christian leaders” are a sinful embarrassment and are responsible for the cause of Christ being mocked and ridiculed. By being, first, cheerleaders for the Republican Party, they have dishonored their Lord and sold their Christian birthright for a mess of partisan political pottage. These individuals and organizations are Christian in name only, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” From such, it is added, we must turn away.

Secular, Christless conservatism — even when it is supposedly “compassionate” — will not defeat secular, Christless liberalism because to God they are two atheistic peas-in-a-pod and, thus, predestined to failure.

More than 100 years ago, speaking of the secular, Christless conservatism of his time, the great Southern Presbyterian theologian, Robert L. Dabney, observed:

“[Its] history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution, to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward to perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt hath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted? Its impotency is not hard to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It tends to risk nothing serious for the sake of truth.”

Amen! And what Dabney says has been proven with a vengeance in modern times, under recent Republican Administrations and Congresses who were supported enthusiastically by individuals and organizations who called themselves “Christian” but who, alas, when judged by their fruits, were not.

To those who will accuse of us of desiring and trying to bring about “a Christian America,” we unashamedly plead guilty though the accusation is far too modest and somewhat muddled. To be sure, we desire a Christian America, and a Christian world, a Christian galaxy and a Christian universe. And, over time, by His grace, we hope to demonstrate that all these things already belong to the Lord Jesus Christ because He created them all and they are His property. This is why all knees must bow to the Lord and all tongues confess that He is the Lord — because He is!

Jude 1:3 3

“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” (KJV)

For more than 35 years John Lofton has covered national politics and cultural/religious issues as a journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist, TV-radio commentator/analyst and political advisor.
• Editor, "Monday," the weekly, national publication of the Republican National Committee, 1970-73.
• Nationally-syndicated columnist for "United Features" Syndicate in more than 100 papers nationwide, 1973-80.
• Editor, "Battleline," monthly newsletter of The American Conservative Union, 1977-80.
• Editor, "Conservative Digest" magazine, 1980-82.
• Columnist, "The Washington Times" newspaper, 1982-89.
• Program-host/commentator, "America's Voice," a national cable TV network in all 50 states, 1998-99.
• A commentator on the "Mutual Radio Network;"
• An advisor to the Presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan;
• Author of a monthly column on the Federal bureaucracy for Howard Phillips' "Conservative Caucus."
• Has written articles for the NRA magazine “America’s First Freedom”; Gun Owners Of America.
• Communications Director for Constitution Party Presidential candidate Michael Anthony Peroutka in 2004.
• Co–host with Michael Peroutka of “The American View” radio program nationally-syndicated by “Radio America.”
John Lofton has given numerous speeches before various groups, Liberal and Conservative, including Liberty University/Bob Jones University. He has appeared on every major TV/radio talk show (including the Comedy Channel’s “Daily Show”/“Politically Incorrect”) to debate every imaginable kind of anti-Christian goofball --- and some who are unimaginable but who do, alas, exist. And he never went to college which is why he is so smart. He can be reached at: Phone: (301) 410-760-8885; cell phone: 301-873-4612; email:

Martin said...

Wesleyan perfectionism AND Bezan/Owenite versions of Calvinism do encourage morbid introspection through the syllogismus practicus. This, however, was not the case with Calvin. Check out for example:

Dwhite said...

You are wrong to say Wesley's theology was a "muddle". To anyone who cares to take the time, Wesley wrote extensively on all the major doctrines with similar rigor as Calvin or Luther. It was a deliberate decision of Wesley's to construct theology in response to pastoral situations, not as abstractions. While you are certainly right that Wesley's thought changed on certain matters over time, it is not accurate to characterize his theology as un-integrated or un-systematic. It is highly coherent.