Thursday, May 14, 2009

Kinder gentler Arminianism

Charles Wesley

Oh Horrible Decree
Worthy of whence it came!
Forgive their hellish blasphemy
Who charge it on the Lamb.

The righteous God consigned
Them over to their doom,
And sent the Saviour of mankind
To damn them from the womb;

To damn for falling short
Of what they could not do
For not believing the report
Of that which was not true.


God, ever merciful and just
With newborn babes did Tophet fill;
Down into endless torments thrust;
Merely to show His sovereign will.

This is that ‘Horrible Decree!’
This that wisdom from beneath!
God (O detect the blasphemy)
Hath pleasure in the sinner’s death.

John Wesley

Such blasphemy this, as one would think might make the ears of a Christian to tingle! But there is yet more behind; for just as it honours the Son, so doth this doctrine honour the Father. It destroys all his 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.

This is the blasphemy clearly contained in the horrible decree of predestination! And here I fix my foot. On this I join issue with every assertor of it. You represent God as worse than the devil; more false, more cruel, more unjust. But you say you will prove it by scripture. Hold! What will you prove by Scripture? That God is worse than the devil? It cannot be. Whatever that Scripture proves, it never proved this; whatever its true meaning be. This cannot be its true meaning. Do you ask, "What is its true meaning then?" If I say, " I know not," you have gained nothing; for there are many scriptures the true sense whereof neither you nor I shall know till death is swallowed up in victory. But this I know, better it were to say it had no sense, than to say it had such a sense as this. It cannot mean, whatever it mean besides, that the God of truth is a liar. Let it mean what it will, it cannot mean that the Judge of all the world is unjust. No scripture can mean 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.

Hearest thou not that God is the devouring lion, the destroyer of souls, the murderer of men? Moloch caused only children to pass though the fire: and that fire was soon quenched; or, the corruptible body being consumed, its torment was at an end; but God, thou are told, by his eternal decree, fixed before they had done good or evil, causes, not only children of a span long, but the parents also, to pass through the fire of hell, the 'fire which never shall be quenched; and the body which is cast thereinto, being now incorruptible and immortal, will be ever consuming and never consumed, but 'the smoke of their torment,' because it is God's good pleasure, 'ascendeth up for ever and ever.' "

Sing, O hell, and rejoice, ye that are under the earth! For God, even the mighty God, hath spoken, and devoted to death thousands of souls, form the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof! Here, O death, is they sting! They shall not, cannot escape; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. Here, O grave is thy victory. Nations yet unborn, or ever they have done good or evil are doomed never to see the light of life, but thou shalt gnaw upon them for ever and ever! Let all those morning stars sing together, who fell with Lucifer, son of the morning! Let all the sons of hell shout for joy! For the decree is past, and who shall disannul it?"


  1. While I think there is a kind of Calvinism against which this accusation is completely misplaced, I don't think it can be denied that there is a kind of popular Calvinism which completely eliminates any sense of a the general will of God that all be saved, or the genuine offer to the non-elect. It tends to be the same kind that tries to rationally explain everything, and has no space for any mystery.

    And, on a related matter, I'm not sure that an Owenite explanation of the atonement (in contrast to, say, Davenant's or (arguably) Calvin's) can escape undermining the genuine offer.

  2. Well, Paul Helm recently took issue with a formulation of the free offer which is predicated on a divine desire to save the reprobate. Likewise, William Young, another Reformed philosopher, takes a position similar to Helm. So this isn't just a "popular" brand of Calvinism.

    As to whether limited atonement undermines the free offer of the Gospel, it's not as if adherents of limited atonement are unacquainted with that objection, and have no counterarguments at their disposal.

  3. The fundamental problem with Wesley's fulminations against reprobation is that Wesley was committed to divine foreknowledge. But although that involves a different principle than divine foreordination, it's the functional equivalent insofar as God is choosing to create hellbound sinners in full knowledge of their fate, although it's within his power to do otherwise.

    So all his fulminations could be transferred to divine foreknowledge in conjunction with divine creation.

  4. By popular I didn't mean unsophisticated, just the majority version of what is called "Calvinism" nowadays (excluding the neo-Calvinist stuff).

    "As to whether limited atonement undermines the free offer of the Gospel, it's not as if adherents of limited atonement are unacquainted with that objection, and have no counterarguments at their disposal."

    No doubt they do. I'm not sure how one could go the direction of Helm, however, and defend such a concept.

    Of course, you're right about the weakness of Wesley's objection. One can see how his objection held as a core conviction would ultimately lead to open theism.

  5. I should clarify one thing: when I said "excluding neo-Calvinism", I didn't mean to identify them with the minority I'm talking about. I mean to exclude them from the label of "calvinist" entirely when it comes to this kind of question.

  6. I think my original point in sympathizing a bit with Wesley is that I think part of the point behind affirming comprehensive foreknowledge and denying a comprehensive decree is because when Arminians (and others) hear "comprehensive decree" they think this entails a denial of "two wills" in God, that it entails something like what Helm is arguing, and they find this repugnant. But some people who hold to the comprehensive decree would not fall under Wesley's objections (specifically, any who hold to their being two-wills in God).

  7. " scripture can prove predestination."

    "I will have mercy on whom I will."

    Jesus said don't fear the devil and men, who can kill the body, but fear God, who can destroy body, and soul, in hell.

    "I pray God to bring all such to a sense of his eternal love, that they may no longer build upon their own faithfulness, but on the unchangeableness of that God whose gifts and callings are without repentance. For those whom God has once justified, he also will glorify." -George Whitefield

  8. I'm going to have to look up John Wesley's commentaries again. I remember reading his comments on Acts 13:48 and it was something like, "whatever this verse says, it's not about predestination!" He certainly did seem to have an irrational hatred of determinism.

  9. Wesley actually explained it well.

    As many as were ordained to eternal life - St. Luke does not say fore - ordained. He is not speaking of what was done from eternity, but of what was then done, through the preaching of the Gospel. He is describing that ordination, and that only, which was at the very time of hearing it. During this sermon those believed, says the apostle, to whom God then gave power to believe. It is as if he had said, "They believed, whose hearts the Lord opened;" as he expresses it in a clearly parallel place, speaking of the same kind of ordination, Acts 16:14, &c. It is observable, the original word is not once used in Scripture to express eternal predestination of any kind. The sum is, all those and those only, who were now ordained, now believed. Not that God rejected the rest: it was his will that they also should have been saved: but they thrust salvation from them. Nor were they who then believed constrained to believe. But grace was then first copiously offered them. And they did not thrust it away, so that a great multitude even of Gentiles were converted. In a word, the expression properly implies, a present operation of Divine grace working faith in the hearers.

  10. "it was his will that they also should have been saved"

    His will be done, that's for certain. God has mercy on those whom He wills, and purposes to have mercy on.

    And, you know, this is way more humbling, then saying God has mercy on those rebels, sinners, children of wrath, who change their mind of being rebels, sinners, and sons of wrath, and repent with a heart of trusting Christ, and hating their rebllion. sin, and fear the lord, whose wrath is upon them.

    Salvation is of the Lord, 100%. Grace, grace, God's grace.

    May you have a joyful and grateful Lord's day in His grace, peace, joy, and most of all, love. Amen.