What Brings The Most Glory to God Part 2: John Wesley

The following excerpt is from John Wesley’s Predestination Calmly Considered:

48. Your objection, proposed in another form, is this: “It is not so much for the glory of God, to save man as a free agent, I put into a capacity of either concurring with, or resisting, his grace; as to save him in the way of a necessary agent, by a power which he cannot possibly resist.” O that the Lord would answer for himself! that he would arise and maintain his own cause! that he would no longer suffer his servants, few as they are, to weaken one another’s hands, and to be wearied not only with the “contradiction of sinners,” but even of those who are in a measure saved from sin! “Woe is me, that I am constrained to dwell with Meshech! among them that are enemies to peace! I labor for peace; but when I speak thereof, they still make themselves ready for battle.”

49. If it must be, then, let us look one another in the face. How is it more for the glory of God to save man irresistibly, than to save him as a free agent, by such grace as he may either concur with or resist? I fear you have a confused, unscriptural notion of “the glory of God.” What do you mean by that expression? The glory of God, strictly speaking, is his glorious essence and his attributes, which have been ever of old. And this glory admits of no increase, being the same yesterday, today, and forever. But the Scripture frequently speaks of the glory of God, in a sense something different from this; meaning thereby, the manifestation of his essential glory, of his eternal power and godhead, and of his glorious attributes, more especially his justice, mercy, and truth. And it is in this sense alone that the glory of God is said to be advanced by man. Now then, this is the point which it lies on you to prove: “That it does more eminently manifest the glorious attributes of God, more especially his justice, mercy, and truth, to save man irresistibly, than to save him by such grace as it is in his power either to concur with, or to resist.”

50. But you must not imagine I will be so unwise as to engage you here on this single point. I shall not now dispute (which yet might be done,) whether salvation by irresistible grace, (which indeed makes man a mere machine, and, consequently, no more rewardable and punishable,) whether, I say, salvation by irresistible grace, considered apart from its consequences, manifest the glory of God more or less than salvation by grace which may be resisted. Not so; but, by the assistance of God, I shall take your whole scheme together; irresistible grace for the elect, implying the denial of saving grace to all others; or unconditional election with its inseparable companion, unconditional reprobation.

The case is clearly this: You may drive me, on the one hand, unless I will contradict myself, or retract my principles, to own a measure of free-will in every man; (though not by nature, as the Assembly of Divines;) and, on the other hand, I can drive you, and every assertor of unconditional election, unless you will contradict yourself, or retract your principles, to own unconditional reprobation. Stand forth, then, free-will on the one side, and reprobation on the other; and let us see whether the one scheme, attended with the absurdity, as you think it, of free-will, or the other scheme, attended with the absurdity of reprobation, be the more defensible. Let us see (if it please the Father of Lights to open the eyes of our understanding) which of these is more for the glory of God, for the display of his glorious attributes, for the manifestation of his wisdom, justice, and mercy, to the sons of men.

51. First, his wisdom. If man be in some measure free; if, by that light which “lighteneth every man that comes into the world,” there be “set before him life and death, good and evil;” then how gloriously does the manifold wisdom of God appear in the whole economy of man’s salvation! Being willing that all men should be saved, yet not willing to force them thereto; willing that men should be saved, yet not as trees or stones, but as men, as reasonable creatures, endued with understanding to discern what is good, and liberty either to accept or refuse it; how does he suit the whole scheme of his dispensations to this his proqesiv, his plan, “the counsel of his will!” His first step is to enlighten the understanding by that general knowledge of good and evil. To this he adds many secret reproofs, if they act contrary to this light; many inward convictions, which there is not a man on earth who has not often felt. At other times he gently moves their wills, he draws and woos them, as it were, to walk in the light. He instills into their hearts good desires, though perhaps they know not from whence they come.

Thus far he proceeds with all the children of men, yea, even with those who have not the knowledge of his written word. But in this, what a field of wisdom is displayed, suppose man to be in some degree a free agent! How is every part of it suited to this end! to save man, as man; to set life and death before him, and then persuade (not force) him to choose life. According to this grand purpose of God, a perfect rule is first set before him, to serve as a “lantern to his feet, and a light in all his paths.” This is offered to him in a form of a law, enforced with the strongest sanctions, the most glorious rewards for them that obey, the severest penalties on them that break it. To reclaim these, God uses all manner of ways; he tries every avenue of their souls. He applies sometimes to their understanding, showing them the folly of their sins; sometimes to their affections, tenderly expostulating with them for their ingratitude, and even condescending to ask, “What could I have done for” you (consistent with my eternal purpose, not to force you) “which I have not done?” He intermixes sometimes threats, – “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish;” sometimes promises, – “Your sins and your iniquities will I remember no more.” Now, what wisdom is seen in all this, if man may indeed choose life or death!

But if every man be unalterably consigned to heaven or hell before he comes from his mother’s womb, where is the wisdom of this; of dealing with him, in every respect, as if he were free, when it is no such thing? What avails, what can this whole dispensation of God avail a reprobate? What are promises or threats, expostulations or reproofs to thee, thou firebrand of hell? What, indeed, (O my brethren, suffer me to speak, for I am full of matter!) but empty farce, but mere grimace, sounding words, that mean just nothing? O where (to wave all other considerations now) is the wisdom of this proceeding!  To what end does all this apparatus serve? If you say, “To insure his damnation;” alas, what needeth that, seeing this was insured before the foundation of the world! Let all mankind then judge, which of these accounts is more for the glory of God’s wisdom!

52. We come next to his justice. Now, if man be capable of choosing good or evil, then he is a proper object of the justice of God, acquitting or condemning, rewarding or punishing. But otherwise he is not. A mere machine is not capable of being either acquitted or condemned. Justice cannot punish a stone for falling to the ground; nor, on your scheme, a man for falling into sin. For he can no more help it than the stone, if he be, in your sense, fore-ordained to this condemnation. Why does this man sin? “He cannot cease from sin.” Why cannot he cease from sin? “Because he has no saving grace.” Why has he no saving grace? “Because God, of his own good pleasure, hath eternally decreed not to give it him.” Is he then under an unavoidable necessity of sinning? “Yes, as much as a stone is of falling. He never had any more power to cease from evil, than a stone has to hang in the air.”

And shall this man, for not doing what he never could do, and for doing what he never could avoid, be sentenced to depart into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels? “Yes, because it is the sovereign will of God.” Then “you have either found a new God, or made one!” This is not the God of the Christians. Our God is just in all his ways; he reapeth not where he hath not strewed. He requireth only according to what he hath given; and where he hath given little, little is required. The glory of his justice is this, to “reward every man according to his works.” Hereby is that glorious attribute shown, evidently set forth before men and angels, in that it is accepted of every man according to that he hath, and not according to that he hath not. This is that just decree which cannot pass, either in time or in eternity. Thus one scheme gives the justice of God its full scope, leaves room for it to be largely displayed in all its branches; whereas the other makes it a mere shadow; yea, brings it absolutely to nothing.

53. Just as gloriously does it display his love; supposing it to be fixed on one in ten of his creatures, (might I not rather say, on one in a hundred?) and to have no regard to the rest. Let the ninety-and-nine reprobates perish without mercy. It is enough for him, to love and save the one elect. But why will he have mercy on these alone, and leave all those to inevitable destruction? “He will – because he will!” O that God would give unto you who thus speak, meekness of wisdom! Then, would I ask, What would the universal voice of mankind pronounce of the man that should act thus? that being able to deliver millions of men from death with a single breath of his mouth, should refuse to save any more than one in a hundred, and say, “I will not, because I will not!” How then do you exalt the mercy of God, when you ascribe such a proceeding to him? What a strange comment is this on his own word, that “his mercy is over all his works!”

Do you think to evade this by saying, “His mercy is more displayed, in irresistibly saving the elect, than it would be in giving the choice of salvation to all men, and actual salvation to those that accepted it?” How so? Make this appear if you can. What proof do you bring of this assertion? I appeal to every impartial mind, whether the reverse be not obviously true; whether the mercy of God would not be far less gloriously displayed, in saving a few by his irresistible power, and leaving all the rest without help, without hope, to perish everlastingly, than in offering salvation to every creature, actually saving all that consent thereto, and doing for the rest all that infinite wisdom, almighty power, and boundless love can do, without forcing them to be saved, which would be to destroy the very nature that he had given them. I appeal, I say, to every impartial mind, and to your own, if not quite blinded with prejudice, which of these accounts places the mercy of God in the most advantageous light.

54. Perhaps you will say, “But there are other attributes of God, namely, his sovereignty, unchangeableness, and faithfulness. I hope you do not deny these.” I answer, No; by no means. The sovereignty of God appears,

(1.) In fixing from eternity that decree touching the sons of men, “He that believeth shall be saved: He that believeth not shall be damned.”

(2.) In all the general circumstances of creation; in the time, the place,the manner of creating all things; in appointing the number and kinds of creatures, visible and invisible.

(3.) In allotting the natural endowments of men, these to one, and those to another.

(4.) In disposing the time, place, and other outward circumstances (as parents, relations) attending the: birth of every one.

(5.) In dispensing the various gifts of his Spirit, for the edification of his Church.

(6.) In ordering all temporal things, as health, fortune, friends, everything short of eternity. But in disposing the eternal states of men, (allowing only what was observed under the first article,) it is clear, that not sovereignty alone, but justice, mercy, and truth hold the reins. The Governor of heaven and earth, the I AM, over all, God blessed forever, takes no step here but as these direct, and prepare the way before his face. This is his eternal and irresistible will, as he hath revealed unto us by his Spirit; declaring in the strongest terms, adding his oath to his word, and, because he would swear by no greater, swearing by himself, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth.” The death of him that dieth can never be resolved into my pleasure or sovereign will. No; it is impossible. We challenge all mankind, to bring on clear, scriptural proof to the contrary. You can bring no scripture proof that God ever did, or assertion that he ever will, act as mere sovereign in eternally condemning any soul that ever was or will be born into the world.

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