The Puritan Board and the “Plague”

I have been getting a few hits from a Reformed discussion board that linked here.  I thought it was only fair to give them a little attention as they have seen fit to give my blog some attention. I also wanted to address some of the discussion from here since I am not permitted to comment on their discussion board (one must adhere to several Calvinistic Creeds and confessions in order to register).

The link was to a post on Paul Washer which was simply a question on my part as to Mr. Washer’s theology.  It was in response to posts  written by Rick Frueh here and here.  I haven’t listened to Paul Washer, nor have I read anything he has written, but Mr. Frueh quoted from one (or more) of his sermons and pointed out that his preaching seems inconsistent with his apparent Calvinism.  But really the board was not much concerned with Washer (though I will address a few of those related comments), but with a quote from Wesley on the left side bar of my site.  Someone on the board quoted the Wesley reference and looked to generate discussion on it while linking to my site.  It seems that the person just happened to link to the Washer post while linking to my blog (rather than a general link to my site, it is a specific link to the Paul Washer post).  So first I will address the outrage at the Wesley quote and then in my next post address some of the comments on Paul Washer.

The initial poster at The Puritan Board wrote:

Wesley calls Calvinism a Plague

John Wesley

“Answer all [the Calvinists’] objections, as occasion offers, both in public and private. But take care to do this with all possible sweetness both of look and of accent…Make it a matter of constant and earnest prayer, that God would stop the plague.”

Paul Washer: Calvinist, Arminian, or Confused? Arminian Perspectives

This was met with some shock by those who read it on the board.  These responses seem strange for a few reasons.  First, these posters are quite fond of Spurgeon’s quote that Calvinism is just a “nickname for the gospel”.  For instance, one poster quickly wrote:

Yeah, the gospel [or a nickname for it–calvinism] is a plague to Wesleyan man-made man-glorifying religion.

This poster then quoted 2 Cor. 2:15 which states,

For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?

So we see that these Calvinists believe that anything other than Calvinism is not the gospel and those who reject Calvinism should fall under the condemnation described by Paul here in 2 Cor. 2:15.  In light of such comments one wonders why these Calvinists would be bothered by Wesley calling Calvinism a plague?  They can say that anything other than Calvinism is false gospel which causes death in those who adhere to it, but Wesley has crossed the line in referring to Calvinism as a plague?  What else do these Calvinists have to say about those who reject Calvinism?  Here are few more comments.  One poster wrote:

There is a sense in which I can agree with him. God often uses plagues to judge and purify his people (Like the one in Joel), plus they are often spoken of as His army. So if Calvinism is a plague- an army of God marching judgment upon the unfaithful, I’m there!

And another:

Amen! The Gospel is a scandal to those whom are outside, believe in decisional or baptismal regeneration, or works of man for salvation. They want Jesus as Savior, but on their terms, not His. In other words, it is the Lordless Salvation, which is an abomination unto the Lord.

How about that one?  Anything “outside” of Calvinism is “outside” the gospel.  But if this person thinks he is describing Arminianism he needs to study the other side a little more.  Arminians do not believe that a decision or act on the part of man causes regeneration.  Only God can and does regenerate.  We do not regenerate ourselves by trusting in Christ.  Rather, the Holy Spirit regenerates those who trust in Christ. God responds to faith, not works, and God is the sole agent in regeneration.  And it was God’s sovereign and free decision to make faith the condition that must be met before God will save.  God had the right to make salvation conditioned on faith and we have not the right to deny God that divine privilege.  And so Arminians believe that it is the Calvinist that is trying to create his or her “own terms” with regards to how God is allowed to be “Savior”.

Now if Calvinism is just a “nickname for the gospel” then anything other than Calvinism is under the curse of God (Gal. 1:8, 9), results in eternal condemnation, and is certainly a plague.  So the Calvinists who seem to think that Wesley has gone too far in calling Calvinism a plague affirm wholeheartedly that anything not Calvinism is “outside” the gospel and a savour of death (2 Cor. 2:15).

Second, Wesley did not believe that Calvinists were “outside” the gospel in the way that these posters seem to think any non-Calvinist is “outside” the gospel.  Wesley was concerned with the fruit of Calvinism, which in his day was a lack of zeal for evangelism and holy living.  He was especially concerned with antinomianism (lawlessness) on the part of many practicing Calvinists.   Calvinists often retort that their doctrines can never lead to antinomianism, but Wesley encountered antinomianism among Calvinists countless times in his travels and ministry.

If a Calvinist in Wesley’s day had said Calvinism can never lead to antinomianism, Wesley would have just pointed to all the antinomian Calvinists who practiced lawlessness as a direct result of their Calvinist convictions.  The problem was so bad that John Fletcher wrote a massive work entitled Checks to Antinomianism to address the problem.  He not only attacked and refuted antinomianism as unbiblical but demonstrated how Calvinism can lead to such ungodly practice.  So Wesley was not saying that Calvinists cannot be saved as these posters at The Puritan Board seem to believe that non-Calvinists cannot be saved (since they adhere to a cursed and false gospel).  Wesley saw Calvinism as a plague in the church because its doctrines encouraged sinful living and discouraged evangelism.  Certainly anything that would do that is a plague on the church.  Yet Wesley believed that Calvinists who were not antinomians were surely saved since they were trusting in Christ for salvation, despite being wrong about how God goes about saving people.

But perhaps they should be excused for not knowing the background of the Wesley quote they found so distasteful.  One poster complained,

On a side note, this is one of my pet peeves (this is not against you JM, but against the posting on the original link): quotes with no reference, especially when there is an ellipsis in the quote.

I am afraid the context probably won’t provide all the background necessary to understand Wesley’s quote (since one would have to be familiar with the antinomian controversy that Wesley faught against), but I will provide the context nonetheless. The quote is taken from the Wesleyan Heritage Collection CD by Ages Library.  It is under “Works of John Wesley Vol. 08” on the CD, pg. 373.  Here is the quote with surrounding context.  I have highlighted (in bold) the portions quoted as well as the portion that reveals the issue of antinomianism in connection with Calvinsim is being addressed:

Q. 74. What is the direct antidote to Methodism, the doctrine of heart-holiness?

A. Calvinism: All the devices of Satan, for these fifty years, have done far less toward stopping this work of God, than that single doctrine. It strikes at the root of salvation from sin, previous to glory, putting the matter on quite another issue.

Q. 75. But wherein lie the charms of this doctrine? What makes men swallow it so greedily?


(1.) It seems to magnify Christ; although in reality it supposes him to have died in vain. For the absolutely elect must have been saved without him; and the non-elect cannot be saved by him.

(2.) It is highly pleasing to flesh and blood, final perseverance in particular.

Q. 76. What can be done to guard against it?


(1.) Let all our Preachers carefully read over ours and Mr. Fletcher’s Tracts.

(2.) Let them frequently and explicitly preach the truth, though not in a controversial way. But let them take care to do it in love and gentleness; not in bitterness, not returning railing for railing: Let those who preach it have all this to themselves.

(3.) Do not imitate them in screaming, allegorizing, boasting: Rather mildly expose these things when time serves.

(4.) Imitate them in this: They readily seize upon any one that is newly convinced or converted. Be diligent to prevent them, and to guard those tender minds against the predestination poison.

(5.) Answer all their objections, as occasion offers, both in public and private. But take care to do this with all possible sweetness both of look and of accent.

(6.) Very frequently, both in public and private, advise our people not to hear them.

(7.) Make it a matter of constant and earnest prayer, that God would stop the plague.

I hope that clears things up some.  I understand wanting the quote cited and not liking the ellipses, but it would have been quite cumbersome to quote all of this on the side bar.  At any rate, the context and reference is now available for anyone who may be interested.  I will address the comments concerning Paul Washer in my next post.

14 thoughts on “The Puritan Board and the “Plague”

  1. A comment not related to the original concern, relating to the Calvinist resurgence.

    Wesley writes: Imitate them in this: They readily seize upon any one that is newly convinced or converted. Be diligent to prevent them, and to guard those tender minds against the predestination poison.

    This is insightful. Christians who are immature in their faith are most vulnerable to the damaging influence of Calvinism. These days in America even those who have grown up in the church are often unfamiliar with the scriptures. They are thus vulnerable to Calvinist arguments that quote scripture out of context. I think that much of the Calvinist resurgence among the twenty-somethings can be attributed to this reality.

    It is much easier for a plague to attack a weak body than a healthy one.

  2. Washer is a Calvinist and quite a strong one at that. I have heard him say that Arminianism is a works centered, man centered religion that opposes the doctrines of grace. While I appreciate Washer’s passion for evangelism, missions, and on being a true Christian, I of course do not agree with his Calvinism.

  3. “Arminians do not believe that a decision or act on the part of man causes regeneration. Only God can and does regenerate. We do not regenerate ourselves by trusting in Christ. Rather, the Holy Spirit regenerates those who trust in Christ. God responds to faith, not works, and God is the sole agent in regeneration.”

    I have been reading your blog… i think a year and a half now, can’t believe calvinists still ignores this information or don’t know it.

    From my experience, I remember reading a lot about Arminianism first then Calvinism for me to decide which one i will adhere to. See I rock(wow see how self-glorifying that was? LOL)

    For example, arminius on Romans 9, Piper on Foreknowledge, Calvinists interpretation of Acts 13:48, Adam Clarke’s interpretation of it etc etc.

    I wonder how they start studying and how their learning cycle is before they become Calvinists. I cringe when I see a newbie Calvinist uses the “Daisy” against their TULIP for example, I never see Arminius, Wesley, Clarke, Grotius and the others uses that flower etc.

    Maybe they study backwards? *_*

  4. Kevin,

    I think you are right about that. I also found the comment about perseverance of the saints being pleasing to the flesh interesting. Calvinists often tell Arminians that their adherence to free will (and “freed” will with regards to salvation) is driven by a carnal desire to be in control or deny God’s sovereignty.

    One can just as easily argue, as did Wesley, that the doctrine of inevitable perseverance is what makes Calvinism so attractive as the flesh wants to believe in guaranteed salvation (and to think that God chose us out of so many from eternity is a very attractive thought as well and can make one feel pretty important, despite the common “I am a worm” rhetoric). It seems that Calvinists get more emotional over defending this doctrine than any other.

    If I could get rid of a Biblical doctrine it would be eternal punishment. I would like to be a universalist. But I must reject universalism because it contradicts Scripture. Second, I would believe in unconditional eternal security (esp. the kind that denies the need even for perseverance in faith). But I reject eternal security because it contradicts Scripture. Inevitable perseverance has some charm as well (though it undermines Biblical assurance), but I reject that doctrine because I am convinced it is not Scriptural.

    So I find it strange to hear Calvinists trying to tell me that I reject Calvinism due to some emotional response to such and such a doctrine (as I noted in Part 1 of “The Five Dilemmas”, Sproul says Arminianism tastes sweet to our sinful human natures), since I have little doubt that many Calvinists cling to Calvinism for emotional reasons.

    God Bless,

  5. Roy,

    Did you read the posts by Rick? No doubt Washer claims to be a Calvinist (and teaches Calvinism) but the point of the posts is that his preaching often seems out of harmony with basic Calvinist convictions. In other words, when comes to practical ministry, Washer, like so many other Calvinists, starts to sound an aweful lot like an Arminian.

    God Bless,

  6. rex,

    I wonder how they start studying and how their learning cycle is before they become Calvinists. I cringe when I see a newbie Calvinist uses the “Daisy” against their TULIP for example, I never see Arminius, Wesley, Clarke, Grotius and the others uses that flower etc.

    When I get to Part 3 of “Five Dilemmas” I will be mentioning that Craig, who is so concerned about clearing up misunderstandings, is happy to stoop to referencing the “Daisy” as an accurate description of Arminianism. Very sad.

    God Bless,

  7. “In other words, when comes to practical ministry, Washer, like so many other Calvinists, starts to sound an awful lot like an Arminian.”

    Yes, because they have to live in the **real world** (e.g., the world where we have and make choices, the world where a Christian’s sanctification and growth really does relate to their making the right choices from available alternatives both good and bad). Listen to the necessitarian preachers exhorting their congregations to make the right choices. They will talk about what people are doing wrong and need to turn away from, what people are doing and should be doing instead, all things that involve their people having choices and needing to make the right choices. And yet if their necessitarian views are correct they are both lying and misleading their people (e.g., if God predetermines that a believer struggle with a particular sin and temptation it is then impossible for that poor soul to choose to do the right thing, if God actually predetermines for him to struggle with that sin then struggle he will with no chance to choose otherwise as his action is **necessitated**).

    In this respect the necessitarian and atheist are in a similar boat: they deny biblical truths in their espoused beliefs, and yet because they live in the **real world** as designed, created and maintained by God. They end up engaging in the very realities that their espoused philosophies/theologies deny (this is one of the reasons that necessatarians are ***particularly weak in the area of sanctification***, because it involves having choices and consistently making the right choices, and yet their espoused theology claims that we never ever have choices). It can even get comical at times watching the atheist or necessitarian **constantly** doing things that their espoused beliefs (if true)would make impossible. Now if they had some common sense and more allegiance to the bible than their false system of theology, they would realize that perhaps since their espoused beliefs cannot be lived out in the real world (the world that God actually made), that perhaps their beliefs are false and they need to revise their beliefs.

    So if Washer or any other necessitarian is inconsistent with his espoused necessitarian beliefs it is only because he is taking the real world more seriously (there is an inverse relationship between the necessitarian’s beliefs and the real world, the more he goes towards one the more he is inconsistent with the other)


  8. “I see what you are getting at now. Yes, Washer can sound Arminian. Perhaps he is pulling a Tozer who said he preached like an Arminian but prayed like a Calvinist.”

    This reminds me of something that I heard years ago: everyone believes in the sovereignty of God when they are on their knees.

    This statement actually captures the biblical view of sovereignty: that He does as He pleases. Everyone on their knees does not believe that God exhaustively predetermines all events (within all of Christianity, only a tiny minority have believed that). So what is it that every believer seems to believe and know when they are on their knees praying? They know that God answers prayer and that the answer that God gives is totally up to God. They know that a person may be dying physically and that God has the power to completely heal that person, if He wants to. They know that healings like everything else that we pray for, are completely up to God to decide: that He could choose to heal or choose not to heal in a particular situation. The bible has verses which speak about God’s sovereignty. They are the verses that say that: HE DOES AS HE PLEASES.

    All true believers, whether they be Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, Independents, when they pray knowing and believing that God does as He pleases, they believe in the sovereignty of God. And the fact that they are on their knees shows that they know and believe Him to be sovereign, not they themselves.


  9. Yup @kangaroo, its VERY SAD…

    Look what result I had when I took a Which Theologian are You? quiz from facebook:

    Wesley lived from 1703-91. He taught justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as understood by Scripture alone. He differed from other Protestant like Luther, Calvin, and Edwards in saying that we ultimately choose God (free will), rather than the idea that He chose us (predestination). Wesley strongly emphasized personal piety.


  10. rex,

    I would disagree with the wording there concerning Wesleyan beliefs. I don’t think Wesley would ever say that “we ultimately choose God”. God is the one who ultimately chooses and He chooses to save believers who are in union with His elect mediator, Jesus Christ. God chose to save believers in faith union with His Son before the foundation of the earth (Eph. 1:4). Jesus is the sphere of election and when we trust in Him God makes us a part of His chosen people.

    So I think it is better to say that God chose Christ and those in union with Him by faith, or God chose believers. It was God’s sovereign and free choice to choose believers in Christ as His people, so He is the ultimate chooser and determiner of salvation, though we must choose either to trust in Christ or reject Him. So there is a sense in which we choose God but it is wrong to say we “ultimately” choose God. That is actually backwards. It is a subtle distinction, but an important one I think.

    God Bless,

  11. Hail.

    The language of Wesley contradicts his own actions. If Calvinism is such a plague, why Wesley published Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections?

    It’s needful to say that as there are many “arminianisms”, even the “common men arminianism” that is nothing more than salvation by works plus Christ, there are many “calvinisms” even the “hyper-antinomian calvinism” of “I’ll sin because I’m a chosen one and I’ll lost my salvation”.

    If you look hard enough you’ll find that Methodistic Calvinism and Pratical Puritan’s Calvinism are even more strict in pursuing holiness than Wesleyan Arminianism.

  12. Ademir,

    I didn’t know that John Wesley published Edwards’ work. Do you have documentation of that? Also, it may be that what Wesley wrote here was long after that event, after he had more fully seen the damage that was being done to the church through such teachings. Also, I am not familiar with that work by Edwards, so I do not know how strongly Edwards advocates Calvinism in that particular book. Just because a book is wirtten by a Calvinist doesn’t mean its focus is Calvinism.

    God Bless,

  13. I had intended to write a follow-up post to this one dealing with Paul Washer, but I will just quickly address those further comments here instead. Two posters on the board complained that my post had misrepresented Paul Washer. One wrote,

    I read the blog about Paul Washer. The writers say he is a Calvinist who preaches like an Arminian. Apparently they don’t know much about how Calvinists or Arminians preach. He preaches like a Calvinist through and through.

    Washer may preach like a Calvinist through and through in some of his sermons, but in the ones cited by Frueh, his preaching certainly seems to be inconsistent with the fundamental convictions of Calvinist theology (as Frueh well pointed out). Another wrote,

    That blogger was pretty ignorant of brother Washer. I would have written a response but from his comments disclosure it would have been trashed anyway.

    Well, if he had read my post he would have noticed that I claimed ignorance of Paul Washer’s theology, while pointing my readers to Frueh’s reflections which, again, demonstrate decisively in my mind that if Washer is a Calvinist (and apparently he is), then his preaching is not always consistent with his theology. This is typical of Calvinists in general since their theology simply does not comport with reality, and for that reason they will slip into language that contradicts fundamental Calvinist tenets from time to time.

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