Wesleyan Heritage Collection for $19.95!!

The Wesleyan Heritage Collection CD is now available for only $19.95.  Some of these works are available through the internet, but many are still hard to find and it is nice to be able to access them and read them without needing access to the internet. The search function is also very helpful in tracking down specific topics among the various works.  My only complaint would be that there seems to be quite a bit of typos, but I would still highly recommend it.  It is an extremely valuable resource.  Here is a list of what you will find on the CD:

Asbury’s Journals and Letters
Benson’s Commentary
Fletcher’s Works
Ralston’s Elements of Divinity
Sutcliffe’s Commentary
Watson’s Dictionary
Watson’s Exposition
Watson’s Institutes
Whedon’s Commentary
Beet’s Commentary
Clarke’s Commentary
Wesley’s Notes on the Bible
Works of Wesley
Works of Arminius

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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?

A.

(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?

A.

(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.

Great Quotes: John Fletcher

I once saw a man who played the most amazing tricks with a pack of cards. His skill consisted in so artfully shuffling them, and imperceptibly substituting one for another, that when you thought you had fairly secured the king of hearts, you found yourself possessed only of the knave of clubs. The defenders of the doctrine of necessity are not less skilful.

From:  “REPLY TO THE PRINCIPAL CALVINIST AND FATALIST ARGUMENTS FOR THE DOCTRINE OF ABSOLUTE NECESSITY”

Fletcher on Being “Dead in Sin” Part 2

Fletcher demonstrated that the Scriptures use the word “dead” in more than one way, and to understand the term “dead” with regards to spiritual issues as meaning dead as a physical corpse renders many of these passages, like Rev. 3:1-4, nonsensical. Fletcher also demonstrates the inconsistency in Calvinist thought between what it means to be “dead in sin” and “dead to sin”. He states:

I wonder at the partiality of some persons. If we assert, that “strong believers are dead TO sin,” they tell us very properly that such are not so dead, but they may commit sin if they please, or if they are off their watch. But if we say, that “many who are dead IN sin, are not so dead, but in the strength imparted, together with the Light that enlightens every man, they may leave off some of their sins if they please,” we are exclaimed against as using metaphysical distinctions, and dead must absolutely mean impotent as a corpse.

I believe this to be Fletcher’s most significant argument. Calvinists will often appeal to Eph. 2:1, “you were dead in your trespasses and sins”, and Col. 2:13 which also speaks of being “dead in your transgressions”. From these passages the Calvinist deduces that one can no more respond to God’s grace than a dead corpse can respond to outside stimuli. It is said that there must first be a resurrection [spiritual regeneration] before one can respond to God’s gracious offer of salvation. We are then told that the regenerated person will “freely” choose Christ according to this new nature. There are several problems with this Calvinist argument.

1) When the Scripture speaks of death it is speaking of the separation of the spirit from the body. To be “dead in sin” is to be separated from a holy God who cannot tolerate sin. Our sin has caused separation from God and has effected our spiritual death (Rom. 6:21; James 1:14, 15). The only cure for our pitiful state is to come into vital union with the only source of life: Jesus Christ (Jn. 15).

2) The Scripture speaks of the believer as being “dead to sin” and a “slave to righteousness” while acknowledging that those who are so dead are still capable of sinning. Paul draws a strict parallel between being “slaves to sin” and “slaves to righteousness” and being “dead in sin” and “dead to sin” in Rom. 6:12-23. Since the believer who is “dead to sin” and a “slave to righteousness” can still yield to the influences of the sinful nature, the world, and Satan, there is no reason to believe that one who is “dead in sin” and a “slave to sin” is incapable of responding to the gracious working of the Holy Spirit without first being regenerated. The Spirit of God bridges the gap of deathly separation and enables the sinner to yield to Christ.

3) There is only one way that a sinner can experience the new life, and that is by union with Jesus Christ. Just as surely as separation from God caused spiritual death, union with Christ is the only way that the sinner can experience new life. It is impossible to have life outside of Jesus Christ. This poses a serious problem with Calvinist doctrine. Calvinism has sinners being regenerated before coming to be in union with Christ. We can only experience the benefits of the cross, however, through union with Christ. Through that union His death becomes our death, His life becomes our life, and His blood cleanses us from all unrighteousness. None of this can happen prior to union with Him. The Bible is clear that we come to be in union with Christ through faith. Consider the following passages:

But God being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no man may boast. (Eph. 2:4-9)

Many Calvinists like to quote portions of the above text because they believe it supports their conclusions that regeneration precedes faith and that faith is a “gift” that God irresistibly gives to the elect. When one reads these passages together such a conclusion cannot be drawn. All of the gracious spiritual benefits of verses 4-7, including the spiritual resurrection described in verse 6, are “through faith” (verse 8). The grammar of verses 8 and 9 do not allow for the interpretation Calvinists often assign to them. The “gift” of God does not refer to “faith” but to the gracious gift of God’s salvation. To interpret the gift as faith would render verse 9 nonsensical. It would essentially say that “faith” is not “of works” which would be a meaningless statement of the obvious.

All of these spiritual blessings are said to be “with” and “in” Christ [verses 5-7] which is a recurrent theme in Ephesians and in all Pauline writings. It is especially prominent in Ephesians Chapters 1 and 2. Ephesians 1:13 explains how one comes to be in union with Christ and Ephesians 3:17 tells us how Christ comes to dwell in our hearts. In both cases this union is by faith.

This same thought is paralleled in Col. 2:9-12:

For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (see also Rom. 6:4)

Again the theme of union with Christ is obvious. We can also see that our spiritual resurrection is “through faith” in the working [or power] of God, who raised [Christ] from the dead”.

It is undeniable that the unregenerate need a spiritual resurrection. It is also undeniable that this resurrection comes by the faith that brings us into saving union with Christ, whereby we can experience all the benefits of His death and resurrection.

Conclusion:

There is no Biblical reason to accept the Calvinist understanding that being “dead in sin” means that one must first be regenerated before being capable of exercising saving faith. This does not discount the need for a powerful working of the Holy Spirit on the unregenerate, but demonstrates that this working does not result in regeneration until the sinner first meets the condition of faith. When the sinner responds in faith to the gracious working and enabling of the Holy Spirit, he or she is immediately grafted into Christ and receives all the benefits of His atonement, which includes regeneration.

I would also like to point out a problem with the Calvinist insistence that one who is regenerated will “freely” choose to put faith in Christ. I believe that it would be more honest for the Calvinist to say that God “causes” the regenerate to put faith in Christ. To say that one freely chooses is misleading. Most Calvinists understand such “freedom” in a compatiblist sense in which we “freely” do what God causes us to do [whether directly or indirectly through circumstances, etc.]. If the Calvinist wants to insist that one freely chooses to put faith in Christ in a libertarian sense [without being caused of necessity], then it quickly becomes apparent that one could not guarantee that the newly regenerated individual would choose to put faith in Christ.

The Calvinist wants us to believe that once a person is regenerate he or she will naturally choose according to the new regenerated nature. The problem with this explanation is that Calvinists also affirm that one is never completely free of the sinful nature until after death. If this is the case then the newly regenerated person can now choose to either yield to the new nature or the old sinful nature. This would mean that there would be no way to be sure that a regenerated person would choose to follow Christ if one is free in a libertarian sense. He or she could choose instead to yield to the sinful nature which still dwells within. The only way to be certain that the regenerate person would choose Christ is to admit that God must irresistibly cause him or her to do so. If that is the case then Calvinist should be honest enough to drop the “freely choose” rhetoric.

John Fletcher on Being “Dead in Sin”

In my interactions with Calvinists the conversation always seems to go back to their conception of being dead in sin. I can show them in Scripture where it plainly teaches that faith must precede regeneration but such efforts often amount to nothing as they will ignore the Biblical evidence and fall back on the unregenerate being “dead in sin” and hence the necessity of regeneration before faith. The question I have always wanted answered is why we must understand “dead in sin” as meaning impossible to respond to God’s grace without first being regenerated. The Calvinist will then draw the analogy of the inability of a dead corpse. A corpse cannot hear or see; therefore, one who is dead in sin cannot hear the gospel or see their need for Christ until they first experience a resurrection [i.e. regeneration]. We will soon discover that there are several problems with this approach.

John Fletcher was an early Methodist preacher and theologian. He was close friends with John Wesley. John Fletcher’s character mirrored the doctrines of holiness he preached and wrote about. He wrote one of the strongest polemics against Calvinism ever written called “Checks to Antinomianism“. To my knowledge no Calvinist has ever tried to refute the strong arguments he put forth in “Checks”. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to get your hands on this book today, and if you do you will pay a high price. Ages Digital Library has provided his entire “Works” on The Wesleyan Heritage Collection CD. There is a link to this CD-Rom in the right column of this blog. Below is a small excerpt regarding the Calvinist conception of being “dead in sins” which plainly controls their thinking with regards to the necessity of regeneration preceding faith. In my next post I will make some further comments on this subject and carefully consider what I believe to be Fletcher’s most significant argument. He writes,

I. Availing yourself of St. Paul’s words to the Ephesians and Colossians, “You hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; and you, being dead in your sins, hath he quickened together with him;” you dwell upon the absurdity of “expecting living actions from a dead corpse,” or living works from a dead soul.

1. I wonder at the partiality of some persons. If we assert, that “strong believers are dead TO sin,” they tell us very properly that such are not so dead, but they may commit sin if they please, or if they are off their watch. But if we say, that “many who are dead IN sin, are not so dead, but in the strength imparted, together with the Light that enlightens every man, they may leave off some of their sins if they please,” we are exclaimed against as using metaphysical distinctions. and dead must absolutely mean impotent as a corpse.

2. The word dead, &c, is frequently used in the Scriptures to denote a particular degree of helplessness and inactivity, very short of the total helplessness of a corpse. We read of the deadness of Sarah’s womb, and of Abraham’s body being dead; and he must be a strong Calvinist indeed, who, from such expressions, peremptorily asserts, that Sarah’s dead womb was as unfit for conception, and Abraham’s dead body for generation, as if they both had been “dead corpses.” Christ writes to the Church of Sardis, “I know thy works; thou hast a name to live, and art dead.” But it is evident, that dead as they were, something remained alive in them, though like the smoking flax, it was “ready to die.” Witness the words that follow: “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die.” Now, sir, if the dead Sardians could work for life, by “strengthening the things” belonging to the Christian “which remained” in them’ is it modest to decide è cathedra, that the dead Ephesians and Colossians could not as well work for life, by “strengthening the things that remained and were ready to die,” under their own dispensation? Is it not evident that a beam of “the Light of the world” still shone in their hearts, or that the Spirit still strove with them? If they had absolutely quenched him, would he have helped them to believe? And if they had not, was not there something of “the Light which enlightens every man” remaining in them; with which they both could, and did work for life, as well as the dead Sardians?

3. The absurdity of always measuring the meaning of the word dead, by the idea of a dead corpse, appears from several other scriptures St. Paul, speaking of one who grows wanton against Christ, says, “She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.” Now, if this means that she is entirely devoid of every degree of spiritual life, what becomes of Calvinism? Suppose all that live in pleasure are as dead to God as corpses, what became of the everlasting life of Lot, when he lived in pleasure with his daughters? of David with Bathsheba, and Solomon with his idolatrous wives? When the same apostle observes to the Romans, that their “body was dead because of sin,” did he really mean they were already dead corpses? And when he adds, “Sin revived and I died,” did Calvinian death really pass upon him? Dead as he was, could not he complain like the dry bones, and ask, “Who shall deliver me from this body of death?”

Again: when our Lord says to Martha, “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live,” does he not intimate, that there is a work consistent with the degree of death of which he speaks? A believing out of death into life? A doing the work of God for life, yea, for eternal life?

4. From these and the like scriptures, it is evident, that there are different degrees of spiritual death, which you perpetually confound.

(1.) Total death, or a full departure of the Holy Spirit. This passed upon Adam, and all mankind in him, when he lost God’s moral image, fell into selfish nature, and was buried in sin, guilt, shame, and horror.

(2.) Death freely visited with a seed of life in our fallen representative, and of course in all his posterity, during the day of their visitation.

(3.) Death oppressing this living seed, and holding it “in unrighteousness,” which was the death of the Ephesians and Colossians.

(4.) Death prevailing again over the living seed, after it had been powerfully quickened, and burying it in sin and wickedness. This was the death of David during his apostasy, and is still that of all who once believed, but now live in Laodicean ease or Sardian pleasure. And,

(5.) The death of confirmed apostates, who, by absolutely quenching “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” the second Adam, are fallen into the miserable state of nature and total helplessness, in which the first Adam was when God preached to him the Gospel of his quickening grace. These are said by St. Jude to be twice dead; dead by Adam’s total apostasy from God, and dead by their own personal and final apostasy from “the Light of the world.” (Fletcher’s Works, Vol.1 pp. 199-201, The Wesleyan Heritage Collection)