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8. Does not talking of a justified or a sanctified State, tend to mislead men? Almost naturally leading them to trust, in what was done in one moment? Whereas we are every hour and every moment pleasing or displeasing to God, according to our works. According to the whole of our inward tempers, and our outward behaviour.
First Letter to the Rev. Mr. Shirley. HONOURED AND REV. SIR,
BEFORE a Judge passes sentence upon a person accused of theft, he hears what his neighbours have to say for his character. Mr. Wesley, I grant, is accused of what is worse than theft, dreadful heresy: and I know that whoever maintains a dreadful heresy is a dreadful heretic, and that the church of Rome shows no mercy to such: but may not real Protestants indulge with the privilege of a felon, one whom they so lately respected as a brother? And may not I, an old friend and acquaintance of his, be permitted to speak a word in his favour, before he his branded in the forehead, as he has already been on the back?
This step, I fear, will cost me my reputa tion (if I have any) and involve me in the same condemnation with him whose cause, together with that of truth, I design to plead But when humanity prompts, when gratitude calls, when friendship excites, when reason invites, when justice demands, when truth requires, and conscience summons; he does not deserve the name of a Christian friend, who, for any consideration, hesitates to vindicate what he esteems truth, and to stand by an aggrieved friend, brother, and father. Were I not, Sir, on such an occasion as this, to step out of my beloved obscurity, you might deservedly reproach me as a dastardly wretch: Nay, you have already done it in general terms in your excellent sermon on the fear of man. "How often," say you, "do men sneakingly forsake their friends, instead of gloriously supporting them against a powerful adversary, even when their cause is just, for reasons nastily prudential, for fear of giving umbrage to a superior party or interest."
These generous words of your's, Rev. Sir, together with the leave you give both churchmen and dissenters, to direct to you their answers to your circular Letter, are my excuse for intruding upon you by this epistle, and my apology for begging your candid attention, while I attempt to convince you that my friend's principles and Minutes are not heretical in order to this, I shall lay before you, and the principal persons both Clergy and Laity, whom you have from all parts of England and Wales convened at Bristol by printed letters:
I. A general view of the Rev. Mr. Wesley's doctrine.,
II. An account of the commendable design of his minutes.
III. A vindication of the propositions which they contain, by arguments taken from Scripture, Reason, and Experience, and by quotations from eminent calvinist divines, who have said the same things in different words.
And suppose you, yourself, Sir, in particular, should appear to be a strong assertor of the doctrines which you call a dread. ful heresy in Mr. W. I hope you will not refuse me leave to conclude by expostulating with you upon your conduct in this affair, and recommending to you, and our other christian friends, the forbearance which you recommend to others in one of your Sermons; Why doth the narrow heart of man pursue with malice, or rashness, those who presume to differ from him?" Yea, and what is most extraordinary, those who agree with him in all essential points?
I. When, in an intricate case, a prudent de judge is afraid to pass an unjust sentence, he inquires, as I observed, into the general conduct of the person accused, and by that means frequently finds out the truth which he investigates. As that method may be of service in the present case, permit me, Sir, to lay before you a general view of Mr. W's doctrine,
1. For above these sixteen years I have heard him frequently in his chapels, and sometimes in my church; I have familiarly conversed and corresponded with him, and have often perused his numerous works in verse and prose: and I can truly say, that during all that time I have heard him, upon every proper occasion, steadily maintain the total fall of man in Adam, and his utter inability to recover himself, or take any one step towards his recovery, "without the grace of God preventing him that he may have a good will, and working with him when he has that good will."
The deepest expressions that ever struck my ears, on the melancholy subject of our natural depravity and helplessness, are those which dropped from his lips and I have ever observed that he constantly ascribes to divine grace, not only the good works and holy tempers of believers, but all the good thoughts of upright Heathens, and the good desires of those professors whom he sees begin in the Spirit and end in the flesh; when, to my great surprise, some of those who accuse him of "robbing God of the glory of his grace, and ascribing too much to man's power," directly or indirectly maintain, that Demas and his fellow apostates never had any grace; and that if once they went on far in the ways of God, it was merely by the force of fallen nature; a sentiment which Mr. W. looks upon as diametrically opposite to the humbling assertion of our Lord, "Without
me ye can do nothing," and which he can no more admit than the rankest Pelagianism.
2. I must likewise testify that he faithfally points out Christ as the only way of salvation; and strongly recommends faith as the only means of receiving him, and all the benefits of his righteous life and meritorious death: aud truth obliges me to declare, that he frequently expresses his detestation of the errors of modern Pharisees, who laugh at Original sin, set up the powers of fallen man, cry down the operations of God's Spirit, deny the absolute necessity of the blood and righteousness of Christ, and refuse him the glory of all the good that may be found in Jew or Gentile. And you will not without difficulty, Sir, find in England, and perhaps in all the world, a minister who hath borne more frequent testimonies, either from the pulpit or the press, against those dangerous errors. All his works confirm my assertion, especially his sermons on Original Sin, and salvation by faith, and his masterly refutation of Dr. Taylor, the wisest Arian, Pelagian, and Socinian of our age. Nor am I afraid to have this testimony confronted with his Minutes, being fully persuaded that, when they are candidly explained, they rather confirm than overthrow it.
His preaching of the fall and the recovery is attended with a peculiar advantage, it is close and experimental: he not only points out the truth of those doctrines, but presses his hearers to cry to God that they may feel their weight upon their hearts. Some open those great truths very clearly, but let their congregations rest, like the stony ground hearers, in the first emotions of sorrow and joy which the word frequently excites. Not 50 Mr. Wesley; he will have true penitents "feel the plague of their own hearts, travail, be heavy laden, and receive the sentence of death in themselves, according to the glorious ministration of condemnation :" and " cording to the spirit which exceeds in glory." He insists upon true believers knowing for themselves that Jesus hath power on earth to forgive sins, and asserts that they taste the good word of God and the powers of the world to come, aud that they are made partakers of the Holy Ghost and the divine nature; the Spirit itself bearing witness with their spirit that they are the children of God. 3. The next fundamental doctrine in Christianity, is that of Holiness of heart and life; and no one can here accuse Mr. W. of leaning to the Antinomian delusion, which makes void the law through a speculative and barren faith. On the contrary, he appears to be peculiarly set for the defence of practical religion; for, instead of represent ing Christ as the minister of sin, with Ranters, to the great grief and offence of many, he sets him forth as a complete Saviour from sin. Not satisfied to preach holiness begun, he preaches finished holiness and calis believers to such a degree of heart-purifying
faith, as may enable them continually to triumph in Christ, as being made to them of God, sanctification, as well as righteous
It is, I grant, his misfortune (if indeed it is one) to preach a fuller salvation than most professors expect to enjoy here; for he asserts that Jesus can make clean the inside, as well as the outside, of his vessels unto honour; that "he hath power on earth to save his people from their sins," and that his blood cleanses from all sin, from the guilt and defilement both of original and actual corruption. He is bold enough to declare with St. John, "that if we say we have no sin," either by nature or practice, 66 we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." He is legal enough not to be ashamed of these words of Moses. "The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live." And he dares to believe that the Lord can perform the words which he spoke by Ezekiel: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean; from all your filthiness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you; I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh and I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes; and ye shall keep my judgments and do them. I will also save you from all your uncleannesses." Hence it is that he constantly exhorts his hearers to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Saviour; till by a strong and lively faith they can continually "reckon themselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord :" he tells them "that he who committeth sin is the servant at sin."-That "our old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin." That "if the Son shall make them free, they shall be free indeed."-And that, although the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, will not deliver them from the innocent infir mities incident to flesh and blood, it will nevertheless make them free from the law of sin and death, and enable them to say with holy triumph, "How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein ?" In a word, he thinks that God can so shed abroad his love in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given unto us, as to sanctify us wholly, soul, body, and spirit; and enable us to rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in every thing give thanks. And he is persuaded that he who can do far exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think, is able to fill us with the perfect love which casts out fear; that we, being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, may have the mind that was in
Christ, be righteous as the man Jesus was righteous, walk as he also walked; and be in our measure as he was in the world; he as the stock of the tree of righteousness, and we as the branches, having our fruit from him unto holiness, and serving God without fear in true righteousness all the days of our life.
This he sometimes calls full Sanctification, the state of fathers in Christ, or the glorious liberty of the children of God; sometimes, a being strengthened, stablished, and settled; or being rooted and grounded in love: but most commonly he calls it Christian Perfection; a word which though used by the apostles in the same sense, cannot be used by him without raising the pity or indignation of one half of the religious world; some making it the subject of their pious sneers, and godly lampoons; while others tell you roundly "they abhor it above every thing in the creation." Tantaæene animis cœlestibus iræ. On account of this doctrine it is that he is traduced as a Pharisee, a Papist, an Antichrist; some of his opposers taking it for granted that he makes void the priestly of fice of Christ, by affirming that his blood can so completely wash us, here from our sins, that at death we shall be found of him in peace, without spot, wrinkle, or any such thing; while others, to colour their opposition to the many scriptures which he brings to support this unfashionable doctrine, give it out that he only wants the old man so refined in all his tempers, and regulated in all his outward behaviour, as to appear perfect in the flesh; or, in other terms, that he sets up pharisaic self, instead of Christ completely formed in us as the full hope of glory. But I must (for one) do him the justice to say he is misapprehended, and that what he calls perfection, is nothing but the rich cluster of all the spiritual blessings promised to believers in the gospel; and, among the rest, a continual sense of the virtue of Christ's atoning and purifying blood, preventing, both old guilt from returning, and new guilt from fastening upon the conscience; together with the deepest consciousness of our helplessness and nothingness in our best estate, the most endearing discoveries of the Redeemer's love, and the most humbling and yet ravishing views of his glorious fulness: witness these lines which conclude one of his favourite hymns on that subject.
He frequently observes with the same Apostle, that Christ is the Saviour of all men, but especially of them that believe;" and that" God will have all men to be saved," consistently with their morál agency, and the tenor of his gospel.
With St. John he maintains, that "God is Love," and that "Christ is the propitiation not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world:" with David he affirms, that God's mercy is over all his works :" and with St. Peter, that "the Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance;" yea, that God, without hypocrisy, "commandeth all men, every where, to repent.' Accordingly he says with the Son of God, "Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely; and after his blessed example, as well as by his gracious command, he preaches the gospel to every creature," which he apprehends would be inconsistent with common honesty, if there was not a gospel for every creature. Nor can he doubt of it in the least when he considers that Christ is a king as well as a priest, that we are under a law to Him, that those men who will not have him to reign over them, shall be brought and slain before him; yea, that He will judge the secrets of men, according to St. Paul's gos pel, and take vengeance of all them that obey not his own gospel, and be the author of eternal salvation to none but them that obey him. With this principle, as with a key given us by God himself, he opens those things which are hard to be understood in the epistles of St. Paul, and which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do some other scriptures, if not to their own destruction, at least to the overthrowing of the faith of some weak Christians, and the hardening of many, very many infidels.
As a true Son of the Church of England, he believes that Christ redeemed him and alí mankind; that for us men, and not merely for the elect," he came down from heaven, and made upon the cross, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world." Like an honest man, and yet a man of sense, he so subscribed the 17th Article as not to reject the 31st, which he thinks of equal force, and much more explicit: and therefore, as the 17th, Article authorises him, he "receives God's promises in such wise as they are
humble and wise above what is written, lest voluntary humility should introduce refined pride before he is aware. Doubting therefore whether he can say, Why me? Why me? Without the self-pleasing idea of his being
generally set forth in holy scripture :" re.. to edification. But he does not see that
far Mr. W. agress with
I must however confess that he does not,
to or without a touch of the secret self-applause that tickles the Pharisee's heart, when he thanks God he is not as other men, he leaves the fashionable exclamation to others, with all the refinements of modern divinity; and chooses to keep to St. Paul's expression, "He loved me," which implies no exclusion of his poor fellow sinners; or to that of the royal Psalmist im and the son of man that thou visiteof
The first of these evangelical axioms he plies the freeness of a favour, and the word upon such scriptures as these: In me is thy help.""Look unto me and be saved."-No man cometh unto me except the What hast thou that hast not received?"-"We are not sufficient to think aright of ourselves, all our sufthou hast aw him. ficiency is of God." Christ is give repentance." Faith is thexalted to God."- Without me ye can do nothing," &c. &c.
will, the freedom of our choice; and he has
of an unconverted man.
believes none are converted but those who passages as these,"to the world, and have a free will to follow Jesus; and far from that light is come
being ashamed to be called a free willer,
Nor will I conceal that I never heard him
ance, who after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up wrath unto thyself.""Their eyes have they closed lest they should see and be converted, and I should heal them."-" See that ye refuse not him that speaketh from heaven."-"I set before you life and death, choose life!"-"Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life.""I would have gathered you, and ye would not." &c. &c.
As to the Moral Agency of man, Mr. W. thinks it cannot be denied upon the principles of common sense, and civil government, much less upon those of natural and reveal ed religion; as nothing would be more ab. surd than to bind us by laws of a civil or spiritual nature; nothing more foolish than to propose to us punishments and rewards; and nothing more capricious than to inflict the one or bestow the other upon us; if we were not Moral Agents.
He is therefore persuaded the most complete system of divinity is that in which neither of those two axioms is superseded: it is bold and unscriptural to set up the one at the expense of the other; the Prophets, the Apostles and Jesus Christ left us no such precedent;, and to avoid what is termed legality, we must not run into refinements which they knew nothing of, and make them perpetually contradict themselves : nor can we without an open violation of the laws of candour and criticism, lay a greater stress upon a few obscure and controverted passages, than upon an hundred plain and irrefragable scripture proofs. He therefore supposes that those persons are under a capital mistake, who maintain only the first Gospel-axiom, and under pretence of securing to God all the glory of the salvation of one elect, give to perhaps twenty reprobates full room to lay all the blame of their damnation, either upon their first parents, or their Creator. This way of making twenty real holes, in order to stop a supposed one, he cannot see consistent either with wisdom or scripture.
Thinking it therefore safest not to put asunder the truths which God has joined together, he makes all extremes meet in one blessed scriptural medium. With the Antinomian he preaches, "God worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure;" and with the Legalist he cries, "Work out therefore your own salvation with fear and trembling;" and thus he has all St. Paul's doctrine. With the Ranter he says, "God has chosen you, you are elect;" but as it is "through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth," with the disciples of Moses he infers, "Make your calling and election sure, for if ye do these things ye shall never fall." Thus he presents his hearers with all St. Peter's system of truth, which the others had rent in pieces.
Again, according to the first axiom he says with the perfect preacher. "All things are
now ready;" but with him he adds also according to the second, Come, lest you never taste the gospel feast. Thinking it extremely dangerous not to divide the word of God aright, he endeavours to give to every one the portion of it that suits him, cutting according to times, persons, and circumstances, either with the smooth or the rough edge of his twoedged sword. Therefore when he addresses those that are steady, and partakers of the gospel grace from the first day until now, as the Philippians, he makes use of the first principle, and testifies his confidence that he who hath begun a good work in them will perform it until the day of Christ. But when he expostulates with persons that ran well, and do not now obey the truth, according to his second axiom, he says to them, as St. Paul did to the Galatians, "I stand in doubt of you; ye are fallen from grace."
In short, he would think that he mangled the gospel, and forgot part of his awful commission, if when he has declared that he who believeth shall be saved, he did not also add, that he who believeth not shall be damned; or, which is the same, that none perish merely for Adam's sin, but for their own unbelief, and wilful rejection of the Saviour's grace. Thus he advances God's glory every way, entirely ascribing to his mercy and grace all the salvation of the elect, and completely freeing him from the blame of directly or indirectly hanging the mill-stone of damnation about the neck of the reprobate. And this he effectually does by showing that the former owe all they are, and all they have to creating, preserving, and redeeming love, whose innumerable bounties they freely and continually receive; and that the rejection of the latter has absolutely no cause but their obstinate rejecting of that astonishing mercy which wept over Jerusalem; and prayed, and bled even for those that shed the atoning blood;-the blood that expiated all sin but that of final unbelief.
I have now finished my sketch of Mr. W's doctrine, so far as it has fallen under my observation during above sixteen years particular acquaintance with him and his works; it is not my design, Sir, to inquire into the truth of his sentiments, much less shall I attempt to prove them orthodox, according to the ideas that some real Protestants entertain of orthodoxy. This only I beg leave to observe, suppose he is mistaken in all the scriptures on which he founds his doctrine of Christian Perfection and General Redemption, yet his mistakes seem rather to arise from a regard for Christ's glory, than from enmity to his offices; and altogether do not amount to any heresy at all; the fundamental doctrines of christianity, namely, the fall of man, justification by the merits of Christ, sanctifica. tion by the agency of the Holy Spirit, and the worship of the one true God in the mys terious distinction of Father, Son, and Holy