John Wesley on Calvinists

You must love John’s caliber of phrase –

Nay, who can doubt of it while there are Calvinists in the world, — assertors of absolute predestination? For who will dare to affirm that none of these are truly religious men? Not only many of them in the last century were burning and shining lights, but many of them are now real Christians, loving God and all mankind. And yet what are all the absurd opinions of all the Romanists in the world, compared to that one, that the God of love, the wise, just, merciful Father of the spirits of all flesh, has, from all eternity, fixed an absolute, unchangeable, irresistible, decree, that part of all mankind shall be saved, do what they will; and the rest damned, do what they can! (Sermon 55)

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9 Replies to “John Wesley on Calvinists”

  1. Wesley's warped view of Reformed theology started at home. His mother, Suzannah, formed her impressions of Calvinism on the basis of the misguided beliefs of a hyper-Calvinist. Evidently, the prejudiced was passed along to John and brother Charles.

    After a long friendship, John Wesley “turned” on the great evangelist George Whitfield and preached some destructive sermons against Whitefield while he (Whitefield) was in American on one of 12 mission trips to the colonies. Wesley also published a pamphlet that attacked Whitefield's Calvinism. Wesley never could wrap his mind around the theological notion of “compatibilism,” that man is fully responsible for his actions while God is absolutely sovereign.

    Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. Whitefield persisted in loving the Wesleys and continued to make overtures of friendship to them. In fact, Whitefield requested that John Wesley preach the sermon as his memorial service.

    By the way, the “Calvinist” Whitefield was used of God to spark the first Great Awakening. Arguably, God drew more souls to Christ through Whitefield than any evangelist since Paul. As a missionary to the American colonies, Whitefield was greatly used of God. The “free-will” Wesley brothers were abject failures on their mission trip to America.


  2. Goodness me, so much disinformation. It doesn't take much research to discover that the schism was begun in precisely the opposite direction when Whitefield published a scathing personal letter to the Wesleys, which, when someone brought a copy to his attention, John declined to retort or retaliate, but merely tore it to shreds in front of all present.

    Reconciliation began in the opposite direction, too, so that even while he was still preaching against the Wesleys they invited him to join their revival efforts. A Welsh Calvinist friend witnessed Whitefield's apology and noted how warmly it was accepted.

    As to their American impact, I should mention that many of Whitefield's followers were put off for awhile by Whitefield's actions, but returned after his change of heart.

    An admirably contrite older Whitefield would write, “It was wrong in me to publish a private transaction to the world, and very ill-judged to think the glory of God could be promoted by unnecessarily exposing my friend. For this I have asked both God and him pardon years ago, and though I believe both have pardon years ago, and though I believe both have forgiven me, yet I believe I shall never be able to forgive myself; my mistakes have been too many and my blunders too frequent to make me set up for infallibility. But many and frequent as my for infallibility. But many and frequent as my mistakes have been or may be, as I have no part to act–if I know anything of my heart–but to promote God's glory and the good of souls, as soon as I am made aware of them they shall be publicly acknowledged and retracted.” mistakes have been or may be, as I have no part to mistakes have been or may be, as I have no part to act–if I know anything of my heart–but to act–if I know anything of my heart–but to promote God's glory and the good of souls, as soon as I am made aware of them they shall be publicly acknowledged and retracted.”

  3. Stevie,

    You cite your sources, I'll cite mine. Since “it doesn't take much reseach,” I'm sure that will be easy for you to do.

    My “disinformation” came from Arnold Dallimore's materful biography of Whitefield as well as Iain Murray's “Wesley and the Men Who Followed.”

    Sources, my friend, sources?

    And let's keep an irenic tone, please.


  4. A reasonable request. As you might expect, it's the Wesleyans against the Calvinists: Tyerman's The Life And Times Of The Rev. John Wesley, Founder Of The Methodists, (Vol. 1) (esp. pp. 336-351) and the 1903 book, John Wesley the Methodist.

    I thought your comment was unnecessarily derisive of and “un-irenic” about the Wesleys, while I tried to balance mine out by showing that even Whitefield was, at bottom, a noble man, and the Wesleys acknowledged this, as he did of them.

  5. Allow me to add a couple of additional sources:

    “Doctrinally, the branches of Methodism following the Wesleys are Arminian, while those following Harris and Whitefield are Calvinistic.[2] Wesley maintained the Arminian doctrines that were dominant in the 18th-century Church of England, while Whitefield adopted Calvinism through his contacts with Calvinists in Scotland and New England. This caused serious strains on the relationship between Whitefield and Wesley, with Wesley becoming quite hostile toward Whitefield in what had been previously very close relations. Whitefield consistently begged Wesley to not let these differences sever their friendship and, in time their friendship was restored, though this was seen by many of Whitefield's followers to be a doctrinal compromise.[8] As a final testimony of their friendship, John Wesley's sermon on Whitefield's death is full of praise and affection.[12]” — Wikipedia's entry on Methodism

    For a more comprehensive treatment of the Wesley/Whitefield split, see the 1993 edition of Christian History and Biography:

    John Wesley was more of an extemporaneous than a systematic theologian, e.g, his ever-shifting doctrine of perfectionism. He battled a straw man version of Reformed theology, not the rich Biblical theology of Luther, Calvin, et al.

    But to his credit, John Wesley was a passionate evangelist and unequaled organizer. God used him in a mighty way in the Great Awakening. Moreover, the Methodist circuit riders who followed Wesley were amazing examples of men pouring themselves out for the Kingdom. The average life expectancy of these men was 40, as they burned their candles at both ends in spreading the Gospel message in Great Britian and the New World.


  6. Sam, I am sorry it moderated you. Discus is set to moderate all links, but you should be one the 'whitelist' now to post as many links as you want.

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