The Calvinistic Conundrum – Charles Wesley

Oh Horrible Decree
Worthy of whence it came!
Forgive their hellish blasphemy
Who Charge it on the Lamb.

The righteous God consigned
Them over to their doom,
And sent the Savior of mankind
To damn them from the womb;
To damn for falling short
Of what they could not do
For not believing the report
Of that which was not true.

From here

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65 Replies to “The Calvinistic Conundrum – Charles Wesley”

  1. More from Wesley on Calvinism from Volume 5 of the Works of John Wesley and from his sermon “What Is An Arminian?”

    “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.” Volume 5 of the Works of John Wesley 1839

    “Is it not the duty of every Arminian Preacher, First, never, in public or in private, to use the word Calvinist as a term of reproach; seeing it is neither better nor worse than calling names? — a practice no more consistent with good sense or good manners, than it is with Christianity.” “What Is An Arminian?

    Although John Wesley once said that if it wasn’t for the doctrine of Prevenient Grace that he was a hairsbreadth away from Calvinism his own self, he vigorously preached against the doctrine of Unconditional Election which he considered a ‘plague’, but always tried to season his opposition to Calvinism with Christian love.

    First time that I’ve seen the poem. I’ll have to link to it. Thanks.

    1. In the 50 years of the Methodist movement, when John was alive, he said many things about Calvinism, both mild and sometimes harsh, and later he was in many polemics over the subject. But in the early years, and even with Whitefield, for a time, he spoke not as harshly against it. Indeed one must read the whole Wesley corpus to see that he had a few good things to say about Calvin. I maintain still, that John Wesley was somewhat Calvinistic on both faith or Justification, and on the doctrine of Sin. That’s why it is called Wesleyan Arminianism, it is different than other strains of Arminianism, etc.

      1. Ive read that one of the main differences between Wesley and Arminius was on the subject of ‘falling away’. Whereas Arminius believed that if you lost your salvation that you could not regain it, Wesley believed that you could. Neither of course completely agreed with Calvin on Perseverance of the saints. Wesley’s sermon “A Call To Backsliders” is one of my favorites on the subject. Correct me if I’m wrong on this as being one of the main differences between Arminius’ and Wesley’s theology.

        1. I think you are right, but Arminius did not think salvation was lost so easy as the later Arminians. And John and Charles did not agree on this subject, again Charles thought salvation must be somewhat developed first, or received or more deeply. Though John too was no easy believe modern. And John and Charles did not agree on the idea of perfection either. Again, Charles was always more the classical Anglican, though of course both were deeply so, or Anglican. Two books eveyone who loves the Wesley’s should have: Wesley and Sanctification, A Study In The Doctrine Of Salvation, by Harald Lindstrom. And, John Wesley on the Sacraments, A Theological Study, by Ole E. Borgen.

          1. Thanks for the book suggestions, I’ve read neither, but will add them too my ‘wish list.’

            I find Johns idea of ‘Christian Perfection’ very appealing. I’ve read both the sermon as well his longer “Plain Account of Christian Perfection several times. I think that the Eastern Orthodox view of theosis is quite similar to Wesley’s ‘Christian Perfection.” In the UMC when a pastor is ordained, they are required to state that they believe that Christian perfection is attainable, but I’ve heard that a lot of them cross their fingers behind their backs when stating it.

    2. Me too, Randy. I am more Wesleyian than I am Calvinist.

      Don’t get me wrong, I feel that I can learn from Calvnism, but in the end, I don’t agree with all of its precepts.

      1. I love and have learned lots from John Wesley, and Charles too, both my boys…Anglicans! lol But, as it concerns ‘the doctrines of grace & glory’, they are just not conditional, but always in the hands of God! Yep, Calvin & Terrtin..right now, and again my mentors, standing firm! I am a Calvinist, simply. BUT, an Anglican one, I think that is a big difference also.

        1. No need to explain them away but to find the proper application, I suspect. I respect more those theologians on each side that can see the Tension than those blindly committed to their own position.

          1. I have a problem with blind commitment as well, but I also admire conviction as long as it is seasoned with knowledge and love. However, even if I were ever to become convicted that unconditional election were true, I don’t know that I’d ever teach it. I don’t think that most people can even grasp the concept and most that do are turned away by it.

            I like what Martin Luther says about the subject in his Preface to his commentary on Romans when he approaches Romans 9,10 and 11. He writes:

            “The old Adam must die before he can endure the subject and drink the strong wine of it. Therefore beware not to drink wine while you are still a suckling. There is a limit, a time, an age for every doctrine.”

            Interestingly enough, since we’re on the subject of the Wesley’s, I believe that it was at a public reading of Luther’s Preface to Romans that John Wesley had his famous “Aldersgate conversion.”

          2. Yup, I’ve seen what you’ve illustrated on both sides. When folks become so dogmatically convinced that they’re right and leave themselves no room for error they quite often find themselves in a very small world, both theologically and spiritually. I find this more so to be true among the dogmatic Calvinists than the dogmatic Arminians, although I’ve seen it on both sides.

            A.W. Pink is a good example of this. He is the author of the “Sovereignty of God”, a book that a good Calvinist friend of mine once insisted that I read. My friend was quite convinced that Pink would sway me over to the Calvinist side with his polemics. Interesting thing about Pink, though. He was so dogmatic about his beliefs that for the last two decades of his life, he attended no church at all, because not one single church that he attended was ‘doing it right.’ He became so dogmatic that everyone was a heretic except him, and he spent the last twenty years of his life at home writing books. Sad, small world.

          3. I just wanted to say, I have Irain Murray’s book: The Life of Arthur Pink (Banner of Truth Trust, both the 1981 version, and the newer one, 2004). I don’t think Pink’s departure from the visible Church was so much over heresy, as it was his vision of the church of his time as fallen into worldliness. Imagine if we were alive on earth today? He would really throw down “fire and brimstone” in his writings! One simply has to love the man and ministry of Sir Arthur Pink! I have knighted him myself! lol

          4. You’re right that Pinks problem was not so much about heresy as it was the worldliness that he was seeing. I still find it troubling when anyone paints themselves into such a corner as Pink did.

            If he was around to see this 21st century world it would indeed be interesting to read what he’d write about it!!

          5. Randy,

            Again, I think Sir Arthur liked his small corner of Puritanism. But it rather ironic that this small corner, and his little magazine ‘Studies in the Scriptures’, have reached so many! I guess a sovereign God has had something to do with that!

          6. Fr. Robert,

            Nice to see you’re a fan of Iain Murray. He’s quite the Christian biographer. Relevant to this post is his “Wesley and the Men Who Followed.” That book sheds a lot of light on the Wesley brothers’ split with Whitefield. Evidently, Mama Susannah was exposed to a hypercalvinist (not the mainstream Reformed type at all), which colored her view and, ultimately, her sons’ view of Reformed doctrine.

            In spite of several “below the belt” attacks on Whitefield by the Wesleys, Whitefield loved them back into the fold eventually. John Wesley preached Whitefield’s funeral.

            Anyhow, I love almost anything that Murray writes and deeply appreciate Banner of Truth publishers and their effort to bring serious, timeless Christian literature to the public at a time when T.D. Jakes and Joel Osteen infest the book racks.


          7. Sam,

            Yes, Iain Murray is a great Christian writer! I still have my old copy of his: The Puritan Hope (70″s?) yeah I’m one of the older guys around here. I would agree that Wesley did not have a good picture of Calvinism. But perhaps in his time the position was not that well spiritually with many of the Reformed types?

            I have read the Wesley bio too, but it was back a while. Personally, I love the Wesley brothers, and too Susannah. I have the Rev. John Kirk’s bio of her life, very old book. In reality I would call John something of a Calvinist, on sin (see his essay of Sin, one of his longest works).

            Also one of my fav’s of Murray’s was his bio of Jonathan Edwards.

            Yes, Banner of Truth Trust is great! I have many of their books. Do you like D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones?

          8. Fr. Robert,

            Yes, Murray’s bio of Lloyd-Jones has that deeply personal element, since Murray actually served under Lloyd-Jones for a number of years. It’s among my favorite Christian biographies, right on up there with Dallimore’s two-volume biography of Whitefield.

            Loved the Edwards bio, too.


          9. Sam,

            Those two are simply great reads! Dallimore’s is classic. Yeah, I have met and talked with RT Kendall too, years back now. The American S. Baptist who pastored at Westminster Chapel, London. Yes, Kendall called the English Purtians ‘experimental predestinarians’ who followed Beza over Calvin. See his older book: Calvin And English Calvinism to 1649. (My copy is Oxford)

            I really value my books by Banner of John Murray also! Oh so many books…Grace & Glory, some early sermons by Geerhardus Vos, at Princeton. Etc. Etc.

  2. Actually, I just noticed that the poem was from Charles Wesley. The quotes are from his brother John Wesley. John did most of the preaching and Charles wrote most of the hymns, but the two of them were an inseparable team that started the Methodist movement.

    1. I have several books with many of Charles Wesley’s hymns. And I have this one hymn also called: The Horrible Decree, 1741. But Calvin also called it a “horrible decretum”. But he believed it scriptural (Rom. 9:21). It has been noted that often John changed many of Charles hymns, for the Methodists mainly. But they were of course in agreement most of the time.

      Again, it should be noted that John said he held the the same position as Calvin on the doctrine of Justification by faith. And indeed at one time was “within a hairsbreath” of Calvinism. As I have written I believe Wesley was also closer to Calvin on original sin. See his, Wesley’s essay On Sin, one of his very longest he ever wrote! Very Calvinistic really.

    2. Charles Wesley was also an Anglican priest, and did his share of preaching. Though nothing of course like John. But Charles was married and had a rather large family. John also married, but it was a failure (though they never divorced) they did not live together.

      1. I’ve read that the two brothers mother Susanna was really the founder of the Methodists because of her influence on the boys. I think that Charles compiled a collection of her writings, though I’ve never read it.

        I’m a fan of John Wesley and if he were alive today I’d go to hear him preach. I have wondered sometimes about his lack of success with his marriage. My guess would be that he was so devoted to his ministry that he was not able to devote the proper time to his marriage. I think that I read somewhere that he was deeply disturbed when Charles decided to marry and tried to talk him out of it.

        1. Yes, Susannah Wesley was a great Christian woman, for her time or any time. “She was an admirable woman, of highly-improved mind, and of a strong and musculine understanding; an obedient wife; and exemplary mother; a fervent Christian.” – Southey

          Indeed yes by todays standards she was a godly Christian intellectual, a reader, writer and certain Christian of meditation and prayer. We can see this all in John and Charles, especially John.

          I like the Wesley brothers myself. And certainly John in his many ways. He was a theolog to the main, though not one to speculate like todays theology. Some of his sermons and writings are simply like no other. And since he was an Anglican and churchman, his understanding of the sacramental is also like perhaps no other. Yes, he was one of a kind in the Church historical and catholic!

          My view, is that he simply married the wrong woman. He had been in love when he was much younger (he had fallen in love in America on his first journey), but did not marry then. And yes, he was made and called to preach! You are right at Charles and marriage, John was afraid it would threaten their ministry. But it was good for Charles.

          1. I’ve read about Johns romantic interest on his first missionary trip to America. If I remember rightly, it started some sort of a scandal when he didn’t marry the girl. It was soon after that when he had his famous “Aldersgate conversion experience.”

    1. Yepper, I caught that over the weekend. No doubt, I like the Puritanical lifestyle (:)) and it is a far sight better than the watered down theologies presently, even if I think that the emphasis should be corporate and not individual.

      Thanks, Sam!

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