Matt O’Reilly has written a response to an “opinion” piece on UMNS, an official organ of the UMC. I will not do much else except to add what Wesley wrote.
“Orthodoxy, or right opinions, is never more than a slender part of religion; sometimes no part of it at all.”
I would wager that he came to hate that line and would hate it even more today given the continued misuse of it. He had to explain it several times across the years. I am reproducing them now.
To note, religion for Wesley was the life of the believer.
To the Bishop of Exeter:
A Seventh argument you ground on those words in the “Plain Account of the People called Methodists:” “It is a point we chiefly insist upon, that orthodoxy or right opinions is a very slender part of religion, if any part of it at all.” “The plain consequence whereof is,” (so you affirm,) “that teaching and believing the fundamental errors of Popery, with the whole train of their abominations and idolatries, are of very little moment, if any.” Strain again, Sir; pull hard, or you will never be able to drag this conclusion out of these premises.
I assert, “(1.) That in a truly righteous man, right opinions are a very slender part of religion. (2.) That in an irreligious, a profane man, they are not any part of religion at all; such a man not being one jot more religions because he is orthodox.” Sir, it does not follow from either of these propositions, that wrong opinions are not an hinderance to religion; and much less, that “teaching and believing the fundamental errors of Popery, with the whole train of their abominations and idolatries.” (practised, I presume you mean, as well as taught and believed,) “are of very little moment, if any.”
To the Bishop of Gloucestershire
I. The present question then is, (not what is Mr. Law, or what are the Moravians, but) what is John Wesley? And, (1.) Is he pure or not? “Not pure; for he separates reason from grace.” (Page 156.) A wonderful proof! But I deny the fact. I never did separate reason from grace. “Yes, you do; for your own words are, ‘The points we chiefly insisted on were four: (1.) That orthodoxy, or right opinion, is at best but a very slender part of religion; if it can be allowed to be any part of it at all.’ ” (Page 157.)
After premising that it is our bounden duty to labour after a right judgment in all things, as a wrong judgment naturally leads to wrong practice, I say again, right opinion is at best but a very slender part of religion, (which properly and directly consists in right tempers, words, and actions,) and frequently it is no part of religion. For it may be where there is no religion at all; in men of the most abandoned lives; yea, in the devil himself.
And yet this does not prove that I “separate reason from grace;” that I “discard reason from the service of religion.” I do continually “employ it to distinguish between right and wrong opinions.” I never affirmed “this distinction to be of little consequence,” or denied “the gospel to be a reasonable service.” (Page 158.)
To a Dr. Erksine,
2. But the present question lies, not between me and Mr. Hervey, but between Dr. E. and me. He vehemently attacks me for saying, “Orthodoxy, or right opinion, is at best but a very slender part of religion, if any part of it at all.” He labours to deduce the most frightful consequences from it, and cries, “If once men believe that right opinion is a slender part of religion, if any part of religion, or no part at all, there is scarce any thing so foolish, or so wicked, which Satan may not prompt to.” (Page 6.) And what, if, after all, Dr. E. himself believes the very same thing! I am much mistaken if he does not. Let us now fairly make the trial.
I assert, (1.) That, in some cases, “right opinion is no part of religion;” in other words, there may be right opinion where there is no religion. I instance in the devil. Has he not right opinions? Dr. E. must, perforce, say, Yes. Has he religion? Dr. E. must say, No. Therefore, here right opinion is no part of religion. Thus far, then, Dr. E. himself believes as I do.
I assert, (2.) In some cases, “it is a slender part of religion.” Observe, I speak of right opinion, as contra-distinguished both from right tempers and from right words and actions. Of this, I say, “It is a slender part of religion.” And can Dr. E. say otherwise? Surely, no; nor any man living, unless he be brimful of the spirit of contradiction.
“Nay, but I affirm, right tempers cannot subsist without right opinion: The love of God, for instance, cannot subsist without a right opinion of him.” I have never said anything to the contrary: But this is another question. Though right tempers cannot subsist without right opinion, yet right opinion may subsist without right tempers. There may be a right opinion of God, without either love, or one right temper toward him. Satan is a proof of it. All, therefore, that I assert in this matter, Dr. E. must affirm too.
To Mr. Clarke,
7. Yet on one point I must add a few words, because it is of the last importance: I said, “Orthodoxy, or right opinions, is never more than a slender part of religion; sometimes no part of it at all.” And this I explained thus: “In a child of God, it is but a slender part of religion: It is no part at all in a child of the devil.” The religion of a child of God is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Now, if orthodoxy be any part of this, (which itself might admit of a question,) it is a very slender part; though it is a considerable help both of love, peace, and joy. Religion is, in other words, the love of God and man, producing all holiness of conversation. Now, are right opinions any more (if they are so much) than a very slender part of this? Once more: Religion is the mind that was in Christ, and the walking as Christ walked. But how very slender a part of this are opinions, how right soever!
By a child of the devil, I mean, one who has no true religion at all; one who neither loves, nor fears, nor serves God. But it is certain, such a man may still be orthodox, may entertain right opinions; and yet, it is equally certain, these are no part of religion in him that has no religion at all.
Permit me, Sir, to speak exceeding plainly. Are you not an orthodox man? Perhaps there is none more so in the diocese. And yet possibly you may have no religion at all. If it be true that you frequently drink to excess, you may have orthodoxy, but you can have no religion. If, when you are in a passion, you call your brother, “Thou fool,” you have no religion at all. If you even curse, and take the name of God in vain, you can have no other religion than orthodoxy; a religion of which the devil and his angels may have full as much as you.
What, perhaps, is Wesley’s view of orthodox? I would say “the three creeds,” although there is admittedly some issue with the Athanasian’s final stanza.
6. I say of the heart. For neither does religion consist Orthodoxy, or right opinions; which, although they are not properly outward things, are not in the heart, but the understanding. A man may be orthodox in every point; he may not only espouse right opinions, but zealously defend them against all opposers; he may think justly concerning the incarnation of our Lord, concerning the ever-blessed Trinity, and every other doctrine contained in the oracles of God; he may assent to all the three creeds,—that called the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian; and yet it is possible he may have no religion at all, no more than a Jew, Turk, or pagan. He may be almost as orthodox—as the devil, (though, indeed, not altogether; for every man errs in something; whereas we can’t well conceive him to hold any erroneous opinion,) and may, all the while be as great a stranger as he to the religion of the heart.
Wesley knew that salvation was because of Christ, not “right opinions” but likewise, that wrong opinions drew souls away from God:
15. When things of an indifferent nature are represented as necessary to salvation, it is a folly of the same kind, though not of the same magnitude. Indeed, it is not a little sin to represent trifles as necessary to salvation; such as going of pilgrimages, or anything that is not expressly enjoined in the Holy Scripture. Among these we may undoubtedly rank orthodoxy, or right opinions. We know, indeed, that wrong opinions in religion naturally lead to wrong tempers, or wrong practices; and that, consequently, it is our bounden duty to pray that we may have a right judgment in all things. But still a man may judge as accurately as the devil, and yet be as wicked as he.
For a man who is accused of not caring about “right opinions,” Wesley fought the wrong ones:
6. But though I aver this, am I “quite indifferent as to any man’s opinion in religion?” Far, very far from it; as I have declared again and again in the very sermon under consideration, in the “Character of a Methodist,” in the “Plain Account,” and twenty tracts besides. Neither do I “conceal my sentiments:” Few men less. I have written severally, and printed, against Deists, Papists, Mystics, Quakers, Anabaptists, Presbyterians, Calvinists, and Antinomians. An odd way of ingratiating myself with them, to strike at the apple of their eye! Nevertheless, in all things indifferent, (but not at the expense of truth,) I rejoice to “please all men for their good to edification;” if haply I may “gain more proselytes” to genuine, scriptural Christianity; if I may prevail upon the more to love God and their neighbour, and to walk as Christ walked.
So far as I find them obstructive of this, I oppose wrong opinions with my might; though even then, rather by guarding those who are yet free, than by disputing with those who are deeply infected.
Finally, Wesley said that one can only be a holy if they are orthodox, although orthodox does not make one a Christian.
And this Church is ‘ever one.’ In all ages and nations it is the one body of Christ. It is ‘ever holy’; for no unholy man can possibly be a member of it. It is ‘ever orthodox’; so is every holy man, in all things necessary to salvation; ‘secured against error,’ in things essential, ‘by the perpetual presence of Christ; and ever directed by the Spirit of Truth,’ in the truth that is after godliness. This Church has ‘a perpetual succession of pastors and teachers, divinely appointed, and divinely assisted.’