What did John Wesley say of Calvinism?

Stripped image of John Wesley
Stripped image of John Wesley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My good friend John has made mention of something I found rather interesting. I’ve tried to find the original publication date for his tract, hoping to see if Wesley softened in his stance against Calvinists, but the only thing I can find is a 1798 tract, with the inscription that the tract was printed for the Mark Driscoll of the 18th century, George Whitfield.

In several instances, very publicly, Wesley berated Calvinists.

Minutes Of Several Conversations

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 the work of God, than that single doctrine. It strikes at the heart of salvation from sin, previous to glory, putting the matter on quite another issue.


Whatsoever the generality of people may think, it is certain that opinion is not religion: No, not right opinion; assent to one, or to ten thousand truths. There is a wide difference between them: Even right opinion is as distant from religion as the east is from the west. Persons may be quite right in their opinions, and yet have no religion at all; and, on the other hand, persons may be truly religious, who hold many wrong opinions. Can any one possibly doubt of this, while there are Romanists in the world? For who can deny, not only that many of them formerly have been truly religious, as Thomas a Kempis, Gregory Lopez, and the Marquis de Renty; but that many of them, even at this day, are real inward Christians? And yet what a heap of erroneous opinions do they hold, delivered by tradition from their fathers! 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)

Do you get that? Wesley plainly says Calvinism is worse than error he believed the Church at Rome to hold and that Calvinism itself is greater than all of the other devices of Satan.

Perhaps, if that tract is indeed Wesley, he would not have us disparage one another individually, but it would appear that at least for a good portion of his career, Wesley could not see a union between the two.

I wouldn’t place Calvinism and Wesleyanism too close. One is of God.

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9 Replies to “What did John Wesley say of Calvinism?”

  1. John Wesley was bitterly opposed to Calvinism as a teaching. He felt it maligned the character of God and undermined the call to Christian holiness. But, he respected other Christians who were Calvinists. So, on the one hand, he felt Calvinism was false teaching — and for very serious reasons. On the other hand, he felt that Christians should be unified in their support of one another.

  2. My first “theology” school was a Free Methodist school in Sao Paulo Brazil in 1974 (don’t research, my name is not there and I couldn’t even get transcripts). One of my professor, of Japanese descent (which I am just mentioning for no particular reason) a very erudite man, use to repeat a phrase that stuck to my mind for all these years and I adapted for every single situation where opposing ideas are being discussed. The phrase was: “Calvin is Wesley’s devil; Wesley’s is Calvin’s devil. One is the devil for the other and there will never be a conciliation”. By the post above, my Professor was right!
    Today I am a “repetitor” of Whitfield: I was born Arminian but today I am a Calvinist for the Grace of God! After “evangelizing” and a Methodist oriented preacher, in the Charismatic movement, for many years, since I was 26 (I am 62 now, so don’t rebuke your elder, be obedient to the Apostle command), in 1993 I converted to Calvinism and it is hard for be even to believe that I believed what I believed…

  3. Thanks for the link.

    It does seem odd to read how vehement Wesley was in his denunciation of “absolute predestination,” and consider that he advocated gentleness toward actual living, breathing Calvinists, but that appears to be a pretty common pattern of his from his breach with the Calvinists on. At least as far as I can see.

    As for the closeness of the two, of course, Wesley wrote that he and George Whitefield were but a hair’s breadth from each other on the doctrines of original sin and justification by faith. They were wide apart on the matter of the horrible decree of predestination, however.

      1. But he saw the whole system of arising from absolute predestination. If you start with the idea that some were predestined to damnation, then that requires limited atonement. If you start with the idea that some are predestined to glory, then that requires the idea of perseverance of the saints. And — what I suspect is his biggest concern of all because for him practical implications mattered — it all tended toward antinomianism because God had already decided.

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