Wesley and Pelagius: Kissing cousins?

Here is a post on “Wesley and Pelagius” by Lee Gatiss

For century after century, one man has been the bogeyman of Western theology. He’s the bad guy. The one no. For centuries the malign influence of his worksy free will religion has been resisted. Bede narrates in his history of the English church how persistently both Celtic and Catholic Christians opposed in these fair Isles the poison of Pelagianism, which the great Augustine of Hippo had refuted so clearly, and which was condemned by an early church council at Carthage (418) and excommunicated.

In the East, they are not such fans of Augustine. But in the West, he the man, and so his enemy is our enemy, so to speak. Identification with Pelagius has been “a bad thing” throughout our history.

Which makes it so strange that the great and famous John Wesley was actually a fan of Pelagius. Am I being nasty now? Am I being offensive: “a cynic, a bear, a Toplady” (to use Wesley’s own sour put down)? Not at all.

See more here.

Here is Thomas McCall’s riposte to Gatiss:

Pelagianism’ calmly considered: A Response to Lee Gatiss.”

I have always found Lee Gatiss to be a fine historian, so I was disappointed to see his claims in the recent “Wesley and Pelagius”. He points out that Pelagius has been universally reviled and rejected in orthodox (Western) Christian theology, and then he also points out that John Wesley was openly sympathetic to the heretic. Indeed, he says that he “was actually a fan of Pelagius.” But Gatiss goes much further. For Gatiss concludes that Pelagius “taught – well, what do you know! – the same things as John Wesley himself, regarding free will and perfectionism.” This latter claim – that Wesley and Pelagius taught the “same things” about “free will and perfectionism” – is problematic indeed; it is deeply mistaken and very misleading.

Here is another part of Thomas McCall’s riposte to Gatiss:

Wesley on Original Sin

But while Gatiss’s discussion of Wesley’s sympathy might be misleading, there are bigger problems with Gatiss’s essay. For he is simply mistaken when he says that Wesley and Pelagius “taught the same things.” They didn’t. Consider what Wesley says about the doctrine of original sin. The Methodist Articles of Religion clearly affirm the doctrine, with Article II affirming that Christ’s sacrifice atones for “original guilt” as well as actual sins. But Wesley himself goes further. His treatise on original sin is the longest and densest work in his theological corpus; it is written soon before the more famous work of Jonathan Edwards, it engages in sharp polemics against many of the same debate partners (especially John Taylor), and it employs many similar arguments… For instance, he asks

“Is man by nature filled with all manner of evil? Is he void of all good? Is he wholly fallen? Is his soul totally corrupted? Is… ‘every imagination of the thoughts of his heart evil continually?’ Allow this, and you are so far a Christian. Deny it, and you are but a heathen still (“Original Sin,” p. 456).

Wesley is convinced that any denial of the doctrine of original sin “saps the very foundation of all revealed religion” (“Original Sin,” p. 194). Thus such a denial “contradicts the main design of the Gospel, which is to humble vain man, and to ascribe to God’s free grace, not man’s free will, the whole of his salvation” (“Original Sin,” p. 429). Subsequent Methodist theologians… insist that we are “totally depraved.” I cannot see how anyone might view this evidence – which flows from Wesley’s most sustained theological treatment of any issue through his sermons into the major confessional documents and indeed through the major nineteenth-century Methodist theologians – and conclude that Wesley and Pelagius taught “the same things.”

III. Wesley on “Free Will” and the prevenience of grace

As we have seen, Wesley is absolutely certain that we must “ascribe to God’s free grace, not man’s free will, the whole of his salvation.” His doctrine of human sinfulness is not, he insists, even a “hairs-breadth” different than that of John Calvin. If that amounts to Pelagianism, then one might be excused for thinking that this is pretty good company in which to be Pelagian.

End of McCall.

Here is a counter thrust by Gatiss. http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2014/12/more-work-for-the-wesleyans.php. Here is an excerpt regarding “original sin.”

“Wesley’s sermon on Philippians 2:12: “allowing that all the souls of men are dead in sin by nature, this excuses none, seeing there is no man that is in a state of mere nature”. I’m struggling to relate this to his supposed belief in original sin. Doesn’t he think all that Old Testament stuff about everyone being born in sin has been cancelled out now that Christ has enlightened every man (see e.g. his sermon on Philippians 3:12)?”

And here is an excerpt from John Whitefield’s letter to Wesley, in response to the latter’s sermon on “free grace.”

Free grace or free-will

Dear Sir, for Jesus Christ’s sake, consider how you dishonour God by denying election. You plainly make salvation depend not on God’s free grace, but on man’s free-will; and if thus, it is more than probable, Jesus Christ would not have had the satisfaction of seeing the fruit of His death in the eternal salvation of one soul. Our preaching would then be vain, and all invitations for people to believe in Him would also be in vain. But, blessed be God, our Lord knew for whom He died. There was an eternal compact between the Father and the Son. A certain number was then given Him, as the purchase and reward of His obedience and death. For these He prayed (Joh 17), and not for the world. For these, and these only, He is now interceding, and with their salvation He will be fully satisfied.

Wesley says that salvation is all of grace, and nothing to do with free will. That’s odd. Here is the famous Ephesians 2:8 – “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”

The Wesleyan/Arminian says (the gift of) Salvation and Grace are both all of the Lord, but when it comes to the gift of faith you, in your totally depraved nature and hatred of God, have to exercise your free will to accept it – otherwise, they say, you’re a robot.

Wesleyan (Arminian) criminal before judge – A musing grace

Judge – You deserve death but it is the decision of this court to grant you amnesty. Are you willing to accept the decision?

Criminal – Your Grace, let me muse over it. Say, an hour?

Judge – This court is in recess for one hour.

Calvinist criminal before same judge.

Judge – You deserve death but it is the decision of this court to grant you amnesty.

Calvinist – Amazing, your grace. Thank you, thank you.

Judge – We don’t hang robots.

One thought on “Wesley and Pelagius: Kissing cousins?

Leave a Reply to SLIMJIM Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s