The following paragraphs are a critique of some of the grossest errors taught by John Wesley. I have chosen a few citations from his works and then commented briefly on each citation. For clarity's sake, my words are in yellow. Wesley's are in white. Far more than what I have written could (and maybe, should) be written about the enormities of this man. Augustus Toplady gave him a trouncing on more than one occasion. However, the language of Toplady has frequently been regarded as over-the-top, Besides, Wesley somehow managed to create an image of sanctity which has made it difficult for the uninformed to believe that Toplady's charges were valid. This has created the illusion that much of the back-and-forth that went on between Wesley and Toplady was of a personal nature rather than a doctrinal one.
Without further ado:
"I have often doubted, whether these were not the very persons whom the rich and honourable Christians, who will always have number as well as power on their side, did not stigmatize, from time to time, with the title of heretics. ... Nay, I have doubted whether that arch-heretic, Montanus, was not one of the holiest men in the second century. Yea, I would not affirm, that the arch-heretic of the fifth century, (as plentifully as he has been bespattered for many ages,) was not one of the holiest men of that age, not excepting St. Augustine himself. ... I verily believe, the real heresy of Pelagius was neither more or less than this: The holding that Christians may, by the grace of God (not without it; that I take to be a mere slander,) 'go on to perfection;' or, in other words, 'fulfil the law of Christ.' (6:328)
There are several gross errors these statements of Wesley’s:
First, he clearly disavows doctrinal integrity as having any place in salvation. You would think he had never read the Athanasian Creed, which explicitly denies that there is salvation for those who do not hold the Christian faith (as defined in that Creed). This, of course, is a fountainhead of anti-intellectualism.
Secondly, Wesley makes it clear without a doubt, that in his system, salvation is purely by works. Deny it till you’re blue in the face, but what else is it when a man says that the essence of Christianity is Wesley’s version of “perfectionism.” Moreover, Wesley picks the worst possible candidates if this were not his meaning: Montanus and Pelagius. There are hundreds of characters from the early history of the Church that he could have chosen to demonstrate his belief that doctrine doesn't matter. Yet he chose (A) a man who in practice denied the sufficiency of Scripture by making the Church’s life depend on constant new revelations from God; and (B) a man who denied the sovereignty of God. Notice that he has no qualms about calling Montanus a “arch-heretic,” even while defending him. Further, he is perfectly happy to accuse Augustine of slander against Pelagius. Yet in the same breath, he stiles him one of the holiest men of the 5th Century (second, perhaps, only to Pelagius!). I guess that means Wesley can still consider himself holy, in spite of being blatantly guilty of slander himself!
Thirdly, Wesley as much as asserts that God has no control over His own Church. The prime-mover of the Church in its doctrine and practice is not God, but the people with money. He sees the Kingdom of God working no differently than any banana republic in which the direction of the state is determined by clout and bribery.
Let’s briefly recap the track record of his two heroes. Montanus is an ascetic whose cult thrives in the 2nd Century by appeal to secret revelations from God. Montanus and company are spiritual elites. In keeping with this self-perceived superiority, they practice a very strict ascetic lifestyle. Pelagius, works as if there was no such thing as the Fall. Adam’s sin did nothing more than provide his posterity with a bad example. Sinless perfection is still attainable by anyone who will cowboy up and get to it.
It is little wonder that Wesley’s life epitomized both errors. In the first place, by his own account, his choice of Arminianism or Calvinism was decided by the flip of a coin, a sort of “laying a fleece before God,” or a “casting of lots.” Toplady quite fairly mocks this sort of cavalier behavior. With regard to the latter, what else is Arminianism but a slightly (deceptively) modified Pelagianism? By denying that the righteousness which pleases God is the perfect imputed righteousness of Christ, Wesley does more than lay the groundwork for a universal atonement (which her vigorously defended), but he throws open the door to Universalism.
You may think that that charge is harsh or unfair, but I assure you it is not. I will demonstrate this from his own writings.
First, he writes,
“Whether they embrace this religious opinion or that, is no more concern to me, than whether they embrace this or that system of astronomy. Are they brought to holy tempers and holy lives? This is mine, and should be your inquiry; since on this, both social and personal happiness depend, happiness temporal and eternal." (8:246)
Notice that Wesley says that a person’s choice of religion is no different than any system of astronomy. Writing, as he did, in the 18th Century, he was thinking of the geocentric versus heliocentric models of the solar system. Secondly, he implicitly assumes that true Gospel holiness is attainable without any reference to the Christian faith. Moreover, he goes so far as to say that a person’s eternal destiny is determined, not by God (or even an adherence to the true form of the Christian faith – with or without grace), but simply by one’s life, i.e., works.
Secondly, he writes to a Roman Catholic:
“My dear friend, consider, I am not persuading you to leave or change your religion, but to follow after that fear and love of God without which all religion is vain. I say not a word to you about your opinions or outward manner of worship…Be your form of worship what it will, but in everything give him thanks; else it is all but lost labour. Use whatever outward observances you please, but put your whole trust in him; but honor his holy name and his word, and serve him truly all the days of your life. Are we not thus far agreed? ... Let the points wherein we differ stand aside; here are enough wherein we agree, enough to be the ground of every Christian temper, and of every Christian action… I hope to see you in heaven.” (10:80-86)
Suffice it to say that herein lies a denial of the whole Reformation. “Protestant or Catholic, who cares, as long as they are living a decent life?” As if a decent life is the entry ticket to heaven. Does Wesley really mean to say that the blasphemous, idolatrous Mass is adiaphora? Does he mean to say that violation of the 2nd Commandment is a non-issue? Does he mean to assert that worship of a false god does not have any bearing on salvation? You bet, he does.
In recent months there has been a furor over Rick Warren’s statements and actions which were labeled, rightly or wrongly, “Chrislam.” It started with an assertion that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, which, of course, is patently false. Whatever else may be said about the so-called “healing” between Christians and Muslims, Scripture asks, “What communion hath light with darkness?” What saith Wesley?
“[N]or do I conceive that any man living has a right to sentence all the heathen and Mahometan world to damnation… I believe the merciful God regards the lives and tempers of men more than their ideas. I believe he respects the goodness of the heart, rather than the clearness of the head; and that if the heart of a man be filled (by the grace of God, and the power of his Spirit) with the humble, gentle, patient love of God and man, God will not cast him into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels, because his ideas are not clear, or because his conceptions are confused. ‘Without holiness,’ I own, ‘no man shall see the Lord;’ but I dare not add, ‘or clear ideas.’” (7:353-354)
My assertion has proven true: Wesley’s universal atonement has led directly to Universalism. Not only are Romish idolaters saved by their works. (Newsflash to Wesley: they already believe that), but actual heathens and even Muslims will be saved in the same way that Christians will be – by works! Not only is he is perfectly comfortable inserting his own words into Scripture, but he mocks anyone who places a premium on accurate doctrine. Only one kind of person would do this: a scoundrel who doesn’t believe in the sufficiency of Scripture and who denies the Scriptural teaching of Divine Sovereignty. Much has been said about the vitriolic way in which Toplady wrote to and about Wesley. The above citations (not one of which was specifically address by Toplady), show that Wesley more than deserved the slap-down that he got from Toplady.
All quotes are from The Works of John Wesley (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI (1996). The references as formatted as follows: (Volume: Page).