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Luke L. Keefer, Jr.


Source: Wesleyan Theological Journal

Wesley Center Online



 Grasping essential elements in any aspect of John Wesley is a little like catching a greased pig. For a man of plain words, Wesley is elusive without intending to be so. He lived so long and wrote so much that one must have massive persistence to pursue him through successive decades and endless volumes. This is the fourth time for me to go after Wesley’s Arminianism in a concerted fashion. It is like chasing a receding horizon. Considerable territory is covered, but one is conscious of how much needs to be done. Most recently I have focused on the volumes of the Arminian Magazine that Wesley personally edited before his death. The characteristics that are shared in this paper are derived from his entire written corpus, but what is most immediate are the impressions that have newly emerged from or been strengthened by these fourteen volumes.


Wesley’s Arminianism is Anglicized and Personalized


Wesley clearly links himself to the seventeenth century Remonstrants. The title of the Arminian Magazine is one evidence of this. But how well did he know Arminius and the early Remonstrants who popularized the movement? I have yet to pinpoint when Wesley read any of Arminius’ writings. The clear implication of his short treatise “The Question, ‘What is an Arminian?’ Answered by a Lover of Free Grace” (1770)[1] is that he had personally read somewhat in Arminius. For he defends Arminius so particularly on the issues of original sin and justification by faith, that one feels he must have had some grounds for his trust in Arminius’ orthodoxy on these points.[2] More to the point is his challenge near the end of the treatise: “And how can any man know what Arminius held, who has never read one page of his writings?”[3] Wesley stands self-condemned if this were his own case.

The extant diaries, however, give us no hint about the time or the extensiveness of his personal reading of Arminius. Possibly the diaries from the outbreak of the Calvinistic controversy in 1770 through the first number of the Arminian Magazine in 1778 contain the needed evidence. But they are among the missing volumes of Wesley’s life. His preface to the first volume of the magazine laments the virtual ignorance people commonly have of Arminius, owing to the fact that no good biography on his life was available.[4] The first article of the fledgling magazine, therefore, is Wesley’s attempt to provide a short life of Arminius. It is an extract of the funeral oration delivered by Peter Bertius.[5] Part of this sketch refers to Arminius’ “Declaration of Sentiments” and his debates with Junius and the English Puritan, William Perkins, on the question of predestination.[6] Probably Wesley was simply following Bertius in these references. By themselves they are no proof that he had personally read these treatises of Arminius.

Wesley was a compulsive extractor of those writings he felt most profitable on a given subject. Why then did he never extract anything by Arminius, not even in the fourteen volumes of the magazine named after him? Nor have I yet encountered in Wesley’s writings a direct quotation from Arminius. What we have are general statements about Arminius’ life and thought. The strong suspicion is that Arminius’ works were rare in England , even in the eighteenth century,[7] and that consequently Wesley was not well versed in his writings.

What Wesley knew of Arminius came to him through two basic sources.

First, he knew something of Arminius through Remonstrant spokesmen. In the year Wesley was ordained a deacon at Oxford (1725), he read Hugo Grotius’ Annotationes in Novum Testamentum.[8] Then, in the midst of his first Calvinistic controversy in 1741, while in the Lincoln College Library, he came by chance upon the works of Simon Episcopius. He happened to open the book at the description of the Synod of Dort and was thoroughly shocked by the actions of the Calvinists toward the Remonstrants.[9] His journal comments only upon this segment of the book. If he read any more of this volume, Opera Theologica, he encountered a full exposition of Arminianism. For Episcopius was both the student of Arminius at Leiden University and the chief spokesman for the Remonstrant party at the Synod of Dort. Boshears characterizes this work of Episcopius as the “systematization of Arminian thought.”[10] Here at least were two opportunities for Wesley to learn of Arminius from his close followers.

Wesley’s second source of Arminian theology was the English Church in general, particularly the writers of the seventeenth century. This was by far his predominant source, a fact which is amply demonstrated in the materials selected for inclusion in the Arminian Magazine.[11] This should be no surprise to us, for Wesley’s preface to volume one clearly stated his intention to present the best treatises on the subject from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.[12] Of the articles available to him in English, most were compiled by Anglican churchmen.

Several factors combine here to make this a significant insight as to the particular cast of his Arminianism. James the First had sent representatives of the English church to the Synod of Dort. They were a moderating force on the synod both in spirit and theology. Nonetheless, they joined in the council’s rejection of the Remonstrant position. Not long after the Synod, however, both James I and the leading English bishops did a radical about-face. Scandalized at the persecuting spirit of the synod’s proceedings, and now convinced that Arminius was more correct than the Calvinists, they moved the English church decisively in an Arminian direction.

Two religious factors lay at the heart of this about-face. Archbishop Laud was a convinced latitudinarian in ecclesiastical polity, the very opposite of restrictive Calvinism. More to the point was the desire of the English Church to legitimatize itself as neither Roman Catholic nor Radical Protestant by establishing its doctrine, liturgy, and polity on the first centuries of the Christian Church. And the church before Augustine was uniformly supportive of universal redemption.

Wesley was quite aware of these facts, for the version just presented is taken from his own Ecclesiastical History, published in 1781 as an English extract of von Mosheim’s work on the history of the Christian Church.[13] Steeped as he was in the Caroline divines, when this Anglican Arminianism had triumphed over aggressive Calvinism, he was conscious of his own sympathy with Arminianism because it was harmonious with the testimony of the early Church. Furthermore, he shared the deep revulsion that the Carolinian divines had for the Puritan involvement in the English Civil War, when the spirit of Dort had taken flesh and shed blood on English soil. To his dying day, Wesley deprecated the destruction caused by the reforming Calvinistic troops of that bitter war. Some of his intense emotional vehemence against Calvinism is better understood in terms of seventeenth century English history than it is in strictly theological terms.

This points to the conclusion that Wesley’s Arminianism was mediated to him by means of the Anglican Church. Basic ideas of Arminius were passed along, but they had taken on a distinctive English accent. The Methodists would call themselves Arminians, but they were more the cousins of Arminius than they were his direct descendants.

Yet we must resist the temptation to define Wesley merely as the product of his sources. His own creative thought in the development of his theology, as well as his reflections upon the course of the Methodist Revival, had as much to do with his brand of Arminianism as did the English context of his religious formation. We can acknowledge that Wesley’s context predisposed him to Arminianism; but we should never concede that it predestined him to it!

Every attempt to label Wesley has had to acknowledge that in certain respects he doesn’t fit the mold. Thus he has been painted as a Catholic, Anglican, Pietist, Calvinist, Lutheran, Puritan, Moravian, etc. depending upon the author in question. Every attempt has ended with its “sic et non,” alike in some respects and different in others. His Arminianism is no different. From the point of his studies for ordination, when the seventeenth article of the English Church troubled his thoughts,[14] until the last years of his oversight of the Methodist societies, he was giving periodic thought to this issue.

His fundamental perception of God as holy and loving, rather than primarily sovereign as in Calvinism, gave him a different perception on grace. It was without limit, both in terms of those who could be reached by it and in terms of how far it could penetrate into the human heart in its triumph over sin.[15] His particular development of prevenient grace allowed him to walk a narrow ledge between Calvinism and Pelagianism in regard to sin, free will, and the nature of saving faith. His keen attention to the psychology of religious experience made him nearly a singular religious thinker in his time. He grasped, then, what it has taken the rest of the Christian world nearly two more centuries to acknowledge fully. Dogmatic theology cannot be done in isolation, for the Word of the living God always confronts real people in specific human contexts. The truth of a doctrinal proposition was to be tested, he believed, at least in part, by its correspondence with Christian experience. When Wesley objected to the effects of Calvinist preaching upon both sinners and saints, he was doing more than questioning its pragmatic influence; he was challenging the very truthfulness of the doctrines involved.

More should be said on these points, but enough has been mentioned to indicate that Wesley contributed theological insights to Arminian thought as well as derived them from the heritage. He stands as a leading figure in the ongoing debate between Arminianism and Calvinism. He did more than cast his vote of “aye” for the Arminian understanding of the Christian faith. He took his turn in the debate, speaking as an Englishman and persuading others by his particular arguments. Those who truly heard the debate sensed that in Wesley Arminianism was Anglicized and personalized.


Wesley’s Arminianism Is Integrative Rather than Systematized


In Paul K. Jewett’s book, Election and Predestination, he expresses the conviction that Calvinism enjoys the advantage of the best theologians of the ages being on its side.[16] While he finds Wesley to be more to his liking than Arminius, he fails to see in Wesley a real threat to Calvinistic logic. “Wesley’s rejection of predestination,” he writes, “was—fortunately—more emotional than critical. Not given to the rigors of thought of which dogmatics is made, he never pursued the implications of his Arminian view of salvation.”[17] If we can get past the injudicious lack of scholarly objectivity in Jewett’s statements, we will discover an important element, a half-truth, that illustrates a characteristic aspect of Wesley’s Arminianism.

Jewett’s charge against Wesley is an old libel. It is that Wesley is not a systematic theologian, and here many of Wesley’s friends are as likely to agree as are his foes. But we must not quit the field at this stage of the contest. There are many turns in this game before the final score is known.

Systematic theologies often involve a first principle, a theological prime mover from which all other Christian truths get their start. For Luther the key issue is justification by faith. It casts its shadow over all areas of his thought. Calvin is an even better example of a systematics person. Here God’s sovereignty is the starting point, and all other doctrines fall in step to the beat of this drum. One will search in vain for such a controlling principle in Wesley. Neither Arminianism nor Christian perfection, to cite some prime candidates, function this way for Wesley.

So far Jewett’s charge still stands. But if systematic theology is the best form of Christian thought, then the Bible is an inferior product by comparison. And Moses, David, Isaiah, Paul, John, and Jesus, also, stand condemned as sub-par thinkers. For the Bible is an integrative book, seeing issues wholistically, dealing with them naturally as the occasion demands. Wesley, who aimed to be a man of this book above all else, is in the same mold.

This is not to say that the Biblical writers could not think systematically when the occasion demanded. They could demonstrate the interrelation of truths and pick their way through complex issues to reasonable answers. But that is not the only way to present truth, and most of life is not so rigidly systematized. The Bible sets, therefore, the true pattern for theological discourse when it addresses the human condition as it is. So we need not quail under the charge of Wesley’s lack of a system. He keeps some very good company in sacred history. It matters not that he presents his theology in sermons, letters, conference minutes, hymns, and tracts for the times. If his theology is Biblical, logical, understandable, and helpful, is it any less valuable because it is not titled The Institutes of the Christian Religion and cannot be reduced to a five point acrostic?

It is my hunch that theological preferences are determined more by psychological disposition than we often like to admit. There are systematizers by nature who must reduce every issue to a paradigm, a syllogism, or a category. Nothing so annoys them as ambiguity or complementary truths. It upsets their whole mental universe. Give them their system and all of life falls in place.

The other fifty percent of the human race thinks just as accurately, but it thinks differently. These people see things wholistically, impressed by how matters are in the course of things. Their orientation is toward practices rather than theoretics, and they are more synthetic than analytic in thought.

Now, I suspect that many great Christian systematizers belong to the first group. And many others belong to the second. In terms of the brain research of recent decades, it is time now to challenge the nonsense that systematizers are better thinkers than are the integrative thinkers. Jewett will not likely approve of the move, but it is time for the Christian world to invite to more worthy places those whom the systematizers have consigned to the lowest seats at the feast.

It is instructive to see how Wesley approaches Arminianism integratively. In general, his Arminianism is implicit rather than explicit. He goes about his task as a Christian, assuming the truth of the Arminian understanding. He feels an obligation to every person he encounters. His evangelistic preaching is full of hope, even for the worst of sinners. His nurture of believers is motivated by the fear that having begun the Christian race they will not persevere until the end. For the most part, he does not attempt to develop a full-blown Arminian theology, at least not in print. Rather, he addresses the practical issue of the topic that the particular situation demanded.

His writings against Calvinism can be grouped in four periods. During these times his Arminianism is given a somewhat more explicit expression. The first period could be called the “initial Calvinistic controversy.” It began in 1739 and ran through his rift with Whitefield in the 1740’s. Wesley had barely discovered his vocation as an evangelist before predestinarian ideas, strong in the Bristol area, threatened to limit the scope of his declaration of good news. Wesley’s response is charged with emotion, revolting against the consequences of particular redemption on evangelistic preaching, but also venting personal frustration over the strife occasioned in the young revival movement over doctrinal disputes.          

His sermon on “Free Grace,”[18] published in Bristol , and the “Hymns on God’s Everlasting Love,”[19] jointly published by the Wesley brothers in 1741, reflect the emotional intensity of their feelings on the issue. John also wrote “A Dialogue Between A Predestinarian and His Friend”[20] during this period. To these publications of their own composition, he added three published extracts of other authors who helped to champion his cause against particular redemption.[21]

In the decade of the 1750’s, Wesley published two new pieces on the subject. They were “Serious Thoughts Upon the Perseverance of the Saints” (1751) and “Predestination Calmly Considered” (1752).[22] As the titles themselves suggest, the mood now was a calmer one. The Wesleys and Whitefield had covered their differences for the sake of revival harmony. The treatises seem to be directed more to the teaching need of the Methodist Societies than toward outside adversaries,[23] though the first of these involved Wesley in a brief pamphlet battle with Dr. Gill on the subject of the perseverance of the saints. His final response to Dr. Gill was a twelve page pamphlet, composed entirely of selections from the “Hymns on God’s Everlasting Love.”[24] Such was the confidence of Wesley in these hymns as statements of theology!

The third period, generally confined to the 1760’s, was a particular conflict over the meaning of “imputed righteousness.”[25] It started innocently enough with Wesley’s exchanges with James Hervey, his Oxford pupil and friend. Before it had run its course, it spread to Scotland , where Wesley was now alienated from some of the clergymen who had formerly aided his ministry there. It was a harbinger of things to come. Smoldering beneath the surface were deep doctrinal differences between Calvinistic and Arminian Methodists.

The fourth period began in 1770 and continued to the end of Wesley’s life. Two events made 1770 a fateful year: George Whitefield’s death and the Minutes of the Methodist Conference, declaring how Wesley’s Societies had heretofore leaned too near Calvinism. The issue now was the antinomian effect Calvinism could have among the Methodists. A pamphlet war resulted, with Wesley’s new adversaries being Augustus Toplady and the Hill brothers, Richard and Rowland.[26]

The temper of these new, younger opponents convinced Wesley that there was no peace to be found with the Calvinistic party. After several exchanges with them in controversial treatises, he decided on a different course. On one hand, his friend, John Fletcher, issued his Checks to Antinomianism. Here was the Arminian cause set forth systematically and with good Christian spirit. Wesley enthusiastically endorsed it as the response of his party to Calvinism. On the other hand, Wesley decided to begin publishing a periodical called the Arminian Magazine. Begun in 1778, it was to be his sustained effort to refute Calvinism and support universal redemption. Indeed, he published nothing on this topic in the last fourteen years of his life apart from the articles in the magazine.

Wesley composes very little that is new for the magazine apart from sermons that are included from time to time, most of which do not directly relate to the subject. He reprinted many of his earlier publications, both his own compositions and extracted treatises on the subject. To this he added new extracts, some stretched out through the various numbers of the magazine for a year or more. Most of these were by English authors, though he included a long excerpt of Sabastian Castellio against predestination.[27] Some were fairly heavy going, requiring not only a thorough grasp of Scripture, church history, and theology, but also an ability to follow the methods of argumentation current in the European universities from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. These more weighty articles prompted letters of protest to which Wesley replied in letters and prefaces to subsequent volumes of the magazine.

As one wades through the articles in volume after volume of the magazine, he is impressed that there is nothing new under the sun. The most familiar arguments on both sides of the question are stated and examined. The relevant passages of Scripture, plus some that cannot be so characterized, are cited and explained, not only once, but several times over. It is clear Dr. Jewett had expended no energy in the Arminian Magazine. For if Wesley did not have the time to write systematic theology, he certainly had the mind to understand it and to perceive what sources set forth his sentiments with the greatest force. And time did seem to be the issue for Wesley. Systematic theologians are rarely to be found among those who preach on a daily basis, while also tending to pastoral duties for literally thousands of souls.

The Arminian Magazine is a veritable body of divinity on the controverted points between Calvinists and Arminians. It is not reduced to confessional statements, nor is it presented in discrete chapters under particular headings. But it is there, nonetheless, most of it being in composition and length such as simple readers could take in. It was for such an audience Wesley intended the magazine as he did most of his publications. One who wishes to write for the popular audience must excel in practical divinity, theology so integrated with the concerns and the language of the masses that it can communicate with them. What, in the final analysis, we might ask Dr. Jewett reflects the largeness of one’s mind? Is it the ability to write learned tomes for the students of systematics? Or is it the ability to express the most sublime truths of theology in ways that the masses will understand? However one might be disposed to judge the issue of mental ability, one might be forgiven the impression that Wesley has chosen the better part.


Wesley’s Arminianism Is Pastorally Motivated


The substance and style of Wesley’s Arminianism is closely linked to his ministerial motivations. Thus, there is a natural relationship between the second and third characteristics, which have a mutual impact upon one another.

A statement in Wesley’s letter of July 30, 1773, to Mrs. Woodhouse, helps to introduce us to the issue.


The point they aim at is this—to make Calvinists. Our point is to make Christians. They endeavour to convert men to the dear Decrees; we to convert them to God.[28]


This is as much a half truth about the Calvinists as Jewett’s remarks were about Wesley. For Calvinists then, as now, had as their purpose the making of Christians. But the half truth contains an insight into a difference in style between the two systems and, consequently, their motivations in ministry. Sensing this difference helps us identify another of the characteristics of Wesley’s Arminianism.

If one’s approach to Christianity is highly motivated by systematics, then the exposition of that dogmatic formulation holds a primary role in communication. A Calvinistic preacher or writer is readily recognized, for his dogmatic structure is inextricably linked with his presentation of the gospel. Such communication can be compared to looking at a human skeleton. The entire bone system is immediately open to view. All the parts are clearly seen, their points of connection, and the entire configuration. Herein lies its appeal to certain thinkers and its compelling power as a system of Christian truth.

Wesley’s Arminianism is quite different. It is like looking at a human body, where the skeletal system is assumed but not immediately obvious. In fact, one would be hard put to demonstrate the existence of some bones of the body in a living person. The other parts of the human system disguise the skeletal system. Yet that skeletal system is present, fulfilling its function in relation to all the other bodily systems. This is the key issue. It is only one system along with all the other systems of the body, important in its own right and capable of particular investigation, but not fundamental in any sense that the others are not also co-fundamental. This is the important issue that Wesley’s half-truth statement illustrates.

Wesley did not often preach on the topics in dispute between the Calvinists and the Arminians. At the height of the last controversy he admitted he should preach on it more frequently, saying that heretofore he scarce preached on it once in every fifty sermons.[29] He cautioned his ministers at this time against getting caught up in the issue and preaching against Calvinism too frequently. Opposing false doctrine was not to occupy too much of their time or thoughts. They were to keep to the key issue: “Christ dying for us and living in us.”[30] Calvinism was to be resisted calmly, not by controversial sermons, but by “visiting the people from house to house, dispersing the little tracts as it were with both hands.”[31]

Wesley’s pastoral approach was motivated by the fact that he considered Calvinism to be an opinion and not a fundamental doctrine of Scripture. His letter to John Newton[32] makes this very point. Both Calvinists and Arminians were leading people to true Christian faith. Thus, their doctrinal views must not have touched the fundamental issues of Christianity. He admitted that thirty years earlier he and Charles had felt differently about Calvinism. Experience had made them wiser. They still thought these opinions were wrong, but they were not the fundamental kind of wrong that merited all one’s opposition, especially in public. The more secluded pastoral settings were more suited to guarding against them.

The place of dogmatic theology in preaching was one of the key issues in the final Calvinistic controversy of Wesley’s life. Augustus Toplady had translated and published Zanchius’ treatise on the doctrine of absolute predestination. It defined the key terms of the Calvinistic system and closed with arguments why this doctrine should be preached publicly to both sinners and saints. The reasoning was that these doctrines were fundamental to the entire gospel and that the gospel would be distorted if these items were not included.[33] Rev. John Erskine of Scotland criticized Wesley concerning this. He felt it was Wesley’s duty to preach on these topics even if it resulted in controversy, for otherwise Wesley was guilty of not preaching the full gospel according to his own convictions.[34]

Wesley felt insisting upon differing opinions interfered with the real business of converting men’s souls. His approach made Arminianism a penultimate issue and not the ultimate one. Calvinistic dogmatics had made its systematic theology identical with the gospel. At least in Wesley’s day, it had found no way to effectively distinguish them. Thus, making people Christian was synonymous with making them think Calvinistically. For Wesley the issue was to make people Christians, hopefully in the Arminian persuasion, but not necessarily so. Thus, what is often called a matter of Wesley’s evangelical pragmatism is really motivated by this more fundamental reason.

Another aspect of this pastoral conditioning of Wesley’s Arminianism was its care of souls. Wesley states the issue in one of his letters to Mary Bishop.


How grievously are they mistaken (as are well-nigh the whole body of modern Calvinists) who imagine that as soon as children are born they need take no more care of them! We do not find it so. The chief care then begins.[35]


It was the Arminian branch of the Methodist revival that developed the Methodist discipline and the small group structures for nurture. Whitefield and the Calvinistic Methodists did not see the same necessity for them. Consequently, as Wesley observed early on and Whitefield lamented later, many of Whitefield’s converts were as a rope of sand. Again, on the surface it looks like a merely pragmatic difference in ministerial style. Underlying the two approaches, however, was a vital difference in theology over the perseverance of the saints. The practice of both groups was a reflection of their doctrinal convictions.

One could say with some justification that the first Calvinistic controversy at Bristol in 1739 was evangelistically motivated. In the last three decades of his ministry, and throughout all the controversy raised by the Minutes of 1770, the issue was Calvinism’s impact upon the believers. Wesley’s charge was that it fostered antinomianism. This was in direct conflict with his emphasis upon Christian perfection. Many of his statements during these years reduced the struggle to this one point: Calvinism or Christian perfection. He felt Calvinism tended to let people rest in their election; he wanted his people to strive for Christian perfection. Wesley’s linkage of Arminian theology to the doctrine of Christian perfection often has been overlooked in assessing the motivation of his pastoral care.

The Arminian Magazine is a vivid testimony to Wesley’s pastoral Arminianism. One is immediately struck by the material that comprises the various numbers of the magazine. In his most concerted attempt to explain and enforce Arminian theology, by far the greater part of the magazine does not relate directly to the doctrinal issues in question. This becomes even more pronounced after one gets past the first two volumes. But even in the first two volumes there is much that does not relate to the Calvinism-Arminianism debate.

Wesley’s preface to the first volume, however, has notified us of this fact. He indicates that each number of the magazine will have four parts. The first part will be “a defence of that grand Christian doctrine, ‘God willeth all men to be saved.’” The second part will be the exemplary life of some Christian, regardless of his denominational association. The third part will be of letters which contain the “experience of pious persons.” Poetry would fill the fourth part.[36] Early on much of the poetry came from the “Hymns on God’s Everlasting Love.” Later, poetry of all kinds became more prominent. Thus, only half of the early numbers address the issue of Arminian thought. The proportional space given to doctrinal defense diminishes in time, until it makes up barely twenty-five percent of the magazine. Wesley himself was sensible of this drift. In the preface to the seventh volume, he says the magazine’s sub-title was misleading. In the first six volumes it read, “Consisting of Extracts and Treatises on Universal Redemption.” He would change that by adding the word “chiefly,” so henceforth it would read, “consisting chiefly,” etc.[37]

One observes, however, that the later volumes were only a confirmation of his primary concern throughout. True, his first number reflected his determination that a sufficiently vigorous response should be given to the Calvinism of his day.[38] But there, already, at least half the magazine was concerned with “practical, heart Christianity.” That this practical Christianity was his supreme interest is quite clear in his preface to the third volume of the magazine.


In the following, some pages will always be bestowed (as was originally designed) in proving the grand doctrine of universal redemption, and clearing it of all objections. But this will not take up so large a compass as it has done in some of the preceding numbers. I do not intend that the controversial part of any future number shall exceed sixteen pages. By this means there will be more room for what is more to my taste, and I believe more for the profit of the serious reader; I mean such Lives as contain the height and depth of genuine, scriptural, rational religion.[39]


Again, the truth of his letter to Mrs. Woodhouse is verified. Making Christians is the central concern; promoting Arminianism is secondary to it.

A final example of this pastoral orientation is seen in his visits to Holland.[40] Twice after he began the Arminian Magazine, he went to Holland for several weeks at a time. One might have expected that he was after Dutch materials of the Remonstrant cause for the magazine. This, however, was not the case. Rather, his time was wholly given to visiting small groups of pious people who had learned of him through his writings. Christian perfection was often the focus of his comments, but his journals make not one reference to Arminianism, even though his diaries indicate that he was preparing copy for the Arminian Magazine during these trips. Even his visits to Leiden, where Arminians had taught theology in the university, seemed not to have stirred any historical interest in the dramatic events of the preceding century. What an eloquent testimony to his pastorally motivated Arminianism!

Did the style of his theology motivate his pastoral orientation? Or did his pastoral context fashion his style of theology? Both are likely true, for their mutual influence was characteristic of Wesley. Seeing the relationship between the two is essential to understanding Wesley’s Arminianism.




Neither the Calvinism nor the Arminianism of our day parallels that of eighteenth century England . Thus, some of our interest in Wesley’s Arminianism is a more narrowly focused scholarly issue. The direct relationship of Wesley to Arminius is an issue in this vein. But the interactive character of Wesley’s theology and the pastoral orientation that accompanied it are more instructive for our own time. They help us understand differences in theological substance and style that still persist in our time. Two centuries of dialogue and ecumenical effort have reduced the differences between Calvinists and Arminians may God be praised, but they have not succeeded in casting us in a common mold. Wesley’s Arminianism is as much a challenge today to Wesleyan ecclesiology as it is to Calvinist doctrine. Wesley has not had his last word with us in regard to Arminianism.

[1] The Works of John Wesley. 14 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958–59), X, 358–361.

[2] Ibid., 359.

[3] Ibid., 360.

[4] John Wesley, ed., The Arminian Magazine: Consisting of Extracts and Original Treatises on Universal Redemption, 14 vols. ( London : Fry, Para more,, 1778–91), I, v.

[5] Ibid., I, 9–17.

[6] Ibid., I, 13 and 15.

[7] This fact is well stated in Carl Bangs’ Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation (Grand Rapids: Francis Asbury Press, 1985), pp. 18–19.

[8] V. H. H. Green, The Young Mr. Wesley (New York: St. Martin’s Press Inc., 1961), p. 306.

[9] Nehemiah Curnock, ed., The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M. 8 vols. (London: Charles H. Kelly, 1909–16), II, 473.

[10] Onva K. Boshears, Jr., John Wesley, The Bookman; A Study of His Reading Interests in the Eighteenth Century. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Michigan, 1972, pp. 217–18.

[11] One can quickly verify this by scanning the tables of contents in the various volumes of the magazine under Wesley’s editorship. Or one can get the picture even more speedily by reading through Green’s summary of the contents of the various volumes. Richard Green, The Works of John and Charles Wesley, A Bibliography: Containing an Exact Account of all the Publications Issued by The Brothers Wesley Arranged in Chronological Order (London: C. H. Kelly, 1896), pp. 196–8, 200–1, 204–5, 212–13, 218–19, 22l–2, 224–5, 227–8, 232–3, 234–5, 238–9, 241–2, 245, 248.

[12] Arminian Magazine, I, v.

[13] John Wesley, A Concise Ecclesiastical History, From the Birth of Christ to the Beginning of the Present Century, 4 vols. ( London : J. Paramore,17 III. 100–104.

[14] See his letter to his mother. John Telford, ed., The Letters of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., 8 vols., (London: The Epworth Press, 1931), I, 22–23.

[15] Both Deschner and Lindstrom agree, though from different perspectives, that Wesley’s own theology gives a particular cast to his Arminianism when applied to the subject of salvation. John Deschner, Wesley’s christology: An Interpretation (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1960), pp.18–23; Harold Lindstrom, Wesley and Sanctification (London: The Epworth Press, 1950), pp. 19–104.

[16] Paul K. Jewett, Election and Predestination (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985), pp. 3, 62, 66.

[17] Ibid., p. 17.

[18] Works, VII, 373–386.

[19] G. Osborn, ed., The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley, 13 vols., (London: Wesleyan-Methodist Conference Office, 1869), III, 3–106.

[20] Green, Works of John and Charles Wesley, p. 18.

[21] Ibid., pp. 16, 18, 19. Two of these treatises were included in early volumes of the Arminian Magazine. II, 105–119; V, 617–623.

[22] Green, Works of John and Charles Wesley, pp. 74, 76.

[23] Ibid., pp. 76–77.

[24] Osborn, Poetical Works, III, xx; Green, Works of John and Charles Wesley, p. 87.

[25] “Thoughts on the Imputed Righteousness of Christ” (1762), “A Treatise on Justification: Extracted from Mr. John Goodwin” (1765), “An Answer to all that is Material in Letters Just Published, Under the Name of the Reverend Mr. Hervey” (1765), “The Lord our Righteousness: A Sermon Preached at the Chapel in West Street” (1765), and “Some Remarks on a Defense of the Preface to the Edinburgh Edition of Aspasio Vindicated” (1766). Green, Works of John and Charles Wesley. DD. 120. 128–129. 133–134.

[26] For the titles in question, see Green’s bibliography. Ibid., pp. 147–148, 154–156, 160, 166–168, 170, 175–176, 189–190.

[27] Arminian Magazine, vols. IV and V. The series of excerpts extends through twenty-one numbers of the magazine for these two years.

[28] Letters, VI, 34.

[29] Ibid, VI, 295. Note also his letter May 14, 1765, to John Newton. He says he preaches eight hundred sermons a year and probably not more than eight a year on Calvinistic subjects. Of the fifty sermons then in print only one explicitly opposed Calvinism. Ibid. IV. 297.

[30] Ibid., VIII, 69.

[31] Ibid., VII, 136.

[32] Ibid., IV, 297–300.

[33] Works, XIV, 190–198.

[34] Letters, IV, 294–296.

[35] Ibid., V, 344.

[36] Arminian Magazine, I, vi–vii.

[37] Ibid., VII, ii.

[38] Ibid., II, vii–viii.

[39] Ibid., III, v.

[40] Journal, VI, 415, f.n.l.; 416–430; VII, 195–204.