Wesley on Arminian/Calvin Relations

Derek Ouellette —  September 2, 2010

Frustrated with the tone and ignorance of many in his day against Arminians, John Wesley wrote an article appealing against this fearful ignorance which results in so much slander and name calling. He open his article with,

To say, “This man is an Arminian,” has the same effect on many hearers, as to say, “This is a mad dog.” It puts them into a fright at once: They run away from him with all speed and diligence; and will hardly stop, unless it be to throw a stone at the dreadful and mischievous animal.

Can you relate to this hysteria? I sure can. How many Arminians are fearful to say, “I am an Arminian”? I sure am. From there Wesley sets about clarifying, we could say educating, his readers on the term “Arminian”. Having summarized what Wesley felt to be the key issues and distinctives of Arminianism, he writes this:

Away, then, with all ambiguity! Away with all expressions which only puzzle the cause! Let honest men speak out, and not play with hard words which they do not understand. And how can any man know what Arminius held, who has never read one page of his writings? Let no man bawl against Arminians, till he knows what the term means; and then he will know that Arminians and Calvinists are just upon a level. And Arminians have as much right to be angry at Calvinists, as Calvinists have to be angry at Arminians. John Calvin was a pious, learned, sensible man; and so was James Harmens [Jacob Arminius]. Many Calvinists are pious, learned, sensible men; and so are many Arminians. Only the former hold absolute predestination; the latter, conditional.

I’m just tired of Calvinists – defenders of the Kangaroo Court known as the Synod of Dort – labeling believers of God’s free-grace as “Pelagian” or “Semi-Pelagian” or “Anti-Christian”. Despite constant herolding by those who believe in God’s free-grace that salvation is only by God’s grace and no amount of work on man’s part, not even faith apart from God’s first grace, can man be saved. This is what Arminians believe. And yet in spite of this, their detractors – modern day Puritans – continue to use terms like Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian – systems rightly rejected as heresy on the bases of the belief that man can reach God on his own – as slander – even propaganda – against Arminianism.

What strikes me most about the quote above is this sentence: “Arminians have as much right to be angry at Calvinists…” What Wesley is saying here is that at Calvinists slander Arminians, Arminians have as much right to come back with slander of their own. “… as much right…” Wesley says. But John Wesley, being a pious and holy man who feared the Lord, forbids any Arminians from exercising this right, for he continues in the very next paragraph:

One word more: Is it not the duty of every Arminian Preacher, First, never, in public or in private, to use the word Calvinist as a term of reproach; seeing it is neither better nor worse than calling names? — a practice no more consistent with good sense or good manners, than it is with Christianity. Secondly. To do all that in him lies to prevent his hearers from doing it, by showing them the sin and folly of it? And is it not equally the duty of every Calvinist Preacher, First, never in public or in private, in preaching or in conversation, to use the word Arminian as a term of reproach? Secondly. To do all that in him lies to prevent his hearers from doing it, by showing them the sin and folly thereof; and that the more earnestly and diligently, if they have been accustomed so to do? perhaps encouraged therein by his own example!

Right? Yes, Arminians may feel they have as much right as Calvinists to slander. But salvation is not a right; it is not something God owes us. Salvation is a gift of grace. Therefore, says Wesley, it is the responsibility of every Arminian to never slander Calvinism, but to engage with grace. But Wesley, being ever the one desiring to have Christ’s mind formed in him, does not stop there, for the Arminian also has a responsibility to prevent other Arminians from slandering Calvinism! And of course, Wesley encourages Calvinists to do the same (as, for example, Michael Patton does in his article, Calvinists, Lets Calm Down!)

The systems of Calvinism and Arminianism are mutually exclusive. To pretend otherwise reflects ignorance at best and intellectual dishonesty at worst. But we are all of the same body – that is Christ! Let us act accordingly and in gracious dialogue, and perhaps the Lord will show us a better way.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://bostonbiblegeeks.wordpress.com/ danny

    The irony is that Wesley often spoke harshly of Calvinists and Calvinism in his preaching. He caused a pretty big rift between him and George Whitefield. Whitefield, to his credit, took the high-road and never responded in kind.

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    Well I don’t know enough about George and John’s dialogue exchanges at this point to confirm or not what you said, so for now I’ll take you on trust.

    One thing I believe we can say for sure is that in seventeenth and eighteenth England, the Puritans were particularly cruel with their words regarding Arminianism (or anything that smacks of that). We could continue with “he said” “she said” (and I think history unanimously testifies that the majority of the slander come from the Puritans – to this day), but I hope the point of the post was at least grasped.

    Perhaps I can relate with Wesley, I have written some anti-Calvinist posts which I regret and which have not reflected a Christ-like humility. I can say, not as an excuse though, that I (perhaps like Wesley) was incited by a strong anti-Arminian propaganda all over the internet, facebook, and literature. What matters amounts to not handling it with grace.

  • http://bostonbiblegeeks.wordpress.com/ danny

    I spent a lot of time reading Wesley’s stuff, wrote a paper on him and his brother(& their relationship with the Moravian movement in the UK) and am, in general, a Wesley fan. He, like many of us, didn’t always live up to his best advice. Check that- like all of us.

    You’re right, the relationship between Calvinists & Arminians in that day were pretty rough (I’d argue rougher than today), you can see the writings of Wesley and Toplady arguing with each other to get a sense of that. The situation with Whitefield was heartbreaking (and I chose that word intentionally) because Whitefield really tried to take the high road, even giving up a church he started to keep the peace.

    Anyway, Wesley mellowed out considerably as he got older. Many of the wounds (such as with the Moravians) were mended over time. It’s a lesson for all of us, to avoid those rifts early in life so as not to live with regret later in life.

    I should have said, by the way, that I did like the post. I hope we all heed Wesley’s wise words.

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    Thanks Danny,

    The relationship of 5-point Calvinists and Arminians really breaks my heart and I’ve lost some potential friendship as a result of this theological difference :(

    I’ve begun to read the book Wesley and the People Called Methodists by Richard P. Heitzenrater. Do have any good books you’d recommend which deals more with what you have been sharing?


  • http://bostonbiblegeeks.wordpress.com/ danny

    Oh gosh, it’s been a while. Arnold Dallimore has written biographies of both Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, and I own Stephen Tomkins’ biography of John Wesley. I know I read more back in the day, but can’t think of them off the top of my head (there are a ton of writings on John Wesley, it’s hard to keep them straight).

    I learned more about the Wesley’s from reading their journals than anything else. Fascinating and convicting. Once you weed through the fact that they’re written from their point of view (obviously), you can see their fiery tempers come out. Like I said, later in life both Wesley brothers realized that they allowed their fiery personalities get the better of them. Knowing that makes reading back through their journals an interesting endeavor.

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    Thanks! I’m very interested…

  • http://classicalarminianism.blogspot.com/ William Birch

    I’m new here. I appreciate both your site and your heart. God bless.

    BTW, your dot net offers a blogging format? Who is your host? I tried to get a dot net with Web.com, but they could not offer me a blogging format.

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    Thanks William,
    I am hosted by WordPress. I used to be with Blogspot but found it too restricting.

  • http://jose.cr Jose HC

    Just a small correction… you are actually self-hosted (by me) and your Blogging platform is WordPress (as in http://wordpress.org). We (you and I) use Hostgator as our host and they can go here to sign up to some pretty good plans – http://jo.cr/mygatorhost

    Having said that WordPress.com will also allow you to have custom domains and .NET one will work as well.

    Press on!

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    There you are William, Jose is the one who set me up…

    Hope that information helps.