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John Wesley on Predestination
A Theological Perspective
The concept of predestination has been a topic of theological debate throughout Christian history. One prominent figure who engaged in this discussion was John Wesley, the 18th-century Anglican cleric and founder (along with his brother, Charles) of the Methodist movement. Wesley’s perspective on predestination diverged from the prevailing Calvinistic doctrine of his time, emphasizing the role of human free will and the universality of God’s grace. This post explores Wesley’s stance on predestination, drawing from his writings and sermons to shed light on his nuanced theological position.
Wesley strongly opposed the John Calvin’s understanding of predestination, which asserted that God had preordained certain individuals for salvation and others for damnation. He believed this understanding undermined the justice and mercy of God, and restricted human responsibility and accountability. In his sermon entitled “Free Grace,” Wesley declared, “The merciful God regards not the distinctions of men, but unites in one common blessing all who truly believe in Christ, however differing from each other in lesser matters.”
Central to Wesley’s theology was the concept of universal prevenient grace. He argued that God’s grace, through the work of the Holy Spirit, actively seeks to draw all individuals to salvation. This grace enables humanity to respond to God’s offer of salvation and is available to every person, regardless of their circumstances or background. In Wesley's words, “The grace of God which brings salvation hath appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11) and “every one, through the grace given, is enabled to come to Christ” (“Free Grace”).
Contrary to the deterministic understanding of predestination, Wesley emphasized the importance of human free will in responding to God’s grace. He argued that while God’s grace is freely given, it requires a response of faith and obedience from individuals. Wesley believed that God’s grace works in synergy with human will, enabling believers to cooperate with God’s transformative power. In his sermon, “On Working Out Our Own Salvation,” Wesley writes, “We have power to resist or to yield, to follow or to forsake the gracious influence of the Spirit of God.
Wesley’s understanding of predestination incorporated the concept of conditional election. He believed that God, in God foreknowledge, knows who will respond to his grace and thus elects those individuals to be saved. This election, however, is based on God’s foreseeing faith and obedience in the lives of individuals, rather than on an arbitrary or predetermined decree. Wesley states, “By a general conditional decree, we mean, one whereby God decreed from everlasting, upon condition of their repentance and faith, to save all that should repent and believe.” (The Works of John Wesley).
John Wesley’s theological perspective on predestination emphasized the universality of God’s grace, the importance of human free will, and the concept of conditional election based on God’s foreseeing faith and obedience. Wesley’s stance on predestination sought to reconcile God’s sovereignty with human responsibility, allowing for a dynamic and cooperative relationship between divine grace and human agency. His theological insights continue to shape the understanding of predestination within the Methodist tradition and influence broader Christian thought.
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