THE ORIGINAL DOCTRINES OF METHODISM

To these modifications of Arminianism must be added a few doctrines which Methodism claims as its own contributions to the better understanding of the Christian system.

1. The doctrine of the universality of divine grace, not only in its intention, but in its actual offer. Herein Methodism resembles the Quaker doctrine of universal light. It is assumed—on the ground of Paul’s parallel between the first and second Adam (Rom. v.)—that all men are born into an order of saving grace, as well as into an order of sin. Adam brought a universal seed of death, but Christ brought a universal seed of life, which is available for all who do not reject it.17031703 ‘No man living,’ says Wesley, ‘is without some preventing grace, and every degree of grace is a degree of life. There is a measure of free will supernaturally restored to every man, together with that supernatural light which enlightens every man that cometh into this world.’ ‘That by the offense of one, judgment came upon all men (all born into the world) unto condemnation, is an undoubted truth, and affects every infant as well as every adult person. But it is equally true that by the righteousness of One, the free gift came upon all men (all born into the world—infants and adults) unto justification.’ D. D. Whedon (Biblioth. Sacra, 1862, p. 258): ‘Under the redemptive system, the man is born into the world, from Adam, a depraved being. It is as a depraved being that he becomes an Ego. But instantly after, in the order of nature, he is met by the provisions of atonement.’ ‘Every human being,’ says Warren, ‘has a measure of grace (unless he has cast it away), and those who faithfully use this intrusted gift will be accepted of God in the day of judgment, whether Jew or Greek, Christian or heathen. In virtue of Christ’s mediation between God and the fallen race, all men since the first promise, Gen. iii. 15, are under an economy of grace, and the only difference between them as subjects of the moral government of God is that, while all have grace and light enough to attain salvation, some, over and above this, have more and others less’ (Vol. I. pp. 146 sq.). Pope (pp. 239–248) distinguishes this doctrine from the Augustinian, Pelagian, Semipelagian, Tridentine, Lutheran, Calvinistic, and Arminian, and says that there is no doctrine which ‘so irresistibly and universally appeals for its confirmation to the common conscience and judgment of mankind.’ // 898For by virtue of the universal atonement, man, though born in sin, is held guiltless until he arrives at the point of personal responsibility.

While Romanism and Lutheranism save those only who are brought into contact with the Church and the Sacraments, Calvinism those only who are elect from eternity, Methodism brings the opportunity of salvation to all men in this present life, though in different forms and degrees, so that they are actually saved if they do not incur the guilt of rejecting salvation by unbelief. Hence all children are saved if they die before they commit actual sin. Though born in sin, they are not held guilty before the age of responsible agency. They are saved by the same power of the universal atonement which saves adults; though there is a difference of opinion as to the regeneration of infants before death.17041704 Dr. D. D. Whedon (Biblioth. Sacra, 1862, p. 258) remarks on this point: ‘That the dying infant is saved, and saved by the atonement, we all agree. But his precise condition, as affected by the atonement, while a living infant, seems to be a somewhat undecided matter. Probably a large majority of the Methodist Episcopal Church have, for some time past, held, without much discussion, that the living infant was both unjustified and unregenerate, and yet upon his death he obtained both blessings. This making death the condition of justification and regeneration appears to many hardly logical, and not without danger. Mr. Wesley’s earlier expressions of opinion indicated a holding of the churchly doctrine of baptismal regeneration in infancy. His later indications of opinion indicate that he held all infants to be members of the kingdom of heaven; and he also held that regeneration is a condition to membership in the kingdom of heaven; but he does not expressly draw the inference that all infants are regenerate. Fletcher maintained the doctrine both of infant justification and regeneration. Dr. Fisk held to infant justification. Our baptismal service first declares, in its Scripture lesson of infants, that „of such is the kingdom of God,” and yet declares „that none can enter into the kingdom of God unless he be regenerate.” But neither here is the inference expressly drawn. The subject is a matter of calm discussion, and perhaps the number of those holding the doctrine of infant regeneration has decidedly increased.’// On the same ground all heathen may be saved who do not neglect their opportunities. Ability and opportunity are the measure 899of responsibility, and God requires no more from man than he empowers him to perform. Christ’s atonement covers the deficiency of ability in the case of infants, and the deficiency of opportunity in the case of the heathen.

Fletcher distinguishes three dispensations in this general economy of grace: the dispensation of the Father, embracing the heathen and Mohammedans, who know God only from his general revelation in nature, providence, and the conscience; the dispensation of the Son, for those who live within the limits of Christendom and the reach of the gospel; and the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, for those who have an experimental knowledge of the regenerating and sanctifying Spirit. Wesley, Watson, and Pope teach essentially the same view of the universality of grace.

2. The next distinctive doctrine of Methodism is the Witness of the Spirit or the assurance of salvation (Rom. viii. 15, 16). It is a double and concurrent witness of God’s Spirit and of our spirit concerning our justification. The former is objective and divine, and antecedes; the latter is subjective and human, and follows. The Holy Spirit bears testimony to our spirit that by faith we are the children of God. This testimony is immediate and direct, and follows the work of justification and regeneration. On the ground of this testimony the believer feels assured of his present acceptance with God, and has a hope of his final salvation, but he is at the same time guarded against carnal security by the fear of a total and final fall from grace. Hence there are so many backsliders, who constitute a special class among Methodists.17051705 Comp. the three sermons of Wesley on the Witness of the Spirit (x.–xii.), Vol. I. pp. 85 sqq. He traced this doctrine to his contact with some Moravians on his voyage to Georgia (1735), whose childlike trust and serene cheerfulness led him to exclaim: ‘I, who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God.’ He meant conversion from legal bondage to evangelical freedom and a sense of assurance of pardon. He subsequently visited Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians in Germany to study their discipline (1739). Watson (Vol. II. p. 271) distinguishes four views on the testimony of the Spirit, and thus states his own, which agrees with Wesley’s: ‘It is twofold; a direct testimony or „inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God witnesses to my spirit that I am a child of God; that Christ hath loved me, and given himself for me, that I, even I, am reconciled to God” (Wesley’s Sermons); and an indirect testimony, arising from the work of the Spirit in the heart and life, which St. Paul calls the testimony of our own spirit; for this is inferred from his expression, „And the Spirit beareth witness with our spirit, etc.” This testimony of our own spirit, or indirect testimony of the Holy Spirit by and through our own spirit, is considered confirmatory of the first testimony.’ Pope (p. 465): ‘Assurance is the fruit, not the essence of faith. . . .Perfect faith must be assured of its object. . . . The internal assurance of faith is a privilege that all may claim and expect; seasons of darkness and depression and uncertainty are only the trial of that faith of assurance.’//

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Herein the Methodist doctrine differs from the Calvinistic doctrine of assurance which is based, not on subjective feeling, but on the divine promises and the unchangeable decree of God’s election, and which covers not only the present state, but the whole process to its final completion, conditioned by the perseverance of saints as the final test of genuine conversion.17061706 The Westminster Confession, Ch. XVIII., says that true believers ‘may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace, and may rejoice in hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed.’ This assurance is ‘founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the testimony of the Spirit witnessing with our spirit that we are the children of God.’ It is not of ‘the essence of faith,’ and may be ‘shaken, diminished, and intermitted,’ yet revived again in due time and keep us from utter despair.//

3. The last and crowning doctrine of Methodism, in which the Quakers likewise preceded it, is Perfectionism. It is regarded as a mighty stimulus to progressive holiness, and forms the counterpart of the doctrine of apostasy, which acts as a warning against backsliding. It is derived from such passages as Matt. v. 48; Phil. iii. 15; Heb. vi. 1; x. 14; 1 John iii. 6; v. 18. Methodist perfection is not a sinless perfection or faultlessness, which Wesley denied,17071707 In his sermons on Temptation, Vol. II. p. 215, and on Perfection, Vol. I. p. 356; Vol. II. p. 168: ‘The highest perfection,’ he says, ‘which man can attain while the soul dwells in the body, does not exclude ignorance and error and a thousand infirmities.’// but a sort of imperfect perfection, from which it is possible to fall again temporarily or forever.17081708 Meth. Catech. No. 3, p. 37: ‘It is the privilege of every believer to be wholly sanctified, and to love God with all his heart in the present life; but at every stage of Christian experience there is danger of falling from grace, which danger is to be guarded against by watchfulness, prayer, and a life of faith in the Son of God.’// It is entire sanctification or perfect love (1 John ii. 5; iv. 12), which every Christian may and ought to attain in this present life. From this state all voluntary transgressions or sinful volitions are excluded, though involuntary infirmities may and do remain; in this state all the normal qualities are possessed and enjoyed in their fullness. As to the attainment of perfection, it comes according to the prevailing view from gradual growth in grace, according to others by a special act of faith.1709

Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical notes. Volume I. The History of Creeds. § 111. Analysis of Arminian Methodism

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