Predestination Calmly Considered


John Wesley


XLII. Our blessed Lord does indisputably command and invite "all men everywhere to repent" [Acts 17:30]. He calleth all. He sends his ambassadors, in his name, "to preach the gospel to every creature" [Mk. 16:15]. He himself "preached deliverance to the captives" [Lk. 4:18], without any hint of restriction or limitation. But now, in what manner do you represent him while he is employed in this work? You suppose him to be standing at the prison doors, having the keys thereof in his hands, and to be continually inviting the prisoners to come forth, commanding them to accept of that invitation, urging every motive which can possible induce them to comply with that command; adding the most precious promises, if they obey; the most dreadful threatenings, if they obey not. And all this time you suppose him to be unalterably determined in himself never to open the doors for them, even while he is crying, "Come ye, come ye, from that evil place. For why will ye die, O house of Israel" [cf. Ezek. 18:31]? "Why" (might one of them reply), "Because we cannot help it. We cannot help ourselves, and thou wilt not help us. It is not in our power to break the gates of brass [cf. Ps. 107:16], and it is not thy pleasure to open them. Why will we die? We must die, because it is not thy will to save us." Alas, my brethren, what kind of sincerity is this which you ascribe to God our Saviour?

XLIII. So ill do election and reprobation agree with the truth and sincerity of God? But do they not agree least of all with the scriptural account of his love and goodness: that attribute which God peculiarly claims wherein he glories above all the rest? It is not written, "God is justice," or "God is truth" (although he is just and true in all his ways). But it is written, "God is love" [1 Jn. 4:8] (love in the abstract, without bounds), and "there is no end of his goodness" [cf. Ps. 52:1]. His love extends even to those who neither love nor fear him. He is good, even to the evil and the unthankful; yea, without any exception or limitation, to all the children of men. For "the Lord is loving" (or good) "unto every man, and his mercy is over all his works" [Ps. 145:9, B.C.P.].

But how is God good or loving to a "reprobate," or one that is not "elected" You may choose either term, for if none but the unconditionally elect are saved, it comes precisely to the same thing. You cannot say, he is an object of the love or goodness of God, with regard to his external state, which he created (says Mr. Calvin plainly and fairly) in vitae contumeliam et mortis exitim, "to live a reproach and die everlastingly."27 Surely, no one can dream that the goodness of God is at all concerned with this man's eternal state. "However, God is good to him in this world." What? When by reason of God's unchangeable decree, it had been good for this man never to have been born, when his very birth was a curse, not a blessing? "Well, but he now enjoys many of the gifts of God, both gifts of nature and of providence. He has food and raiment, and comforts of various kinds. And are not all these great blessings?" No, not to him. At the price he is to pay for them, every one of these also is a curse. Every one of these comforts is, by an eternal decree, to cost him a thousand pangs in hell. For every moment's pleasure which he now enjoys, he is to suffer the torment of more than a thousand years; for the smoke of that pit which is preparing for him ascendeth up for ever and ever. God knew this would be the fruit of whatever he should enjoy, before the vapour of life fled away. He designed it should. It was his very purpose, in giving him those enjoyments. So that, by all these (according to your account) he is, in truth and reality, only fatting the ox for the slaughter. "Nay, but God gives him grace, too." Yes, but what kind of grace? "Saving grace," you own, he has none; none of a saving nature. And the "common grace" he has was not given with any design to save his soul, nor with any design to do him any good at all; but only to restrain him from hurting the elect. So far from doing him good, this grace also necessarily increases his damnation. "And God knows this," you say, "and designed it should; it was one great end for which he gave it!" Then I desire to know, how is God good or loving to this man, either with regard to time or eternity?

LIII. We come next to his justice. Now, if man be capable of choosing good or evil, then is he a proper object of the justice of God, acquitting or condemning, rewarding or punishing. But otherwise he is not. A mere machine is not capable of being either acquitted or condemned. Justice cannot punish a stone for falling to the ground; nor (on your scheme) a man for falling into sin. For he can no more help it than the stone, if he be (in your sense) "foreordained to this condemnation." Why does this man sin? "He cannot cease from sin." Why can't he cease from sin? "Because he has no saving grace." Why has he no saving grace? "Because God, of his own good pleasure, hath eternally decreed not to give it him." Is he then under an unavoidable necessity of sinning? "Yes, as much as a stone is of falling. He never had any more power to cease from evil than a stone has to hang in the air." And shall this man, for not doing what he never could do, and for doing what he never could avoid, be sentenced to depart into everlasting fire, prepared for the evil and his angels [cf. Mt. 25:41]? "Yes, because it is the sovereign will of God." Then you have either found a new God, or made one! This is not the God of the Christians. Our God is just all his ways; he repeath not where he hath not strewed. He requireth only according to what he hath given; and where he hath given little, little is required. The glory of his justice is this, to "reward every man according to his works" [ cf. 2 Tim. 4:14]. Hereby is that glorious attribute shown, evidently set forth before men and angels, in that it is accepted of every man according to that he hath, and not according to that he hath not. This is that just decree which cannot pass, either in time or in eternity.

Thus one scheme gives the justice of God its full scope, leaves room for it to be largely displayed in all its branches, whereas the other makes it a mere shadow; yea, brings it absolutely to nothing.

27Cf. Corpus Reformatorum, XXX: Ioannis Calvini Opera quae Supersunt Omnia, II, 722: Institutio Christianae Religionis, Bk. III, chap. XXIV, par. 12. Calvin's full sentence is actually a rhetorical question: "What of those, then, whom he created for dishonor in life and destruction in death, to become the instruments of his wrath and examples of his severity?" Cf. Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (LCC), XXI, 978.