Изображения страниц

times is, swept into the kingdom of heaven by an "overwhelming power," which works irresistibly as the lightning.

This language seems to us to convey beyond all question an idea wholly inconsistent with that which our critic has cited about the effect of any irresistible operation of divine power in men. While in that passage Wesley asserts that any such irresistible operation were inconsistent with responsibility, with moral agency, with virtue and vice, he here maintains that such an irresistible operation does in fact sometimes take place in men. While his eye was fixed upon the fact of human freedom, his assertion of liberty was clear and strong, and his appreciation of its importance, just and high. But when he dwelt upon the wonders of divine grace it seemed to him literally to "overwhelm" men, and to be at times so mighty as to sweep away all possibility of resistance. Here he forgets the essential limitations which elsewhere he affirmed; and deems the overwhelming power of saving grace the only thing essential to a sinner's salvation.

No limitations, which we can discern or devise, can bring these two views into harmony. In view of this passage what sober criticism will maintain that Wesley's affirmation of the inviolability of freedom, was, as our opponent asserts, "uncontradicted?" A more decisive repugnance of views it would not be easy to find anywhere. To affirm that any "irresistible" action of God is inconsistent with moral agency, and then to affirm that such irresistible action does take place in certain exempt cases, "argueth," as one of our old divines says, "an exquisite contradiction." We are not weak enough to imagine that our opponent will be at all shaken in his positive affirmation of Mr. Wesley's consistency, by this or by any other citations which we might adduce. Any arbitrary and wanton limitation of the clear language of the citation, or any degree of willful and perverse blindness in us, were to him a far more credible thing than that Mr. Wesley should have so far forgotten himself as to share the common inconsistency of divines and philosophers. But there the passage stands, to afford another example of the weakness of our critic's unrestrained assertions.

Nor is Mr. Wesley's view of free agency by any means such as may justify this critic in his confident assertions respecting it. While we are anxious not to do injustice to so eminent a servant of God, we are constrained to think that when carefully examined, the free-will which he maintained will be found in some important respects inferior to that of his Calvinistic opponents. "If this reviewer knows anything," says our critic, "of the rise of Wesleyan Methodism, he knows that it took its definite doctrinal shape in a dispute of which a main issue was the existence of free-will; that on the affirmative were Wesley, Fletcher, and Sellon, and on the negative, Whitefield, Toplady, and the whole Lady Huntington party— taking Edwards for their stronghold."

Without claiming any very profound acquaintance with the rise of Methodism, we think that we discern clearly, in the dispute referred to, a distinction which has entirely escaped the critic's notice. The dispute, if we understand it, was not really about the freedom of the will at all; but a dispute about the freedom of divine grace. Wesley held that man had no power of will to do anything good or acceptable to God, unless supernaturally enabled thereto by an indwelling grace of God; and this was, and is to this day, the identical theory of that most stringent Calvinism which denies and rejects human freedom altogether. On this point Wesley and the rigid Calvinists were strictly at one; but on the extent of that enabling grace they differed widely. They held that it was extended only to the elect, and denied to the reprobate; while Wesley ignored all such distinctions, and loudly proclaimed its universality. If we are right, then, there was no dispute at all about the freedom of the human will; and whatever there was of difference, was wholly in favor of the Calvinist. Our own assertion will be but of little weight with the critic on this point; and we therefore promptly refer him to the explicit words in which Mr. Wesley affirms that he did not go so far in maintaining the freedom of the will as the body of the Calvinists did.

"These," he says, "accordingly assert that every man living has a measure of natural free-will. So the Assembly of

divines, (and therein the body of Calvinists both in England and Scotland); 'God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty that it is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil;' and this they assert of man in his fallen state, even before he receives the grace of God."

"But I do not carry free-will so far; (I mean not in moral things). Natural free-will, in the present state of mankind, I do not understand." . . . . "I believe that Adam, before his fall, had such freedom of will that he might choose good or evil; but that since the fall no child of man has a natural power to choose anything that is truly good."

See his tract, "Predestination Calmly Considered." Here, then, is Mr. Wesley's own account of his view of freedom, not only in itself, but in comparison with that of the Calvinists. It does not seem to us of the amplest kind; and though when supplemented by a power of divine grace it might serve a very useful practical purpose in the preaching of the gospel, yet strictly speaking it was no freedom of the will at all. Certainly it was not such as justifies the contemptuous imputation of ignorance to those who deem it defective. Free grace, Mr. Wesley maintained with no restrictions; but freewill, he does not carry so far as the Calvinists! And yet our censor declares that "Wesley maintained free-will;" and Calvinists, "necessity;" and that "whether the Reviewer happens to be aware of it or not," the reality of freedom is the great point of division between Calvinism and Arminianism! Nowhere is the censure of our critic more vehement than in rebuking our construction of the language in which Wesley speaks of the possibility of the prevention of sin. That when he declared that God could prevent the sins of men, we should have represented him as maintaining that God could prevent sin without destroying human freedom, this is pronounced “ a piece of light-fingered legerdemain" which is "not an error that needs refutation, but an offense that deserves exposure." With characteristic positiveness of assertion the critic declares that the latter of these ideas is "never contained, and frequently denied in his various works." Of the judiciousness

of this assertion, our readers can judge, both from the last quoted remarks of Wesley, about the irresistibleness of the power of grace in exempt cases, and from the following remarks of Wesley in his Sermon on Isaiah xi, 9:

"Now in the same manner as God has converted so many to himself without destroying their liberty, he can undoubtedly convert whole nations, or the whole world; and it is as easy to him to convert a world as one individual soul."

Can anything be clearer or stronger than this? The fact is, that while Wesley held an earnest and real belief in a certain kind of freedom, he held, too, a yet more intense conviction of the power and glory of divine grace. Hence, when that mighty grace smote down some obdurate sinner, and brought a stout-hearted reviler to sit at the feet of Jesus, it was all well, whether the work were done by an irresistible agency of heaven, or whether it involved the willing activity of the soul itself. Some place might be found for freedom by supposing that even if human liberty were overwhelmed by a resistless force, it was only for a time, and that the soul might again resume its freedom when the mighty constraint from on high should be withdrawn. Beyond the need of some such saving clause to avoid the barren fatalism which might be seriously abused, he cared little for the accurate adjustment of his theories; nor can anything be more unjust to him than to estimate by nice philosophic standards the utterance of his glowing desires, and the attitude of his earnest endeavors to bring men to God.

Still, however, the fact remains, that in Wesley's view no voluntary agency of the soul itself is essential to its conversion. Let but divine grace overshadow it with sufficient power, and resistlessly the dependent nature comes to its center on the bosom of God. Such instances, indeed, were only exceptional, but they were nevertheless actual. In the great body of instances divine grace might work with all the quickening power that was requisite to awaken a soul to life, without infringing in any manner upon its natural freedom. Such a mode of working, in entire consistency with liberty, was the common mode of the divine procedure, and was

abundantly easy and practicable. God might, in full harmony with the freedom of the creature in ordinary cases, and by a temporary overwhelming of it in "exempt" cases, renew men to the divine image without any limit. Nay, he might thus renew a world of sinners, not only without destroying their freedom, but with all the ease with which any single soul could be converted.

These expressions cast additional light upon the meaning of Wesley, in the passage which we quoted from him in our previous Article, to the effect that God could have prevented the fall, and "its baneful consequences," on the posterity of Adam. "And it was undoubtedly in his power to prevent it, for he hath all power, both in heaven and earth. But it was known to him that it was best not to prevent it." It is plain that, in Wesley's view, the obstacle to the divine prevention of the fall did not lie in the inviolability of human freedom. That freedom is actually, even now, in some cases, overwhelmed for the time by a power of saving grace as irresistible as the lightning; it were as easy to convert the world as to convert an individual soul. Surely he that has all power in heaven and earth is not here conceived of as under any such restriction from human freedom. When, therefore, Wesley goes on, throughout the whole discourse which vindicates the permission of the fall and its consequences, to show the reasons for that permission, without the smallest allusion to human freedom, we felt that our statement of his views required no such limitation. When he stated that reason to be, not any inviolability of human freedom, but the boundless results of blessing in which the fall should issue, to saints and angels, and "the whole company of heaven," we felt that the language did not admit of any such limitation. These passages make it abundantly clear that while Wesley did at times assert a just view of human freedom, and did practically act upon it, in his earnest offers of the gospel, he had no discriminating view, and made no consistent assertion of the great fact. A freedom "overwhelmed" in certain cases by the irresistible power of saving grace, affords no adequate basis of human responsibility, and allows no adequate sphere

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »