Hermeneutical Model for the Wesleyan Ordo Salutis

, posted by Kevin Jackson


From the Wesleyan Theological Journal
Kenneth Collins

I. Introduction

It comes as a surprise to learn that in this age of ecumenism, John Wesley’s theology has rarely been explored beyond Methodist circles. Indeed, while significant dialogue has occurred among Lutheran, Calvinist and Roman Catholic traditions,1 Wesley’s voice has seldom been heard in such settings. Why has this been so?

According to Albert Outler, Wesley has not been consulted in theological interchange because he has not been readily accessible to the theological world, “for want of proper, critical editions”2 of his works. While this concern is certainly a factor, the greater part of the problem seems to lie in the assumptions held by Methodist and non—Methodist alike that Wesley was not a theologian but an evangelist and therefore is not to be taken seriously. Indeed, it has been argued that “although Wesley was a person of considerable intellectual and logical ability, his primary role was that of evangelist rather than theologian.”3

To be sure, much of Wesley’s energies were spent in evangelism, but this must not obscure the fact that he, “was the most important Anglican theologian of the 18th century because of his distinctive composite answer to the age—old question as to ‘the nature of the Christian life.’ “4 A mistake often made by interpreters of Wesley is to view his itinerant activity as the raison d’etre of his theological formulations because it is the thing which can most easily be pointed to. However, Wesley’s theological ruminations were not merely the by—products of his evangelism, but rather his itinerancy was an expression of his theological posture. In other words, despite the fact that Wesley was an evangelist, this in itself does not preclude his having been a significant theologian.

Actually, the question is not whether Wesley was a theologian, but what type of theologian he was. To be sure, he was “no theological titan”5 nor was he a “system buildor”6 and his speculative powers were limited, partly from disuse.”7 Nevertheless, in the words of Rupert Davies, Wesley “was in fact a redoubtable systematic theologian in that area which he made peculiarly his own, the processes of human salvation.”8 Indeed, the majority of Wesley’s theological writings explore some aspect of the order of salvation and this interest is consonant with the soteriological imagery expressed in his “Preface to the Sermons”9 where he provides some significant hermeneutical clues to the nature and extent of his theological interests. He wrote:

I have thought, I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: . . . I want to know one thing—the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me.10

Thus, the imagery of an arrow come from God and returning to God, added to Wesley’s apparent but not actual repudiation of all other knowledge 11 implies that he was a “practical” theologian or in the words of Outler, a “folk theologian”12 who designed nothing less than to speak “ad populum.”13 Both of these designations, although descriptive, can be misleading. For example, the delimitation of Wesley’s theology as “folk” suggests that it is devoid of the rigor, complexity, structure and nuance which are the staples of the theological world. Equally expressive, but less ambiguous language can be found in the designation of Wesley as a Theologian of the Ordo Salutis. Such phraseology can describe the practical, soteriological, and people—oriented nature of Wesley’s theology and at the same time suggest something of the complexity and structure of a theology centered in an order of salvation.

Moreover, when Wesley thought or wrote about some aspect of the ordo salutis, he did so in a systematic fashion such that within this well defined area, “there has never been a more orderly, well—arranged, and consistent theologian”14 than he. For example, his treatment of the nature and function of works both before and after justification evidences subtleties which can tax the thought of even the most well—trained theologian. And it is precisely here, within the parameters of the ordo salutis, that the most meaningful dialogue can occur between Wesleyan theologians and the theologians of other traditions. Therefore, in order to facilitate this ecumenical exchange, a hermeneutical model will be delineated in the following pages which will not only depict the structure and systematic nature of much of Wesley’s theology, but will also serve as the tool whereby the theological insights of Wesley can be most easily appropriated be all.

II. Previous Models

Wesley’s penchant for a via salutis can be discerned not only in his theological pieces and correspondence, but within the structure of several of his sermons as well. In “The Circumcision of the Heart,” for example which was preached at Oxford University in 1733, there is a “processive structure; each of the four virtues of humility, faith, hope and love is a successive stage in a process of salvation.”15 On a more psychological and developmental level, the process of salvation as evidenced by a transition from the natural, to the legal and finally, to the evangelical state is presented in the sermon “The Spirit of Bondage and Adoption.” Indeed, so pre—occupied was Wesley with this structured way of thinking about salvation that Lindstrom notes, “the same conception of salvation as an ascent by steps was (even) applied to the organization of the Methodist societies. They were organized in classes and bands; there were also select bands or societies.”16

Although Lindstrom correctly discerns the teleogical bent of Wesley’s theology, he believed that the doctrine of Christian perfection and not any teleological orientation, “was the determining factor in the shaping of each doctrine.”17 Bence, on the other hand, argues that, “if teleology is the structural component ingredient to Wesley’s thought, it is more basic and hermeneutically significant than any single doctrine, including sanctification itself.”18

Bence’s claim of both improvement and refinement of the Lindstrom thesis 19 is substantiated by his well—written doctoral dissertation, “John Wesley’s Teleological Hermeneutic.” In this work, he observes the goal—directed nature of Wesley’s theology and asserts that the “predominant orientation of Wesley is linear and chronological. ‘Go Forward’ is more characteristic of his thought than ‘Return.'”20 Moreover, Bence avers that, for Wesley, salvation is a dynamic process marked by gradations 21 whereby the fulfillment of a specific goal is counterbalanced, “with an immediate expectation of a new goal which transcends and at the same time extends that which has already been realized.”22 In other words, “Every moment is at the same time the realization of a degree of salvation, as well as a foundation for a further manifestation of divine grace.”23

The implication for scholarship of this dynamic nature of Wesley’s theology is that it is not sufficient merely to explore his doctrinal statements within the context of their historical settings. Although this preliminary task is vital, one must think systematically as well, and determine the theological setting within the ordo salutis where each doctrine is found. In other words, once a specific doctrine is located within the Wesleyan order of salvation, it must be expounded with reference to what both precedes and follows it within that theological structure.

Although Bence’s insights are helpful in revealing much of the framework which supports Wesley’s theology, his “teleological hermeneutic” does not address such important hermeneutical questions as: What is the specific structural relation between Wesley’s doctrine of justification and entire sanctification? And what is the relation, if any, between the doctrines which form the theological setting of conversion and Christian perfection? H. Ray Dunning, for his part, has described the connection between justification and sanctification as the relation between “two foci of an ellipse.”24 However, since elliptical orbits are characterized by a process of alternating progression and regression around two fixed points, his choice of imagery is inappropriate for displaying the structural interrelation between justification and sanctification. And as has already been indicated, the contour of Wesley’s theology is linear, chronological and teleological, 25 characteristics which ellipses do not express.

Thus, in light of the preceding discussion, what is needed is a hermeneutical model, serviceable to both Methodist and non—Methodist scholars alike, which can portray both the teleological orientation of Wesley’s theology and the structural connection between justification and entire sanctification. To be sure, many of the insights of Bence will be maintained in the construction of this new model. However, as Bence’s work was an improvement and refinement of Lindstrom’s thesis, this present work will be an extension of themes developed by Bence.

III. The Construction of a New Model

The Wesleyan ordo salutis can perhaps best be portrayed by the image of a large modern suspension bridge whose purpose is to carry traffic in one direction only (goal orientation).26 Continuing this analogy, the two main columns which support this expanse and which mark off significant points on the journey can be referred to as justification and entire sanctification, and although the second column represents a closer approach to the ultimate goal than does the first, the chief structural relation between them is one of parallelism. Indeed, it is the thesis of this paper that the doctrines which form the theological setting of justification within the Wesleyan ordo salutis find their parallel in the doctrines which form the setting for entire sanctification. This can easily be illustrated by two examples of Wesley’s conjunctive language. With respect to faith, Wesley noted: “Exactly as we are justified by faith, so we are sanctified by faith. Faith is the condition, and the only condition of sanctification exactly as it is of justification.”27
And with respect to the witness of the Spirit, he remarked:

But how do you know, that you are sanctified, saved from your inbred corruption?

I can know it no otherwise than I know that I am justified. ‘Hereby know we that we are of God,’ in either sense, ‘by the Spirit that he hath given us.’28

Naturally, the idea of parallelism within Wes1ey’s ordo salutis needs to be substantiated by more than just two examples, and so a further and more systematic examination of the construction of Wesley’s theology must now be undertaken.

A. Substantiation of the Thesis

1. The Atonement

Wesley deemed the death of Christ as the meritorious cause of justification as well as of entire sanctification. Concerning the former doctrine, he stated “Justification is another word for pardon . . . the price whereby this hath been procured for us (commonly termed the meritorious cause of our justification) is the blood and righteousness of Christ.”29
Moreover, in “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection” when Wesley expounded the relation between the atonement and entire sanctification, he observed: “Whatever grace we receive, it is a free gift from him. We receive it as his purchase, merely in consideration of the price he paid.”30 And he continued: “All our blessings, temporal, spiritual, and eternal, depend on his intercession for us, which is one branch of his priestly office.”31 Thus, if one can speak of the doctrines of justification and Christian perfection as the two pillars which sustain much of Wesley’s theology, then the atonement is the bedrock upon which they both rest.

2. The Law

In his sermon, “The Original, Nature, Property and Use of the Law,” Wesley delineated three uses for the moral law:

To slay the sinner is, then, the first use of the law; to destroy the life and strength wherein he trusts. . . . The second use of it is, to bring him unto life, unto Christ that he may live . . . The third use of the law is to keep us alive.32

These three functions of the law which are chiefly descriptive of the process leading to justification and initial sanctification are mirrored in the believer’s approach toward Christian perfection. Indeed, Charles Wilson notes that, “In its activity of keeping a believer alive in Christ, that is, in promoting sanctification in the believer, the law has three specific uses.”33 These three further functions, as expressed by Wesley, are:

We have not done with this law: for it is still of unspeakable use first, in convincing us of the sin that yet remains both in our hearts and lives . . . secondly, in deriving strength from our Head into His living members, whereby He empowered them to do what his law commands; and thirdly, in confirming our hope of whatsoever it commands and we have not yet attained.34

It should be readily observed that the accusatory force of the first use of the law leading to repentance and justification has its parallel in the further function of the law in precipitating the conviction and repentance which precedes entire sanctification. But there is parallelism with a difference, for in the former instance, one is convicted of actual sin, but in the latter, one is convicted not of actual sin, but of inbred sin.

In a similar fashion, the second and third usages of the law find their counterparts within the process leading to entire sanctification. This observation, however, does not repudiate the distinctions which result from the employment of law in different contexts; rather such an observation only seeks to demonstrate all the more clearly that the principal structural relation between the two sets of law—functions is one of parallelism.

3. Repentance and Works Meet for Repentance

In light of the preceding section on law, it is not surprising to learn that Wesley specifically taught that, “there is a repentance consequent upon, as well as a repentance previous to justiffcation.”35 For example, in his commentary on Matt. 3:8, he remarked:

Repentance is of two sorts; that which is termed legal, and that which is styled evangelical repentance. The former . . . is a thorough conviction of sin. The latter is a change of heart (and consequently, of life) from all sin to all holiness.36

Wesley affirmed that the legal repentance brought about through the gracious activity of the Holy Spirit and the ministrations of the law was necessary “in order to our entering into the kingdom of God,”37 while evangelical repentance was necessary “in order to our continuance and growth in grace.”38 To be sure, there are important differences between the two repentances 39 since the former relates to actual sin, while the latter relates to inbred sin. This parallelism with a difference which has already been noted with respect to the functioning of the moral law constitutes what henceforth shall be referred to as trans—parallelism. In other words, a trans—parallelism within the construction of Wesley’s theology can be said to occur when the differences noted between parallel doctrines are of such significance that each doctrine must not only be understood in relation to its parallel but also, and more importantly, in relation to its own specific context within the ordo salutis, and in relation to the soteriological change which has occurred between the parallel structures.

An illustration of trans—parallelism can be found in Wesley’s conception of the nature and function of works “meet for repentance which both precede justification and entire sanctification. For example, in exploring the issue of the necessity of works antecedent to justifying faith, Wesley drew an important distinction between condition and degree. He wrote

Therefore both repentance, and fruits meet for repentance are, in some sense, necessary to justification. But they are not necessary in the same sense with faith, nor in the same degree; for those fruits are only necessary conditionally; if there be time and opportunity for them. Otherwise, a man may be justified without them.40

And when Wesley addressed this same issued, but this time with respect to works anterior to entire sanctification, he employed almost exactly the same language. He wrote:

Repentance and its fruits are necessary to full salvation; yet they are not necessary either in the same sense with faith, or in the same degree.—Not in the same degree; for these fruits are only necessary conditionally, if there be time and opportunity for them; otherwise, a man may be sanctified without them.41

But this similarity of language utilized to describe the necessity of works preceding both justification and Christian perfection must not obscure the significant difference between such works for Wesley clearly taught that, properly speaking, works previous to justifying faith are not good while those works which flow from such faith are.42 This parallelism with a crucial distinction is what has been referred to as trans—parallelism.

The hermeneutical significance of the designation of Wesley’s conception of works meet for repentance as evidencing trans—parallelism consists in the appeal to at least two reference points in the systematic interpretation of this doctrine. This means that the theological interpretation of Wesley’s conception of the nature and function of works preceding entire sanctification, for example, must take into account not only the parallel of how Wesley viewed works antecedent to justification, but must also include any distinctive elements of the doctrine due to its specific positioning within the ordo salutis. Naturally, any doctrine’s theological context is significant for the interpretive process, but for a doctrine which evidences trans—parallelism, this is especially so, since it is the peculiar blending of similarity and contrast, but with emphasis upon the latter, which gives the doctrine its peculiar hue.

Moreover, the one model of parallelism/trans—parallelism can function on two levels. In the initial phase, (and this might be all that is needed for the interpretive process) the observation of parallel structures is made with the result that a specific reference point in a section of the ordo salutis is appealed to in the explication of a doctrine in a different section. On the second level of trans—parallelism, however, it is not sufficient merely to observe the similarity between parallel doctrines, but consideration must be given to the contrast which is a product of the distance within the ordo salutis which separates the two points of attention.

4. Faith

In his sermon, “Justification by Faith,” Wesley maintained that “Faith . . . is the necessary condition of justification; yea, and the only necessary condition thereof.”43 And in a later sermon, “The Scripture Way of Salvation,” he averred as has been noted earlier:

I have continually testified in private and in public that we are sanctified as well as justified by faith . . . exactly as we are justified by faith, so are we sanctified by faith. Faith is the condition, and the only condition of sanctification, exactly as it is of justification.44

Moreover, Wesley defined both justifying and sanctifying faith in terms of a divine evidence or conviction.45 But here the similarity ends, for in justifying faith, for example, the divine evidence or conviction is “A sure trust and confidence that Christ died for my sins.”46 But in sanctifying faith the divine evidence or conviction is:

First, that God hath promised it (entire sanctification) in the holy Scripture . . . secondly, that what God hath promised He is able to perform . . . thirdly, a divine evidence and conviction that He is able and willing to do it now.47

Wesley again noted this difference between justifying and sanctifying faith in his sermon “Repentance of Believers,” and in describing that faith which is peculiar to believer, he wrote:

But supposing we do thus repent, then are we called to ‘believe the gospel.’

And this also is to be understood in a peculiar sense, different from that wherein we believed in order to justification . . . Believe . . . He is able to save you from all the sin that still remains in your heart.48

Thus, both levels of parallelism (“exactly”) and trans—parallelism (“different from”) are necessary to describe Wesley’s conception of faith.

Moreover, the utilization of these two levels of interpretation is likewise requisite for the description of the gradual instantaneous tension within the doctrines of justification and entire sanctification. For example, Wesley asserted that both justification and Christian perfection are instantaneous events which are preceded by a gradual work. However, the imagery he employed to portray the gradual instantaneous flavor of the two doctrines is markedly different. With respect to justification, Wesley employed the imagery of birth with great effectiveness. He noted:

A child is born of a woman in a moment, or at least in a very short time: afterward, he gradually and slowly grows, till he attains to the stature of a man. In like manner, a child is born of God in a short time, if not in a moment. But it is by slow degrees that he afterward grows up to the measure of the full stature of Christ. The same relation, therefore, which there is between our natural birth and outgrowth, there is also between our new birth and our sanctification.49

But with respect to entire sanctification, Wesley appealed not to the imagery of birth, but to that of death. He wrote:

From the moment we are justified, there may be a gradual sanctification, a growing in grace, a daily advance in the knowledge and love of God. And if sin cease before death, there must, in the nature of the thing, be an instantaneous change; there must be a last moment wherein it does exist, and a first moment wherein it does not.50

5. The Witness of the Spirit

The last component of Wesley’s theology which shall be addressed as evidence substantiating the thesis of this paper is his important teaching concerning the witness of the Spirit.

To be sure, Wesley asserted that the two chief acts in the process of salvation, justification and entire sanctification, are accompanied by both an indirect witness which operates largely through conscience and a direct witness which entails the Holy Spirit’s attestation to our spirit. Concerning the latter, and with respect to entire sanctification, he wrote: “None therefore ought to believe that the work is done, till there is added the testimony of the Spirit, witnessing his entire sanctification, as clearly as his justification.”51

Despite the parallel of the role of the Holy Spirit in justification and perfection, the content of each witness is disparate. Indeed, Wesley noted that, “when we are justified, the Spirit bore witness with our spirit, that our sins were forgiven; so, when we were sanctified, he bore witness, that they were taken away.”52 Thus, both parallelism and trans—parallelism are vital for displaying the gradual instantaneous character of both justification and perfection.

G. Some Observations

The interpretive model just presented refines the work of Bence by indicating that the structural relation between the two poles of Wesley’s theology, justification and Christian perfection, and the doctrines which form their respective settings within the ordo salutis, is one of parallelism.

Moreover, it has been argued that this model develops Bence’s insight that “the predominant orientation of Wesley is linear and chronological.”53 Indeed, it is precisely the distinction between parallelism (parallel structures with an emphasis on similarity) and trans—parallelism (parallel structures with an added emphasis on contrast due to soteriological change) which portrays the teleological movement in Wesley’s theology. In other words, parallelism with its emphasis upon similarity is not an appropriate vehicle to convey the notion of movement implicit in a teleologically—oriented theology. However, trans—parallelism can manifest such movement in its accent upon the soteriological “distance” between parallel structures. This last point is best illustrated against the backdrop of Wesley’s harmartiology. Indeed, the trans—parallelisms which have already been noted such as the differing usages of law, repentance, faith, etc. with respect to justification and entire sanctification can be explained by Wesley’s two—fold conception of sin. Thus, in justification, for example, one repents of actual sin while in sanctification, one repents of inbred sin. Now although the term “repent” is used in both contexts, the latter represents a further work in the process of salvation. In other words, Wesley employed the same vocabulary to describe the two quite different processes of salvation from the gilt and power of sin (justification) on the one hand and the further work of salvation from the being of sin (entire sanctification) on the other. Bence’s teleological hermeneutic simply does not take this important observation into account and constitutes the reason why a new model has been introduced.

IV. Application of the Model

In his work, Theological Transition in American Methodism, Robert Chiles argues that a shift from free grace to free will characterizes the development of Methodist theology after the demise of Wesley.55 John Knight, however, attacks this position and offers the counter thesis that this transition occurred not after the death of Wesley, but with John Wesley himself.56 He writes:

Certain aspects of John Wesley’s theology indicate a more decided anthropological emphasis during the last twenty years of his life, primarily with regard to man’s freedom of the will.57

Moreover, Knight maintains that after 1770, due to the controversy with the Calvinistic Methodists, Wesley emphasized “freedom and man’s works more than faith and God’s grace.”58 Indeed, Knight takes Chiles to task precisely because the preponderance of evidence cited by the latter in the substantiation of his thesis is concerned with Wesley’s writings prior to 1770.

But in the swelter of his own argumentation, Knight has failed to take into account, in a significant way, evidence which belies his own thesis. For example, in one of his later sermons, “On Working Out Our Own Salvation,” (1785) the theocentric flavor of Wesley’s theology is apparent in his emphasis upon the divine initiative in salvation as evidenced by his lucid discussion of prevenient, convincing and sanctifying grace.59 And in 1773, Wesley specifically attributed the exercise of free will not to nature, but to the grace of God.60

But besides the evidence just cited, and much more importantly for the task at hand, the hermeneutical model of parallelism/transparallelism reveals that Knight has misinterpreted aspects of Wesley’s theology. As has been indicated in the early part of this paper, it is simply not sufficient merely to locate Wesley’s doctrinal emphases in their historical settings. This is only part of the hermeneutical spade work which faces anyone who seeks to grapple seriously with Wesley. But once this primary task is accomplished, one must determine the theological setting within the Wesleyan ordo salutis where each doctrine is located. Such an approach does not deny the fact that Wesley underscored human responsibility freedom and works after 1770, but it asks the further question—How is such an emphasis to be interpreted in light of the entirety of his theology?

For the sake of brevity, though, the application of the model will be restricted to the interpretation of Wesley’s emphasis upon works after justification which was the dominant issue of the 1770’s and which led many of the Calvinistic Methodists to charge him with legalism.

On the first level of the model, parallelism suggests that part of the interpretive task in the evaluation of Wesley’s conception of works after justification consists in a comparison between these works and those which precede justification. Interestingly enough, a controversy similar to that of 1770 occurred between Wesley and the Moravians in 1739 and continued into the 40’s, but here the salient issue was the nature and role of works prior to justification. Tyerman has observed this similarity between the two periods and wrote:

Accordingly, at the conference held a few months afterwards (1744) he (Wesley) . . . proceeded to propound doctrines which, in substance were the same as those he now embodied in the thesis of 1770. Twenty—six years had elapsed since then; but there was a striking resemblance between the two periods.61

In the earlier controversy, in November 1739, Wesley contended that the Moravians, Molther and Bray, were disrupting the joint Moravian—Methodist Fetter Lane Society through the promotion of three errors. The first consisted of teaching that there are no degrees of faith, that faith mingled with any measure of doubt or fear was not real faith after all.62 The second was promulgated by Molther’s insistence that the believer’s only duty was to believe, “that there is no commandment in the New Testament but to believe . . . and that when a man does believe, he is not bound or obliged to do anything which is commanded there.”63 And the last error consisted in teaching that the ordinances such as receiving the Lord’s Supper, reading the Scriptures, using private prayer and fasting, etc., were not means of grace and could be neglected without resulting in spiritual depravation. The effect of these teachings was a virtual repudiation of the importance and necessity of works anterior to justification.

In November 1739, Wesley responded to these misguided notions in an important sermon entitled, “The Means of Grace.” In this piece, he expostulated that there are “outward signs, works or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby He might convey to men, preventing, justifying or sanctifying grace.”64 In other words, Wesley countered the antinomian tendencies of the Moravians at Fetter Lane by insisting that the doctrine of justification by faith must not result in a quietism which deprecates divinely—empowered human activity. Indeed, he affirmed that an employment of proper means does not contradict sola fide so long as it is remembered that such means do not result in any form of merit.

Moreover, it was precisely Wesley’s doctrine of prevenient grace which kept his theology, at this point of the ordo salutis, clear from any notion of merit or attainment. Thus, works preceding justification were not viewed as products of human initiative but as responses to the gift of “God’s intervening grace.”65 Divine grace not human effort, therefore, is the first movement in the Wesleyan symphony of salvation.

Contrary to Knight’s assumptions of anthropocentricity, parallelism as a hermeneutical device, suggests that this theocentric flavor of Wesley’s estimation of works prior to justification is paralleled in his view of works after justification (hence preceding entire sanctification). For example, just as Wesley considered works “meet for repentance” as the way God has ordained in which one is to wait for justification, in other words as a means of grace, so too, he viewed the works which flow from justification as the way God has appointed in which one is to wait for the subsequent change of entire sanctification. He wrote:

Q. How are we to wait for this change(entire sanctification)?

A. Not in careless indifference or indolent inactivity, but in vigorous, universal obedience, in a zealous keeping of all the commandments, in watchfulness . . . in denying ourselves . . . and a close attendance on all the ordinances of God.66

Furthermore, Wesley postulated that God’s favor, but this time in the form of sanctifying as opposed to prevenient grace, initiates this response of human activity.67 And the same distinction between condition and degree as well as a repudiation of merit which was characteristic of the earlier section of the ordo salutis is present here as well. To be sure, Wesley noted that those works which flow from faith are “necessary to full salvation; yet they are not necessary either in the same sense with faith, or in the same degree. —Not in the same degree; for these fruits are only necessary conditionally.”68

Now if this discernment of parallel structures is correct, then the question must go out to John Knight: Why does the year 1770 mark an anthropological shift in Wesley’s theology especially when it is observed that Wesley himself defined the role of works in the process of salvation in 1770 using almost exactly the same language he employed in the 1740’s? If Knight is to be consistent with his observations of anthropocentrism, why not make 1740 or even 1739 the terminus a quo?

Moreover, the second level of the model, trans—parallelism in its attentiveness to soteriological change reveals that works subsequent to justification are good while those which precede, strictly speaking, are not. Now when this idea is considered in conjunction with the fact that the controversy of the 1770’s largely revolved around the issue of works following justification, it is small wonder that Wesley highlighted these good works. Indeed, he could do so precisely because such works were the products of God’s sanctifying (as opposed to prevenient grace). Once again, the grace of God lies behind all.

Thus, in light of the preceding, it can be argued that Knight’s own thesis is flawed. His isolation of Wesley’s statements in 1770 on works after conversion repudiates the historical parallel of the 1740’s as well as the theological parallel of Wesley’s estimation of works prior to justifying faith. Thus, it can be argued that Knight’s allegation of the anthropocentricity of Wesley’s theology after 1770 is problematic, at least with respect to the issue of works. For although he aptly observes the historical fact that after the controversy with the Calvinistic Methodists, Wesley stressed, “freedom and man’s works more than faith and God’s grace,”69 he abbreviates the interpretive process and immediately propounds his conclusions.

The approach of parallelism/trans—parallelism, on the other hand, begins with the historical materials and then proceeds to interpret them not only in light of Wesley’s theology as a whole, but also and especially in relation to the structure within that theology. Such a methodology underscores the essential theocentricism of Wesley and reveals that both works prior and subsequent to justification are the products of divine initiating grace. Furthermore, it allows significant aspects of Wesley’s theology, such as his important doctrines of faith, human responsibility, etc., to bear their full weight in the interpretive process. Moreover, and it must be concluded, it is precisely this approach which takes Wesley seriously as a theologian—and a “systematic” theologian at that!


1Albert Outler, “John Wesley as Theologian—Then and now, Methodist History 12 (July, 1974): 81.

2Albert Outler, “The Place of Wesley in the Christian Tradition,” in The Place of Wesley in the Christian Tradition, ed. Kenneth E. Rowe (Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1976), p.33.

3Clarence Luther Bence, “John Wesley’s Teleological Hermeneutic” (Ph.D. dissertation, Emory University, 1981), p. l.

4Outler, “Place of Wesley,” p. 14.

5____ “Towards a Re—Appraisal of John Wesley as a Theologian.” The Perkins School of Theology Journal 14 (Winter, 1961): 7.



8Frank Baker, “Unfolding John Wesley: A Survey of Twenty Years’ Studies in Wesley’s Thought.” Quarterly Review 1 (Fall, 1980): 60.

9Edward H. Sugden, ed., Wesley’s Standard Sermons, 2 vols. (London: The Epworth Press, 1951),1:29—34.

10Ibid, p.31—32.

11This is to be understood in a hierarchical sense. For Wesley, all knowledge is important, but that teaching which leads to salvation is most important of all.

12Outler, “Place of Wesley,” p.

13Sugden, Sermons, 1:30.

14William R. Cannon, “Salvation in the Theology of John Wesley.” Methodist History 9 (October, 1970) :3.

15Clarence I. Bence, “Processive Eschatology: A Wesleyan Alternative.” Wesleyan Theological Journal 14(Spring, 1979):54.

16 Harold Lindstrom, Wesley and Sanctification (Wilmore, KY: Francis Asbury Publishing Co.), p. 122. Bracketed material mine.

17Bence, “Hermeneutic,” p.
18. Ibid., p. 18.


20Ibid, p. 80.

21Ibid., p. 98.

22Ibid, p. 7.

23Ibid, p. iii.

24H. Ray Dunning, “Systematic Theology in a Wesleyan Mode,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 17(Spring, 1982):18.

25Bence, “Hermeneutic,” p. 80.

26No doubt this “expanse” can be abused by those who seek to travel in a reverse direction.

27Edward H. Sugden, ed., Wesley ‘s Standard Sermons, 2 vols. (London: The Epworth Press, 1951), 2:453. Emphasis mine.

28John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, 14 vols. (London: Wesleyan Methodist Book Room; reprint ed., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1978), 11:420. Emphasis mine.

29Sugden, Sermons, 2:445.

30Wesley, Works, 11:395.

31Ibid, p. 396.

32Sugden, Sermons, 2:53—54.

33Charles Randall Wilson, “The Correlation of Love and Law in the Theology of John Wesley” (Ph.D. dissertation, Vanderbilt University, 1959), p. 92.

34Sugden, Sermons, 2:54. Emphasis mine.

35Ibid, p. 453.

36John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament (San Francisco: E Thomas Press; reprint ed., Salem, OH: Schmul Publishers, 1976), p. 15.

37Sugden, Sermons, 2:380.


39Ibid, p. 454.

40Ibid, p. 451—52.

41Ibid, p. 456.

42John Telford, ed., The Letters of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., 8 vols. (London: The Epworth Press, 1931), 2:224.

43Sugden, Sermons, 1:126.

44Ibid, 2:453. Emphasis mine.

45Ibid, 1:125., 2:457.

46Ibid, 1:126.

47Ibid, 2:457.

48Ibid, 2:391. Emphasis mine.

49Ibid, 2:240.

50Wesley, Works, 8:329.

51Ibid, 11:402. Emphasis mine.

52Ibid, p. 420.

53Bence, “Hermeneutic,” p. 80.

54Sugden, Sermons, 2:373.

55Albert E. Chiles, Theological Transition in American Method sm. 1790—1936 (Nashville: Abingdon Press,1965), p. 144f.

56John Allan Knight, “Aspects of Wesley’s Theology After 1770,” Methodist History 6(April, 1968):33.

57____ , “John Fletcher’s Influence on the Development of Wesleyan Theology in America,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 13(Spring, 1978):17.

58Ibid, p. 21. Emphasis mine.

59Wesley, Works, 6:509.

60Ibid, 10:444.

61Luke Tyerman, The Life and Times of the Rev. John Wesley, M.A., 3 vols. (New York: Harper and Brothers, Publishers, 1872), 3:71. Bracketed material mine.

62Nehemiah Curnock, ed., The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M. 8 v019. (London: The Epworth Press, 1938) 2:354.

63Ibid, p. 354—55.

64Sugden, Sermons, 1.242.

65Colin Williams, John Wesley ‘s Theology Today (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1960), p. 61.

66Wesley, Works, 11:402. Bracketed material mine.

67Sugden, Sermons, 1:242.

68Ibid., 2:456. As noted earlier, although Wesley often employed exactly the same language in discussion of the nature and function of works both before and after conversion, he indicated one significant distinction. Those works which follow, technically speaking, are “good”; those which precede are not.

69Knight, “Fletcher” p. 21.