Mark K. Olson, “From Heaven Above to New Creation Below”

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Abstract: In this third installment, John Wesley’s eschatology is surveyed from his Oxford period in the 1720s to his mature thoughts in the 1780s. It is further shown that the early Wesley was an amillennialist and in 1738 became a postmillennialist. Though other early Methodists, like his brother Charles, adopted a premillennial framework, Wesley remained committed to the postmillennial view throughout his life, and in his later years adopted the idea of the redemption of animals and the restoration of the planet earth.

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In the prior two articles, we learned that millennial aspirations helped shape the political and religious culture of early modern England, including the Evangelical Revival and Methodist self-understanding. We now take a closer look at the development of Wesley’s eschatology from his early days at Oxford to its mature articulation in the 1780s.

Early Views on the Millennium

 Randy Maddox has shown that at various times Wesley was swayed by each of the three main positions on the millennial reign of Christ.[1] He explains the Christian concept of a millennium is rooted in second temple Judaism:

“It emerged in pre-Christian Judaism as a way of handling the alternative models of the future hope offered in Isaiah (long life in this world) and Daniel (eternal life in a reconstituted world). As an option to forcing a choice between these two models, it was proposed that Isaiah was describing a still-future thousand-year golden age in this world, while Daniel was describing the final state after this age. Within Judaism this left three options:  affirming Isaiah’s vision of shalom in this world as the ultimate hope, affirming instead Daniel’s vision of shalom coming fully only in a future world, or combining these with a millennium as an intermediate expression of the final hope.”[2]

It was the last option that found expression in Revelation 20, which led many early church fathers to espouse a premillennial hope when the entire created order, including plants and animals, enjoy the bountiful blessing of God as a prelude to the new heavens and new earth.[3] For example, Irenaeus (ca. 202) taught the millennium is necessary for the fulfillment of certain promises that declare God’s future reign over the present created order. He also maintained that deceased believers do not enter directly into God’s heavenly presence but reside in Hades until the general resurrection. God’s purpose is for believers to attain further growth in preparation for the new creation.

By contrast, other Christians embraced a more spiritualized Christian hope. Clement of Alexandria (ca. 215) and Origen (d. 255) cast aside the chiliast vision of an earthly millennium and its material pleasures, arguing instead for an ethereal heavenly state. Seeing no need for an earthly millennium, these church fathers spiritualized God’s eternal rule by elevating it above the material creation. Diverging from Irenaeus, they affirmed that at death Christians enter directly into God’s heavenly presence. The ablest proponent of what became known as amillennialism was Saint Augustine (354-430). Though his thought on last things developed over time, his mature position rejected outright the premillennialism of the early church fathers, including the belief that deceased believers wait in Hades until the resurrection. Augustine did affirm that the Scriptures teach a future reembodiment of believers at the general resurrection (though he did not see plants and animals participating in this future redemption). Glorified believers will dwell eternally in ethereal bodies, basking in the fullness and contemplation of the Triune God. As the Christian hope moved more and more toward a spiritualized state, little room remained for any concept of a renewed material creation. The present reign of Christ became associated with existing church structures and church order, with the focus of salvation on the human soul. The goal of every believer was to save one’s soul through deliverance from this “probationary world” and to “ascend into the ‘rest’ of the timeless and ethereal heavenly realm.”[4]

The Early Wesley

Even though the Reformers broke with Rome over several issues, they continued to embrace Augustine’s transcendental eschatology. Maddox informs us that the transcendental model of eschatology dominated Wesley’s studies at Oxford and continued to inform his eschatology for quite some time.[5] In his earliest manuscript sermons, “Death and Deliverance” (1725) and “Seek First the Kingdom” (1725), salvation is presented as deliverance from this life’s troubles, including human infirmities and sin, into a kingdom that is “not of this world,” where there is perfect happiness in the heavenly city of God. Wesley is even more explicit in his first university sermon, “The Image of God” (1730). After the “seeds of spiritual death” are finally expelled when this “earthly tabernacle is dissolved,” the same body will be “rebuilt ‘eternal in the heavens.’”[6] Wesley was emphatic that God will use the same elements of the earthly body to recreate the new glorified body. In a sermon by Joseph Calamy that Wesley transcribed and preached (1732-34), he belabors the point that God will use the same dusty remains of the dissolved body to rebuild one that is immortal, incorruptible, glorious, spiritual, and angelic.[7] At the time, Wesley’s eschatology was quite elementary: Christ will descend in the clouds, the dead will be raised, the judgment will be set, and the righteous will shine as stars in heaven where they will forever gaze upon Him who is eternal.[8] Regarding the intermediate state, Wesley follows Irenaeus by suggesting the soul of the believer waits in Hades to be reunited with their body at the resurrection.[9]  It should be noted that Wesley was exposed to alternative views while at Oxford. Maddox notes that one of Wesley’s early lectures addressed the question of whether animals have souls. He also read the writings of premillennialists William Whiston and Thomas Burnet.[10]

Wesley Embraces Postmillennialism

 The amillennial transcendental model not only defined Wesley’s eschatology, it governed his early soteriology. Since the model emphasized personal salvation in a heavenly ethereal realm, Wesley naturally focused on preparing himself for death and justification at the final judgment. Holiness became the great pursuit of his life, which, in turn, led him to develop a regimen of disciplines for the formation of holy tempers. A radical reversal took place in Wesley’s soteriology when he embraced the Moravian gospel of salvation by faith alone. Whereas before he pursued holiness to prepare for justification before God, he now realized justification is a gift to be received by faith in the present. The message of present salvation meant that God’s eschatological kingdom was already present in the work of the eschatological Spirit. No longer was the kingdom seen as something outside of this world, only as an ethereal heavenly state; the kingdom is present, active, powerful, and transforming—ready to sweep across the entire world:

“May ‘he who hath the keys of the house of David, who openeth and no man shutteth’, open ‘a great and effectual door’ by whom it pleaseth him, for his everlasting gospel! May he ‘send by whom he will send’, so it may ‘run and be glorified’ more and more! May he ‘ride on, conquering and to conquer’, until ‘the fullness of the Gentiles be come in’, and ‘the earth be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea’!”[11]

The Revival convinced Wesley that not only a new day had begun in God’s redemptive plan, but a new understanding of this plan now opened up to him. As we saw in the last chapter, the Revival’s inherent worldview was eschatological, even apocalyptic. Early Methodists, including Wesley, believed they were living on the edge of human history. This vision of a mighty work of divine grace sweeping across the globe in the last days is what moved Wesley toward the postmillennial position. While not fully rejecting the amillennial transcendental model, in the 1740s Wesley grasped the eschatological significance of the Revival as a new “day of the Lord.” God was once again restoring primitive, apostolic Christianity for the express purpose of renewing the “face of the earth.”[12] Nevertheless, Wesley still affirmed an ethereal heaven above when he spoke of himself as a “spirit come from God and returning to God.” Soon, Wesley told his readership, he would drop out of sight into an “unchangeable eternity.”[13]

The Kingdom of Grace & Glory

 Both aspects of Wesley’s eschatology were further clarified in his discourse on the Lord’s Prayer.[14] The kingdom of grace is “set up in the believer’s heart” when the person repents and believes in Christ. Drawing on the imagery of Revelation 6:2 (the rider on the white horse goes forth “conquering, and to conquer”), Christ reigns to subdue all things in the soul to himself. One day this kingdom of grace will be established across the world. The fullness of the Gentiles will come into it and all Israel will be saved. On that day, Christ will appear to “every soul of man as King of kings, and Lord of lords.” The kingdom of grace will “swallow up all the kingdoms of the earth,” with the entire human race “filled with righteousness and peace and joy, with holiness and happiness.” Then will come the kingdom of glory. This is the “grand event,” says Wesley, when God finally renovates all things by “putting an end to misery and sin, to infirmity and death…setting up the kingdom which endureth throughout all ages.”[15]

In the 1750s the same eschatological paradigm shows up in his Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament.[16] Wesley described the kingdom of glory as “wholly spiritual,” and the resurrection body as “spiritual,” “clothed with robes of light,” “like the angels of God,” and “heavenly.”[17] When Christ appears in the air the “wicked will remain beneath, while the righteous, being absolved, shall be assessors with their Lord in the judgment.”[18] Turning to the Book of Revelation, Wesley states the present cosmos will be “wholly dissolved” and “were no more.”[19] The New Jerusalem does not belong to this world, yet believers inherit real bodies, but they are spiritual in nature.[20] Nevertheless, Wesley begins to question the underlying premises of this transcendental model in his comments on Romans 8:20-22. In response to Paul’s hope that the “creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption,” Wesley’s presents the fundamental argument that will later inform his new creation eschatology, “Destruction is not deliverance; therefore, whatsoever is destroyed, or ceases to be, is not delivered at all. Will, then, any part of the creation be destroyed?” This last question represents the beginning of a monumental shift in Wesley’s eschatology.

Sources of Wesley’s Eschatology

 This incipient new creation model was rooted in a natural philosophy that reached back to Plato and Aristotle and came to dominate the worldview of medieval and Renaissance cultures, including eighteenth-century England. Known as the “Chain of Being,” Maddox summarizes its basic contours:

“This model conceived of nature as a hierarchy of beings organized by relative excellence of abilities. Fish were higher in the chain than plants, dogs higher than fish, humans higher than dogs, and celestial beings higher than humans. A central assumption of the model was that the only type of cosmos fitting for a Perfect Being to produce was one in which every conceivable niche was occupied by its appropriate type of being.”[21]

Referred to as divine plentitude, this central assumption further implied that God created every type of being at the original creation. The Chain carried another assumption: the permanence of the created order. That is, once created the heavens, world, and its creatures will continue to exist in some form. Years later Wesley summarized the creation’s permanence this way:

“All matter indeed is continually changing, and that into ten thousand forms. But that it is changeable does in no wise imply that it is perishable. The substance may remain one and the same, though under innumerable forms. It is very possible any portion of matter may be resolved into the atoms of which it was originally composed. But what reason have we to believe that one of these atoms ever was or ever will be annihilated? It never can, unless by the uncontrollable power of its almighty Creator…Yea, by this (fire) ‘the heavens’ themselves ‘will be dissolved; the elements shall melt with fervent heat.’ But they will be only dissolved, not destroyed: they will melt, but they will not perish. Though they lose their present form, yet not a particle of them will ever lose its existence; but every atom of them will remain under one form or other to all eternity.”[22]

Wesley was first exposed to the “Chain of Being” model at Oxford,[23] and the assumption regarding the permanence of creation probably informed his early argument that the resurrection body will be made out of the exact same “dust” (atoms) of the dissolved mortal body.[24] Yet it would not be until the 1770s that Wesley began to integrate more thoroughly this model into his eschatology through his reading of Thomas Burnet’s The Sacred Theory of the Earth,[25] James Knight’s A Discourse on the Conflagration and Renovation of the World,[26] and especially Charles Bonnet’s La palingénésie philosophique.[27] Not only will the new heavens and new earth rise from the ashes (i.e. atoms) of the exiting cosmos,[28] Wesley began to consider the minority opinion that animals have souls and thereby are recipients of Christ’s cosmic redemption.[29] This trajectory will be addressed below but first other shifts in Wesley’s eschatology need to be noted.

Wesley published his Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament in late 1755 just when the Seven Years War was heating up, along with wide-spread fears of the world’s demise.[30]  In his preface he acknowledged several sources, including Anglican John Heylyn (d. 1759),[31] and Dissenters John Guyse (1680-1761)[32] and Philip Doddridge (1702-1751),[33] both avowed postmillennialists. From his Notes we know Wesley relied on other authors, like first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus.[34] Wesley felt that Josephus’ History of the Jewish War was the “best commentary” on Jesus’ prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70 (Matt. 24:14; Lk. 21:11). What is less known was his reliance on Catholic historian Bartolomeo Platina (1421-81), who’s Lives of the Popes (pub. 1479) informed many of Wesley’s historical notes regarding the papal beast in Revelation 13. Surprisingly, Wesley never mentioned in his Notes Joseph Mede, the great expositor of English eschatology, or his supporters Isaac Newton and William Whiston, all premillennialists. The fact John relied on only postmillennial expositors for his commentary is telling, to say the least.

Johann Albrecht Bengel

 The person Wesley relied on the most for his Notes was that “great light of the Christian world”[35] New Testament scholar and Pietist Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752).[36] Bengel pioneered a system that identified variant readings of the Greek text. His Greek text appeared in 1734 and was followed up eight years later with his critical commentary Gnomon Novi Testamenti. Besides his interest in textual criticism and biblical exegesis, Bengel was drawn to the study of salvation history (Heilsgeschichte). In 1741 he published Ordo Temporum, a treatise on the chronology of Scripture, in which he enters into speculations about the end of the world. Then four years later he published his thoughts on the orbital periods of the planets (Cyclus). From these two studies, Bengel developed his concept of time as chronos (1111 1/9 years) and tempus (222 2/9 years). Along with the hermeneutic of historicism, these two units of time guided his interpretation of the numbers in Revelation and therefore show up in Wesley’s commentary (Rev. 6:11; 11:13; 12:11, 14). Given Bengel’s esteemed reputation as a scholar, Wesley’s admiration of him is understandable.

The one area Bengel is probably most remembered for is his concept of dual millenniums. We saw in chapter one that the concept of dual millenniums was espoused by Thomas Brightman. Yet contrary to Brightman, Bengel proposed that both millenniums were still future. Since Wesley’s commentary on Revelation was primarily an abridgement of Bengel’s work, the question arises if Wesley ever really supported Bengel’s interpretation given his reticence toward speculation. The question becomes pertinent in light of Wesley’s letter to Christopher Hopper in 1788:

“I said nothing, less or more, in Bradford church, concerning the end of the world, neither concerning my own opinion, but what follows: That Bengelius had given it as his opinion, not that the world would then end, but that the millennial reign of Christ would begin in the year 1836. I have no opinion at all upon the head: I can determine nothing at all about it. These calculations are far above, out of my sight. I have only one thing to do, — to save my soul, and those that hear me.”[37]

This letter confirms Wesley’s reserve toward speculation, but also reveals the level of confidence he had in Bengel, even after thirty years. For why would he quote Bengel if he had little confidence in his views? Wesley’s esteem of Bengel was confirmed in a letter written eleven years earlier to Joseph Benson (whom we saw was a premillennialist):

“But there is no comparison, either as to sense, learning, or piety, between Bishop Newton and Bengelius. The former is a mere child to the latter. I advise you to give another serious and careful reading to that extract from his Comment on the Revelation, which concludes the Notes. There you have one uniform consistent [view], far beyond any I ever saw. And I verily believe, the more deeply you consider it, the more you will admire it.”[38]

Both letters show that notwithstanding his reticence toward prophetic speculation, Wesley did maintain a high regard for Bengel’s work. Though he entertained doubts about some of the particulars, and this might have included the idea of two millenniums, Wesley did not question the core principles of Bengel’s eschatology: historicism, the papal Antichrist, the national conversion of the Jews, and Christ’s postmillennial reign on earth. One point remains to be made. Wesley refers to the importance of having a living faith in Christ. As we will see in the next chapter, real Christianity is one of the leitmotifs of Wesley’s eschatology. A careful reading of his Notes on Revelation bears this out. As he worked with the text and its message, utilizing Bengel’s insightful exegesis that linked text to present historical realities and beyond, Wesley saw with greater clarity that the Revival and its message of real Christianity was ordained by God to usher in the end-times. This was a momentous step for Wesley, though imperceptible at first. For from this insight he later developed the belief that Methodism was an eschatological movement.

The Great Assize & Premillennialism

 The eschatology of Wesley’s Notes is visible in his sermon on the final judgment. Preached at St. Paul’s, Bedford, on March 10, 1758, before the presiding Judge of Common Pleas, Sir Edward Clive, The Great Assize is one of his best summaries on the second coming, final judgment, conflagration, and the new heavens and new earth. The sermon assumes a postmillennial vision of last things since he leaves out all the signs that premillennialists anticipate. Instead, Wesley follows his exegesis on Matthew 24:29-31 by identifying natural and cosmic phenomenon as signs heralding the second coming. He affirms the permanence of the created order at the atomic level—“no atom in the universe will be totally or finally destroyed” (III.3)—reminding us that the Chain of Being was percolating in his eschatology, only later would its ramifications be fully worked out. The strangest part of this sermon, though, was Wesley’s speculations about the duration of the final judgment. In the second section, he proposes that the judgment will last a thousand years, possibly thousands of years! Then he quickly retreats to safety, “But God shall reveal this also in its season” (II.2). Wesley was simply not given to speculation when it came to date-setting or applying real numbers to prophetic events, unless those events were already fulfilled in the past.[39]

Soon after publishing his Notes Wesley received a letter from John Fletcher encouraging him to consider the premillennial option. With Fletcher, his brother Charles, and other Methodists ardent support, and in light of current geopolitical events, we should not be surprised that John would at some point consider the premillennial position. That end-time scenarios were probably on John’s mind is confirmed by a journal comment in December 1762.[40] In early 1764 Wesley read Thomas Hartley’s Paradise Restored, which contains a lengthy argument for the premillennial position.[41] Wesley’s letter to Hartley has been quoted many times:

“Your book on the Millennium and the Mystic writers was lately put into my hands. I cannot but thank you for your strong and seasonable confirmation of that comfortable doctrine, of which I cannot entertain the least doubt as long as I believe the Bible.”[42]

Luke Tyerman concludes from this comment that Wesley was a premillennialist.[43] Maddox points out that Hartley probably influenced Wesley to interpret the messianic promise of peace in Isaiah 60:18 along premillennial lines.[44] Yet in light of Wesley’s other comments on this section of Isaiah (chs 60-66), this note can be made to fit a postmillennial reading. It must be remembered that prior to the nineteenth century premillennialism and postmillennialism shared many of the same end-time beliefs: historicism, the Roman Antichrist, the Turkish threat from the east, the eschatological character of the Revival, the national conversion of the Jews, and the saints’ future reign over the nations. Whereas postmillennialists understood this last point as an extension of the present kingdom of grace, with Christ reigning through the gospel, premillennialists linked this glorious period to the future kingdom of glory, with the New Jerusalem present in the millennium (Rev. 20:9) and the new creation (Rev. 21:2).[45] The central issue was in how both camps envisioned the end of this present age: premillennialists saw the present age unraveling into chaos followed by Christ’s glorious return, whereas postmillennialists looked for an imperceptible transition when Christ’s spiritual reign introduces a golden era of universal peace before the final apostasy transpires (Rev. 20:7-10). Maddox is certainly correct that the gradualism of postmillennialism resonated with Wesley’s soteriological interests.[46] He moreover appropriately notes that one of the elements in Hartley’s exposition, which especially appealed to Wesley, was that all creation, not just humanity, will participate in God’s redemptive work.[47]

Wesley’s Mature Eschatology

Early in the 1780s Wesley published a bold statement on Romans 8:19-22 and animal redemption, based on an essay by John Hildrop.[48] Whereas before (in his Notes) Wesley questioned the assumption that the present creation will ever be destroyed, he now asserted in The General Deliverance that God’s wisdom and goodness called for the redemption of the animal kingdom. “Nothing is more sure than that as ‘the Lord is loving to every man’, so ‘his mercy is over all his works’—all that have sense, all that are capable of pleasure or pain, of happiness or misery.”[49] Like a great chain, the human race and the animal kingdom (and the rest of creation) are inseparably connected so each link can fulfill its divine purpose. Just as animals were created to love and serve the human race, so Adam and Eve were created to love and serve the Creator—and to communicate the blessings of God to the lower creation. With Adam’s fall came the plight of the animal kingdom: beast preying on beast, the strong killing the weak, with humanity as their common enemy. Wesley now proclaimed that God will deliver the “brute creation” from this bondage, elevate them on the scale of being, and most likely endow them with a capacity that humans now enjoy knowing and loving God. Maddox points out that this “sermon was unusual for its time and is often cited today as a pioneer effort at reaffirming the doctrine of animal salvation in the Western church.”[50]

Four years later Wesley followed up The General Deliverance with an even bolder affirmation of a restored heaven and earth, bringing his new creation eschatology to full maturity. In The New Creation, the reader will find Wesley’s description of a transformed solar system, atmosphere, and biosphere both fascinating and insightful. The organization of the sermon around the four elements (fire, air, water, earth), once again, alerts the reader of Wesley’s dependence on the Chain of Being for his new creation eschatology. Still, what should grab the reader’s attention is the sheer physicality of Wesley’s description. The eternal state is no longer located in “heaven above,” in some kind of ethereal state, but consists of a renewed material earth inhabited with every kind of being that make up the great Chain of Being.[51] Thus, we see the shift in Wesley’s eschatology was largely due to his understanding of natural philosophy.

In the 1780s Wesley presented his eschatology in a series of sermons. In The Mystery of Iniquity (1783), he rehearses church history and concludes the great apostasy predicted by the Apostle Paul (2 Th. 2:3) was the religious nominalism plaguing the national churches, both Catholic and Protestant. It must be remembered that Protestant eschatology in the eighteenth century was largely governed by the geopolitical tensions between these two factions. With Britain’s resounding victory in the Seven Years War, and the demotion of papal political influence on the Italian Peninsula, Wesley lived to see the twilight of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Writing to Joseph Benson in 1777 on Bishop Newton’s views of the Papacy:

“But with regard to the passage you mention I cannot agree with him (Newton) at all. I believe the Romish antichrist is already so fallen that he will not again lift up his head in any considerable degree. The Bishop of Rome has little more power now than any other of the Italian Princes. I therefore concur with you in believing his tyranny is past never to return.”[52]

Wesley is here echoing what was considered by most Protestants as a major sign of the end-times, pointing to the dawn of the millennial age. Methodism was now seen by Wesley as “one of the landmark events in the whole of church history.”[53] To any sensible person, Wesley asserted, “the signs of the times” are evident for all to see. The “great work of God” that began in the 1730s will continue to spread until the latter-day glory breaks forth, and the evangelical gospel becomes a global faith. Behind Wesley’s historicism and postmillennial optimism lay his belief that the past is the key to the future. Since “God is one, so the work of God is uniform in all ages. May we not then conceive how he will work on the souls of men in times to come by considering how he does work now? And how he has wrought in times past?”[54] This quote reveals the inner logic of Wesley’s eschatological vision. Over the decades Wesleyans have debated long and hard whether John Wesley was a premillennialist or a postmillennialist.[55] When we consider all that he wrote on the subject in the 1770s and 80s, we must conclude that the late Wesley was a postmillennial new creationist.

[1] See his Responsible Grace. Nashville: Kingswood Press, 1994, 231-35; and “Nurturing the New Creation: Reflections on a Wesleyan Trajectory” in Meeks, Wesleyan Perspectives on the New Creation, 21-52. Much of the main points in this chapter rely on Maddox’s work in the above two books.

[2] “Nurturing the New Creation,” 35-36.

[3] Stanley J. Grenz, The Millennial Maze: Sorting Out Evangelical Options. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992, 39.

[4] Maddox, “Nurturing the New Creation,” 25.

[5] Ibid., 38, 45.

[6] “The Image of God” III, Works 4:299.

[7] “On the Resurrection of the Dead,” Works (Jackson) 7:474-85. Joseph Calamy was Vicar of St. Lawrence, Jewry, London.

[8] “The Image of God” III.2, Works 4:303; “The Circumcision of the Heart” P.3, Works 1:402; “The Promise of Understanding” III.3, Works 4:289. At the time Wesley never stated what he expected to transpire before Christ’s return.

[9] “Death and Deliverance” §17, Works 4:214. Wesley explicitly says “hell” but he must have meant Hades since the AV inappropriately has the word “hell” in Luke 16:23.

[10] “Nurturing the New Creation,” 39, n. 53; 46, n. 68.

[11] “Preface to Journal 3” (1742) §8, Works 19:4.

[12] “An Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion” (1743) §§98, 99, Works 11:88-89.

[13] “Preface to Sermons” (1746) §5, Works 1:104-05.

[14] “Upon our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount: Discourse the Sixth” (1748) III.8, Works 1:581-82.

[15] In this Reader the two phases of the kingdom are addressed in the parables (Matt. 13).

[16] First edition was published in 1755, second edition in 1757, and a third expanded edition in 1762.

[17] 1 Corinthians 15:43-51.

[18] 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

[19] Revelation 20:11; cf. 2 Peter 3:10-11. Yet, compare with Charles Wesley’s 1747 hymn where the new creation resurrects out of the ashes of the present cosmos (Works 7:716-17). This hymn points to an earlier date when the Wesley’s began to enunciate the permanence of the created order.

[20] Revelation 21:2, 17.

[21] “Wesley’s Engagement in the Natural Sciences,” in The Cambridge Companion to John Wesley. eds. Randy L. Maddox and Jason E. Vickers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 171. The classic studies on the Chain of Being are Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1936; and E. M. W. Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture. New York: Vintage Books, 1959. Also the website by Dr. L. Kip Wheeler: (last viewed: 3/2/11).

[22] “On Eternity” (1775) §7, Works 2:362-63.

[23] For example, in the early thirties Wesley read John Ray’s The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation (Tenth Edition, London: Innys & Manby, 1735). Ray was a Fellow of the Royal Society and utilized the chain in his study of the natural order.

[24] See note 7 above. Cf. Outler’s comments on this sermon in Works 4:528-30.

[25] London: Walter Kettilby, 1684-1690. Burnet was a premillennialist and was an early leader at explaining creation, fall, the present world and its renewal through the use of modern science. See Book IV, Ch. 1 for his bold declaration that the present cosmos will be dissolved but not destroyed or annihilated. Wesley first read Burnet in 1734. His rereading of Burnet signifies a renewed interest by Wesley in the subject of creation’s permanence.

[26] London: J. Cox, 1736.

[27] Second edition; Munster: Philip Henry Perrenon, 1770. Bonnet was an avid exponent of animal salvation and, as we will soon see, informed Wesley’s sermon “General Deliverance” (1781). For a general overview of Bonnet’s system, see Arthur McCalla, A Romantic Historiosophy: The Philosophy of History of Pierre-Simon Ballanche. Boston: Brill, 1998.

[28] Wesley’s most explicit statement on the permanence of the creation is found in his sermon “On Eternity” §7, Works 2:362-63.

[29] For example, see the sermon “On the Trinity” (1775) §11, Works 2:382.

[30] See chapter two. A second edition was published two years later, followed by an expanded third edition in 1762.

[31] Wesley first read Heylyn’s writings while at Oxford and later in America. Wesley went to hear him preach on the eve of his Aldersgate conversion and was deeply impressed (Works 18:241). Heylyn’s first volume of Theological Lectures was published in 1749. In this work Heylyn mirrors Wesley’s views on the kingdom of God, referring to both God’s present reign in the heart and his future reign in the world.

[32] Wesley used his An Exposition of the New Testament in the Form of a Paraphrase. 3 vols., 1739-52.

[33] Doddridge was a Reformed theologian, a prolific author and hymn writer, and a supporter of the revival (esp. George Whitefield’s ministry). His most influential work was The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (1745). His commentary Family Expositor (6 vols., 1736-56) reflects a preterist postmillennial interpretation of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, where the heavenly signs represent Jerusalem’s destruction (Matt. 24:29) and the angels are messengers of the gospel until all nations acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ (Matt. 24:30-31).

[34] Translated into English by William Whiston in 1737.

[35] John Wesley, “Preface” §7, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament. 2 vols. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983 Reprint.

[36] For an overview of Bengel’s life and work, see Carter Lindberg, ed. The Pietist Theologians. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2005.

[37] Works (Jackson) 12:319. Wesley communicated the same sentiments in a letter to Walter Churchey on June 26, 1788: “What I spoke was a citation from Bengelius, who thought, not that the world would end, but that the Millennium would begin, about the year 1836. Not that I affirmed this myself, nor ever did. I do not determine any of these things: They are too high for me. I only desire to creep on in the vale of humble love.” Works (Jackson) 12:437.

[38] Works (Jackson) 12:427. Thomas Newton D.D. (1704-1782) was Bishop of Bristol and later Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London until his death. He published a annotated edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost in 1749 and wrote Dissertations on the Prophecies in 1754. Like Dr. Doddridge, Newton embraced a postmillennial preterist position on Jesus’ Olivet discourse (Matthew 24 concerns the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and verses 30-31 refer not to the second coming but to the spread of Christianity until all nations acknowledge Christ).

[39] Take special note of Wesley’s comment in his Journal, “Monday 6 and the following days, I corrected the Notes upon the Revelation. O how little do we know of this deep book! At least, how little do I know! I can barely conjecture, nor affirm any one point, concerning that part of it which is yet unfulfilled” (12/6/62, Works 21:400, emphasis his). The implication is clear: he can affirm those parts already fulfilled. This includes the first 14 chapters of the Revelation.

[40] See note 39 above. That Wesley was working on his Notes on Revelation does imply he would have been thinking on the subject at the time.

[41] Thomas Hartley, Paradise Restored. Leeds: Binns and Brown, 1799.

[42] John Telford, The Letters of John Wesley. London: Epworth Press, 1931, 4:234 (March 27, 1764).

[43] Luke Tyerman, The Life and Times of the Rev. John Wesley. 3 vols. Stoke-on-Trent: Tentmaker Publications, 2003, 2:523.

[44] The comment Maddox refers to is “‘the thousand years wherein Christ shall reign upon the earth.’” (Responsible Grace, 238).

[45] E.g. Thomas Hartley, Paradise Restored, 78, 189. It should be understood that many commentators of the era tended to merge or blend the millennium with the eternal state.

[46] “Nurturing the New Creation,” 40-41.

[47] Responsible Grace, 239. Cf. Hartley, Paradise Restored, 64, 78. It should be noted that Wesley agreed with Hartley on many points, including the two phases of the kingdom (grace & glory), Christian perfection, free-will, the nature of true faith, the Roman Antichrist, the millennium did not begin under Constantine, the eschatological character of the revival, the national conversion of the Jews, Edenic restoration, and degrees of glory.

[48] Free Thoughts upon the Brute Creation, 2 vols. London: R. Minors, 1742-43. Wesley published an abridgment of Hildrop’s work in the Arminian Magazine (1783). For his preface see Works (Jackson) 14:290.

[49] “The General Deliverance,” Works 2:437.

[50] “Nurturing the Creation,” 47.

[51] One aspect of this natural philosophy was the idea of plenitude, which means that in the original creation no link in the chain was missing, every kind of being that comprises the chain was made by God. When the idea of plenitude is conjoined with the idea of permanence (the creation will never be destroyed or annihilated), then the conclusion must be drawn that in the eternal state every kind of being (link in the chain) will continue to exist. Therefore, the new heavens and earth will be physical and contain every link in the chain. See note 22 above.

[52] Telford, 6:291 (12/8/77).

[53] Albert Outler, Introduction to “The Signs of the Times,” Works 2:521. On Methodism’s special vocation see “On Laying the Foundation of the New Chapel” (1777), Works 3:577-93; “The Wisdom of God’s Counsels” (1784), Works 2:551-66; “Of Former Times” (1787), Works 3:440-53; “On God’s Vineyard” (1787), Works 3:502-17.

[54] “The General Spread of the Gospel” §10, Works 2:489 (emphasis his).

[55] See Kenneth O. Brown, “John Wesley – Post Or Premillennialist?” Methodist History, 28:1 (October 1989); H. Ray Dunning, ed. The Second Coming: A Wesleyan Approach to the Doctrine of Last Things, 139-40; Randy Maddox, Responsible Grace, 238-39.

[This article was taken with permission from Mark K. Olson’s website where the original version can be found.]