More than 100 years elapsed before John Wesley picked up the mantle of James Arminius. Both lived in a time when Europe was dominated by Reformed Theology and both struggled mightily against it (Sections 1.20, 1.21, 1.22 and 2.1 of Theology Corner). Three decades after Wesley died, Richard Watson (Section 8.15 of Theology Corner) published the first systematic treatment of Wesley’s Methodist theology. He dedicated a large portion of his Theological Institutes to a comprehensive refutation of Reformed Theology. Decades later, William Burt Pope (Section 1.18 of Theology Corner) offered a similar repudiation of Reformed Theology in his Compendium of Christian Theology (1879) and John Miley (Section 2.22 of Theology Corner) did the same in his Systematic Theology (1892). In the first half of the 20th century, H. Orton Wiley was the primary standard bearer for Wesleyan/Arminian theology; he also devoted a major portion of his Christian Theology (1940) to a refutation of Reformed Theology. But more modern Wesleyan/Arminian theologians, such as J. K. Grider and T. C. Oden, expended little effort in refuting Calvinism. Today, denominations, which have historically leaned toward Wesleyan/Arminian Theology (UMC, Wesleyan, Nazarene, Traditional Southern Baptist, etc.) have become enamored by exciting new ideas including but not limited to:
- The amalgamation of Christianity and humanism (WOKE Progressive LGBTQ Christianity as visualized by the new UMC)
- Self-aggrandizement via the introverted pursuit of personal holiness (Section 4.6 of Theology Corner)
- Pursuing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ while ignoring the required conviction of sin, contrition, and repentance (Sections 8.14 and 8.15 of Theology Corner)
- The creation of a truly interdenominational theology by discarding all points of disagreement so that all religions are essentially the same. (Section 1.1 of Theology Corner)
- Swinging like a pendulum from traditional Arminian based Theology back to hard-core Reformed Theology (Section 2.1 of Theology Corner)
Wesleyan/Arminian Christians seem to have lost their motivation to ‘stand in the gap’ for their historic beliefs. But they are sometimes eager to embrace the latest ‘bright shiny object’ that has captivated the vision of the world.
Nevertheless, it is interesting to read the words of Richard Watson as he reviews the impact of limited atonement and unconditional election on the personal attributes of God. As you read the words of Watson, remember that you are reading only a fraction of 1% of the full analysis of Reformed Theology revealed in his Theological Institutes. Furthermore, his entire analysis is Biblically based. But the great 19th and 20th century Reformed theologians were not inclined to refute, disprove, or discredit Richard Watson. They simply ignored him and all his theological progeny.
Here are the words of Richard Watson on Calvinism as it bears on the attributes of God:
“Whether men will look to the dark and repugnant side of this doctrine of the eternal election of a certain number of men unto salvation or not, it unavoidably follows from it, that all but the persons so chosen in Christ, are placed utterly and absolutely, from their very birth, out of the reach of salvation; and have no share at all in the saving mercies of God, who from eternity purposed to reject them, and that not for their fault as sinners. For all, except Adam and Eve, have come into the world with a nature which, left to itself, could not but sin; and as the determination of God, never to give the reprobate the means of avoiding sin, could not rest upon their fault, for what is absolutely inevitable cannot be charged on man as his fault, so it must rest where all the high Calvinistic divines place it, -- upon the mere will and sovereign pleasure of God.
The difficulties of reconciling such a scheme as this to the nature of God, not as it is fancied by man, but as it is revealed in his own word; and to many other declarations of Scripture as to the principles of the administration both of his law and of his grace; one would suppose insuperable by any mind, and indeed, are so revolting, that few of those who cling to the doctrine of election will be found bold enough to keep them steadily in sight. They even think it uncandid for us who oppose these views to pursue them to their legitimate logical consequences. But in discussion this is inevitable; and if it be done in fairness, and in the spirit of candor, without pushing hard arguments into hard words, the cause of truth, and a right understanding of the word of God, will thereby be promoted.
The doctrine of the election to eternal life only of a certain determinate number of men to salvation, involving, as it necessarily does, the doctrine of the absolute and unconditional reprobation of all the rest of mankind, cannot, we may confidently affirm, be reconciled to the following attributes:”
The Love of God. ‘God is love.’ ‘He is loving to every man: and his tender mercies are over all his works.’
The Wisdom of God. The bringing into being a vast number of intelligent creatures under a necessity of sinning, and of being eternally lost, teaches no moral lesson to the world; and contradicts all those notions of wisdom in the ends and processes of government which we are taught to look for, not only from natural reason, but from the Scriptures.
The Grace of God. …On such a scheme can there be any interpretation given of the passage ‘that where sin had abounded, grace might much more abound’ or in what sense has ‘the grace of God appeared unto all men’ or even to one millionth part of them?...
The Compassion of God. Nor can this merciless reprobation be reconciled to any of those numerous passages in which almighty God is represented as tenderly compassionate, and pitiful to the worst and most unworthy of his creatures, even them who finally perish. ‘I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth.’ …’The Lord is long suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish’…
The Justice of God. …We may then be bold to affirm, that justice and equity in God are what they are taken to be among reasonable men; and if all men everywhere would condemn it, as most contrary to justice and right, that a sovereign should condemn to death one or more of his subjects, for not obeying laws which it is absolutely impossible for them, under any circumstances which they can possibly avail themselves of, to obey, and much more the greater part of his subjects; and to require them, on pain of aggravated punishment, to do something in order to the pardon and remission of their offences, which he knows they cannot do, say to stop the tide or to remove a mountain; it implies a charge as awfully and obviously unjust against God, who is so ‘holy and just in all his doings,’ so exactly ‘just in the judgements which he executeth,’ as to silence all his creatures, to suppose him to act precisely in the same manner as to those whom he has passed by and rejected, without any avoidable fault of their own; to destroy them by the simple rule of his own sovereignty, or, in other words to show that he has the power to do it…
The Sincerity of God. Equally impossible is it to reconcile this notion to the sincerity of God in offering salvation by Christ to all who hear the Gospel, of whom this scheme supposes the majority, or at least great numbers, to be among the reprobate. The Gospel, as we have seen, is commanded to be preached to every creature; which publication of ‘good news to every creature’ is an offer of salvation ‘to every creature,’ accompanied with earnest invitations to embrace it, and admonitory commination lest any should neglect and despise it. But does it not involve a serious reflection upon the truth and sincerity of God which men ought to shudder at, to assume, at the very time the Gospel is thus preached, that no part of this good news was ever designed to benefit the majority, or any great part of those to whom it is addressed? That they to whom this love of God in Christ is proclaimed were never loved by God? That he has decreed that many to whom he offers salvation, and whom he invites to receive it, shall never be saved? That he will consider their sins aggravated by rejecting that which they never could receive, and which he never designed them to receive?...
The Fairness of God. Unconditional reprobation cannot be reconciled with that frequent declaration of Scripture, that God is no respecter of persons. This phrase, we grant, is not to be interpreted as though the bounties of the Almighty were dispensed in equal measures to his creatures. In the administration of favour, there is place for the exercise of that prerogative which, in a just sense, is called the sovereignty or God; but justice knows but of one rule; it is , in its nature, settled and fixed, and respects not the person, but the case…But if the doctrine of absolute election and reprobation be true; if we are to understand that men like Jacob and Esau, in the Calvinistic construction of the passage, while in the womb of their mother, nay, from eternity are loved and hated, elected or reprobated, before they have done ‘good or evil,’ then it necessarily follows, that there is precisely this kind of respect of persons with God; for his acceptance or rejection of men stands on some ground of aversion or dislike, which cannot be resolved into any moral rule, and has no respect to the merits of the case itself…
The Eternal Punishment of Infants. [Death of a reprobate baby.] In order to avoid the fearful consequence of admitting the punishment of beings innocent as to all actual sin, there is no other way than to suppose all children dying in infancy to be an elected portion of mankind, which, however, would be a mere hypothesis brought in to serve a theory without any evidence…
[Calvinist doctrine requires all reprobate infants to be eternally condemned to Hell. Wesleyan/Arminians have a different take. In the words of H. Orton Wiley: “Man’s nature as he is born into the world is corrupt, is very far gone from original righteousness, is averse to God, is without spiritual life, is inclined to evil, and that continually. However, for this depraved nature he is not responsible, and hence no guilt or demerit attaches to it. This is not because depravity is uncondemnable, but because through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the free gift reversed the penalty as a consequence of the universal atonement. We hold, therefore, as truly as later Arminianism, that man as he comes into the world is not guilty of inbred sin. He becomes responsible for it, only when having rejected the remedy provided by atoning blood, he ratifies it as his own.” This happens at the age of accountability.
“We must regard the atonement as accomplishing the actual salvation of those who die in infancy. This we may admit is not stated explicitly in the Scriptures, and in the past, has been the subject of much debate. The general tenor of the Scriptures, however, when viewed in the light of divine love and the universal grace of the Spirit, will allow no other conclusion.”]