Welsh Calvinistic Methodism
This chapter is taken from THE PURITANS: THEIR ORIGINS AND SUCCESSORS, published by the Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, Scotland and reproduced with their permission.
Let me start by giving some kind of explanation as to why I am dealing with this subject; it is quite a simple one. Last year I should have been doing what I am going to do tonight, because it was the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Williams. He was actually born at the end of 1717. But I felt constrained to deal with the question of Sandemanianism first. It came in a kind of logical sequence in my own mind with regard to the addresses that I have been delivering at the close of this Conference, and I suddenly realized that it would make quite a good introduction to this subject tonight, because the greatest proponent against Sandemanianism in Wales was none other than William Williams. So it has seemed to me to be right to give this address this year. It does also serve, I trust, as an interesting link with what has been before us almost throughout this Conference because I shall be dealing with Calvinism and Methodism and what I shall say will, in a sense, perhaps, help to sum up the various matters that we have discussed together.
I am not going to say very much about William Williams himself. One could not attempt to deal with him without taking a whole evening, because he was such a many-sided man who stands out as one of the three, or perhaps four, great leaders of Methodism in Wales in the 18th century. Daniel Rowland was the outstanding preacher, as we heard last year. Howel Harris was the great exhorter and the great organizer. But William Williams was a many-sided man.
We think of him instinctively first and foremost as a great writer of hymns, and he was, I would say, supreme in this matter. Certain literary authorities in Wales, who are not Christian themselves, are ready to grant that he is, in their judgment, the greatest of all Welsh poets. This is something of very real significance, because here you have such an outstanding, natural poet, now, under the influence of the Spirit, writing these incomparable hymns. An indication of his place as a writer of hymns, and indeed a writer of prose in addition, is the fact that the University of Wales Press are in process of republishing Williams' Complete Works. Two volumes have already appeared. So we are dealing with a very remarkable man, a man of very unusual ability.
In addition to being an outstanding poet and writer of hymns he was also, we can say, the theologian of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism. He showed that in his attack upon Sandemanianism, but he showed it in many other ways positively. He was the theologian of this group of three or four men, and he showed great ability there. He would give his theology sometimes in verse and sometimes in prose. But in many ways I would say that the greatest of all his gifts was the gift which he had of instructing the little societies or companies of Methodists that used to meet together. He was acknowledged by everybody to be supreme in this matter. He wrote a book which he called Drwo y Society Profiad or The Door to the Experience Society, or The Door to the Society in which experiences are dealt with. It is quite a classic. I had intended at one time to devote my whole paper to that, because it might be very useful and instructive for us in this phase through which we are passing at the present time, when we have little groups of Christians meeting together for fellowship in different parts of the country. The early Methodists had to face that problem. They had new converts whom they formed into societies. The question, then, was, how could they be instructed? They needed leaders; they might be good men but still they would not know how to handle people. Well, Williams wrote the book in order to instruct them and to guide them as to how to do this all-important work.
There, then, are the outstanding characteristics of this man. He was born, as I have said, in 1717, and was converted while quite young under the ministry of the great Howel Harris. Williams intended to be a doctor, and he was preparing to become a medical student. As he was going home one day, quite heedlessly and thoughtlessly, he saw a crowd of people listening to a man. He joined them; it was Howel Harris preaching. There and then he was converted and immediately, almost, felt a call to the ministry. Eventually he was ordained as a deacon in the Church of England, and as such he was one of the men present at the first great Association held by the Calvinistic Methodists in Wales in 1743 with Whitefield presiding.
These are the main facts about Williams. You can see how easily one could spend the whole time with him, but I propose to look at him as one of the leaders of the Calvinistic Methodists, and particularly in Wales. Our theme, then, is going to be 'Calvinistic Methodism'.
I have often found during the years that people, both Arminians and Calvinists, have regarded this term as a contradiction in terms. 'Calvinistic Methodism?' they say; 'this is impossible, it is a contradiction'. I remember speaking at an anniversary in a church not so far from here about 25 years ago. I said I was glad to be present as a Methodist and as the representative of Whitefield arid Calvinistic Methodism. And the then minister of that church said that he regarded this as a contradiction in terms. Well, that was because he was seriously defective in his understanding of the term Methodism. But there are others, on the other side, who have been astounded at this. The term 'Methodism' on the Continent in particular is a dirty word, and there are Calvinists who dislike any association between Calvinism and Methodism. Again this is due to a serious defective understanding, as I hope to show,of both Calvinism and Methodism. So it is clear that this is a subject that has a good deal to tell us at the present time.
The best way of approaching it, I think, is for me, first of all, briefly to outline how Calvinistic Methodism ever came into being. We have to start, of course, with the rise of Methodism. Consider first the condition of England at that time, when Methodism really began in the 1730's. The Church of England was generally Arminian. You remember the famous dictum of the great Lord Chatham with respect to the condition of the Church of England. He said that she had a Calvinistic creed, a Popish liturgy, and an Arminian clergy. And that was an accurate description. She was not only Arminian but also spiritually asleep.
What about the other Churches? Presbyterianism had ceased to be. There had been a Presbyterianism in England, but it had become Arian in its doctrine. The Westminster Confession of Faith does not guarantee that you cannot go wrong doctrinally. It was the Presbyterians who went most astray and became guilty of Arianism, and Presbyterianism literally died. The Presbyterian Church of England which we have today is something quite new which only started in the last century. As regards Congregationalism, these Arian tendencies for a while even affected people like Isaac Watts and Philip Doddridge. The Congregationalists had also been affected by the Hyper-Calvinism, to which reference has been made, and we have been reminded also that among the Baptists there was this Hyper-Calvinistic teaching.
That was the condition in England in general. In Wales it was very similar. The Church of England was in the same condition in Wales as in England. In the Nonconformist bodies there was an occasional good man here and there; we must not depreciate them. The Methodists in their enthusiasm, and perhaps William Williams himself, tended to do so. In his 'Elegy' on the death of Rowland and of Harris he tends to give the impression that there was no light at all. There were good men, but unfortunately these good men were given to argumentation and disputation among themselves. So that from the standpoint of a live spirituality they did not count very much.
It was into that kind of condition in England and in Wales that Methodism came. How did it come? I cannot, obviously, go into detail. As regards England the real origin and genesis is to be found in the Holy Club that was founded in Oxford, mainly at the instigation of Charles Wesley. The story is well-known. However, the Holy Club in and of itself would never have led to Methodism. The real beginning of Methodism is found in the mighty experience through which Whitefield passed in 1736, and through which the Wesley brothers passed in May 1738. In Wales Methodism was quite independent and spontaneous. Welsh Methodism owes nothing to English Methodism. It started before that in England, in 1735, with the conversion of both Howell Harris and Daniel Rowland, and again, quite independently. They had never heard of each other and knew nothing at all about one another. But the Spirit of God dealt with these two men in a most amazing way, and it was only in 1737 that they met and came together.
That is how Methodism began. At first they were all one - in England and in Wales when they eventually met and came together. There was one Methodism, including all these men to whom I have referred. But then, as we have already been reminded, a division came in and Methodism divided into two groups, Calvinistic and Arminian. In Wales they were all Calvinists. In England they were not all Calvinists. On the Calvinistic side you have the great names, Whitefield, Berridge, Toplady, Romaine, and the two Hill brothers, Rowland Hill and Sir Richard Hill, and also the Countess of Huntingdon. On the Arminian side there were the Wesleys, John Fletcher, Thomas Olivers, and various others.
These are historical points which are of considerable interest. The Methodism in Wales was entirely Calvinistic. The Wesleys visited there but they did not have any churches there until the beginning of the 19th century. But again I would emphasize this fact - that we have a Methodism that is common to both. This is a basic point. Actually the term 'Calvinistic Methodist' in Welsh emphasizes this very strongly, for it is not Calvinistic Methodism, but Methodism-Calvinistic. And so you have Methodism-Wesleyan. The Methodism comes first, and the other is all adjective describing the particular type. At first they all worked together, but, owing to the division, it was Whitefield who became most intimately associated with the men in Wales, and he was actually the Moderator of their first Association in 1743.
We must now face this question - What then is Methodism? Let me first answer negatively. It is not primarily a theological position or even a theological attitude. Methodism was not a movement designed to reform theology. It was not that at all. Actually in Welsh Calvinistic Methodism they did not have a Catechism or a Confession of Faith until the next century - emphasizing this point, that it was not primarily a theological movement. We must not think of it in terms of theological reform.
What was it then? Well, Methodism is essentially experimental or experiential religion and a way of life. I think that is an adequate definition of it. What produced this? How did this ever come into being? The answer is that it was born of a number of things. The first was the realization that religion is primarily and essentially something personal. This was the thing that came to all of them. They all became aware of their own personal sinfulness; they underwent conviction of sin, and it was an agonizing process. But they all experienced this terrible need of forgiveness. This became a burden to them - both parties. Then there was also a great desire for a knowledge of God - a direct knowledge of God: not to believe things about God - they had already got that - but the desire to know God. 'This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent' (John 17:3). All this led on then to a desire for assurance of sins forgiven.
Many have probably read the account of the first meeting between Whitefield and Harris in Cardiff in 1739 - The first question that George Whitefield put to Howell Harris was this: 'Mr Harris, do you know that your sins are forgiven?' He did not ask him, 'Do you believe that sins can be forgiven?' or 'Do you believe that your sins are forgiven?' for various reasons, but, 'Do you know that your are forgiven?' And Harris was able to say that he had rejoiced in this knowledge for several years. This again was a point that was common to all of them - assurance of salvation, assurance of sins forgiven.
The next thing that was common to all the desire for 'new life'. So you had that great emphasis doctrine of regeneration and rebirth. You know how they were all influenced by the book of Henry Scougal, The Life of God in the Soul of Man. This was their longing and desire. Whitefield preached constantly on regeneration, and so did the others. You remember that he even had to be corrected on this point, actually by Wesleys, though he had gone before them. They felt that he was not making enough of justification by faith. There was this tremendous emphasis on the need of a new birth, a new beginning.
The next thing I have to stress is the emphasis which they all placed on 'feeling'. They were very concerned about what Whitefield called a 'felt' Christ. They were not content with orthodoxy, correct belief; they wanted to 'feel' Him. They laid tremendous emphasis upon the place of feelings in our Christian experience. This I could illustrate at great length. Unfortunately there are only two Williams' hymns in the Congregational Hymnary, and they are translations, of course. You get there no true idea of his greatness as a hymn-writer and as a poet. He cannot be translated. In his hymns you have an incomparable blend of truly great poetry and theology. We have, 'Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah',and 'O'er the gloomy hills of darkness', but one of the greatest of all his hymns has been translated like this, and it is so typical of Williams:
Speak, I pray Thee, gentle Jesus!
O, how passing sweet Thy words,
Breathing o'er my troubled spirit
Peace which never earth affords!
All the world's distracting voices,
All the enticing tones o fill,
At Thy accents mild, melodious,
Are subdued, and all is still.
And he goes on:
Tell me Thou art mine, O, Saviour,
Grant me an assurance clear,
Banish all my dark misgivings,
Still my doubting, calm my fear.
O, my soul within me yearneth
Now to hear Thy voice divine;
So shall grief he gone for ever,
And despair no more be mine.
Now that is so typical of him. There are endless hymns by him on that theme in the Welsh hymn-book. He wanted to 'feel' these things. He believed, but he was not satisfied with that; he wanted to know.
Of course you get the same note in the English Methodist hymn writers in exactly the same way. Let me give one example out of the writings of Toplady:
Object of my first desire,
Jesus crucified for me;
All to happiness aspire
Only to be found in Thee:
Thee to please, and Thee to know,
Constitute my bliss below;
Thee to see, and Thee to love,
Constitute my bliss above.
Lord, it is not life to live
If Thy presence Thou deny;
Lord, if Thou Thy presence give,
'Tis no longer death to die:
Source and Giver of repose,
Only from Thy smile it flows;
Peace and happiness are Thine;
Mine they are, if Thou art mine.
Whilst I feel Thy love to me,
Every object teems with joy;
May I ever walk with Thee,
For 'tis bliss without alloy:
Let me but Thyself possess,
Total sum of happiness:
Real bliss I then shall prove,
Heaven below and heaven above.
And as you read Toplady's Diaries you find this kind of thing emphasized repeatedly.
That brings me to say just a little more about this whole question of assurance, because in many ways it was the distinguishing mark of Methodism and the same thing that was common to Methodism. They divided over holiness teaching, as we have already been reminded, and over other matters, but here there was this great unity, this teaching concerning assurance. What was it? It was this, that our assurance of salvation is not only, and not merely, something that is to be deduced from the Scriptures. They agreed that that was part of it. I would say that the bulk of evangelical people today, in this and other countries, stop at that. That is their only assurance, that which you deduce from thc Scriptures. 'Whosoever believeth in Him is not condemned.' So they say, 'Do you believe in Him?' 'Yes.' 'Very well, you are not condemned, and there is your assurance. Do not worry about your feelings,' etc. etc.
Now Methodism taught the exact opposite. That is the point at which you start, and you can go on and test yourself in terms of the teaching of the first Epistle of John. As you do so you will get a better assurance, an assurance which will save you from a kind of 'believism', or an intellectualism that just says that it believes and accepts all this, and which emphasizes the importance of evidences of new life. But these men were concerned to go on to a further source of assurance, which to them was the one that they desired and coveted above everything else. That was the direct witness of the Spirit himself to the fact that they were the children of God. So they made much, of course, of Romans 8:15 and 16; and also of Galatians 2:20: 'The Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me', etc.
This, I repeat, was common to all of them. We are all familiar with the experience of John Wesley in Aldersgate Street on May 24, 1738. 'My heart was strangely warm, and I did know that my sins even mine, had been forgiven.' William Williams made a great deal of this. Let me give two quotations to establish this point. I am translating out of his book, The Door (or 'Entry' if you like) to the Experience Meeting - the Experience Society. He was giving instructions to the men in charge of the societies as to how they should question and catechize and cross-examine the people who were anxious to be admitted to the societies, and, indeed, how they should examine the experiences of those who belonged to the societies. He drew a distinction between the way in which you questioned and catechized young members, new members, and the way in which you catechized older members. He says: 'You must not expect as much of the light of faith, and certainly amongst those whom you are receiving for the first time, as you must expect amongst those who have been in for some time' - although he goes on to say that 'sometimes you will get a shock and you will find that people's early experiences are very much better than their later experiences'. However, that is his main point of distinction - that you do not expect as much light and clarity and certainty from the young convert as you do from the older one.
How, then, do you question and examine the young convert? This is one of his ways of putting it - that the examiner is to say to the young convert, 'Though you have not yet received the testimony of the Spirit (to your salvation), nevertheless, are you seeking God with your whole heart, and with this as the main rule of your lite? Not by fits and starts or occasional touches of conviction - Is this the main thing in your life?' But notice how he starts: 'Though you have not yet received the testimony of the Spirit.' Then when he comes to the way in which they should question the older men he says, 'You must examine them concerning the clarity or the clearness of their testimony, how they first received their testimony, whether they have lost any of it or not.' Then he tells them to ask: 'Has this testimony which you have in your own spirit been doubled by the Holy Spirit?' That is the term he used - 'doubled'. In other words, that was Williams' view of the 'Spirit himself also beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God' (Rom. 8:16). Our spirit tells us this, 'the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father'. But the Spirit, as it were, doubles it, seals it, guarantees it, gives an extra, an overplus on top of it, confirms it. That is the term which he uses with regard to these older converts.
That was their teaching, and, of course, it was their own experience. This comes out very clearly in the case of Daniel Rowland, who having come to see the doctrine of justification by faith as he had heard it preached by Griffith Jones at Llanddewi Brefi, still did not have certainty about it. But one day when he was reading the litany at the communion service in his own church in the village of Llangeitho, suddenly the Spirit came and did this 'doubling'; and he knew. And it was from then on that he began to preach in that amazing way and with that amazing power, of which Ryle writes in his famous book, Christian Leaders of the Eighteenth Century. The same thing is very clear in the case of Howell Harris. Howell Harris, being convicted of sin on the Sunday before Good Friday 1735, got an assurance at Whitsun. But it was only three weeks later that he had this 'doubling' by the Spirit, and that was the thing that made him an evangelist. They taught this, and they taught people to expect this, not to be satisfied with anything less, as my quotation from Williams' book has already shown you.
I go on from this to add another vital point about them all - Methodism in England and in Wales and in all parties. They met together in little groups or classes; whatever you may like to call them. What did they do there? Well, the main thing they did was to state their experiences to one another, and to examine one another's experiences, and to discuss them together. They told of the Lord's dealings with them, what had happened to them since they last met, of anything remarkable that had occurred to them, and so on. This was the main element in these societies; that is the thing that Williams treats of in that book to which I have referred - this great emphasis on experience, and on assurance, on this 'felt' element. They were primarily 'experience' meetings. Indeed I think we are justified in using this term, that the thing that characterized Methodism was this pneumatic element. Over and above what they believed there was this desire to feel and to experience the power of the Spirit in their lives.
All this was expressed in their lives, about which they were so careful and so meticulous. They, were taught to be so, and were examined in order to make sure that they were so. That is the picture of their life in their societies. These people, under the preaching, had undergone an experience and they had made application to join the Society and they had been received; and that is how they went on.
One other great thing we have got to emphasize is their evangelistic zeal; and again it was common to all of them. Who can decide as to which had the greater evangelistic zeal, John Wesley or George Whitefield? You cannot answer the question. They both had it. And it seems to me that both these branches or divisions of Methodism showed exactly the same zeal and enthusiasm in this desire to bring their fellow men and women to a knowledge of God's salvation in Christ Jesus, and that they were equal also in the success which they attained.
All this was common to all Methodism. Then there came the division. When I say that they had these things in common, 'and then', it sounds as if I were saying that from there on they did not have them in common. But they did. After the division all that went on, all that remained common; but they became divided into those two groups, the Arminian and the Calvinistic.
The question has often been asked as to why this ever happened. I remember it being asked in a final meeting at this Conference a number of years ago. The answer is very difficult. I suppose in a sense it cannot be answered. Dare I make one suggestion? (We might very well have this as a topic for discussion sometime.) Is there even a national element in this? I mean by that, that it may have something to do with national characteristics. I am not going to go into this, I am simply asking a question. What is the place of nationality in these matters? Can you allow it any place at all?
Let me just say this before I leave the matter. I have always felt that John Wesley was about the most typical Englishman of whom I have ever read. I could substantiate what I am saying. However, we do know this, and we have been reminded of it already, the Church of England at that time was thoroughly Arminian. The Wesley family, the father and mother, had become Arminians, and were proud of it. Not only that, there is very interesting evidence brought forth by Professor Geoffrey Nuttall to show that Arminianism had had a particular vogue in the village of Epworth, where the Wesleys lived. So they had been brought up and nurtured in a thoroughly Arminian atmosphere. No doubt that has a great deal to do with it. But in Wales, as I have reminded you, the whole thing was entirely different, and they were all Calvinistic.
It is interesting to notice that they only became Calvinistic after a while. They all started as Methodists, but in Wales they became Calvinistic. Howell Harris tells us this quite plainly, in his own Diary and as to how he became a Calvinist. The same thing is true of Whitefield. Whitefield 'became' a Calvinist. I am not going into the details as to when, but the fact is that he became Calvinist. I believe that in the case of Rowland and Harris in particular, and probably also in the case of Whitefield, it was their study of the Thirty-Nine Articles and of the Puritans, that brought them to this position. However, the fact is that they became Calvinistic, and in Wales they remained purely Calvinistic until the end of the century.
We come now to look at the characteristics of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism. These are quite clear. First and foremost there was the great preaching. That was the outstanding characteristic. I am one of those who believes that Calvinism should always lead to great preaching; and when it does not I query the genuineness of the Calvinism. You cannot have great preaching without a great theme: and they had that great theme, and so you had great preaching all over the country. And the great characteristic of the preaching, as of the life, was warmth, and enthusiasm, and rejoicing. Some of them went through an early phase in which they tended to be a bit legalistic; but it did not last long and the other element came through.
Welsh Calvinistic Methodism was also characterized by singing. Williams produced most of the hymns, and the people would sing them to old tunes and ballads. Moreover, there was often great shouting during the preaching. They would interrupt the preacher, they would cry out their 'Amens' and 'Hallelujahs', and sometimes the excitement was quite marked. This joy and rejoicing and singing and assurance was the great characteristic of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism.
The other thing that one must mention, because it is of such vital importance, is that they had a succession of revivals. I trust it is not necessary for me to define and describe the word 'revival'. I know that in some countries the word 'revival' has now come to mean the holding of an evangelistic campaign. This is not revival! In a sense I cannot think of anything that is further removed from revival than just that - a man-made, man-organized series of meetings. That is not it! Revival is 'a visitation from on High', an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They had a whole succession of them. One of the great revivals in that 18th century broke out as the result of the publishing of a new hynm-hook by this man William Williams in 1763. The very publication of the hymns and the fact that the people began to sing them led to one of these new outbursts. There had been a period of dryness and of aridity, because, unfortunately, there was a quarrel even amongst the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists. It is a blot on their story. It was almost entirely a personal matter: not entirely so. But it seems to me, the more I have read about it, that it was a clash of personalities, as so often happens, alas, in the church, between Rowland and Harris. Harris undoubtedly had also been going astray somewhat in his doctrine, and this had happened about 1752-53. Following that there had been this period of dryness, but then William Williams' new hymn-book came out and as the people began to sing these great expressions of theology a revival broke out.
The hymns of William Williams are packed with theology and experience. That is why I once, in giving a lecture on Isaac Watts, ventured to say that William Williams was the greatest hymn-writer of them all. You get greatness, and bigness, and largeness in Isaac Watts; you get the experimental side wonderfully in Charles Wesley. But in William Williams you get both at the same time, and that is why I put him in a category entirely on his own. He taught the people theology in his hymns; as they sang the hymns they were becoming familiar with the great expressions of the New Testament doctrines of salvation and the glory of God. But this element of 'revival' is something I want to emphasize, because it was a peculiar feature of 'Calvinistic' Methodism. You also had activity amongst others, and occasions when there was a movement of the Spirit; but they were much less frequent and they were not so clearly 'special' visitations as was the case amongst the Calvinistic Methodists.
Those, then, were the great characteristics of Calvinistic Methodism. It seems to me that it might be of some help if we now considered this question: Was this an entirely new phenomenon? Is the Calvinistic Methodism of the eighteenth century something without antecedents? I suggest that it is not and that there were precursors of it. Again I think we are dealing here with a most interesting point - the relationship of this Calvinistic Methodism to what had gone before. Where do we get hints or adumbrations of this previously? Well, I have always felt that you get a good deal of it in the saintly Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester, martyred in the time of Queen Mary I. The same is true also of John Bradford. You get there the same stress upon feeling and the same warmth. Let us not forget that these two were really the first two Puritans, though the name was not then used. We are in grave danger of forgetting the Puritans of the 16th century in our concentration on those of the 17th century, yet let us never forget that but for them the 17th-century Puritans would probably never have come into being. I find in these first Puritans something more akin to Calvinistic Methodism than one finds even in those who are sometimes described as the 'Pietistic' Puritans, such as William Perkins and others like Lewis Bayly, and so on. These were men who put their emphasis on practical and pastoral theology. They were interested in the application of the Law of God in the life of the believer. They put this great emphasis upon 'practising' it. So, you get their 'casuistry' and their dealing with 'cases of conscience'. That does lead to a kind of piety, but it is not the same thing as you have in Calvinistic Methodism. There, the emphasis was on the teaching of the Law and its application in the daily life of the Christian. Of course I am not excluding the other element altogether, I am talking about the main emphasis; whereas in Calvinistic Methodism the great emphasis and stress was upon 'experience'.
When you come to the next century you get something that is similar to, though not identical with Calvinistic Methodism, in people like Walter Craddock and Morgan Llwyd (Lloyd, as he is called in English). But they were more mystical. It is wrong to say of these Calvinistic Methodists that they were mystics. There is a mystical element in them; you cannot exclude it; but you cannot classify them with the mystics. They were suspicious of and opposed to mysticism, as was shown in their opposition to the quietism that became such a characteristic of the Moravians. And yet, surely, there is a true Christ-mysticism which we must not exclude, and which I maintain you get in the Apostle Paul himself, as well as in many others throughout the centuries.
There is much about people like Walter Craddock and Morgan Lloyd that seems to suggest what blossomed so fully in the eighteenth century. They were entirely different from the Quakers. They did not just believe in an 'inner light' and tend to depreciate the Scriptures. No, they had this great theological content as well. I have often felt that you get something of the same thing appearing here and there in John Flavel and Thomas Brooks - touches of it. But it seems to come in as 'touches'; it is not given the centrality that it is given in the Calvinistic Methodists. Personally, I would not hesitate to describe the Jansenists, including the great Blaise Pascal, as Calvinistic Methodists before their time. And certainly I would say that there is more of an affinity with some of the men in Scotland, such as William Guthrie and even before him, Robert Bruce and John Livingstone, than there is with the bulk of English Puritans.
This is a most interesting point. We know that these Calvinistic Methodists read the Puritans a great deal. They fed on them. Puritan writings were their food next to the Bible, and they learned a great deal from them. Yet I am suggesting that Calvinistic Methodism was not a mere continuation of Puritanism. A new element has come in - this emphasis upon the feeling aspect, the revival aspect, and this whole matter of assurance, all the things I have been describing as the essence of Calvinistic Methodism. I venture again to suggest that Jonathan Edwards must be called a Calvinistic Methodist. You have the same combination in Edwards. I know the brilliant intellect tended to obscure this at times, but I would say that essentially Jonathan Edwards as a type was a Calvinistic Methodist, though actually a Congregationalist.
When you come to the Continental Pietists, again we are in a slight difficulty. There were affinities, clearly in the case of Spener, Francke, and people like that, and the Moravians. We know the association between the Moravians and the Methodists, especially at first. They did separate and go apart for certain reasons, but from the beginning they were aware of something in common, and, what was in common was again this very thing which I have been trying to emphasize as being the main characteristic of Calvinistic Methodism.
Let us now attempt some kind of assessment, or attempt to draw out Some lessons from all this. We have been dealing with the history of this Methodism that split in two directions, and yet in a sense kept together right through and in spite of the divisions. What are the lessons?
The first, it seems to me, is the grave danger of hardening our terms. We are ever in danger of so 'hardening' the terms that in the end they come to stand for something which is no longer true of the original. It is assumed today that if you use the word Methodist you are speaking of Arminians. That is the general assumption, that you are speaking of John Wesley and his followers. It is to me ridiculous that a religious denomination in this country should call themselves The Methodists. They have no right to do this. It is not true historically. But this is the sort of thing that happens and terms become hardened.
It also shows us the danger of party spirit. Labels generally lead to a spirit, and we must avoid this as Christian people. We must avoid this hardening and rigidity which leads to a wrong spirit and lands us eventually in a position in which we are tempted to ask, as people have asked before us: 'Can any good come out of Nazareth?' God save us and preserve us from ever becoming victims of that terrible spirit!
But there is another lesson that may be of great value to us at this present time through which we are passing. We are in an age of change, and there is no doubt that in a few years the religious situation in this country is going to be very different from what we have known, and there will be new groupings of Christian people. The many will doubtless be in one 'Territorial Church' together, or even in a 'World Church'. There will be others who will not. And the problem will arise for those who do not belong to a 'Territorial Church' as to what they are going to call themselves, the problem of 'denominations'. We are familiar with all these terms - Congregationalism, Presbyterianism, Baptists, and so on - and the multiplicity of divisions and names that our friends in America know so much better than we do. But I am raising this question now: Is it not time that we put an end to all this, and that we cease to use and to bandy about these names of men? I know the difficulty. The argument is: 'Well, you have got to call the church something, you have got to show how one differs from another.' But I am raising the question as to whether you should do that; whether we should not merely as the result of all we have been considering in this Conference, and all we know about the history of these matters, decide that in future all we put on the notice-boards of our buildings is - 'Christian church'.
If a man should come and say to me, 'But what do they teach in there?' I would reply, 'Go in and listen'. Why should we put up a notice that is going to exclude people? Let it be known that the gospel is going to he preached here. That is what a church is for. Let them go in, let them listen; they will soon find out what is being preached, and they can their decide for themselves whether they are going there again or whether they are not. Why is it necessary that we should harden the things about which we disagree, and on which we differ, and harden them to the extent of 'placarding' the thing? It has caused great confusion to the world outside always. And we know that it is doing so at this present time. Is not this one of the greatest hindrances of all in evangelism? In other words, are we not guilty of the sin of schism in this very respect? And we are adding to it by putting up these labels. All we need to announce is that this is a Christian church, a place where the gospel is preached. Can we not leave it at that?
But having said that, let me come to more particular statements with regard to my assessment of Calvinistic Methodism. First of all I would say that Calvinistic Methodism is true Methodism, and the only 'true' Methodism. Why do I say that? I say so because I assert that Arminian Methodism is inconsistent with itself in the following ways. It starts by emphasizing 'grace'. The Arminian Methodists claimed and still claim that they were preaching 'grace'.
His only righteousness I show,
His saving grace proclaim
says Charles Wesley in a well-known stanza. They laid great claim to this. But then it has become equally clear, has it not, that they introduce works again with their whole notion of free will, and the part that the man himself plays. I have never found an Arminian who can satisfactorily interpret 1 Corinthians 2:14: 'The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned.' Their difficulty is this. They say, 'Quite right: all men by nature are sinners.' They believe in depravity. But then they go on to say that God in His grace has given this power to believe and accept the gospel to 'all men'. That, therefore, means this, that all men now are spiritual, whereas Paul says quite plainly that all are not spiritual, that you have 'carnal' and 'spiritual' men. So if you say that grace is given to 'all', it must follow that all are spiritual, because it is the only grounds on which they can possibly believe and accept this gospel and not regard it as 'foolishness'. So while they start with grace they go on to deny it.
Secondly, though they emphasize - I am dealing still with Arminian or Wesleyan Methodism - the re-birth and regeneration, they then go on to deny it by saying that we can lose it. Re-birth is the action of God, and yet they say that we can undo this and we can lose it. From this it follows - and you get it in its extreme form, of course, in the Salvation Army, which came out of Arminian Methodism that you can be regenerate today and unregenerate tomorrow, and regenerate again, and back and forth. This whole notion of 'falling from grace', and coming in and out of salvation, is surely a fundamental denial of the doctrine of Regeneration.
The same thing applies to their teaching concerning assurance. What is the value of an assurance that you can lose? I mean by that, what is the value of an assurance of salvation if you can lose your salvation? If your persistence in grace and in salvation is dependent upon you, where is your assurance? Can you rely upon yourself? Would any man be eventually saved if it were left to us to persevere in grace? It is not a doctrine of assurance. It leaves it all back with me, and I am in all the uncertainty that I was in before. Of course, that is why so many turn to the Church of Rome, where you hand it over and the Church looks after it for you. It is because you cannot possibly do it yourself. The Church of Rome does not offer you assurance of salvation. What she says is, You cannot get it, but leave it to us and we will put it right for you. And then you get all the paraphernalia that characterizes that Church, by which they tell you they are going to do this. So the whole emphasis of the Arminian Methodist upon assurance is nullified.
I would sum up this section like this. One of the greatest proofs of the truth of the doctrines emphasized by Calvin, what is known as 'Calvinism' - though I have already said I do not like these terms - is John Wesley. He was a man who was saved in spite of his muddled and erroneous thinking. The grace of God saved him in spite of himself. That is Calvinism! If you say, as a Calvinist, that a man is saved by his understanding of doctrine you are denying Calvinism. He is not. We are all saved in spite of what we are in every respect. Thus it comes to pass that men who can be so muddled, because they bring in their own human reason, as John Wesley and others did, are saved men and Christians, as all of us are, because it is 'all of the grace of God' and in spite of us.
Calvinistic Methodism is the true Methodism for those reasons. But in addition to that, Calvinistic Methodism saves Methodism from degenerating into mysticism. There is always this danger. Put your emphasis on feeling, upon the 'felt' aspect, and you are already in danger of degenerating into mysticism, or into a false asceticism, or into a kind of 'illuminism'. And all these, of course, have made their appearance in history. But Calvinistic Methodism saves us from that because of its great emphasis upon the doctrines. Here, you have got the doctrines, but in addition you have got this other element, the 'felt' element; It is a perfect combination of both. Not only does it guarantee our doctrinal correctness, it also saves us in the realm of experience itself from many aberrations, which have often ended in what seems to me to be nothing but a kind of Spiritism. Calvinistic Methodism saves us from that. So I argue that Calvinistic Methodism is true Methodism.
Secondly, I argue that Calvinistic Methodism is also true Calvinism. I want to show that a Calvinism that is not Methodist as well is one which we need to examine carefully. Calvinism without Methodism has certain dangerous tendencies, which we must recognize. If we do not we are in a very dangerous position.
Calvinism without Methodism tends to lead to intellectualism and scholasticism - that is its peculiar temptation. The result is that men talk more about 'the Truth we hold', rather than about 'the Truth that holds us'.
Another danger which Calvinism without Methodism is prone to is that Confessions of Faith, instead of being subordinate standards, tend to be the primary and supreme standard, replacing the Bible in that position. I am only talking about tendencies, and not saying that this happens to all Calvinists. Officially we say that these Confessions are the 'subordinate standard'; the Bible comes first, then these. But there is always a danger that the Calvinist may reverse the order.
A question arises here - it has already been suggested in one of our discussions. It is the whole question of the rightness of preaching from and through the Catechism rather than preaching through and from the Bible itself. I am simply putting it up as a question which we need to examine. The Calvinistic Methodists did not preach through the Catechism. Their whole tendency was to say - as was the tendency of Charles Haddon Spurgeon - that you should not even preach a series of sermons, but that each sermon should be 'given' to you, that you look to God for your sermons. I mean by that, that you look to God for your text and the message you are to deliver. That was the emphasis of Calvinistic Methodism. So I put it in this general way by saying that there is at any rate a danger that we may change the position of the Confession, and it ceases to be the 'subordinate' standard.
A third danger always, as a tendency in Calvinism unless it is corrected by Methodism, is to discourage prayer. This is a very serious matter. The Calvinistic Methodists were great men of prayer, and their churches were characterized by prayer-meetings - warm, moving prayer-meetings, which would sometimes last for hours and where great experiences would come to people. I am suggesting and I could produce facts- that Calvinism without Methodism tends to discourage prayer. I have known Calvinistic churches in which they have no prayer-meeting at all, and in which prayer is really discouraged.
Lastly, Calvinism without Methodism tends to produce a joyless, hard, not to say a harsh and cold type of religion. I am saying that this is a tendency. All this results from intellectualism of course; and the more the intellect dominates the less joy there will be, and a hardness, and a coldness, and a harshness, and a bigotry tend to come in. I had almost said that Calvinism without Methodism tends to produce 'dead Calvinism'. But I am not saying that. Why not? Because I regard the term 'dead Calvinism' as a contradiction in terms. I say that a dead Calvinism is impossible, and that if your Calvinism appears to be dead it is not Calvinism, it is a philosophy. It is a philosophy using Calvinistic terms, it is an intellectualism, and it is not real Calvinism.
Why not? Because true Calvinism not only does justice to the objective side of our faith and our whole position, it does equal justice to the subjective; and people who cannot see this subjective element in Calvinism seem to me never to have understood Calvinism. Calvinism of necessity leads to an emphasis upon the action and the activity of God the Holy Spirit. The whole emphasis is upon what God does to us: not what man does, but what God does to us; not our hold of Him but 'His strong grasp of us'. So Calvinism of necessity leads to experiences, and to great emphasis upon experience; and these men, and all these older Calvinists were constantly talking about 'visitations', how the Lord had appeared to them, how the Lord had spoken to them - the kind of thing that we have seen Toplady expressing in the hymn already quoted and in his Diaries. They also talked about 'withdrawings'. Why have those terms disappeared from amongst us modern Calvinists? When have you last spoken about a 'visitation' from the Spirit of God? When did Christ last make Himself 'real' to you? What do you know about 'withdrawings' of the Spirit, and the feeling that your Bridegroom has left you and that He has not visited you recently? This is of the essence of true Calvinism; and a Calvinism that knows nothing about visitations and withdrawings is a caricature of Calvinism, I object to its using the term with respect to itself.
But more, Calvinism leads to assurance, and assurance of necessity leads to joy. You cannot be assured quietly and unmoved by the fact that your sins are forgiven, and that you are a child of God, and that you are going to heaven: it is impossible. Assurance must lead to joy. Not only that; knowing this leads to prayer. God is my Father. I am adopted. I know Him. I have an entrance, and I want to go there. I want to speak to Him and I want to know Him. This is true Calvinism. And that, of course, leads to a love of His Word. You meet Him in the Word. The Word instructs you as to how to find Him; it helps you to understand the visitations and the withdrawings. You live on the Word. Nothing so drives a man to the Word of God as true Calvinism.
Then, in turn, as I have been trying to say, true Calvinism is bound to emphasize the element of revival, the 'givenness' of the activity of God, the visitations of God. It is only since the decline of Calvinism that revivals have become less and less frequent. The more powerful Calvinism is the more likely you are to have a spiritual revival and re-awakening. It follows of necessity from the doctrine. You cannot work up a revival. You know that you are entirely dependent upon God. That is why you pray to Him and you plead with Him and you argue, and you reason with Him. These Fathers used to do this. How different is our approach to the condition of the church today from that which was true of these Fathers and their successors for several generations. Today we look at the situation and we say - 'Well, things are very bad, everything is going down - what shall we do? We had better have an evangelistic campaign.' So we call a committee together and we begin to organize, and to talk about what is going to happen in a year's time or so.
Calvinistic Methodists did not look at the problem like that. This is how they looked at it. They said, 'Why are things like this ? What is the matter? We have offended God, He is grieved with us, He has turned His back on us. What can we do about this? We must get down on our knees and ask Him to come back, we must plead with Him.' And so they would use the kind of arguments you find Moses using in praying to God in Exodus 33, or such as yon get in Isaiah 63. They would reason and argue with God, and say, 'After all, we are Your people, not those others. Why do You not come back to us? We belong to You, Your name is involved in all this'. They would plead the 'promises' with God, they would agonize in prayer until God heard them and visited them again.
This is Calvinism. Nothing so promotes prayer as Calvinism. Calvinists who do not pray, I say, are not Calvinists. These things follow the one after the other as the night follows the day. The true Calvinist is concerned about revival. Why? Because he is concerned about the glory of God. This is the first thing with him. Not so much that the world is as it is, but that the world is behaving like this, and that God is there. It is God's world, and they are under God. The glory of God! This is the great thing which dominates all the thinking of the Calvinist. So he is waiting, and longing, and pleading with God to 'show' this glory, to show this power, to arise and to scatter His enemies, and to make them like the dust, and to show the might of His almighty arm. This is Calvinism. They want this. They are zealous, and they are jealous, for His name.
At the same time, having an understanding, through their doctrine, of the condition and the state of the unregenerate, they become burdened about them also, and they are anxious to do eye,thing they can to bring them to a knowledge of salvation in Christ Jesus. And when this happens it ends in - what? Well, in great praise and thanksgiving.
My argument is, that cold, sad, mournful, depressing Calvinism is not Calvinism at all. It is a caricature; something has gone wrong somewhere. It is mere intellectualism and philosophy. Calvinism leads to feeling, to passion, to warmth, to praise, to thanksgiving. Look at Paul, the greatest of them all. We should not talk about 'Calvinism'; it is Paul's teaching. He tells us that he wept. He preached with tears. Do you? When did we last weep over these matters? When did we last shed tears? When have we shown the feeling and the passion that he shows? Paul could not control himself, he got carried away. Look at his mighty climaxes; look at the way in which he rises to the heavens and is 'lost in wonder, tore, and praise'. Of course, the pedantic scholars criticize him for his anacolutha. He starts a sentence and never finishes it. He starts saving a thing and then gets carried off, and forgets to come back to it. Thank God! It is the truth which he saw that led to these grand climaxes of his; and it is bound to do so. If we understand the things we claim to believe we are bound to end in the same way. 'Who shall separate us from the love of God?' And the answer is, 'I am persuaded'- and in the language of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists it is much better and stronger- 'I am certain'. It is sure, it is certain, 'that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord'. Or listen to him again at the end of Romans 11, 'O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.' How often have you had that 'O' in your preaching - you Calvinists ? Calvinism leads to this 'O'! - this feeling, this passion. You are moved to the depths of your being, and you are filled with joy, and wonder, and amazement. 'O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!' -and so on. Or take the same thing at the end of Ephesians 3. These are men dominated by a sense of the glory of God, and who are concerned about His praise.
In other words am arguing that the first Christians were the most typical Calvinistic Methodists of all! I am just describing them to you. Not only the great apostles - Paul and others - but the people, the ordinary people - joy and rejoicing, praising God and thanking Him always 'from house to house' as they ate their bread together. Peter can say of them: 'Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now' ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.' That is 1st-century Christianity! it is also the very essence of Calvinistic Methodism. It leads to praise and thanksgiving and reioicing. It always leads to something like this:
We praise, we worship thee, 0 God.
Thy sovereign power we sound abroad:
All nations bow before Thy throne,
And Thee the Eternal Father own.
Loud alleluias to Thy Name
Angels and seraphim proclaim:
The heavens and all the powers on high
With rapture constantly do cry -
'0 holy, holy, holy, Lord!
Thou God of hosts, by all adored;
Earth and the heavens are full of Thee,
Thy light, Thy power, Thy majesty.'
Apostles join the glorious throng
And swell the loud immortal song;
Prophets enraptured hear the sound
And spread the alleluia round.
Victorious martyrs join their lays
And shout the omnipotence of grace,
While all thy church through all the earth
Acknowledge and extol Thy worth.
Glory to Thee, 0 God most high?
Father, we praise Thy majesty,
The Son, the Spirit, we adore,
One Godhead, blest for evermore.
* * *
Glory be to God the Father,
Glory be to God the Son,
Glory be to God the Spirit,
Great Jehovah Three in One,
Glory, glory- [that was the great shout of the Calvinistic Methodists]
While eternal ages run.
E-mail: Sean Richardson