See also my reviews of Kenneth Collins’ The Scripture Way of Salvation; and Harald Lindström’s Wesley and Sanctification.
This book is the clearest, and most honest, presentation of salvation I have ever read! Its a bit theological, and intellectual, and might be more appealing to theology graduates and students than the common Christian reader. But nevertheless, there is no Christian on Earth that should not try to read and understand this book! If you don’t want to go to Hell, if you don’t want others to go to Hell, and you want to preach the Gospel, then read this. PLEASE! Make it your first order of business!
Dr. Kenneth Collins is probably, in my opinion, the greatest Wesleyan soteriologist alive today. This is not to say I think he knows more about Wesley than others: just to say, I think he understands, and articulates Wesley’s views of the Gospel with more clarity, and HONESTY than any other scholar. Collins leaves no stones unturned. He is critical of all Wesleyan scholars: he only cares about the truth, not nonsensical speculations:–WHAT DID WESLEY BELIEVE!? That’s all Collins cares about. WHAT DID WESLEY PREACH!? Again, that’s all Collins seems to mind. Never mind what Albert Outler said, or what Colin Williams, William Cannon, or Randy Maddox argue and maintain. If what these Methodist scholars say doesn’t line up with WESLEY:–then he THROWS IT OUT! Will the real John Wesley please stand up? Dr. Collins honestly tries to reveal this Rev. John Wesley, the fire-brand evangelist that set the world on fire for God. Collins tactfully opposes Outler’s disrespect for the Aldersgate Experience, Williams’ rejection of the moral law, Cannon’s distortion of synergism, and in a recent e-mail, confirmed to me with utmost clarity, that he is against the highly speculative and utterly non-evangelistic nature, of Randy Maddox’s Christian universalism expressed in chapter 1 of Responsible Grace:
Hi Dr. Collins,
I’m really struggling with Randy Maddox’s Responsible Grace. In chapter 1, he has an “Excursus: The Possibility of Extra-Christian Salvation.” And for a couple of pages, it appears he is trying to make the argument that John Wesley believed in “anonymous Christian” universal salvation (good heathens who have never heard the Gospel)–because Wesley deleted an Anglican article of religion for the American Methodists (Article XVIII), entitled: “Of Obtaining Eternal Salvation Only by the Name of Christ”).
When I read this, I was disturbed in my heart about Maddox ever since.
If you have the time, could you read this section, and help me understand your view of this subject? I know you wouldn’t buy it. It would totally contradict the Aldersgate Experience where Wesley felt “Christ alone” forgave his sins.
I am very familiar with this issue and I once again differ from Maddox.
A few observations are in order:
1) Many scholars on this topic are confusing prevenient grace (which is a measure of grace to be sure) with saving grace properly speaking (justifying and regenerating grace). Simply put, prevenient grace is not saving grace.
2) There are not two paths to salvation but only one: faith in Jesus Christ. Simply put, all sinners need a Mediator; none can go directly to the Father given the alienation of sin. How then can one be united to Christ and not know Him? How can one be united to the Church, as the body of Christ, and not know it? Is there such a thing as an individual, isolated, Christian? Wesley stated that Christianity is a social religion and to turn it into a solitary one is to destroy it.
3) This is a very speculative issue but how many people in the world today (given the information revolution, the Internet, etc.) have not been exposed to the claims of the Gospel? And if they haven’t heard, then we need to send the missionaries and not construct theologies that comfort us in doing next to nothing in this regard.
Again if someone has not heard the Gospel then we should rightly ask: Is that person a recipient of justifying and regenerating graces, are they free from the guilt and power of sin? Are they holy? Not likely, though I suppose some will argue that the Holy Spirit can directly offer Christ to the heart and that heart can then embrace the offer. Clearly, this is a highly speculative issue and therefore not a good basis upon which to construct a well grounded theology. Again, it is far better to send the missionary.
Beyond this, such a view as what Maddox and others are arguing cannot take account of Romans 10:14-15. It’s an embarrassment to their theological constructs:
14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things” (Romans 10:14-15, NASB).
Grace and peace,
A SUMMARY OF KENNETH COLLINS’ WESLEY ON SALVATION
Now to Collins’ book itself: Wesley on Salvation: A Study in the Standard Sermons (1989). I know I’m not perfect, but I will try as perfectly as I can, to summarize the chapters in this book; and hopefully provide a well-rounded yet brief introduction to the soteriology of John Wesley; or the doctrinal convictions that he and the early Methodist preachers held to, during the Wesleyan revival, and the Great Awakening of the 1700s. In other words, the “order of salvation”: THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST–as Wesley saw it…
IN CHAPTER 1, Wesley shows Genesis 6:5 reveals clearly, that the natural condition of mankind is great wickedness; and is plagued by only evil thoughts and feelings continually. This is called “original sin,” and all people have inherited this corrupt nature from Adam and Eve. But there is good news. The Holy Spirit is everywhere; and influences all people concerning right and wrong. This is called either the “conscience” or “prevenient grace.” This is a vague, but general, universal ethical awareness. Even non-Christians have it, but this does not mean all men have “saving grace” or saving faith. All they have is a conscience. Eventually, the Holy Spirit will draw all men to the Gospel through the conscience: and then, and only then, is it possible for men to choose to respond, to the revelations that Jesus died for their sins, and that they need to go and sin no more. This is a free will choice, but with the help of the Holy Spirit giving a conscience to the sinner. The circumstances in people’s lives may vary, as to when they are fully challenged by a Gospel preacher; and if they should decide to become real Christians and “get saved.” But if it were not for the help of the Holy Spirit, of God’s grace leading and guiding from the very beginnings of people’s lives:–no man would ever have the conscience, nor the free will, to choose to repent and believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But, as Dr. Collins points out: the doctrine of original sin, and the reality that man is naturally corrupt, is “an ingredient in any full-orbed systematic theology, but it plays little role in a practical theology, for no human being is so marred and fallen” because “there are no people without divine prevenient grace” (p. 25). The subject may be necessary to refer to when refuting Pelagianism or perfectionism, but it is certainly not the essence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: it is a side issue. What really matters is preaching on JUSTIFICATION and SANCTIFICATION. As Wesley said: salvation “consists of two general parts, justification and sanctification” (The Scripture Way of Salvation 1.3).
IN CHAPTER 2, Wesley says the wicked are convicted of sin by preaching the moral law. The Holy Spirit uses this. Only in this way, can dead, lukewarm, sleepy, cultural churchgoers ever experience conviction of sin. The preacher is called by God to “preach 90% law and 10% grace (Gospel).” This will spark sin-guilt and the fear of the Lord; and drive sinners to Jesus for salvation, forgiveness, and mercy. A faith that Jesus died for my sins is the only way to be saved from guilt, in the now, and from Hell fire forever. And if a person feels convicted of sin, but is struggling to believe in the atonement, then he should use the means of grace until saving faith dawns on him (e.g., prayer, Bible Study, the Lord’s Supper, fasting, and Christian conversations).
IN CHAPTER 3, entitled: “Justification by Faith,” Wesley says the forgiveness of sins cannot be earned by trying to obey God’s law perfectly, nor by doing all the good works in the Bible. (That is impossible.) The only way for God to forgive sins, is for a sinner to look at Jesus’ perfectly righteous life, His death on the cross for his sins, and the resurrection. True faith in this will motivate righteous living; and is something known in the head and felt in the heart. The famed Aldersgate Experience mirrors Luke 24:32, when the disciples on the road to Emmaus felt a burning sensation in their hearts, and an impression of a deep revelation: that in the crucifixion, Jesus died for the sins of the world, according to prophecies in the Old Testament. In the same way, and of the same revelation, Wesley wrote of his experience on May 24th, 1738: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in the Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
The moral law convicts of sin, motivates faith in the cross for the sake of seeking forgiveness of sins, and yet continues to be useful for growing in righteousness during the Christian life (but is never to be used with the idea that one can ever earn God’s forgiveness by keeping God’s commandments perfectly). “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly” (1 Timothy 1:8). Guidelines for growing in Biblical ethics; nothing more.
And also, anyone who thinks that “the righteousness of Christ,” being legally imputed to the Christian, somehow blinds God from the sins of carnal Christians who willingly continue to live a wicked life:–these people are deceived antinomians who hold to a false interpretation of the doctrine of imputation; sadly, this is the case with many Calvinists. But the truth is, through a saving faith that Jesus died for your sins, responding with godly fear and love, and trying to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11), it is in this way that the truly saved Christian fulfills the law from the heart.
IN CHAPTER 4, Wesley says at the same moment Christians receive God’s forgiveness by faith (justification)–the Holy Spirit awakens us to the spirit world (regeneration). This spiritual awakening is likened to being “born again”; not to the physical world, but to the spirit world. The first and foremost revelation that is revealed to the heart–is that “truly Jesus Christ died for my sins, and because of this, my sins are forgiven.” This is an inward conviction in the heart that is so strong, that no amount of anti-Christian skeptical arguments can shake it:–it is a strong faith supernaturally imparted by a strong experience in the intuition from the Holy Spirit. You simply “know that you know” it is true. In fact, one could be martyred for this kind of faith, without denying Christ, so strong it is. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart supplies a supernatural desire to grow in righteousness during the Christian life. Not only through a fear of backsliding and possibly going to Hell, but also through a love of God and His commandments, and the pursuit of Heaven with all the saints. The evidences of this supernatural regeneration working in the heart are: faith (a sense of sins forgiven), hope, God’s love for all creatures (Romans 5:5), obedience to God’s moral law (although not perfectly–yet always growing stronger), a good conscience before God, and the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”: of which “there is no law” against these things (Galatians 5:22-23, NKJV).
IN CHAPTER 5, Wesley says good works, and especially keeping the moral law, are supposed to mark a Christian’s life all throughout. This is proof that the supernatural grace of the Holy Spirit is “working through faith and love” (Galatians 5:6b) in the heart (Romans 5:5). The more righteous effort a Christian strives for, the more grace (Holy Spirit power) will be supplied for him. The Holy Spirit, however, will depart if the Christian simply does nothing in the area of reforming his ethics (Revelation 3:16). Unlike modern antinomians, who downplay keeping God’s commandments, and instead accept a false gospel of “cheap grace,” to use Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s phrase, a simple “faith alone,” and standing alone:–the true Christian knows better: “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). (Not a flawless, sinless, holiness; just an imperfect holiness that strives against sin, and grows in righteousness.) Christians must obey God’s moral law, and this is difficult, but “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). And what’s more, is that in good time, for the really saved Christian: “His commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3). A mixed life of contemplation, life in society, and good works, pretty much sums up the Christian life. All growth in righteousness must be free from bigotry: and this is to be avoided by a common love for all people, sticking to one’s ethical convictions firmly, yet remaining friendly and tolerant of people’s differences.
IN CHAPTER 6, Wesley says temptations, trials, tribulations, pain, and suffering are all intended to either “make or break” a Christian. If the Christian strives through it in the fear of the Lord, then his faith, hope, and love will come out stronger (1 Peter 1:6-7). No Christian is destined according to “fate” that they must fall into a certain temptation during their life: there is “always a way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13). But if one falls into temptation, and sins–even to the point of losing his faith–it is then possible to lose his salvation (since salvation is based on faith, Ephesians 2:8). Christian life is a nonstop spiritual battle, as well as a mental, emotional, and social one; it is a constant war between good and evil (Galatians 5:17); a continual repentance from sin, emboldened by a firm faith that God’s forgiveness of your sins, is graciously available to us immediately through the cross. No Christian alive on Earth is so “saved” that he can’t fall into Hell; he must continually examine himself to see whether he is remaining in the faith, and thus work out his salvation with fear and trembling (that is, try to live an upright and righteous life) (Philippians 2:12). On the other hand, if a Christian loses his faith, it is usually possible to get it back, and get saved again (Revelation 2:4-5)–but not always (Hebrews 6:4-6).
Wesley preached that if a Christian persevered throughout his life in faith and good works, in some rare cases, growing in righteousness can reach perfection.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Touchstone, 1959), Part 1, Chapter 1: “Costly Grace.”