Simeon and Wesley on Calvinism

When I was as Christian student in Cambridge in the 1970’s I was encouraged to look to Charles Simeon as one of my heroes. He had faithfully preached the evangelical gospel in that city for more than 50 years, and was one of the main leaders of the evangelical awakening in the Church of England which started started in the late 18th century.

Another Christian hero of mine is John Wesley, the great preacher of a generation before Simeon. But he is considered suspect in some circles as an Arminian and for his teaching on Christian perfection.

And so I was interesting to see this account on Adrian’s blog of a conversation between Simeon and Wesley. Simeon starts by saying

Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers.

But after asking Wesley some questions, he concludes:

Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.

Would that Calvinists and Arminians today could agree so easily! Almost all evangelicals today can agree on the points which Wesley and Simeon agreed on – although perhaps for some including myself

so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart

is something of an overstatement.

But the difficulty today comes when Calvinists go beyond what Calvin taught, and Scripture teaches, into teachings like limited atonement (Christ died only for the elect, contra 2 Corinthians 5:14) and double predestination (some are predestined not to be saved, contra 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9); and when Arminians drift towards Pelagianism, the equally unbiblical teaching that people can bring about their own salvation. While I am sure there will continue to be disagreements about some of the details (and I hope to look for resolution of some of the issues when I continue my Kingdom Thermodynamics series), there should be sufficient common ground here that all evangelicals can work together in harmony.

Meanwhile Adrian is starting a campaign for an electronic edition of “the massive 21-volume set of Simeon’s sermons that form a commentary on the Bible”. If you are interested in getting this, please let him know.

4 thoughts on “Simeon and Wesley on Calvinism

  1. Thanks, Peter. My church is not particular about our theology, being that none of our pastors have Bible school background. So it’s always irked me that I didn’t know the technical details of what we are supposed to believe. But your short post does help.

    As I recently read in one of A.W. Tozer’s books: “Prying into such details may make us theologians, but never saints,” or something like that.

    God bless.

  2. Indeed, TS. I don’t pry into these things to become a saint, but aim to do that in other ways! But I believe there is also a place for studying theology, if only because church history shows how people who don’t understand theology have fallen and continue to fall into all sorts of errors. Of course those who have studied also fall into errors, but usually of a rather different kind.

  3. Peter–
    This is very interesting; TS directed me to this entry (and your blog in general).

    I have been puzzling about predestination for some time. I’ve been confused because the Bible says both “yes, you are predestined” and “you must choose.” So I wrote a little question about it in my blog on Dec. 5. I’ve gotten several interesting and helpful comments that have helped me sort it out.

    If you don’t mind, I’d like to quote part of your thoughts here, as I write a follow-up of that entry. I believe I see that even though these ideas seem contradictory in the Bible, God is just and in charge of order and peace. So, in truth, the scripture reflects that, ultimately.

    Be blessed!

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