John Wesley warned against excess enthusiasm. As a revivalist he witnessed spiritual enthusiasms which ranged from ecstatic excess to anguished wailing to physical collapse. He developed criteria for discerning what was of the Spirit of God and what was countetrfeit, what was exaggerated and self-serving and what was genuinely a work of God. This most balanced of rationalists sought to balance reason with experience and both with Scripture, a further check being whether these were congruent to the theological tradition of the Church.
I am a Wesley enthusiast. I have a Victorian framed print in my College Study, where Wesley looks smirkingly over at the small original Victorian bust of C H Spurgeon the Calvinist, who glowers sternly back at the diminutive Arminian! I love them both! This small methodistical man is far too easily overlooked in the theological traditions and in the history of Christian spiritual traditions. I first studied Wesley's life and thought when writing Evangelical Spirituality, and I found him attractively annoying, annoyingly argumentative, and in key points of controversy singularly persuasive. Who else would write a treatise called "Predestination Calmly Considered"? Can you think of a better way to wrong foot an opponent in a heated debate that to calmly consider the matter, and tell the opponent to calm down? Or who would entitle a tract "A Plain Account of Christian Perfection", penned in the heat of doctrinal controversy, as he threaded through the theological complexities and ducked the pejorative rejoinders of his opponents?
But what persuaded me then, and still holds my loyalty, though with significant qualifications is the Wesleyan approach to holiness embedded in their theology of grace, which is profoundly biblical, doctrinally passionate, intensely practical and everywhere celebrated in the whole Wesleyan oeuvre. I include Charles' hymns as one of the two primary sources of Wesleyan theology, along with John's Standard Sermons. And then there are John's Treatises, Controversial Tracts, Letters and Journal. But it is John's theological writings that are the reason for this post.
Lest readers of this blog forget, I am an unrepentant bibliophile. Amongst the books I own, read and cherish for what they are, are several volumes of the high quality production of the Bicentennnial Edition of John Wesley's Works. And Abingdon have just announced the publication of Volume 13 which contains John Wesley on Christian Perfection and on Predestination and controversies with the Calvinists. See picture below.
Here's the blurb:
The second of three volumes devoted to Wesley’s theological writings contains two major sets of material. The first set (edited by Paul Chilcote) contains writings throughout Wesley’s ministry devoted to defense of the doctrine of Christian perfection, including "A Plain Account of Christian Perfection." The second set (edited by Kenneth Collins) collects Wesley’s various treatises focused on predestination and related issues, often in direct debate with Calvinist writers, including "Predestination Calmly Considered."
To have the "Plain Account" in a critical edition, accompanied by all the other relevant writings on Christian Perfection has been a desideratum for Wesleyan scholars for ever and a day. I can't finish this post without a quote from John Wesley, one I consider a consummate practical theologian:
It were well you should be thoroughly sensible of this—the heaven of heavens is love. There is nothing higher in religion; there is, in effect, nothing else; if you look for anything but more love, you are looking wide of the mark, you are getting out of the royal way. And when you are asking others, “Have you received this or that blessing?” if you mean anything but love, you mean wrong; you are leading them out of the way, and putting them upon a false scent. Settle it then in your heart, that from the moment God has saved you from all sin, you are to aim at nothing more but more of that love described in the thirteenth of the Corinthians. You can go no higher than this till you are carried into Abraham’s bosom.
And there you have it. Plainly stated. Told you. Argumentative, and persuasive!