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cussion upon “good works.” Wesley stated that “good works” done before justification did not count; but that good works done after justification might count; because they were done out of deference to Christ.27 He also made it clear that justification by faith did not go against holiness and good works; yet he did emphatically declare that, “the blood of Christ alone saved; and not 'good works.' ” 28 Bishop Gibson of London thought that this attitude was misleading. In a Pastoral Letter of 1739 he said: “I hope that when your ministers preach to you of justification by faith alone, which is asserted in the strongest manner by our Church, they explain it in such a manner as to leave no doubt upon your minds whether good works are a condition of your being justified in the sight of God.” 29 He then asserted that the Established Church believed in justification, but that it believed in good works too. Another time, Gibson asked if it was not carrying things too far when the Methodists did not allow a careful and sincere observance of moral duties to count for anything; for the insistence upon faith alone led the people to value these duties lightly, and to think that they were not a part of the Christian religion.30 Others were not so moderate in their criticism, asserting that the preaching of faith without works by the Methodists was without any warrant in the Scripture.31 Rev. Mr. Downes, one of the clergy, went even farther and incorrectly said, “The Methodists will have it that we may be saved by faith in Christ, without any other requisite on our part; the Scriptures make a gospel obedience and holy life a necessary condition.” 32 An argument from history was brought forward in which the writer went back to the days of Cranmer and Gardiner, saying that the homily on this subject did not intend “to magnify too highly the efficacy of faith, or deprecate too much the necessity of good works.” 33 The Churchmen felt that disregarding good works would lead the people to think altogether too lightly of
29 Works, vol. I, p. 49.
their moral duties. 34 Dr. Free urged the fact against the Methodists that they differed from St. James, who taught that faith without works was dead and produced no salvation. The Methodists said that faith alone produced a salvation that was quite
This difference, however, between the Churchmen and the Methodists regarding the matter of justification through faith was more seeming than real. Methodists, as will appear from their statements above, did not reject good works; even asserting that he who was justified would surely do good works. What they did insist upon was that good works did not come first; faith alone was the only means of justification. And so great was their emphasis upon the place of faith, that the clergy inferred that the Methodists took a negative attitude toward good works. There was no real difference; but only a misunderstanding between the Methodists and the Churchmen on this doctrine. By faith in Christ, and faith alone, could one be set free from his original sin and gain salvation.
SECTION III. THE NEW BIRTH Justification was the great work that God did for the Methodist in forgiving him his sins while the New Birth, was the name given to the work that God did in the Methodist by renewing his fallen nature.36 Justification expressed the forgiveness felt; but the new birth expressed the process of transformation which took place in his life. The new birth was based upon the doctrine of original sin. “Why must we be born again?" questioned Wesley. “Because, due to the fall we are not in the image of God and we ought to be. Every child of Adam is spiritually dead. He must be born again.” 37 This experience of the new birth was indispensable for salvation. The epitaph on Berridge's grave summed up the Methodist position. It read:
No Salvation without a New Birth.”
Free: Rules for the Discovery of False Prophets, p. xiii.
The concepts contrasting the once born man with the twice born man still hold a large place in modern thought. Francis W. Newman says: “God has two families of children on this earth, the once born and the twice born." These once born children do not see God as a strict judge; but as a kind Spirit in a beautiful world. When they approach God, there is little or no excitement, and no inward disturbance. 38 Dr. William James associates this concept of the once born man with the religion of healthy-mindedness, and says of it: “The advance of liberalism, so-called, in Christianity, during the past fifty years, may fairly be called a victory of healthy-mindedness within the Church over the morbidness with which the old hell-fire theology was more harmoniously related. We have now whole congregations whose preachers, far from magnifying our consciousness of sin, seem devoted rather to making little of it. They ignore, or even deny, eternal punishment, and insist on the dignity rather than on the depravity of man. They look at the continual preoccupation of the old-fashioned Christian with the salvation of his soul as something sickly and reprehensible rather than admir
' This represents an idea common in our day.
But Wesley took just the opposite view. He, in part, accepted the idea of God as a strict judge; he preached a hell-fire theology; he damned the once born man, and would admit only the twice born man to the benefits of salvation. When sinners approached God, there usually was much excitement and inward disturbance. The “tyranny of the twice born” experience controlled early Methodist thinking.
How a man was born again, no Methodist ventured exactly to tell, for it was a mystical experience of which he knew only the results. His eye saw God. The evidence of the process was in the fruits which the transformed life bore. This showed whether the individual had new life from God, and without this new life, no man could see God; because no man was holy. Without this new life, no man was happy; for no wicked man could possibly
Quoted in James: Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 80.
39 William James: Varieties of Religious Experience, New York, 1908,
be happy. This new birth was: “the change wrought in the soul by the Almighty Spirit of God when it was created anew in Christ Jesus; when the love of the world is changed for the love of God.” 40
The importance which the Methodists attached to this new birth, can best be measured by the retort of Wesley to those who denied its essential character; who intimated that attention to the ordinances of God and regular attendance at Church and the sacrament were more needful. To all who reasoned thus, Wesley answered, "all this will not keep you from hell, except you be born again. Go to Church twice a day; go to the Lord's Table every week; say ever so many prayers in private; hear ever so many good sermons; read ever so many good books; still you must be born again. Here the new birth was put above the Church and sacraments. Some of the clergy could not understand how one could attend Church, partake of the sacrament, believe in the word, obey the commands of Christ, and still be lost unless he had the experience of the new birth.
The Churchman accused the Methodist of asserting that this new birth took place at a precise time. He who experienced the new birth could tell the exact hour of the happening, and the Arminian Magazine was said to be full of instances, wherein the people knew the exact time of this new birth.42 “At such a time, and at such a particular place, they felt the spirit rush in upon them with such irresistible force, that they were immediately translated from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God. This they make the mark of the new birth; and will allow none to be regenerated but such only as have felt this extraordinary operation. Other Churchmen also thought that the Methodist believed himself to undergo much suffering before he experienced this new birth. “They are represented to undergo several purgations and lustrations ere the new birth is quite formed. Most of them feel as it were, a burning fire within them. when this severe penance is at an end, they have the favor of
Sermon, Works, vol. i, p. 404ff.
being told by their teachers that they are then regenerate and incorruptible.” 44 This idea was flavored with enthusiasm; so the Churchman, if he disliked enthusiasm, could not be very sympathetic toward the new birth.
This new birth was sometimes pictured as supernatural. The Methodists were accused of believing in “Miraculous Conversion”; each one felt himself in duty bound to go out and preach. Wesley denied all of this, claiming that no more than one in five hundred had this call to preach. Rev. Mr. Potter of Norwich was told by him that the Methodists did not believe in miraculous conversion any more than to think that all conversion in its last analysis was miraculous.45 Downes in Methodism Examined accused the Methodists of treating the subject of conversion as though all conversions were of the nature of St. Paul's and the other first converts to Christianity; and “as if the signs of it were frightful tremors of the body, and convulsions and agonies of the mind arising from a sense of original sin, and the corruption of human nature: the Scriptures set it forth as a work graciously begun and carried out by the blessed spirit in conjunction with our rational powers and faculties; and the signs of it to be a sincere and universal obedience to the laws and precepts of the gospel.” 46 Here the two views of the new birth were contrasted. When the Methodist urged the new birth as a doctrine to be accepted on the basis of miracle, the Churchman very properly asserted that a doctrine could not be bolstered up with an unproved miracle. He demanded the proof and made an appeal to reason. 47 The Churchman thought of the new birth in intellectual terms; while the Methodist thought it to be a vivid religious experience in his life to which he gave the name "new birth”.
Still other clergy felt that the good things which the Methodists claimed to enjoy under the influence of the new birth, were found within the Church as well as with the Methodists; so they
* Evans: History of Enthusiasm, p. 133, 145 Works, vol. v, p. 426.
46 P. 33.