Tag Archives: Predestination

Theology for Life and Ministry: William Jeffery on Predestination in Romans 9

Matthew Pinson

I was recently reading a book by the seventeenth-century English General Baptist preacher William Jeffery, The Whole Faith of Man. This book is a summary of Christian doctrine published in London in the 1650s that hasn’t been in print since the 1600s.

The book is not without its faults, but reading it reminded me of how industrious these forefathers of our Free Will Baptist Church were in their concern to think through, write, and publish doctrine and theology—and not see doctrine and theology somehow as being something other than, let alone at cross purposes with, the practical, zealous ministry of the Gospel.

Here were men who were mostly bi-vocational—pastors of growing churches (some large, some small) but also farmers and tailors and soapboilers and physicians. Yet somehow many of them still found the time to write full-length books on practical and theological subjects.

It makes me scratch my head that we in evangelicalism today have more M.Divs and D.Mins than you can shake a stick at, most of whom have full-time ministry jobs, but so many have almost no interest doctrine and theology. Indeed there is a tendency to drive a wedge between theology and ministry and think that theology actually detracts from practical ministry and zealous evangelism. We desperately need to take a page from the playbook of our early forefathers, who were very zealous and had growing churches in both rural and urban areas, but saw theology and doctrine as being at the heart of a vibrant ministry—woven into its very fabric.

In addition to those thoughts sticking out in my mind, I came across a few passages from Jeffery’s discussion of Romans 9 that I thought our readers would enjoy. The first one directly addresses the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9. It touches on a theme that many Arminian interpreters neglect or underemphasize—that Romans 9 is really about the conditional election of unbelievers, and that Paul is arguing against the corporate election views in Jewish theology. This is something that Jacobus Arminius and Leroy Forlines emphasize, but that is neglected in many Arminian treatments.

The second passage, which follows Jeffery’s discussion of Romans 9, is basically saying that the Calvinist doctrine espoused with regard to that text means that God hates the vast majority of his human creatures and created them for the purpose of hating them, even though that flies in the face of the ubiquitous message in Scripture of the love of God for humanity. I love the way Jeffery explains it:

For the better understanding of this point, well consider the principal thing, which Paul treats of in that chapter, Romans 9, which is, that the fleshly seed of Abraham are not the children of promise, or the Elect of God (vv. 7, 8). Wherefore (saith the Apostle) though Esau was the child of Abraham according to the flesh, and that upon Isaac’s side too, yet God hated him: therefore you Jews that stand so much upon your birth privileges, as being the seed of Abraham after the flesh, by this of Esau you may know, that it will not prove you to be the Elect of God, but you may be hated as Esau, he being as truly a child of Abraham as you, but for his wickedness (whether considered as a Person, or as a Nation) God rejected him; I say, for his wickedness as appeareth (Obad. 9.10) “For thy violence, (O Esau) against thy brother Jacob, shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off forever (Mal. 1.3, 4; Amos 1.11; Heb 12.16, 17). Esau’s wickedness therefore (whether considered a person, or a Nation) I say, with the holy Prophets, was the cause why God hated him; whose wickedness, God that foreknoweth all things, foreknew. . . . (The Whole Faith of Man, 26-27).

But if notwithstanding you shall yet turn the body of these Scriptures [Rom. 9] otherways [than the way he has explained them], then behold its face: namely, That God did (before time) hate the greatest part of the world, without respect unto foreseen wickedness as the cause thereof, and that (in time) he gives them up to hardness of heart (without grace at any time whereby to be saved) and at the day of Judgment will cast them into everlasting torments, because of their wickedness and hardness of heart; and yet declare in his Word, (which you say is a word of truth) that he is good to all, and that his “tender mercies are over all his works”; that he is “slow to anger, and of great mercy,” (Ps. 145.8, 9), “patient, long-suffering, etc. (Ex. 34.6, 7), “not willing that any should perish” (2 Pet. 3.9), swearing by himself, “that he desireth not the death of the wicked” (Ezek. 33:11) but “would have all men saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2.4), “forty years long grieving for the iniquity of his people” (Heb. 3.17), bemoaning their undone estate (Psal. 81.13), yea, even weeping for them (Luke 19.41), saying, “What could I have done more” (for your good) “that I have not done?” (Isa. 5.4), when as he knew (according to your tenet) that [he] himself had shut them up from all possibilities of believing unto salvation, and that by his own unresistible decree, and purpose of reprobation. Judge ye, friends, in this cause, and judge righteous judgment, and with fear and trembling, weigh these things. (The Whole Faith of Man, 31-32).

These thought-provoking comments come from the heart of a preacher and pastor. He saw them, not as a tack-on to preaching and explaining the Bible for his people, but as integral to his work as a shepherd. May we be inspired by the pastoral theology of our forebears who had a seamless view of the interaction between our minds, hearts, and the way we live our lives. May we return theology to its integral place in the ministry of the Gospel.

 

Thomas Grantham: An Influence on Wesley’s View of Predestination

by Matthew Pinson

(This post first appeared on Dr. Pinson’s blog at matthewpinson.com)

Recently a friend and former student, Jesse Owens (now a Ph.D. student in historical theology at Southern Seminary) told me about a statement Herbert McGonigle had made about Wesley “raising the ghosts” of John Goodwin and Thomas Grantham. This was very interesting to me, because of a paper I wrote twenty years ago comparing the soteriology of the English General Baptist Thomas Grantham with that of the Arminian Independent Puritan John Goodwin.

In that paper I emphasized the differences between Grantham’s more Reformed-leaning Arminianism and that of Goodwin [1]. I noted that, while Grantham and Goodwin, like all Arminians, agreed on how one comes to be in a state of grace, they differed on what it means to be in a state of grace. Under the category “how one comes to be in a state of grace” are affirmations such as conditional predestination, universal atonement, and the resistibility of grace before and after conversion.

Under the category “what it means to be in a state of grace” are issues such as a penal satisfaction view of atonement (as opposed to a governmental view), the imputation of Christ’s righteousness in justification (as opposed to an anti-imputation view), and apostasy viewed as a definitive, irremediable shipwreck of saving faith (as opposed to seeing it as a possibly repeated lapsing through unconfessed sin). Despite their differences, both Grantham and Wesley were Arminians. They both differed with Calvinism on the crucial question of how one comes to be in a state of grace.

So, needless to say, Jesse’s quotation from McGonigle got my attention. So I looked into it more. The actual quotation was about the famous Calvinist (and writer of “Rock of Ages) Augustus Toplady’s A Letter to the Rev. Mr. John Wesley, in which Toplady criticized Wesley for saying that certain evangelical clergy were trying to raise John Calvin’s ghost. McGonigle mentioned that Toplady said Wesley “should remember that he raised the ghosts of John Goodwin, ‘the Arminian regicide,’ Thomas Grantham, ‘the Arminian Baptist,’ and Monsieur De Renty, ‘the French Papist’” [2].

With my curiosity piqued, I started to do some digging, and what I found was very interesting. First, I went back and looked at Toplady’s reprinting of Jerome Zanchius’s The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination Stated and Asserted, which reprinted Toplady’s letter [3]. I also noticed that Toplady, in a book entitled More Work for Mr. John Wesley, mentioned Grantham in another list of anti-predestinarians that he said Wesley was resurrecting:

“Be content, therefore, with conjuring back the Ghosts of Peter Bertius, Samuel Hoord, Gregory Lopez, John Goodwin, and Thomas Grantham. The second-hand Arguments, which you so industriously cull from these and such-like Heroes, are quite sufficient (tho’ not to prove your Doctrines, yet) to convince us both of your Zeal and your Abilitys, without your calling up ‘all the Devils in Hell’ to augment your Train” [4].

When Jesse first told me about this quotation from McGonigle, I immediately thought that Toplady was not necessarily saying that Grantham was a direct source for Wesley’s doctrine of predestination but was simply one of the sort of Arminian-type ghosts Wesley was resurrecting. Still, as I replied in an email, even Toplady’s knowledge of Grantham and use of his name shows that Grantham was a much larger figure in Toplady’s day, nearly a century after the publication of Christianismus Primitivus, Grantham’s magnum opus.

Yet this second comment from Toplady, saying that Wesley had “industriously cull[ed] from . . . these and such-like Heroes” led me to believe that Toplady had a reason for saying that Wesley had directly culled from Grantham.

So I kept up my sleuthing.

Then I found a biography of Wesley, Luke Tyerman’s Life and Times of the Rev. John Wesley, M.A., Founder of Methodism, a third edition published in 1876. Tyerman made passing mention of several of the books and pamphlets that Wesley published in 1741 (Wesley was famous for reprinting myriads of pamphlets and anthologies and extracts of books for the general public). One of those was an eight-page pamphlet, A Dialogue Between a Predestinarian and His Friend. In a footnote, Tyerman wrote,

“It was hardly honest of Wesley to publish this without a word of acknowledgment as to its author and origin. We have compared it with ‘A Dialogue between the Baptist and Presbyterian . . . By Thomas Grantham, Messenger of the Baptized Churches in Lincolnshire. London, 1681.’ . . . and have no hesitancy in saying, that Wesley’s Dialogue, abridged and altered, is taken from that of Grantham.” [5].

Then, in the Dictionary of National Biography entry on Wesley, I noticed that there was also passing reference to the Dialogue pamphlet. The DNB entry remarked simply that it was “mainly borrowed from Thomas Grantham” [6].

I kept searching and found an 1896 annotated bibliography of John and Charles Wesley’s works written by Richard Green. Green, in the entry on A Dialogue Between a Predestinarian and His Friend mentioned that Joseph Gurney in 1778 had said that the pamphlet was “taken without acknowledgment” from Grantham’s pamphlet. But, according to Green, John Heylin had stated, “I have compared the two, and find that the charge is altogether groundless” [7].

Obviously, my curiosity was further awakened. So I went and compared the two works myself. What I discovered was that, while Gurney and Tyerman overestimated the degree of dependence Wesley had on Grantham’s earlier work, the charge was not “altogether groundless,” as Heylin claimed. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

There can be no question that Wesley lifted several lines of his pamphlet directly from Grantham. The wording in many instances is verbatim, and the big tip-off is that Wesley follows Grantham’s line of thought throughout. The material he uses at the beginning of his pamphlet is what Grantham used at the beginning of his, and so on through the work, up to the end. While this use of someone else’s material without attribution is shocking in our day, it was more common back then.

So what we have here is that Grantham was at least one influence (if small) for Wesley’s doctrine of predestination. Obviously, this is something completely different from Wesley’s reliance on John Goodwin. Wesley reprinted lengthy books from him with glowing prefaces. Instead, in Grantham’s Dialogue Between the Baptist and the Presbyterian, with the imaginary Presbyterian’s answers being direct quotations from Calvinist luminaries, confessions, and catechisms of the time, we have a handy source of ammunition against Calvinism that any anti-Calvinist would have found useful. And Wesley certainly did.

I wish, however, that Wesley had seen fit to follow Grantham on the latter’s more Reformed understandings of the penal-satisfaction nature of atonement, justification by the imputation of the active and passive obedience of Christ, disavowal of Christian perfection, and how a believer who is in union with Christ and thus imputed with his active and passive obedience can apostatize only by becoming an unbeliever and thus no longer being in union with Christ—an irremediable state.

Instead, Wesley went with Goodwin, reprinting much-longer works by the latter that advocated a governmental view of atonement, spent many pages deriding imputed righteousness as a legal fiction, and arguing, literally, for repeated regeneration. (Goodwin’s wording, as Jesse Owens points out in his excellent recent paper on Goodwin, is that people can be “twice regenerate” and that regeneration can be “reiterated” or “repeated.”) [8].

I also wish that Wesley had given Grantham credit for that eight-page pamphlet, as he did John Goodwin for the lengthy reprinting he did of Goodwin’s work. If nothing else, it would have given Grantham more name recognition outside the Baptist fold and ensured a greater legacy for his work.

This whole episode has reminded me of how great figures of the past can be ignored by subsequent history. Grantham, whom the esteemed British historian Diarmaid MacCulloch recently called a “doctor of the church” and “one of seventeenth-century English Christianity’s long-neglected but rewarding intellects” has almost been forgotten by church historians. Until the last few years, his name was found only in obscure older Baptist histories, with modern mention only by Free Will Baptist historians [9]. Yet his formidable body of scholarship, despite the differences some (including me) might have with him, deserves another look.

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[1] A version of that paper will be published in my forthcoming collection of essays entitled Arminian and Baptist: Explorations in a Theological Tradition (Nashville: Randall House, 2015).

[2] Herbert McGonigle, Sufficient Saving Grace: John Wesley’s Evangelical Arminianism (Eugene, OR: Paternoster, 2001).

[3] The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination Stated and Asserted (New York: George Lindsay, 1811). Toplady’s letter to Wesley is reprinted as an appendix to this volume, and the quotation concerning Grantham and Goodwin appears on p. 296.

[4] Augustus Toplady, More Work for Mr. John Wesley: Or, a Vindication of the Decrees and Providence of God from the Defamations of a late printed Paper Entitled “The Consequence Proved”  (London: James Matthews, 1772), 83.

[5] Luke Tyerman, Life and Times of the Rev. John Wesley, M.A., Founder of Methodism , vol. 1 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1876), 365-66.

[6] Dictionary of National Biography, s.v., “John Wesley” (London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1899), 60:313.

[7] Richard Green, The Works of John and Charles Wesley: A Bibliography (London: C. H. Kelley, 1896), 18.