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

by Matthew Pinson

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

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.


[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.

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