(Almost) Wednesday with Wesley: The Reasonable Faith is of Grace

As theologians we can often get wrapped up in thinking about God and the Scriptures. We want to understand our Creator and the truths that He has revealed. In order to do that we must use logic and reasoJohn_Wesleyn. John Wesley cautioned those who would minimize the need for reason in theology and in living a virtuous life.

Wesley was a strong proponent of the use of reason. But was wise in reminding us of its limitations. In Sermon #70, Wesley warned us not to overestimate reason to the point that we regard it as “the highest gift of God”. Nor should we consider it the “great unerring guide” into either truth or virtue.

The key limitation of reason, for Wesley, was its inability to produce saving faith. Since reason cannot produce faith Wesley deduces that it is also unable to produce hope (for heaven), a love for God, or virtue. For Wesley virtue is defined as the love of our neighbor which flows from gratitude to our Creator.

Hope, Love, and Virtue are all rooted and grounded in faith.

Faith is not only a train of ideas in the head; but also a disposition of the heart.

We must be careful not to mistake what Wesley is saying. He is not teaching us that faith is unreasonable. Nor that faith cannot be supported with good logical arguments.

Although it is always consistent with reason, yet reason cannot produce faith, in the scriptural sense of the word.

The Lord invites us to “come and reason together” (Isaiah 1:18) and Paul was known to present the Gospel using logical arguments to try and persuade those who heard him (Acts 17:16-34; 28:23-24).

… From morning until evening he explained things to them, testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to convince (or persuade)  them about Jesus from both the law of Moses and the prophets. Some were convinced (or persuaded) by what he said, but others refused to believe

The Christian Faith consists of a set of accepted propositions. Wesley lays these out in Sermon #1 (Salvation by Faith):

  • God exists and is wise and powerful
  • God is just to punish
  • Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah/Christ, the Saviour of the world
  • Jesus’ death is the only sufficient means of redeeming man
  • Jesus’ resurrection is basis for our restoration to life and immortality

Each of these can be examined and known with the mind. But, what Wesley wants us to understand is that faith must move past a set of facts if we are to receive eternal life.

Wesley breaks down the difference between a reasonable faith and a saving faith using Romans 10:9-10 as the basis.

it is not barely a speculative, rational thing, a cold, lifeless assent, a train of ideas in the head; but also a disposition of the heart.

These ideas must be understood and reasoned through in our head but they must translate into a life that is lived with trust and reliance on God.

Christian faith is then, not only an assent to the whole gospel of Christ, but also a full reliance on the blood of Christ; a trust in the merits of his life, death, and resurrection; a recumbency (or resting) upon him as our atonement and our life, as given for us, and living in us;

Where does this saving faith come from? This saving faith can only come from the grace of God (#70).

[God] alone can give that faith, which is “the evidence” and conviction “of things not seen.” He alone can “beget you unto a lively hope” of an inheritance eternal in the heavens; and He alone can “shed his love abroad in your heart by the Holy Ghost given unto you.”

For Wesley salvation was all grace. In Sermon #85, he writes:

Go on, in virtue of the grace of God, preventing, accompanying, and following you, in “the work of faith, in the patience of hope, and in the labour of love.”

Here we see that grace precedes faith and makes it possible. It also empowers us to work out our faith in hope and love. This is what reason alone cannot do.

The grace that precedes our faith is called prevenient (or preventing) grace.

Salvation begins with what is usually termed (and very properly) preventing grace;

It is this grace that overcomes our resistance to God. Wesley understood this grace to be given to each and every person.

For allowing that all the souls of men are dead in sin by nature, this excuses none, seeing there is no man that is in a state of mere nature; there is no man, unless he has quenched the Spirit, that is wholly void of the grace of God. No man living is entirely destitute of what is vulgarly called natural conscience. But this is not natural: It is more properly termed preventing grace. Every man has a greater or less measure of this, which waiteth not for the call of man.

This reasoning comes from passages like Ezek 18:23 ; 33:11; and 1 Tim 2:4, which express God’s desire for all to be saved and for none to perish.

From this Wesley concludes that people are not saved because they do not receive grace, but because they do not use the grace which they were given.

That ye believe, is one instance of his grace; that believing ye are saved, another.

5 thoughts on “(Almost) Wednesday with Wesley: The Reasonable Faith is of Grace

    • I would agree with you that faith is a choice. In the case of the Gospel it is our choice to trust in God and in Christ with the result that we follow Him. I do think that the choice of faith is enabled by grace, but that this grace is not irresistible nor effectual.

      • Faith itself IS the gift – it is not borne out of reason, else it becomes a debt paid to apt pupils and “good choosers.” Our election is not based on God’s rewarding of these “Good choosers” nor is it based on anything within the universe but instead PURELY on God’s own desires and intent – God makes no choices in His plan based on ANYTHING outside of Himself – this is what is meant by the phrase, “according to the good purposes of His will.”
        We must not make an idol of ourselves or our choices, or our ability to make them, but instead ascribe to God every percent of our coming to Christ. We are not saved because God looked into time, saw how great a student of the Gospel we would be, and then paid us the debt owed our excellent reasoning, by “gracing” us with eternal life. Else Grace would be a debt. Instead we realize that we, in our ever-eager pursuit of filth and darkness rather than righteousness and light, never sought our perceived sworn enemy, Sovereign God (Romans 3), and apart from the effectual movement of regeneration in our hearts, we couldn’t even understand the things of the Spirit that lead to Salvation (1 Corinthians 2), let alone “reason” them out. Man’s beginning of sin has always been his attribution of believing himself to be autonomous from his Creator, worthy of such a hell and calling it a privilege, then being foolish enough to demand it, followed by having the nerve to call God unjust for punishing the (lie of the) notion and saving those who, are effectually made alive and just as effectually placed on their knees in gratitude for God redeeming them because of His election playing out in their wretched incapable souls. God gets the Glory for this, not the reasoning of reprobate and debased men.
        Such is our demand for the idol of “Free Will” that we would dare place God in our debt for being so skilled at figuring out the Gospel. Paul’s reasoning with people merely nursed the Spirit within the elect and nudged them to the awareness of God’s Sovereign work in their hearts.


      • Greg

        Faith itself IS the gift

        Interesting, but why then is faith primarily used as a verb in such a way that it is grammatically performed by people as seen here.

        Our election is not based on God’s rewarding of these “Good choosers” nor is it based on anything within the universe but instead PURELY on God’s own desires and intent

        The corporate election that God performs is based on His perfect plan, put together as He intended. This plan is that any and all people that are in Christ shall be saved and receive every spiritual blessing. Part of that plan is that anyone that trusts in the Lord Jesus (ie faith) shall be placed into Christ. In this sense election occurs exactly as God intends: a universal plan to restore a broken creation though faith in Christ. We have no choice in what the plan is.

        We are not saved because God looked into time, saw how great a student of the Gospel we would be, and then paid us the debt owed our excellent reasoning, by “gracing” us with eternal life. Else Grace would be a debt.

        God has foreknowledge of who specifically will choose to accept His promises and place their trust in Christ (ie saving faith) and who will not. This is how individual election is generally understood outside of the Reformed tradition. How God has FK is not clear, though some speculate it is through foresight (seeing all of time).

        But, in your main point, you are right, we are not saved because God looks into the future. We are saved because God, at a point in time, enables a broken person to respond to the Gospel. On that we both agree. Where we disagree, is whether the grace given is irresistible or not. Further I would not only argue that the grace is resistible, but that the person in accepting or rejecting the offer, among other things, is using reason. That is why God calls out “come let us reason together”, Paul debates with philosophers on Mars Hill, and we engage in apologetics.

        God being indebted to us because of faith, is a common argument used by those who hold to the Reformed doctrines. However, it really doesn’t follow. God in His sovereignty choose to save His broken creation through the death of His Son. He didn’t have to do this. He further chose to give the benefits achieved on the cross to people based on faith rather than merit, knowing we could not earn it. That is why Paul argues: And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, (Rom 4:5).

        Paraphrasing John Piper’s illustration: A poor beggar is handed a letter from a philanthropist. The letter says that if he will come to his office he will be given $100,000 with no strings attached. Is the wealthy donor indebted to the poor beggar when comes to the office to receive the gift? Does the beggar boast of his hard work in earning the money? Or does he rather boast of the the generosity of the philanthropist?

        Here is a question: if the grace given to a sinner is irresistible, such that the person will always “choose” to obey God and thus come to faith, why is all subsequent grace given resistible, even in Calvinism? I ask because, as we know, believers are prone to disobey God after they are saved?

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