Many theologians before Wesley have influenced Christianity and are certainly worthy of due honor. However, John Wesley stands well-defined among them as a man who conceptualized and promoted doctrinal beliefs in a bold, practical way, far better than many of his contemporaries or those who came before. For Wesley, the Living God desired to live in and through his followers. His thirst to align belief with everyday life was undeniable in the way he preached and practiced. He was a true revivalist; so much so, others that prove to be revivalist are sometimes dubbed with his namesake. For example, John Sung was a great revivalist during the twentieth century in China and was honored with Wesley’s name. Walton notes, “His pivotal role in the Chinese revival from 1927-1937 earned him the epithet the “John Wesley of China.”
Yes, Wesley was a true revivalist and took the task of preaching and teaching serious. With great attention of heart he committed himself both privately and publicly to the task he was called upon by God to do. “Wesley famously concluded in a letter to a colleague…I look upon all the word as my parish; thus far I mean, that in whatever part of it I am I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty, to declare unto all that are willing to hear the glad tidings of salvation. This is the work which I know God has called me to.”
Although Wesley’s “beliefs and values were not developed into a systematic whole that required apologetics and polemics in order to preserve a system-like view of Christianity; Wesley’s beliefs and values were more flexible, built upon a dynamic understanding of the ongoing presence of God’s Holy Spirit in the lives of people.” Wesley, indeed, stands as an example of great Protestant traditions that came to birth through and by the Reformation. Wesley believed man was separated from God and in a desperate condition to be rescued. Wesley would have agreed with “The Arminian and Wesleyan answer… that the death of Christ provided grace for all persons and that, as a result of his atonement, God extends sufficient grace to all persons through the Holy Spirit to counteract the influence of sin and to enable a positive response to God (Jn 15:26-27; 16:7-11).”
Free Will Defined
What is the doctrine of free will, as Wesley understood it? Free will is about options. Without options, no free will can be claimed. Minus free will we are left to the fate of a creator that destines the height of his creation (humanity) to either heaven or hell without a decision on our part. Wesley rebelled against this type of understanding. Free will for Wesley was about a God that had freely created us, would certainly give us the freedom to love or reject him. We shall look more at freedom later as we contemplate the sovereignty of God related to free will.
Wesley’s understanding of free will was not founded in the acceptance or belief that man was born with a free will that was inborn or a nature free will. Rather, he held that God, in light of original sin, graced humanity with a measure of free will in order that humanity would have a choice. Humanity was graced with a prevenient grace, thus giving humankind a choice to believe or reject God’s offer of salvation. Collins notes, “For example, in his treatise “Predestination Calmly Considered,” written in 1752, Wesley observes: But I do not carry free-will so far: (I mean, not in moral things:) Natural free-will, in the present state of mankind, I do not understand: I only assert, that there is a measure of free-will supernaturally restored to every man…”