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Of Fruit Trees and Newborn Babes: Luther and Wesley on Moral Transformation

 

[1]       Why do we—that is, those of us who represent Lutheran and Wesleyan[1] traditions—talk so differently about transformation and specifically about moral transformation?[2] Before tackling such a question, it is important to acknowledge that some may conclude that it rests upon a false premise. If “we” refers to academically trained ethicists from these traditions, it is not entirely clear that our talk about moral transformation is always so different. To take but one example, in his book The Theory and Practice of Virtue, the Lutheran ethicist Gil Meilaender draws constructively upon works written by Stanley Hauerwas in what was arguably his most Wesleyan phase.[3] Moreover, the shape of Hauerwas’s work was deeply influenced by George Lindbeck, a Lutheran.[4] In turn, each of these thinkers has shaped the work of a rising generation of Lutheran and Wesleyan scholars writing in the area of character ethics. Highlighting the realities of such cross-pollination and convergence, an argument could be made that our traditions are not meaningfully different in their views of transformation.

[2]       Nevertheless, especially when the “we” of that focal question extends beyond the circle of academic ethicists, I believe one does find consequential differences between our traditions, and I have as a chief authority for this conclusion: a Facebook post. Under the press of family needs, in the summer of 2015 I resigned a professorship at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and moved to United Theological Seminary, a United Methodist school in Dayton, Ohio. Following a class on October 25, I posted: “After trying to persuade Lutherans, teaching virtue ethics to Methodists feels a bit like shooting fish in a barrel.” Much more than my Lutheran pupils, my Methodist students readily took to the central claims of virtue ethics—that human beings need to be morally transformed and that such transformation happens over time through repeated practice in virtue.

[3]       This observation returns us to our original question: why do Lutherans and Wesleyans think about moral transformation differently? They do so at least in part, I argue, because Lutheranism and Wesleyanism represent distinct traditions shaped powerfully by their respective founders, who diverged not only in their immediate practical aims but even more decisively in their theological visions, particularly in how they envisioned the relationship between divine grace and human free will. Even as Luther and Wesley sought to sing praises to God, the particular scales they sang most often and ardently led them to produce markedly different melodies. And yet, as my conclusion will argue, the convergences one might identify among some academic ethicists are not simply departures from these traditions but amplify notes that, though often muted, are present within each.

 

I. Differences in Lutheran and Wesleyan Orientations

[4]       To claim that all of the contours of the Lutheran and Wesleyan traditions are direct outworkings of the respective visions of Martin Luther and John Wesley would, of course, be hopelessly naive. Indeed, both had trouble bringing into line even their contemporaries who purported to be “followers,” witnessed in Luther’s ineffectual admonitions to the Swabian Peasants and Wesley’s fruitless protestations when Francis Asbury assumed the title of “bishop.”[5] And yet, each unquestionably left a deep stamp upon these later traditions. For instance, The Book of Concord not only contains a number of Luther’s writings but repeatedly refers to his works as reliable explanations of the faith and proclaims that the true teachings of the Christian faith were rediscovered as a result of having been “purified by Dr. Luther.”[6] Similarly, in its Book of Discipline the United Methodist Church, the largest Wesleyan denomination, identifies Wesley’s “Standard Sermons” as among its doctrinal standards.[7] Hence, even if Luther and Wesley do not account for all later differences between the traditions that claim their names, their elevated positions within those traditions make them natural places to look for some of the impulses that produce major differences.

[5]       When specifically considering why Lutherans and Wesleyans differ on questions of moral transformation, we might begin by acknowledging that a contributing factor is found in the context and aims of their ministries—and perhaps even more significantly, in how their followers commonly narrate these contexts and aims. Luther, for his part, is remembered as the staunch defender of “justification by grace through faith, apart from works of the law,” the critic of works-righteousness.[8] Meanwhile, Wesley and his followers sought to counteract what they saw as a prevailing moral laxity with the promotion of holiness and thus identified themselves as “messengers of God, to those who are Christians in name, but heathens in heart and life.”[9] To illustrate the difference here, we might imagine the Christian faith as existing between two poles that denote its bounds, one marked “works righteousness” and the other “antinomianism.” Even as each addressed challenges from both poles, then, Luther and Wesley (in our memories and to a considerable degree in actuality) deployed their primary efforts against threats from different directions: Luther against those arising from works-righteousness and Wesley against those arising from antinomianism.

[6]       This difference in orientation contributes in a number of ways to the differences in how we speak of moral transformation. Yet it does not itself constitute those differences. On just what is it that we differ, then? To the extent that we inherit the legacies of our founders, Lutherans and Wesleyans tend to diverge on three key points at which Luther and Wesley routinely sounded significantly different notes. The first is the temporal span generally required for Christian moral transformation; in other words, we offer different accounts of how long transformation typically takes. The second concerns the possible extent of sanctification; that is, we diverge over how far transformation might extend. Third and, as I will argue, most foundationally, we differ over the role of human agency in moral transformation; put differently, at the center of these disagreements stands a difference over the question of how transformation occurs. These differences emerge with particular clarity when we attend to the themes that Luther and Wesley characteristically stress, those theological notes they sing frequently and in the fortissimo.

 

II. The Temporal Span of Transformation

[7]       Central and salient themes in Luther’s thought suggest that the crucial Christian transformation occurs in the moment of faith. Prominent among these is one of Luther’s favorite metaphors in which he, drawing upon Matthew 7:18, likens the Christian to a fruit tree. For instance, in his Commentary on Galatians, Luther writes, “But after a man is justified by faith, now possesses Christ by faith, and knows that He is his righteousness and life, he will certainly not be idle but, like a sound tree, will bear good fruit.”[10] Faith fundamentally transforms us and makes us not only good trees who bear good fruit but indeed holy. Thus, in On the Councils and the Churches, Luther writes that “Christian holiness … is found where the Holy Spirit gives people faith in Christ and thus sanctifies them … that is, he renews heart, soul, body, work, and conduct, inscribing the commandments of God not on tables of stone, but in hearts of flesh.”[11] Faith thus has immediate consequences, effecting both justification and the transformation of life that Wesley typically calls “sanctification.” For Luther, then, justification and sanctification frequently appear simply to name different facets of the same reality.[12] As Tuomo Mannermaa notes, the distinction between justification and sanctification “is not at all a central or constitutive distinction in the theology of Luther.”[13]

[8]       And yet Wesley views this distinction as fundamental. In September of 1739, during a stage in which he was wrestling with such doubts about the comprehensiveness of the transformation he experienced in his heartwarming conversion on Aldersgate Street, Wesley wrote in his journal, “I believe justification to be wholly distinct from sanctification, and necessarily antecedent to it.”[14] Wesley publicly elaborated this distinction in a 1760 sermon by introducing a third conceptual category: the new birth. Justification and the new birth are, he maintains, mutually implicating such that “[i]n the moment we are justified by the grace of God through the redemption that is in Jesus, we are also ‘born of the Spirit.’ ”[15] And yet new birth, which Wesley also calls “regeneration,” is but the first step in sanctification, for sanctification is “a progressive work” through which we “gradually … ‘grow up in [Christ] who is our head.’ ”[16] Accordingly, perhaps Wesley’s most often used metaphor for the Christian life is as a process of maturation akin to the development through which one grows from infancy into adulthood. This development begins with justification, in which we are born again as “babes in Christ,” but continues through sanctification in which we grow into Christ’s likeness.[17]

[9]       The difference between Wesley’s metaphor of Christian life as maturation and Luther’s as the miraculous and immediate metamorphosis in which one becomes a good tree that bears good fruit underlies Wesley’s 1787 complaint: “Who has wrote more ably than Martin Luther on justification by faith alone? And who was more ignorant of the doctrine of sanctification, or more confused in his conceptions of it?”[18] This is because Luther’s intimations that faith brings an immediate transformation elides the distinction between the immediate work of justification and the gradual, transformative work of sanctification that Wesley finds so crucial.

 

III.  The Ultimate Possibilities of Christian Transformation

[10]     Not only does Christian transformation take longer in Wesley’s typical view than in Luther’s, but it also extends higher or farther, indeed to the pinnacle of “Christian perfection.” According to Luther’s view, justification makes one a good tree that bears good fruit, yet one is never so good to be freed from all sin, a point classically expressed in the dictum that the Christian is always simul justus et peccator.[19] Even as one is just or righteous, one also remains a sinner, and “it is impossible for you to become … as clear and spotless as the sun,” for you will nevertheless “still have spots and wrinkles.”[20] Accordingly, as Luther puts it in his Commentary on Genesis, “this righteousness has merely its beginning in this life, and it cannot attain perfection in this flesh.”[21] Although called to perfection, “[s]o long as we live here on earth,” the Christian remains “a work that God has begun, but not yet completed.”[22]

[11]     Wesley, on the other hand, strenuously insists that Christians can attain perfection in this life and even suggested that recovery of this teaching is the purpose for which God raised up the Methodists.[23] Perfection, as Wesley understands it, refers to one who has “the mind which was in Christ, and … so walketh as [Christ] walked; a man that hath clean hands and a pure heart … one in who there is no occasion for stumbling and who, accordingly, doth not commit sin.”[24] Lest the term “perfection” mislead, however, it is important to note three crucial qualifications that define its meaning in Wesley’s thought. First, perfection does not entail faultlessness in all conduct. Rather, Wesley maintains that Christian perfection frees one from sin in the form of voluntary transgressions even as one may still fall prey to involuntary transgressions. While Wesley insists that involuntary transgressions are not sin properly so-called, he nonetheless avoids the term “sinless perfection,” so that he should not seem to contradict himself.[25] Second, perfection “is capable of being lost”[26]; even those who have attained perfection can give way to “backsliding.” Third, and perhaps most crucially, perfection is not a static ideal but a progressive reality. On earth, Wesley writes, there is no perfection “which does not admit of a continual increase.”[27]  To be perfect in Wesleyan parlance, then, is to will only love, even as it remains ever possible for love to wax, to wane, or to cause harm inadvertently. Nonetheless, Wesley adamantly maintains that central to Christianity is the promise that “this [perfect] character shall be mine if I will not rest till I attain it.”[28]

 

IV. Human and Divine Agency in Moral Transformation

[12]     Wesley’s readiness to speak about the positive role of human effort in moral transformation—witnessed in the previous quotation with his demand that we “not rest,” elsewhere in his calls for us to “work out [our] own salvation,”[29] and more generally in what Randy Maddox terms his understanding of the “cooperant nature of grace”[30]—points to a third difference between him and Luther, and indeed the one that I argue is the foundational theological divergence that gives rise to the previous two. Most simply, Luther and Wesley operate with contrasting conceptions of the relationship between divine grace and human free will and thus with different understandings of how Christian transformation takes place.

[13]     Significant portions of Luther’s writings suggest that human free will has virtually no role in salvation or more generally in moral transformation. Making this point memorably, in The Bondage of the Will Luther likens the human will to “a beast of burden”: “If God rides it, it wills and goes where God wills… If Satan rides, it wills and goes where Satan wills… but the riders themselves contend for the possession and control of it.”[31] Metaphors of this sort lead to the rhetorical flourish in which Luther proclaims, “We must therefore go all out and completely deny free choice, referring everything to God.”[32] Similar passages elsewhere suggest that such divine determinism applies not just to the inception of the Christian life but to growth or continuance in it, as when Luther preaches that “it is not for you to work or to begin to be godly, as little as it is to further and complete it.”[33] Rather than us working, it is Christ who works in us; grace subsumes the identity of the Christian to the extent that “Christ is speaking, acting, and performing all actions in him.”[34]

[14]     Even if human free will is not operant in the Christian life as Luther understands it, however, that does not mean that there is no human effort. Indeed, even in The Bondage of the Will, Luther writes that God “does not work without us, because it is for this very reason that he has recreated and preserves us, that he might work in us and we might cooperate with him.”[35] God, then, works in us but we also participate in the operation. And yet Luther consistently casts such participation in negative terms. That is, to the extent that it contributes anything, human effort does not so much empower or enliven good human actions but rather restrains human sinfulness. Thus, one must take care, Luther writes, “to discipline his body by fastings, watchings, labors, and other reasonable discipline to subject it to the Spirit.”[36] And this is the lesson that we learn from the saints who, “with all their works, prayers, fastings, labors and manifold exercises” were “fighting their own flesh, to chastise it, make it subject to the spirit and quench its evil lusts and desires.”[37] The role of human labor and strivings appears therefore aimed at suppressing the peccator that unavoidably endures within in order that it may not disrupt the flow of divine grace through oneself and into one’s actions.

[15]     Contrast this tendency with Wesley’s vision. No less than Luther, Wesley strenuously maintains that divine grace has an absolute precedence in the Christian life. “[I]t is … impossible,” Wesley asserts, “for us to ‘come’ out of our sins, yea, or to make the least motion toward it, till he who hath all power in heaven and earth calls our dead souls to life.”[38] God extends that power to us in the form that Wesley calls “prevenient” or “preventing” grace, which “enlightens every man that cometh into the world.”[39] But in the Christian life, God’s power takes the further form of “convincing grace,” which leads to justification, regeneration, and sanctification.[40] Regenerated by the grace of God that goes before them, Christians are enabled to cooperate with the continued grace of God that sustains them along the way of salvation. “First, God worketh in you; therefore you can work… Secondly, God worketh in you, therefore you must work: you must be ‘workers together with him’ ”[41] Even as Wesley acknowledges that it is possible for God to work in us irresistibly “for a time,” he insists that this is not “God’s general manner of working.”[42] Rather, God characteristically acts in such a way that we maintain “that liberty which is essential to a moral agent,”[43] which includes the possibility of rejecting grace.

[16]     As Wesley’s emphasis upon Christian perfection indicates, humanity’s collaboration with grace has a clear and prominent positive valence. Much like Luther, Wesley routinely calls Christians to restrain their sins. Indeed, one of his most frequent summaries of the Christian life, which also provides the structure for “The General Rules of the Methodist Church,” begins with the admonition, “Cease to do evil.” To this, however, he adds the further words of Isaiah: “learn to do well.”[44] In the highest reaches of Christian perfection, such doing is partially propelled by the possession of “those virtues which were also in Christ Jesus.”[45] Moreover, Wesley suggests that one grows towards those reaches through such grace-aided effort. Faith, according to Wesley, is “made perfect by works,” for “[t]he more we exert our faith, the more it is increased,”[46] and it is faith that drives sanctification.[47] Yet, however profoundly we may be transformed, we never reach a point where we can stand on our own. Rather, we ever have need of Christ’s grace, for, as Wesley puts it, “our perfection is not like that of a tree, which flourishes by the sap derived from its own root, but … like that of a branch, which united to the vine, bears fruit, but severed from it, is ‘dried up and withered.’ ”[48]

[17]     Not only do Luther and Wesley here differ over how moral transformation occurs, but this helps to explain their previously examined divergences on questions of how long transformation typically requires and how far it might extend. Both Luther and Wesley suggest the foundational position of this theme with the importance they ascribe to their accounts of grace and free will. Without the belief that “God foreknows all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably,” Luther asserts, “Christian faith is entirely extinguished.”[49] Meanwhile, Wesley contends that any account that does not include robust human cooperation constitutes “a blow at the root—the root of all holiness, all true religion.”[50] In addition to such declarations, we might also recognize Luther’s and Wesley’s respective accounts of grace and free will as the first links in conceptual chains that lead to the other differences in their views on moral transformation. If it is the case, as Luther suggests, that the determinative agency in good works is that of Christ who graciously lives in me, then moral transformation occurs instantaneously in the moment when Christ miraculously indwells the soul and Christ’s supreme agency, while perhaps slightly inhibited, can nonetheless operate even in spite of my many imperfections. Conversely, in Wesley’s account, the cooperative character of divine grace entails a more temporally dilated moral transformation in which grace remakes one’s agency so that one might be a true coworker with God and which extends even to perfection in love.

 

V. Convergences

[18]     To argue that Lutheran and Wesleyan differences on moral transformation trace to contrasting theological views of our founders and to elaborate their divergences nonetheless leaves us with the question of what these differences mean. Most of all, do they render our traditions entirely discordant or might there exist possibilities for some degree of harmony, even if it will remain necessarily polyphonic? I believe such possibilities exist, particularly when we attend to themes that Luther and Wesley invoke less frequently and fervently, theological notes that they sang more rarely and in the pianissimo. Although they will not produce perfect consonance, within both Luther and Wesley there remain scales whose inclusion or amplification could bring our traditions into greater harmony.

[19]     If it is indeed the case, as I have argued, that one finds the key theological divergence between Luther and Wesley in their respective accounts of grace and free will, then this is also a pivotal place as we search for possibilities for harmony. To begin, one might note that the above presentation, which has stressed the primacy of grace in Wesley’s thought, should exonerate him from the not infrequently leveled charges that Wesley’s Arminianism is but a form of Semi-Pelagianism,[51] which The Book of Concord explicitly rejects.[52] Wesley would have no truck with the claim that one “could make a beginning of his conversion” but instead views conversion as the addition of grace upon grace as prevenient grace fructifies into convincing grace and ultimately into sanctifying grace.[53] This brings Wesley more into tune with Luther than in many renderings.

[20]     Some of the more infrequent and less insistent notes in Luther’s works also nuance his thought in ways that move it closer to Wesley than it might otherwise appear. These receive especially clear expression in the 1519 sermon “Two Kinds of Righteousness,” in which Luther distinguishes between the “alien righteousness,” which is the righteousness of Christ “instilled from without” and which justifies us, and “our proper righteousness,” by which “we work with that first and alien righteousness.”[54] While Luther again accents the negative role of such righteousness in restraining our sinfulness, he also identifies it with the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—and asserts that through it we are “transformed into [Christ’s] likeness” and that our own righteousness “goes on to complete the first.”[55] In such passages, Luther suggests that even as they are forever dependent upon the precedence of grace, human beings in fact make a positive contribution in moral transformation. And Meilaender finds similar themes in Luther’s “Against Latomus.” Building upon the insight that Luther uses the dictum simul justus et peccator in two distinct ways—a first to refer to persons in their totality as entirely justified and entirely sinners and a second in which persons can be seen instead as partially each—Meilaender argues that this second view makes “room for the gradual achievement of moral virtue through effort and discipline,” even as the first must remain the dominant paradigm to which we continually return.[56] Such a view, which upholds both the prevenience and accompaniment of grace while also allowing human beings to cooperate in ways that make a positive contribution in moral transformation, hits many of the same chords as does Wesley.

[21]     Even as this gap narrows, however, a significant dissonance still remains on a key question of grace and free will: Does God will all things necessarily or do such necessary divine motions represent the exception rather than the rule—the rule, in Wesley’s view, being that God works in a fashion that allows for the resistance of human free will? Luther, as we have seen, at least in key places sets great store by the former, whereas Wesley sees it as a major threat. 

[22]     Nevertheless, as one might expect given the potential for a more nuanced account of Luther’s views on the human ability to grow in virtue and cooperate positively in sanctification, resources also exist for convergence between him and Wesley on the question of how long moral transformation takes. In “Two Kinds of Righteousness,” for instance, Luther contends that even alien righteousness “is not instilled all at once, but it begins [and] makes progress.”[57] Elsewhere, he similarly suggests that neither baptism nor repentance heals us immediately but instead mark “a beginning … that our healing may proceed from day to day until we are cured.”[58] Accentuation of such themes would undercut Wesley’s insinuation that Luther is ignorant of sanctification, for even if Luther does not adhere to a rigid linguistic division between justification and sanctification, one could easily recognize this progressive process of healing as the conceptual analogue of sanctification as Wesley understands it.

[23]     Not only that, but despite defining sanctification as a progressive work, Wesley’s considered view suggests that God can, at least in a key sense and some cases, complete such work instantaneously. In this vein, he writes in “The Scripture Way of Salvation” that “it is infinitely desirable, were it the will of God” that one should be cleansed of all sin “instantaneously; that the Lord should destroy sin ‘by the breath of his mouth’ in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”[59] Moreover, Wesley avers that God works such transformation on the basis of one’s faith. None of this, to be clear, eliminates all progress since, again, even perfection is a progressive reality for Wesley. Nevertheless, his suggestion that the crucial Christian moral transformation may occur immediately symphonically blends with Luther’s most common depictions.

[24]     Finally, the dissonance between Wesley and Luther on Christian perfection could be at least partially diminished. As we have seen, fears that perfection would refer to a state that admits neither improvement nor potential loss are misplaced given Wesley’s insistence on the possibility for progress and “backsliding.” If this is the case, then Wesley’s view has a deep practical resonance with Luther’s understanding of the Christian as always simul justus et peccator, a resonance found in their common insistence upon the need for continual self-examination, a process that will always return us to recognize our ultimate dependence upon grace. Even those “perfect” in the Wesleyan sense are justified, sanctified, and persist in the Christian life only by the grace of God to which they are continually called to testify in their lives.

[25]     And thus, even if we might perform them with slightly different accents, Lutherans and Wesleyans find ourselves called to play in concert key chords that most especially glorify God’s grace not only as providing the basis for the Christian life but also the indispensable power through which all are upheld, endure, and grow in it. 


Bradley B. Burroughs teaches ethics at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

 

 

WORKS CITED

 

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Bente, Friedrich. Historical Introductions to the Book of Concord. St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 1965.

 

The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. Nashville, Tenn.: United Methodist Publishing House, 2012.

 

Fackre, Gabriel, and Michael Root. Affirmations and Admonitions: Lutheran Decisions and Dialogue with Reformed, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic Churches. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1998.

 

Granquist, Mark Alan. Lutherans in America: A New History. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2015.

 

Hauerwas, Stanley. Against the Nations: War and Survival in a Liberal Society. Minneapolis, Minn.: Winston Press, 1985.

 

________. The State of the University: Academic Knowledges and the Knowledge of God. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.

 

________. Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010.

 

Luther, Martin. The Career of the Reformer I. Vol. 31. 55 vols. American edition ed. Luther's Works, Edited by Helmut T. Lehmann and Harold Grimm. Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957.

 

________. Career of the Reformer II. Vol. 32. 55 vols. American edition ed. Luther's Works, Edited by Helmut T. Lehmann and George W. Forell. Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1958.

 

________. Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5. Vol. 1. 55 vols. American edition ed. Luther's Works, Edited by Jaroslav Pelikan. Saint Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 1958.

 

________. Church and Ministry III. Vol. 35. 55 vols. American Edition ed. Luther's Works, Edited by Eric W. Gritsch. Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1960.

 

________. The Christian in Society II. Vol. 45. 55 vols. American edition ed. Luther's Works, Edited by Helmut T. Lehmann and Walther I. Brandt. Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1962.

 

________. Lectures on Galatians 1535: Chapters 1-4. Vol. 26. 55 vols. American edition ed. Luther's Works, Edited by Jaroslav Pelikan and Walter A. Hansen. Saint Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 1964.

 

________. Lectures on Galatians 1535: Chapters 5-6 and Lectures on Galatians 1519: Chapters 1-6. Vol. 27. 55 vols. American edition ed. Luther's Works, Edited by Jaroslav Pelikan and Walter A. Hansen. Saint Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 1964.

 

________. Church and Ministry III. Vol. 41. 55 vols. American edition ed. Luther's Works, Edited by Helmut T. Lehmann and Eric W. Gritsch. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966.

 

________. Career of the Reformer III. Vol. 33. 55 vols. American edition ed. Luther's Works, Edited by Helmut T. Lehmann and Philip S. Watson. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972.

 

________. Sermons of Martin Luther. Vol. 1. 8 vols., Edited by John Nicholas Lenker. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1995.

 

Maddox, Randy. Responsible Grace: John Wesley's Practical Theology. Nashville, Tenn.: Kingswood Books, 1994.

 

Mannermaa, Tuomo. Christ Present in Faith: Luther's View of Justification. Translated by Kirsi Irmeli Stjerna. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005.

 

Meilaender, Gilbert. The Theory and Practice of Virtue. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984.

 

Pelagius. Pelagius's Commentary on St Paul's Epistle to the Romans: Translated with Introduction and Notes. Translated by Theodore De Bruyn. Oxford Early Christian Studies; Oxford Early Christian Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

 

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959.

 

Wesley, John. Reasons against a Separation from the Church of England. London: W. Strahan, 1758.

 

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________. Journals and Diaries II: 1739-1743. Vol. 19. The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley, Edited by Albert C. Outler. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990.

 

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1For facility of expression, throughout this paper I utilize the term “Wesleyan” to encompass those from denominations that trace themselves to the work of John Wesley.

 

[2] This paper has been improved by generous feedback from Brach Jennings, Justus Hunter, and Presian Burroughs. Of course, however, all remaining mistakes or infelicities remain the responsibility of the author.

 

[3] Gilbert Meilaender, The Theory and Practice of Virtue (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), see especially 104 and also 9, 13, 54.

 

[4] See, for instance, Stanley Hauerwas, Against the Nations: War and Survival in a Liberal Society (Minneapolis, Minn.: Winston Press, 1985), 2. Also Stanley Hauerwas, Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010), 193; Stanley Hauerwas, The State of the University: Academic Knowledges and the Knowledge of God (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 118.

 

[5] John Wesley, The Letters of John Wesley, ed. John Telford, 8 vols., vol. 8 (London: Epworth Press, 1960), 91.

 

[6] “Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord,” in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ed. Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 501.

 

[7] The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church,  (Nashville, Tenn.: United Methodist Publishing House, 2012), 75.

 

[8] See for instance Mark Alan Granquist, Lutherans in America: A New History (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2015), 10.

 

[9] John Wesley, Reasons against a Separation from the Church of England (London: W. Strahan, 1758), ¶7.

 

[10] Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians 1535: Chapters 1-4, Luther's Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Walter A. Hansen, American edition ed., 55 vols., vol. 26 (Saint Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 1964), 154-55. For other uses of this metaphor, see ibid., 126. Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians 1535: Chapters 5-6 and Lectures on Galatians 1519: Chapters 1-6, Luther's Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Walter A. Hansen, American edition ed., 55 vols., vol. 27 (Saint Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 1964), 74, 79.  “The Freedom of a Christian” in Martin Luther, The Career of the Reformer I, Luther's Works, ed. Helmut T. Lehmann and Harold Grimm, American edition ed., 55 vols., vol. 31 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957), 361. “On Temporal Authority” in Martin Luther, The Christian in Society II, Luther's Works, ed. Helmut T. Lehmann and Walther I. Brandt, American edition ed., 55 vols., vol. 45 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1962), 89. Making a similar point elsewhere, Luther writes, “Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire.” Here again, the natural—and indeed immediate and inexorable—connection that the metaphor posits suggests an immediacy of transformation, certainly in one’s behavior and quite presumably in the agent herself. “Preface to the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans” in Martin Luther, Church and Ministry III, Luther's Works, ed. Eric W. Gritsch, American Edition ed., 55 vols., vol. 35 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1960), 371. While the full bibliographic information is provided in the initial citation of each volume of Luther’s Works, subsequent citations will be abbreviated LW followed by the volume number and page.

 

[11] “On the Councils and the Churches” in Martin Luther, Church and Ministry III, Luther's Works, ed. Helmut T. Lehmann and Eric W. Gritsch, American edition ed., 55 vols., vol. 41 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 145.

 

[12] Gabriel Fackre make similar observation about Gerhard Forde’s account of justification and sanctification, writing that in his presentation “[t]he new self does not need to be told what to do … for it does spontaneously (sanctification) what its new state (justification) entails.” Gabriel Fackre and Michael Root, Affirmations and Admonitions: Lutheran Decisions and Dialogue with Reformed, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic Churches (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1998), 35.

 

[13] Tuomo Mannermaa, Christ Present in Faith: Luther's View of Justification, trans., Kirsi Irmeli Stjerna (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 49.

 

[14] “Journal: September 13, 1739” in John Wesley, Journals and Diaries II: 1739-1743, The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley, ed. Albert C. Outler, vol. 19 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990), 96. While the full bibliographic information is provided in the initial citation of each volume of the Works of John Wesley, subsequent citations will be abbreviated WJW followed by the volume number and page.

 

[15] John Wesley, Sermons II, The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley, ed. Albert C. Outler, vol. 2 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1985), intro.1.

 

[16] Ibid., IV.3.

 

[17] For prominent uses of this metaphor, see “The New Birth” in John Wesley, Sermons I, The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley, ed. Albert C. Outler, vol. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1984), II.7. “On Sin in Believers” in ibid., IV.13. “Christian Perfection” in Wesley, WJW 2, II.21.

 

[18] “On God’s Vineyard” in John Wesley, Sermons III, The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley, ed. Albert C. Outler, vol. 3 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1985), I.5.

 

[19] For one of the most often cited examples of this insight, see Luther, LW 26, 232.

 

[20] Ibid., 233.

 

[21] Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5, Luther's Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, American edition ed., 55 vols., vol. 1 (Saint Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 1958), 64.

 

[22] “Defense and Explanation of All the Articles, 1521” in Martin Luther, Career of the Reformer II, Luther's Works, ed. Helmut T. Lehmann and George W. Forell, American edition ed., 55 vols., vol. 32 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1958), 24.

 

[23] Randy Maddox, Responsible Grace: John Wesley's Practical Theology (Nashville, Tenn.: Kingswood Books, 1994), 180.

 

[24] “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection” in John Wesley, Doctrinal and Controversial Treatises II, The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley, ed. Richard P. Heitzenrater, vol. 13 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013), ¶15.4.

 

[25] Ibid., ¶19.

 

[26] Ibid., ¶26.9.

 

[27] “Christian Perfection” in Wesley, WJW 2, I.9.

 

[28] “A Plain Account of Genuine Christianity” in John Wesley, John Wesley, ed. Albert C. Outler (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), II.3.

 

[29] See especially “On Working Out Our Own Salvation” in Wesley, WJW 3.

 

[30] Maddox, Responsible Grace, 316.

 

[31] “The Bondage of the Will” in Martin Luther, Career of the Reformer III, Luther's Works, ed. Helmut T. Lehmann and Philip S. Watson, American edition ed., 55 vols., vol. 33 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972), 65-66.

 

[32] Ibid., 245.

 

[33] “First Sunday in Advent” in Martin Luther, Sermons of Martin Luther, ed. John Nicholas Lenker, 8 vols., vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1995), ¶21.

 

[34] Luther, LW 26, 170.Mannermaa comments: “Christ is, thus, the true agent of good works in the Christian.” Mannermaa, Christ Present in Faith, 50.

 

[35] “The Bondage of the Will” in Luther, LW 33, 243.

 

[36] “The Freedom of a Christian” in Luther, LW 31, 358.

 

[37] “Defense and Explanation” in Luther, LW 32, 21.

 

[38] “On Working Out Our Own Salvation” in Wesley, WJW 3, III.3.

 

[39] Ibid., III.4.

 

[40] See, for instance, ibid., II.1.

 

[41] Ibid., III.3 and III.7.

 

[42] “The General Spread of the Gospel” in Wesley, WJW 2, ¶12.

 

[43] Ibid., ¶11.

 

[44] “On Working Out Our Own Salvation” in Wesley, WJW 3, II.4.

 

[45] “The Circumcision of the Heart” in Wesley, WJW 1, I.1. Elsewhere, Wesley identifies salvation more generally with the possession of “all holy and heavenly tempers, and by consequence all holiness of conversation.” See “A Farther Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion, Part I” in John Wesley, The Appeals to Men of Reason and Religion and Certain Related Open Letters, The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley, ed. Frank Baker, vol. 11 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1975), 106.

 

[46] “Minutes of Some Late Conversations Between the Rev. Mr. Wesleys and Others” in John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, 3rd ed., vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1978), 277.

 

[47] In “The Scripture Way of Salvation” Wesley writes, “Exactly as we are justified by faith, so we are sanctified by faith. Faith is the condition, and the only condition, of sanctification.” See “The Scripture Way of Salvation” in Wesley, WJW 2, III.3.

 

[48] “Thoughts on Christian Perfection” in Wesley, WJW 13, Q5.

 

[49] “Bondage of the Will” in Luther, LW 33, 42-3.

 

[50] “The Menace of Antinomianism” in Wesley, John Wesley, 380.

 

[51] For one instance of the claim that Arminianism represents an outworking of semi-Pelagian principles, see Friedrich Bente, Historical Introductions to the Book of Concord (St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 1965), ¶225.

 

[52] “Epitome of the Formula of Concord” in The Book of Concord, ed. Tappert, 471.

 

[53] For the relationship of prevenient and convincing grace, see “On Working Out Our Own Salvation” in Wesley, WJW 3, II.1. On sanctifying grace, see “The Means of Grace” in Wesley, WJW 1, II.1ff. Additionally, one might note that the charge of semi-Pelagianism fails to stick for another reason. Contrary to the caricature often rendered and despite the fact that it took Augustine years to identify it precisely, the crux of his controversy with the Pelagians lay not in their denial of grace. Instead, it was to be found in the fact that the Pelagians operated with what Augustine considered an insufficient understanding of grace. For Pelagius and his followers, grace was to be found in Christ, who “forgave sins freely and gave us an example of righteousness” [Pelagius, Pelagius's Commentary on St Paul's Epistle to the Romans: Translated with Introduction and Notes, Oxford Early Christian Studies; Oxford Early Christian Studies., trans., Theodore De Bruyn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 95.] Augustine, however, insisted that grace operated not only in such external forms but also as God “works in us,” first so that we may will and then to cooperate with us. [Augustine, “On Grace and Free Will,” xxxiii in Augustine, Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff, trans., Peter Holmes and Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 5 (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994).] On such a theological map, Wesley’s stands unambiguously in Augustinian territory. 

 

[54] “Two Kinds of Righteousness” in Luther, LW 31, 297 and 299.

 

[55] Ibid., 300.

 

[56] Meilaender, The Theory and Practice of Virtue, 111; see also 120.

 

[57] “Two Kinds of Righteousness” in Luther, LW 31, 299.

 

[58] Luther, LW 32, 24.

 

[59] “The Scripture Way of Salvation” in Wesley, WJW 2, III.18.


© May 2017
​Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 17, Issue 3