Wesleyan Theology I - Lesson 14

Total Depravity and Prevenient Grace

Wesley describes total depravity as "a want of original righteousness," and also in terms of a "natural propensity to sin.” Luther, Calvin and George Croft Cell agree. Eastern Orthodox teaches that Adam and Eve were not so fallen as to be unable to respond to any subsequent proffered grace. Wesley teaches the total depravity of humans and the sovereign act of God in salvation. He uses prevenient grace in two distinct ways. The “narrow” sense refers to all those degrees of grace that come before justifying and sanctifying grace. The “broad” use views all grace as prevenient and emphasizes the prior activity of God because he is always ahead of us and takes the initiative. Prevenient grace can be understood as both cooperant and free grace. 

Kenneth J. Collins
Wesleyan Theology I
Lesson 14
Watching Now
Total Depravity and Prevenient Grace


A. Negative superlatives

B. Sermon, The Way to the Kingdom

C. Other Reformers

D. Contrast with Eastern Orthodox view

E. How God sovereignly acts in the order of salvation


A. Everyone has some measure of light

B. Prevenient grace is based on the work of Christ and applied to all people

C. Two distinct uses of prevenient grace


  • For the first 5 centuries after Christ, the theology of the Christian Church was ecumenical. Since then, you have differences in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology, and then the Reformation with different Protestant traditions. The Church has a history of promoting and preserving knowledge in all fields of study. Ideological secularization is characterizing theological ideas as irrelevant and not academic. Structural secularization is the process of marginalizing the subject of theology in the academy. Both revelation and reason are both important elements in the discussion of philosophical and theological subjects. God is transcendant, which means that he is distinct from everything that has been made. God is immanent, which means that the Spirit of God can be communicated in time and space through media, but is not the media itself. 

  • God can only be fully know by revelation. However, we can know some things about God by observation and reason. Thomas Aquinas gave 5 reasons that supports the idea of the existence of God. We can perceive motion and there must be something that caused the motion. Nothing can come from nothing, so something must exist at all times, which is God. Humans are contingent beings, but God’s essence is to exist. There are different degrees of goodness and complexity in organisms, so there must be a being of a highest form of good. Design and purpose must be at work because it’s not reasonable that the universe resulted from chance. Dembski also estimates that the mathematical odds for everything happening from a single cell at less than 1 in 10 to the 150th power. 

  • Humans are both material and spiritual and have the capacity to experience transcendence. Without God, you are describing a diminished view of humanity. John Calvin says that wisdom is the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves. Revelation of God comes from Scripture (the most important), tradition, reason and experience. Theology should be participatory and result in transformation. …Wesley’s theology describe in two words would be, “holiness” and “grace.” Wesley’s theology is conjunctive. Holy love is a tension. Holiness results in separation and love results in community. Wesley’s view of grace includes both cooperant grace and free grace. 

  • Two sources for knowledge are revelation and reason. Empiricism teaches  that you get knowledge from your senses. Rationalism teaches that you get knowledge from the operation of your mind. Kant said that the mind makes a formal contribution to knowledge by organizing it.  All knowledge begins with experience but it does not all arise out of experience. Reason can only take us so far. Humans are the only species that worship God.

  • Scripture is unique, the word of God and inspired by God. Scripture is the source of truth and provides a norm for truth. Wesley gives four arguments for inspiration. They are miracles, prophecy, goodness of the doctrine and the moral character of the penmen. Characteristics of Scripture include the sufficiency, clarity and wholeness of Scripture. 

  • Univocal refers to a one-to-one correspondence between the language we use and the reality of God. Equivocal refers to the idea that human language does not correspond directly to describing God, so it acknowledges ambiguity and more than one interpretation. Analogical refers to language used to describe God using  analogy. “Via Negativa” is describing characteristics that God is “not.” “Via Positiva” is describing a characteristic that is true of God, using analogy. Aseity means that God’s essence  is to exist. Eternity means that God transcends the limitations of time-space. There is not a space where God is not. Omniscience of God means that God knows all things. Omnipotence of God means that God is all powerful. Once God creates, there is an order in creation, and God works within the framework he created.  Immutability means that God’s essence does not change. Leslie Weatherhead describes three aspects of the will of God as the intentional will of God, circumstantial will of God and the ultimate will of God. Wesley describes God’s holiness as purity and simplicity. The wrath of God can be described as God’s unending determined opposition to evil.

  • Triunity describe God’s nature. The concept of the Trinity was foreshadowed in the Old Testament and taught explicitly in the New Testament. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all active in creation, baptism of Jesus and resurrection of Jesus. The Trinity is three distinct persons with the same essence. The distinctiveness has to do, not with their nature or essence, but with the relations. Person is different than an individual. According to Wesley, the Trinity is an invitation to participate in the deeper life of God. The gospel is the universal love of God, manifested in the person of Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Holiness apart from love can result in legalism. Love apart from holiness can result in sentimentality and wishful thinking. 

  • God created humans in his image so we have both a physical and spiritual nature. Sometimes biologists make statements about evolution that are outside of what can be examined and verified by science. According to young earth creationism, creation took place in 6, 24 hour days and the earth is about 6,000 years old. According to theistic evolution, once the process of evolution began, no special supernatural intervention was required for it to continue. The opposite of a naturalistic explanation for life is not supernatural, but intelligent causes. Intelligent design makes information theory and mathematical probability integral to its overall approach. Irreducible complexity argues against gradualism in the evolutionary process. 

  • God freely created the world and chooses to govern within the framework of the created order. The moral law is consistent with the character of God. God uses the moral law to convict the world of sin, bring us to Christ and keep us alive. Natural law is a body of moral principles that can be discerned by reason. Natural law is the will of God expressed in a created order. Deep conscience refers to the interior witness to the foundational principles of the moral law. Four characteristics of our moral design that are evident at the level of the species are interdependence, complementarity, spontaneous order and subsidiarity. 

  • Adam and Eve were created, not just as physical beings, but also spiritual beings. The image of God includes relationality as well as the capacity for rational thought. Wesley describes it as a natural image, political image and moral image. Wesley says that the natural image of God means that we have physical bodies and also a spiritual nature. Humanity is the conduit for God’s blessing of the rest of creation. 

  • The characteristics that give a human personhood belong to another order of explanation than that explored by biology. Sartre, who is an existentialist, says that existence precedes essence. In other words, each person determines their own nature by the choices they make. Others would say that your choices determine your character but that’s separate from your nature. Postmodernism teaches that the self is only a social and linguistic construct. Some scientists have argued that humans do not have a soul, but that cannot be proved or disproved by the scientific method. If God is dead, humanity is dead. Human beings are more than the social groups in which they participate. Humans are animals, but not merely animals.

  • Lucifer brought sin into the world with his sin of pride. The sin of Adam and Eve was unbelief. Wesley describes  unbelief as the perversion of the relationship between God and humanity, a lack of faith in God, resulting in alienation. He distinguishes three types of death as physical death, spiritual death and eternal death. Satan was self-tempted when he sinned. Adam and Eve were tempted by something external to them, Satan.  Wesley sees Adam as a representative of all humans, so all humans inherit Adam’s sin nature. 

  • There are orders of creation and preservation, like family and marriage, that can mediate the grace of God. God sustains creation, and also relates to people as persons. The three-fold circle of divine providence is the outer ring of the whole race of humans, the second smaller circle is all that are called believers and those who profess to be believers, the innermost circle only the true disciples of Jesus who worship God in Spirit and in truth. Wesley doesn’t deny that bad things happen to good people, both from other people and from events in nature. If God eliminated all evil, it would require eliminating freedom, which would also eliminate love. 

  • Wesley describes total depravity as "a want of original righteousness," and also in terms of a "natural propensity to sin.” Luther, Calvin and George Croft Cell agree. Eastern Orthodox teaches that Adam and Eve were not so fallen as to be unable to respond to any subsequent proffered grace. Wesley teaches the total depravity of humans and the sovereign act of God in salvation. He uses prevenient grace in two distinct ways. The “narrow” sense refers to all those degrees of grace that come before justifying and sanctifying grace. The “broad” use views all grace as prevenient and emphasizes the prior activity of God because he is always ahead of us and takes the initiative. Prevenient grace can be understood as both cooperant and free grace. 

  • God acts preveniently to give humans revelation by communicating his divine attributes. God places in humans a moral law that is expressive of the image of God. The Holy Spirit restored to all humans a certain measure of free-will. Original sin makes it impossible for people to respond to God on their own without God restoring their personhood, which they need to be able to respond to God’s grace. God doesn’t do it in a way that overruns a person’s personality.

  • The incarnation is a foundational teaching of the Christian faith. Since Jesus claimed to be God, it’s not an option that he could be just a good person. Paul teaches that Jesus has the same nature as God and that Jesus created all things. Ebionites rejected the divinity and virgin birth of Jesus. Adoptionism taught that Christ was a good man that was penetrated by God’s nature at his baptism and becomes divine, which treats divinity as an acquired attribute. Arias taught that Christ was not coeternal with the Father. He was more than mere man but he was created so he wasn’t equal with God. The first ecumenical council of Nicea in 325 affirms the divinity of Christ in response to the teaching of Arias. Wesley affirmed that Jesus existed as one person with both a human and divine nature. To affirm the essential equality of Christ with God the Father, Wesley often used the terms, “the only-begotten Son of God,” and “the Word of God.” The Son of God is the creator and sustainer of all things and the redeemer of humanity. The difference in the Godhead is relations, not nature. 

  • 1 John 4:2 describes the incarnation as Jesus coming to earth in the flesh. Jesus is also referred to as the Son of David in the Gospels. Jesus was able to become the mediator between God and humanity because his divinity meant that he was not a part of the problem of sin and his humanity meant that he could fully identify with humans. This is a unique and distinct role that can only be accomplished by Jesus, the God-human. Jesus suffered physically and emotionally and then died and was resurrected to new life. This qualifies him to be priest, a mediator between man and God. The title, Son of Man also emphasizes the humanity of Jesus. Apolliniarism taught that Jesus had a human body and soul, but a divine mind rather than a human mind. Docetism taught that Christ is pure spirit and only seemed to have a body. Gnostics view the body as lowly and the mind is considered higher. Monophysitism taught that the divine and human nature of Jesus was mixed into one nature. Nestorianism teaches that the divine and human natures of Jesus were sharply separated. Wesley viewed Jesus as the expression of the God of holy love, maintaining divinity while becoming human.

  • As a prophet, Jesus proclaimed the coming kingdom of God. Messiah in Hebrew has the same meaning as Christ in Greek. It means, “the anointed one.” The baptism of Jesus was the beginning of his public ministry.  When Satan tempted Jesus, the temptation was real because of the humanity of Jesus. It was necessary for Jesus to experience temptation. Jesus as a preacher, went from place to place, proclaiming the kingdom of God. As a teacher, Jesus taught in the synagogues and the listeners described him as teaching with authority. Christ as a lawgiver is seeking to communicate wisdom to humanity. This moral law is connected to God’s character. Jesus performed miracles to heal the sick, bring people back from the dead and demonstrate his power over nature. Christ as priest, became the mediator to bridge the gap between God and humanity. At the cross, what the holiness of God required, the love of God provided. Theories of the atonement are the best attempts of thinking about how to express the atoning work of Jesus. 

  • Penal substitution asserts that atonement primarily involves Jesus’ taking the sinner’s place (‘substitution’) in bearing the penalty (hence ‘penal’) for his or her sin. That penalty was no less than God’s wrath and the sinner’s death. God’s wrath is his unswerving opposition to evil. The moral influence theory teaches that without the fall, that amazing instance of the love of God to humanity would have never existed. Penal substitution and moral influence theory complement each other. In the governmental view, the death of Christ illustrates the punishment which sin may attract and therefore serves good government by acting as a deterrent. Jesus raised from the dead into an immortal body. Only life can give meaning to human existence. Death destroys all meaning. The first time Christ came as a redeemer. As king, Christ is coming again to rule . Three roles of king are giving laws, restoring people to the image of God and reigning in all believing hearts.

  • The personhood of the Holy Spirit is revealed by the roles of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told the disciples that he would send an advocate. The Holy Spirit is an advocate, teacher, proclaims truth, provides direction and assists in prayer. Four characteristics of the Holy Spirit that indicate his deity are eternity, omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience. The Filioque controversy is a difference between how the Eastern Orthodox and Western Traditions describe the nature of the Holy Spirit.

  • At the beginning of creation, the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. The Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible and brings understanding as people read it. The Holy Spirit makes effective the completed work of Christ and gives us the power to live out the Christian life. The Holy Spirit is personal, not an impersonal force. The believers received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost after Christ ascended to heaven. The gifts of the Spirit are for the common good of building up the body of Christ. We should be cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit in our individual lives and his influence should be evident in how we interact corporately.

 John Wesley's beliefs understood from an historical and theological perspective

Dr. Ken Collins

Wesleyan Theology I


Total Depravity and Prevenient Grace

Lesson Transcript


We are continuing our discussion that we've been having on the fall and original sin. This should be no surprise in Wesleyan theology because John Wesley himself paid so much attention to this issue. The issue of the fall and original Sin. And as I mentioned in the last lecture, Wesley wrote one of his largest treatises specifically on this topic. And I want to start out with a discussion, and this may come as a surprise to some outside the Wesleyan tradition who had not realized this about our tradition that John Wesley clearly articulated a doctrine of total depravity, a doctrine of total depravity in a way similar to John Calvin, and similar, at least in some respects, to Martin Luther as well. And so what we are going to see here in this discussion, if you will, is that because of Wesley's understanding of original sin, which is basically Augustinian, basically Augustinian, that John Wesley because we're dealing at a foundational level of his theology in terms of sin and grace. John Wesley Especially his orientation to Augustine on this issue is quintessentially a Western theologian. Now, you know, you you might be asking yourself, why am I making such a point of this? Well, there was a fad in Wesley studies a few years back where people were talking about Wesley's theology in terms of Eastern orthodoxy and trying to stress the similarity between John Wesley's theology and the Eastern fathers. They were making a distinction between the father's and Eastern orthodoxy. And, you know, that's a very helpful discussion. And I profited from reading some of the scholars and their examination of Wesley's theology. However, we have to get back to the basic fact that although there is some similarity in terms of Wesley's understanding of sanctification and the Eastern fathers, Wesley was not an Eastern theologian.


He was not in the Eastern paradigm, if you will. He was rooted quite deeply in a Western paradigm because he's Augustinian in his understanding of the fall and sin, and so considered apart from the grace of God, the present spiritual condition of humanity is suitably described as dark and bleak, to be sure, in his doctrine of original sin. Wesley employs what can only be described as negative superlatives to display the general moral and spiritual abyss into which humanity has descended. Listen to Wesley. Quote is man by nature filled with all manner of evil. Is he void of all good? Is he wholly fallen? Is his soul totally corrupted or to come back to the text? Is every imagination of the thoughts of his heart evil continually? Allow this. Wesley Right. And you are so far a Christian. Deny it. And you are but a heathen. Still rather strong words. Wesley's basically saying you either affirm the truth of this in terms of total corruption or you're a heathen still. That's that's quite strong. And so no doubt for emphasis. Wesley continued this theme of total depravity in several other pieces. In other words, it's not just in one piece, it's in several pieces. And so if we take a look at his sermon on the way to the kingdom, it is expressed in the following comments, quote, there that thou are thou are corrupted in every power, in every faculty of my soul. That thou art totally corrupted in every one of these. All the foundations being out, of course. And in his sermon, the deceitfulness of the human heart. It appears in the observation that, quote, Every imagination of the thought of man's heart is evil and only evil. And that continually. Moreover, in the same sermon, Wesley stresses that men and women are incapable of altering their condition.


Quote, There is in the heart of every child of man an inexhaustible fund of en godliness and unrighteousness, so deeply and strongly rooted in the soul that nothing less than Almighty Grace can cure it. Okay. And so, in a similar fashion, the language of total depravity is found in Wesley's notes upon the New Testament. He explores the depravity of human nature, as well as the consequent need for Christ in all of his offices. And Wesley explores it in this manner. Quote, We are, by nature, at a distance from God. Alienated from him and incapable of free access to him. Hence we want a mediator and intercessor, in a word, a Christ in his priestly office. This regards our state with respect to God. Wesley writes, And with respect to ourselves, we find a total darkness, blindness, ignorance of God and the things of God. Then he continues. Now here we want Christ in his prophetic office to enlighten our minds and teach us the whole will of God. And then lastly, he adds to this filling out the offices for these. We want Christ in his royal character to reign in our hearts and subdue all things to himself. And so beyond these references, Wesley, of course, wrote that very large treatise on original sin, and he considers the corruption of human nature in terms of a want of original righteousness. And so also in terms of a very active power, a propensity to sin, that's Wesley's own language. He talks about he writes about original sin and in terms of a, quote, natural propensity to sin, indicating that depravity, so understood, is not simply a privation, a lack of goodness. It is that. But it is also it is also an active power which predisposes the tempers of the hearts towards sin and this obedience.


And so Wesley employs all of the following phrases to describe the depth and extent of original sin. That is when we consider a human being apart from all the grace of God. And this is the language that Wesley uses, quote, dead in trespasses and sins. Again ungodly ness and unrighteousness. Again. Desperately wicked. Fourth only evil continually. And then fifth. Entire depravity and corruption. This is good Wesleyan language, and some folk in other traditions don't realize that Wesley clearly and extensively articulated a doctrine of total depravity. And so in the language that I have just cited is reminiscent that language is reminiscent of that used by the continental reformers, both Luther and Calvin, in their descriptions of original sin. For his part, Luther, in his lectures on Romans, for example, argues that original sin involves, quote, the loss of all uprightness. It is a proneness toward evil, the loathing of the good, the disdain for light and for wisdom, but fondness for error and for darkness and such emphasis. Emphases are also maintained by the German reformer in his famous treatise, The Bondage of the Will, which was a polemical work written in opposition to the teachings of Erasmus. And so we see that development now. Likewise, Calvin, John Calvin declares in his institutes something very similar. Quote Paul removes all doubt when he teaches that corruption subsists not in one part only, but that none of the soul remains pure or untouched by that mortal disease. Beyond this, the Genevan reformer asserts, for our nature is not only destitute and empty of good, but so fertile and fruitful of every evil that it cannot be idle. And so. Seeing the similarity here between Wesley's view on the one hand and then Luther and Calvin on the other.


An early 20th century Wesleyan theologian named George Crosswell made the case that Wesley did indeed, quote, plant his feet identically in the footprints made by Saint Paul, Augustine, Luther and Calvin. Later, making a similar came a claim. William Canon, a United Methodist bishop and scholar, affirmed that Wesley they are many and theologian quote, goes all the way with Calvin and with Luther and with Augustine in his insistence that man is by nature. Totally destitute of righteousness and subject to the judgment and wrath of God. Okay. And then beyond this, more recently in the work of Collin Williams, another Wesleyan theologian, he wrote that Wesley's approach was once again essentially Western and, quote, parallels closely the thought of Luther and Calvin. And so all of this has led the late Richard Taylor, a Nazarene theologian, to conclude with two key insights that result from a doctrine of original sin. So understood. He writes. Both Jacob Arminius and John Wesley were thoroughly Augustinian in the following respects. A The race is universally depraved as a result of Adam's sin. B Man's capacity to will. The good is so debilitated as to require the action of divine grace before he can turn and be saved. And so we see the language of total depravity. By way of contrast, was hardly typical of the Eastern fathers, who much preferred to argue that Adam and Eve were not so fallen as to be unable to respond to any subsequent offered grace. And so what I'm suggesting here at this point is that we see Wesley as a Western theologian, very similar to Luther and Calvin in this area. And this is going to pose a contrast with how the Eastern fathers and Eastern orthodoxy, even today, how they consider these matters.


There is a sharp difference here. Citing the Eastern tradition, Maddox explains, quote, They and here is referring to the Eastern theologians did not hold that the fall deprived us of all grace or of the accountability for responding to God's offer of restored communion in Christ. That is a characteristic Eastern Christian affirmation of cooperation in divine human interactions remains even after the fall. End of quote. And so, again, the fall, according to Eastern Orthodoxy, even today, did not render us prone to sin and not incapable of cooperating with God's healing with God's grace. In other words, Eastern Orthodox, I should actually focus that a little more carefully. That last statement that Eastern orthodoxy even today, would argue that after the fall, freedom remained. In other words, no total depravity, that freedom remained whereby men and women could cooperate with God in terms of the ongoing processes of salvation for Wesley. That is not a possibility. No, it's not. Because think it through. If one is totally depraved, if one is corrupted to the extent that Wesley is writing about in a similar vein to Lutheran Calvin, there is not the possibility of this kind of cooperation. There is not even the freedom to cooperate with God in the way that the Eastern tradition would suggest. And so there is a big difference here. Now, some might immediately respond, Oh, yes, but but here comes the but that Wesley eventually gets to a view that looks very similar to Eastern orthodoxy once you consider the reality of proving your grace. Okay. That, yes, Wesley has a doctrine of total depravity. But once you factor in proving your grace, then Wesley starts to look like the Eastern tradition. And then cooperation in the processes of salvation is is there? Well, the Wesley's theology and that of many Eastern theologians end up in a similar place.


And I would grant that I think they do with humanity gifted to receive and to respond to grace. They arrive at this sociological point, if you will, through much different routes and at very different times. And I think we need to take those differences into account to be sure. It is precisely because Wesley affirmed the total depravity entailed in original sin, apart from all grace that God will have to. Act not simply as an initiator of grace or a stress on prevention action, but also as the sovereign, as the sovereign cause of restoring grace. Precisely. In order to undo some of the more debilitating effects of sin and depravity before any sort of responsibility and cooperation can emerge. What am I suggesting here? I'm suggesting here that if Westley taught a full body doctrine of total depravity, and I believe he did, then God watch this. Now God must act sovereignly. Yes, because human beings can do nothing. They are utterly depraved. They don't even desire to be redeemed. They're so corrupted. They do not desire God. They do not have such desires. And so if you have total depravity at somewhere along the line in your theology and your practical theology, you will necessarily have to have a doctrine of the sovereignty of God, that God must act sovereignly and alone in the face of utter human impotence. Okay. And Wesley has that. Wesley has both the teaching of total depravity and the sovereign action of God. And we're going to see that very clearly now. Yeah. This might be a surprise to some traditions. They're thinking, Wow, you know, John Wesley's teaching. Totally. Probably. And he's also teaching the sovereignty of God. True. Yeah. And perhaps now you need to realize that the Wesleyan tradition is closer to Lutheranism and to the reformed tradition than you might have imagined.


There's lots of commonality between John Wesley's practical theology and the theology of the reformers. Indeed, in my own writings, especially in my major theology of John Wesley, the theology of John Wesley, Holy love in the shape of grace. I make that case again and again and again. Because it's been forgotten. It's been forgotten. But the evidence is clear and it's overwhelming. It's overwhelming that there is this similarity between John Wesley and the reformers. Okay. And so, again, considering the contrast of Wesley's theology with the Eastern theologians, in short, for many Eastern theologians, the fall leaves responsibility in place. However, for those such as Wesley, who followed a Western Augustinian tradition, the effects of the fall are so devastating that responsibility along the way of salvation is not a possibility at all unless God, first of all, sovereignly restore humanity through proving and grace to a level of relation previously enjoyed. Okay, so. I underscored here similarity between the Wesleyan tradition and reform tradition in terms of sin, original sin and total depravity. And I've also underscored the similarity in terms of the sovereignty of God. God must sovereignly act, and the sovereign action of God will be understood as free grace, not as co-operative grace, because there is a divine human in cooperation here. God acts sovereignly and as a species of free grace, will be a gift giver. A gift giver that is received, received. Now, having said that, there is yet a difference between Wesleyan theology on the one hand and, let's say Lutheran and Calvinist theology on the other, in that the sovereign where God sovereignly acts would be different in terms of an order of salvation. Because as we're going to see in a few moments, God's response to total depravity will be to sovereignly give.


And we'll be talking about this in great detail in a few moments, sovereignly give the faculties what we're calling the faculties of proving your grace. So that's another way of saying that what grace is sovereignly given is the faculties of proving your grace. In other words, they wait, if not for the call of man. Wesley writes such things as conscience weight, if not for the call of man. Whereas for Calvin and Luther, I might add, it is justifying and regenerating grace which is sovereignly given. And Wesley's going to be a little bit different on that, and we'll see that when we get to that area. But that Wesley affirms the sovereign activity of God is is very clear. It's very clear in his writings. Okay. So we have a person we have humanity that is steeped in it. Since it is corrupted, it has fallen away from a God of holy love. What's the way forward? Well, if humanity is to be redeemed, God must act, God must initiate, and God will do so in what Wesley's going to call proving your grace. And so when Wesley uses the vocabulary of total depravity, he is referring to what he calls the natural man. That is a person who is utterly without the grace of God. He he writes, quote, From all these we learn concerning man in his natural state. Wesley writes unassisted, by the grace of God, that all the imaginations of the thoughts of his heart are still evil. Only evil. And that continually. But does such a person actually exist? In other words, today, could we name a person who is utterly without any grace of God? And according to Wesley, that would be no, because God has already sovereignly acted and there is no one who has been left in such a condition.


This is what Wesley writes in an important sermon called on working out our own salvation, quote, for allowing that all the souls of men are dead in sin by nature. This excuse is none. Seeing there is no man that is in a state of mere nature. There is no man unless he have 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. That's Wesley's language for privilege and grace. Okay. And the favorite text that Wesley is going to use to substantiate this understanding of privilege and grace will be found in the gospel of John. John one nine. And I'm quoting it now. Everyone has some measure of that light, some faint, glimmering light. Ray Actually, I'm quoting the biblical verse as I get to it, which sooner or later, more or less now I'm quoting, It enlightens every man that cometh into the world. And so he's quoting. John won nine there as the basis for his understanding of proving your grace. And because Wesley articulated a doctrine of original sin and then immediately articulate a doctrine of prevention. Grace Humphrey Lee, who was a 20th century Methodist theologian, pointed out in his own day that the natural man, in other words, the one utterly without the grace of God, he argued, is a logical abstraction that does not correspond to actual men and women. Quote In this world, I'm freely noted, man exists as a natural man, plus the proving and grace of God. Okay. And so, you know, we have this issue. Yes. Wesley does articulate a doctrine of total depravity. But then the question is, is there anyone who is so depraved, in other words, apart from all the grace of God? And the answer is no, because why? Because God has already acted.


God has sovereignly acted and has restored humanity in some sense, in some sense. And we will fill that out as the lecture progresses. Now, in good Anglican fashion, good Anglican fashion, Wesley supported his doctrine of preventive grace by an appeal to both Scripture. We saw John one nine, but also by tradition. He appealed to tradition as well, specifically to the Anglican 39 articles, the Anglican 39 articles. And so Wesley asserted that prevailing grace is based upon the Salvific work of Jesus Christ. It is applied to all people, Christians and non-Christians alike, through the ministrations of the Holy Spirit. And so quote, Every man has a greater or less measure of this. Wesley declares, which Wade if not for the call of man. That last phrase is actually quite important. Which way does not for the call of man. Meaning that it is already given. There's in all readiness to this grace already given even before we are fully aware that it has been given. Again, this grace is free for all, not limited to the accidents of geography or culture, whether one is in the church or no. It is free in all to whom it is given, not dependent upon any human power and merit. It is inclusive, not exclusive, freely given, not merited. And this is a first glimmer of grace, and it marks the entrance upon the path that leads to salvation. And so Wesley makes an important observation here, quote, Salvation begins with what is usually termed and very properly preventing grace, including the first wish to please God. The first dawn of light concerning his will and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against him. All these imply some tendency toward life, some degree of salvation, the beginning of a deliverance from a blind, unfeeling heart, quite insensible of God and the things of God.


End of quote. So before we assess the benefits of preventive grace in greater detail, it will be helpful to point out a distinction that the late Albert Outlaw, one of the preeminent scholars of Methodism in the 20th century, with a distinction that he had made whereby he talks about two different senses, two different senses of prevention and grace. The first usage, which is called the narrow, the narrow usage. And, you know, you think of the word and think of the word prevention, and we put that up before we were talking about it earlier and, you know, broken down literally that that which comes before. And this is what Outlaw was going to appeal to in this narrow, narrow sense. The narrow. Use. And so by that he means proving. And grace is literally that grace which comes before Salvific graces. Properly speaking. Now Salvific graces, properly speaking would be, of course, just justifying and regenerating graces. And so though you're going to see in Wesley's theology here in a moment that proving your grace is given to all, it's universal. It is not redemptive. It doesn't mean that one is redeemed. It simply means that one is on the way of salvation. And so the narrow sense refers to all those degrees of grace that come before justifying and sanctifying grace. Such usage arose out of the debates between Calvinists and Armenians in the 16th and 17th century England, and this language was fine tuned then and so are many ends of that era appealed to the notion of privilege in this first sense that Allah is referring to. But there is also a second usage here. There's a second usage, which we call the broad usage of privilege and grace. And this views all grace as prevention in the sense that it emphasizes the prior activity of God, meaning that God is always ahead of us.


So we we there's a sense where we can think of all grace as being preventive because God is always ahead of us, always ahead of us. We are never ahead of God. The initiative is never with us. The initiative is always with God. And so there is this rich second sense, the broad sense that all grace as prevention in that it stresses the prior activity of God as well as human response in every measure of grace, whether it be convincing, grace justifying, regenerating or entirely sanctifying. Now, Wesley, it can this understanding of grace, the broad sense of privilege and grace can be found not only in the early church, in the writings of Eastern and Western writers, but also in some key Anglican sources. Article ten, for example, of the 39 articles refers specifically to Praveen and Grace, and this is what it states quote The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself by his own natural strength and good works to faith and calling upon God wherefore we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will and working with us when we have this good will and so prevents purveying in grace conceived in this broad way in terms of the priority of divine action with respect to all grace issues in, we're going to see this in several points, issues in divine and human cooperation, divine in human cooperation or what we might simply call cooperate. Grace. Augustine talked about offering. Grace. Cooperate, Grace. Here the focus would be on cooperate. Grace. A genuine working with a working with God, of which the article speaks.


And so in Wesley's theology, with this affirmation of proving your grace, there will be also an underscoring of synergism of divine and human cooperation. We see this most clearly in his sermon on working out our own salvation, and this has to be carefully understood in that sermon. For example, Wesley will write God Works. Therefore, you can work. There's the prior activity of God. God works, therefore you can work. God works. Therefore you must work, implying obligation the prior activity of God. So if you were to think of an order of salvation. Okay. And we've been talking about grace and the fall and. Now we're talking about preventing grace and grace here along the way, proving your grace as we're going to see, as we further develop, the topic is going to render render human beings accountable and responsible. And they can do something not out of their own strength, but out of the prior activity of God, because God has already acted and God has already given grace, given your grace. And so they can do something. And that's why Wesley's going to write in that sermon. I'm working out our own salvation. God works for you can work, God works, therefore you must work. Okay, But this grace is not redeeming grace. And we must also readily point out here quickly point out that proving your grace and we're going to see this very clearly in this case, in this instance, it's a species of cooperative grace. Okay. But proving your grace we're going to see in another sense represents sovereign grace. It represents free grace. And we'll explore that. We'll explore that soon. We'll explore that soon. And so for those outside the Wesleyan tradition, they need to understand that in terms of something like preventing grace, it can be understood as both co-op and grace.


God works there for you can work or as a species of free grace, God sovereignly restoring the faculties of preventing grace, thereby rendering people accountable and responsible. Okay. And so we're going to have to hold on to a number of things, a number of things simultaneously. Okay. Now, for one thing, if prevents in this broad sense and in the context of cooperation, is made the exclusive paradigm through which all divine and human activity is conceived, then Wesley's theology may be misconstrued, hardly going beyond the notion of synergism. And some people look at Wesley's theology that way. They see it simply as a Catholic understanding of grace, divine human cooperation, cooperative grace, period. Okay, But that would be a mistake. And those scholars who champion this view do not take comfort in the notion that this paradigm has a role for both divine and human action, while it ever gives priority to the former. In other words, they're also not willing to recognize Sovereign Grace is operative as well. The notion of divine priority in and of itself is simply inadequate to encompass all that Wesley understood by the grace of God. And here we introduce you to language that Albert out there first suggested, but I think is very helpful in exploring Wesley's theology, that Wesley's theology is conjunctive, That's outlook's language. CONJUNCTIVE What do we mean by that? Wesley's theology is conjunctive Well, think of conjunctions both end and think of the conjunction either or. All right. What Wesley's theology is going to be. And this is why. This is why Wesley's theology is often misunderstood, both within Wesley and ism and beyond, is that they read Wesley's theology as either or. It's either cooperative grace or free grace, when actually Wesley is conjunctive in the sense of both.


And it is both sovereign grace and co-operative grace. There is a very Protestant Wesley resonating with the reformers, and there is a very Catholic Wesley resonating with Eastern orthodoxy process, divine human cooperation, synergism, etc. Both of those would be a part of, of Wesley's, Wesley's theology. And so I would suggest that a more accurate reading of Wesley's theology would, would actually see the kind of synergism that we've been talking about here in terms of proving your grace that that is is caught up in a larger conjunction where the Protestant and Pauline line, I would add and line emphasis on the Soul Act. Liberty of God, in other words. So La Gracia Sola day. Apart from all human working is equally factored in, equally factored in. So not simply co-opting grace, but the conjunction of cooperation and free grace accordingly proving and grace in the broad sense where God is always ahead of us must be understood in terms of both of these contexts of free grace, as well as synergistic grace. And we need to see it, especially in terms of free grace, because that will illuminate the priority, the priority of Divine Divine action. A priority of divine action. Okay. I think I'm going to stop there and take some questions and comments that that people might have in terms of anything that that I've said. I'm going to give you a chance to repeat what you just said, because I think it's really important that the stereotype of what's seen theology from people outside the traditions is that Wesley teaches that people can freely choose to come to faith in Christ apart from any work of God in their life. And the response is that prevention grace that draws people to himself is in fact a work of God in people's lives.


Is that correct? Yes. Proving your grace is a work of God. It represents God's prior action. God's prior action. If human beings were devoid of all grace, they would not come to God. They would not even desire God. They would not care. And so God and we're going to get into this as we pick up the lecture after the break here. But when we look at prevention grace as the restoration of faculties. So, for example, consider total depravity, which Wesley articulates, but God doesn't leave humanity in that state. God acts sovereignly. What does God do? God restores conscience. God gives conscience. God gives a certain measure of freedom, a certain knowledge of the moral law, a certain knowledge of the basic attributes of God. And the whole complex of those four has a breaking effect on ongoing human sin. So this is a boon that God gives that is given sovereignly. It's not a species of co-operative grace. So here we see pervading grace because God is acting conveniently and God is acting sovereignly, God is giving these faculties as a species of free grace and is giving them sovereignly. Okay. The preventive grace we've been talking about in this context here is rendering humanity accountable and responsible. So there is a kind of divine human cooperation. But we have to understand Praveen and Grace, both in terms of sovereign grace. God is always ahead of us and restores in the face of sin and then also purveying in grace as rendering or as accountable and responsible and cooperate. So in answer to your question, yes, Grace is always prior for Wesley, always prior and has to be named and properly understood. Yeah. Yeah. And and, you know, there are these misunderstandings of the Western tradition.


It's like, you know, Wesley teach that human being simply through the faculty. The faculty of their own freedom, decide for God. You know that we make decisions. Oh, I think I'll decide for God today. Like, you know, someone's going to decide for a set of tires today or something. That would be a gross distortion, because Wesley's theology through and through is all it is, is is bathed in grace, bathed in grace. And that and unfortunately, that grace has not always been named by Wesley's heirs. They haven't named it in a in a sophisticated way, noting, for example, the sovereign action of God. And, you know, I asked myself the question as a theologian, why was there the reluctance to do that? I don't have such reluctance because it is clearly in the text. Clearly in the text, yes. And would Wesley say that since everyone has privy in Greece, that everyone has the freewill to choose Christ? And if so, how do you explain when God hardens someone's heart? Hardens someone's heart? Yeah. See, you're raising an important issue. And as we talk about the restoration of fact, the a measure of freedom is given notice how I phrase that a measure of freedom is not absolute freedom that the sinner receives lay in terms of grace. So a measure of freedom is given, okay. And so that the person, the sinner in receiving for being in grace and maybe that privilege and grace is now issuing and convicting grace, the Holy Spirit is working on that heart convicting them of sin that can be rejected. The activity of the Holy Spirit there could be rejected. But I, I, I am aware of the difficulty. Of people coming to Christ, and that even though we talk about freedom being restored sovereignly as as a species of proving your grace, I don't want to make light of the difficulty of coming to Christ because even the desire to want to come to Christ is an expression of grace, you know, is an expression of grace.


You know, given, given human sin, given human desires and inclinations, etc.. And I've puzzled over this myself, you know, why do some people come to Christ and others don't? And some people grow up in good families and they don't come to Christ, though their mothers and fathers are great saints in the church and then others, they grow up in what we would consider a wretched environment. The parents are not believers and they become, you know, faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. You know, it's a mystery. It really is a mystery. But we don't want to caricature Wesleyan theology. And, you know, in not realizing that a person coming to Christ is, you know, this is not easily understood. It's not easily understood because of the dynamics of sin and grace. And when it does happen, you know, I think we have to call it nothing short of a miracle, because I think when a sinner comes to Christ and is born of God, that is a miracle. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I like. I like how Luther. Luther has this Latin expression Corum day. And I'm thinking about his debate with Erasmus, and they are talking about this issue of freedom. And, you know, Luther is not talking about just any kind of freedom. He's talking about the freedom to God. See, no one would deny, you know, one has the freedom to wear this shirt. You can wear a blue shirt, you wear a red dress, you can make all those decisions and choices. But when you talk about freedom to God, that's a totally different arena. And Wesley is appreciative of that difference. I think as as well as reform theologians would be, he realizes that if it does happen, given the nature, the extensive nature of sin, but also the wonders of grace, that's a miracle when it happens.And it is a miracle. It is, yeah.