Wesleyan Theology I - Lesson 15

Benefits of Prevenient 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.

Kenneth J. Collins
Wesleyan Theology I
Lesson 15
Watching Now
Benefits of Prevenient Grace


A. Knowledge of God's attributes

B. Moral law

C. Conscience

D. Free-will

E. Restraining human wickedness


A. The five benefits cannot exist apart from the grace of God

B. Sovereign grace is necessary in the salvation process

C. Two Objections Against Wesleyan Understanding of Sovereign 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


Benefits of Prevenient Grace

Lesson Transcript


We've been talking about proving your grace in a number of ways, and I want to build on that just to set the context so we have a proper orientation. We appeal to the work of Albert Ayler and we distinguish two basic sense of prevailing grace in terms of a broad sense, meaning that God is always ahead of us. So we understand pervading Grace that way. God, it always takes the initiative, that sort of thing. But then we talk about providing grace in a narrow sense, meaning that grace, which is literally before redemptive grace, is, properly speaking, like justification and regeneration. Now we're going to talk about preventing grace in one last sense and one last sentence. And I'm going to use the language, the benefits of her being in grace. We can also use the language, the faculties, the faculties of preventing grace. And what we're going to see here is that Wesley is going to point out five benefits that are communicated to humanity by preventing grace, which together, as we're going to see in a moment, will mitigate some of the worst effects of the fall. And so God is not going to leave humanity in their utterly wretched state, but God is going to act prominently and restore restore some faculties. Okay. What's the first faculty to be restored? Well, first of all, in his commentary on Romans 119, Wesley asserts that a basic knowledge of God, chiefly in the form of divine attributes such as omnipotence, eternity, etc., is revealed to all men and women as a result of the prevention agency of the Holy Spirit. And so, once again, humanity has not been left in its utterly natural state, devoid of all grace. And therefore, knowing nothing of God. But all people have at least some understanding of God, however clouded or scant this knowledge may be.


And so if we take a look at Wesley's notes upon the New Testament, he explains, quote, For what is to be known of God, those great principles, which are indispensable, necessary to be known, is manifest in them, for God hath showed it to them. And now West is going to quote his favorite verse on preventing grace by the light, which enlightens every man that cometh into the world. Okay. And so what Wesley is arguing here is that all human beings have some sense of the knowledge of the attributes of God. Other traditions might talk about this in terms of a census of any Tartars. Use other language. But Wesley certainly has this in his theology. Now, one can reject this knowledge or suppress it. But the point is that it is given and also this knowledge is universal. It is universal. It is independent of special revelation. And therefore, some may argue that it forms the basis for a natural theology. Others are quick to point out, however, that though a theologian naturalist is indeed in the offing here, it never occurs apart from grace. It never occurs apart from grace. And so you'd have to take that consideration in. But I think this is interesting that Wesley is arguing God evidently acts sovereignly, restores some knowledge of the basic attributes of God here. Then secondly, a second faculty in terms of preventive grace that's restored since men and women, apart from the grace of God, are spiritually dead. They have neither the ability nor the inclination to comprehend the dictates of God's holy law, the same law that was inscribed on their hearts at creation and which is expressive, as we have seen of. God. In a real sense, it expresses the image of God, the moral law.


And so Wesley affirms that after the fall, God did not leave men and women in this utterly dejected state, but re inscribed in some measure a knowledge of this moral law, a knowledge of this moral law upon their hearts. And so, for example, Wesley writes, quote, But it was not long before man rebelled against God. And by breaking this glorious law, well-nigh effaced it out of his heart. And yet God did not despise the work of his own hands. But being reconciled to man through the sun of his love, he in some measure. Re inscribe the law on the heart of his dark, sinful creature. So here, once again, God is not leaving humanity in their utterly wretched state, a consequence of sin, but is acting proving it lay and is re inscribing. In some measure that's Wesley's own language. In some measure re inscribing the law, the moral law, the holy law of love upon their hearts, so that they should have an inward sense of what is good and what is evil. Okay. Third, if we take a look at Wesley's treatise, his thoughts upon Necessity, which was produced in 1744, Wesley reveals that the ultimate origin of conscience is neither nature nor society. But God Almighty. Quote, It is undeniable that he has fixed in man in every man. Wesley writes his umpire conscience and inward judge, which passes sentence both on his passions and actions, either approving or condemning them. And then we see, for example, in Wesley Summary sermon, which he wrote in 1765, the Scripture Way of Salvation that Wesley closely identifies the operations of conscience with proving your grace in particular. And then if we take a look at Wesley's sermon on Conscience, written a couple of decades later, the elderly Wesley, he's old by this point, continues to argue that although in one sense conscience may be viewed as natural, since this faculty appears to be universal, yet properly speaking, it is not natural but is a supernatural gift of God above all his natural endowments.


So Wesley again is referring to the prevention restoration of conscience. God is sovereignly restoring this faculty of conscience even before we are aware of it, even before we are aware of it. This is not a species of collapsing grace, but a species of free grace and then forth. Since Wesley taught a doctrine of original sin, similar in many respects to the Protestant reformers, both Luther and Calvin, he obviously denied that human beings possess natural freewill. In other words, apart from grace, humanity is a mass of sin. Wesley affirms, and that a certain measure of freewill is supernaturally restored to all people by the Holy Ghost who, apart from such a restoration, would not be free. So, Terry, logically speaking, Wesley clearly affirms that. So fourthly, Wesley is arguing that God sovereignly restores. Notice the language here a certain measure of free will. It's a certain measure of free will. I often think of it as the freedom to receive the ongoing grace of God. The freedom to receive subsequent grace would be a good way of understanding it. If we take a look at Wesley's little treatise, predestination calmly considered, which Wesley wrote in 1752, he explored things in this way quote, But I do not carry free will so far, and that oftentimes people outside the Wesleyan tradition misunderstand Wesley in terms of free will. But here is his own words. I do not carry free will so far. I mean, not in moral things, natural free will in the present state of mankind. I do not understand. I only assert that there is a measure of free will supernaturally restored to every man together with that supernatural light which enlightens every man that cometh into the world. And so I think we have to make a distinction here when we're looking at this fourth of our faculty of purveying in grace that Wesley is talking about freedom in a particular sense in a special way.


There's actually a book written by Robert Charles that talks about theological transition in American Methodism is the title Robert Child, and he talks about the transition from free grace to free will, and that's a declension. In other words, Wesley's language is free grace, the sovereign, free grace of God that has been boulder rise by subsequent tradition into free will with the focus on a human capacity or talent. In other words, we're exercising the faculty of free will with respect to God and the things of God. That's not Wesley. Some will argue that that is Wesley's theology. Some of his subsequent heirs. Robert Charles is calling foul, and I would agree with him. This is not Wesley. This is how Wesley has been misunderstood. That's not Wesley's understanding of freedom, of liberty. The kind that is restored in terms of the faculties of your grace. It is a measure of freedom, and it makes one ongoing, less so dependent upon God. And as I said, I think a good way of understanding it would be a freedom to receive. And that's the right word. Receive. There's a receiving before there's any responding, a freedom to receive, almost in a passive sense, the ongoing grace of God. Now, this issue of freedom, of course, is important whenever we're talking about human beings. I know when we were discussing earlier in the section on anthropology, theological anthropology, we made much of this issue of freedom. And I think rightfully so. I think rightfully so. And I know many of you perhaps have read an important work written by Viktor Frankl entitled Man's Search for Freedom. And Viktor Frankl was someone who was in the concentration camps. And when we think of the concentration camps created by the Nazis, we think of environments that are utterly controlled, utterly controlled and determined.


And so I found Viktor Frankl's book very interesting, remarkably so, because he argued very convincingly that even in such a controlled environment, that there yet remains there, yet remains liberty and freedom, and it is the freedom, how one will respond to what is done to one's self, that sort of thing, that. Try as you will you. Cannot rub out that image in which we have been created, that Imago day, which in its natural sense would contain not only understanding and will, but also a measure of liberty which would be seen as a species of grace. And we see how important it is to a theology of holy love when we're talking about persons in relation to a God of holy love who transcends them. And so, you know, I want to be very clear here, and I want to be very careful because this is an area of the Wesleyan tradition that has been misunderstood. And and oftentimes I read people writing about Wesley's views, and they're not Wesley's views at all. As a matter of fact, they're quite the opposite of Wesley's views. Now, in 1772, Wesley wrote a work remarks on Mr. Hale's review. And Wesley continued this theme, and he tried to offer a sophisticated balance in this area. And so he wrote, quote, We and the we here is John Wesley and also John Fletcher, who was his sort of major right hand man. Theologically speaking. We, Wesley and Fletcher, both steadily assert that the will of man is by nature, free only to evil. Yet we both believe that every man has a measure of freewill restored to him by grace. And the point to see here is that that restoration by grace is sovereign. It wait if not for the call of man, as Wesley would write.


In other words, God sovereignly gives this kind of freedom that we have been talking about. And therefore, it is a species of free grace, not co-opted grace. Now, in his own engaging work on prevention, grace, I believe Charles Rodgers, first of all, did a dissertation in this area and then later on published it. Charles Rodgers cautions those interpreters who attempt to read Westley on this salient issue simply in terms of an of an overarching synergistic paradigm. In other words, to understand this issue of freedom in an utterly synergistic way and not to realize that this is a species of free grace, it is a sheer utter. It is a free gift of God. And so this is what Charles Rodgers writes, quote. It has been quickly and uncritically assumed that Wesley's statements concerning free will are adequately understood as meaning that unworthy, generic man through privilege and grace is able as an act of free will, to respond to grace when offered and cooperate actively with grace in offering repentance or accepting faith. Part of the task before us is to demonstrate the inadequacy of this interpretation. And so, in short, Wesley once again sought a third alternative. Wesley's theology, once again, is conjunctive. It's a balance. It's a very tight and sophisticated, well nuanced balance. Wesley sought a third alternative that would maintain the sovereign causality of grace, especially in this area that we've been talking about human freedom, but also to avoid divine determinism. And Wesley will want to avoid that, as we shall see. And then fifthly, we can speak proving and grace is expressed as a limited knowledge of God's attributes, as an understanding of the moral law, as the faculty of conscience and as a measure of freewill supernaturally restored.


And all of those four things, the faculties of privilege and grace that we have been describing, they have the cumulative effect, the cumulative effect which can be distinguished from each of the preceding instances of restraining human wickedness, restraining human wickedness of placing a check on human perversity. So if we take a look at Wesley's sermon on the Mount discourse the third Wesley describes, and this is my language here, the quote unquote breaking effect, you know, putting the brakes on the braking effect, which prevailing in grace as well as provenance that they have on human evil. And so Wesley, for example, will write, quote, If we were of the world, the world would love its own. But because we are not of the world, therefore, the world hates you. Yay! Setting aside what exceptions may be made by the preventing grace or the peculiar providence of God, it hates them as cordially and sincerely as it ever did their master. Okay. Well, what is Wesley saying here? He's saying, okay, there are those outside the church who are hating those in the church. And Wesley is suggesting that that hatred is in some sense mitigated by preventing grace and by the peculiar providence of God. And so all the four senses that we have talked about earlier and other words in grace, in terms of the faculties of conscience, a measure of freedom, knowledge of the moral law, knowledge of the basic attributes of God. This has a breaking effect in the church and beyond the church in terms of restraining human evil, as Wesley has expressed it here. Now, if I hope you're drawing the connection here, because with this expression, with this theological expression, we see Wesley thought moving in the direction of, you know, orders of preservation, the same kind of dynamic taking place.


Although Wesley left this whole area in his theology undeveloped and subsequent, well, at least contemporary, Wesley and the Methodist theologians have not developed it as well. And this really invites treatment. It really does. And so this fifth conception of prevention grace that we've been talking about is similar in some respects to Luther's orders of creation and preservation. And on a more contemporary note to Bonhoeffer's mandate. In other words, here the grace of God cumulatively is checking human evil, at least to some extent. At least to some. Extent, even among those people who care little for God and even less for the church. Okay. Unfortunately, however, Wesley didn't develop this the way perhaps he should have. Now, in light of the foregoing explanation, an examination of Wesley's doctrines of grace and law and sin. You know, we've been on a journey here. We've been talking about created an innocence and grace and the fall, and then God responding to the fall in grace. There are a number of observations we can at least make at this point of the journey. And first of all, these five aspects or faculties of preventing grace that we just considered and which represent a restoration in some sense cannot exist apart from the grace of God and can be distinguished from the prevention activity of God, which entails the calling of sinners to salvation through these graciously restored faculties. What am I saying there? Let me put it in another word so that you understand the faculties are one thing, okay? And they are given sovereignly. And in a sense they cannot be resisted. I know you get that. My Lord, your. Your given a conscience sovereignly. It's already there even before you're aware of it. We've described the faculties.


Now, watch this. Wesley will also understand preventive grace as the overtures that God will make to the soul through those faculties by means of the Holy Spirit. So, for example, the Holy Spirit, using the word, can speak in conscience and, you know, convict of sin. So the faculties are one thing, and then the overtures that God will make to the faculties are something else. The faculties themselves cannot be resisted. They are given sovereignly the overtures that are made to the person through the faculties can be resisted. Okay. So think of think of a person who is who has privilege and grace and that prevailing and grace now. Oh, I raised it. I thought it was still up there. Let's say it's now resulting in convincing grace, because convincing grace is a species of privilege and grace. Because in Wesley's theology, it's that grace which goes before justifying and regenerating grace. The Holy Spirit can use the knowledge of the moral law in the conscience, and perhaps even knowledge of the word or knowledge of the basic attributes of God can pricked that conscience, show its need for Christ. Okay. And that person can receive that conviction and later on enter in or they can stubbornly reject it. And so the overtures that are made to the faculties, conscience, etc., they can be resisted in Wesley's theology, they can be resisted. And so we make that distinction. Second, since Wesley's doctrine of original sin underscores the notion of total depravity, we've seen that very clearly. It logically follows that sovereign grace has to operate, at least at some point in the Wesleyan Order of Salvation. Now, I've seen some Wesleyan theologians on the one hand affirm that Wesley teaches total depravity, but then deny that Wesley has any understanding of sovereign grace.


Well, that doesn't make any sense, because if you have a doctrine of total depravity, which we've clearly seen in Wesley's theology, at some point in your order of salvation, you have to have sovereign grace. It is implied. And so this may come as a surprise to those Methodists who've been schooled on the notion that sovereign grace is a topic more suited to Calvinists. Nevertheless, since men and women in their natural state, according to Wesley, do not even have the freedom to accept or reject any offer. Grace, then this grace itself must be graciously and sovereignly restored. It has to be sovereignly restored. In other words, to deny that privilege and grace, especially in terms of the faculties that we have just been talking. About to deny that they are given sovereignly is also to deny that Wesley held a doctrine of total depravity. But he did hold a doctrine of total depravity, which we have seen. And so this is a call for a greater recognition of the nuances that are actually in Wesley's theology. Nuances that have not always been picked up by his interpreters, both within the tradition and certainly beyond the tradition as well. But, you know, as I noted, Wesley, his theology is a good example of conjunctive grace. The sovereign grace in this context pertains not to the call or to the overtures made to these faculties, but to the reestablishment of the faculties themselves. So we just have to keep that straight. Okay. Now, two objections are often raised against the Wesleyan understanding of sovereign grace. So, you know, people are already rejecting to it after this has been expressed. The first kind of objection that is leveled against this Wesleyan teaching, it assumes and it is an assumption and I think it's a big assumption that a viable person, a viable person.


So Teria, logically speaking, is already in place and the grace of God therefore overruns the self in a deterministic way for the sake of the larger good of restoration and redemption. In a similar fashion, the second objection assumes an addressable person already exists because total depravity has been suddenly repudiated or redefined, taking on a notion of responsibility that has not. Yet been reestablished and this this self so construed is then equipped with various faculties. Okay. I think both of these objections, which I've just listed, the one and the other, that these represent not a minor but a serious misunderstanding of the concept of proving your grace as Wesley understood it. That is, such views fail once again to take Wesley's understanding of utter corruption seriously, and thereby to continually presuppose the reality of an accountable person even before the renewal of privilege and grace itself. I mean, apart from proving and grace, especially in terms of the faculties, humanity is a massive sin. It can do nothing. It is totally fallen, utterly corrupted, totally depraved. That is Wesley's own language. If, on the other hand, it is, after all, admitted that the restored faculties of preventing grace actually constitute the self in some sense by making it responsible. And given Wesley's doctrine of total depravity, then such grace must of necessity be sovereignly restored in the manner in which I have already suggested. Indeed, it is prevailing and grace that restores the very elements required for responsible personhood and accountability in the first place. So destructive are the effects of original sin. Let me let me open that up for you in another way, because this is actually very important. This is an important part of Wesley's theology, and we need to understand it properly.


If we consider a human being in terms of total depravity, as Wesley does, the debilitating effects of sin are so great that it undermines even the personhood of the sinner such that in the in that condition, they are not savable. They are not savable. That unless God sovereignly act and give the faculties of prevention grace, which we have just laid out, that giving in a sense restores personhood in a sense responsibility and accountability and therefore save ability. And so it is not a matter then of God giving sovereign grace in the face of total depravity to a self that is already constituted. No, it is the giving of privilege and grace itself in terms of the faculties that leads to that reconstitution of the self. So debilitating are the effects of original sin. Do you see the difference? I realize this is a tough distinction. I realize this is tough, but it's important. It's important. And if we don't get this right, we're going to misread Wesley's theology as a simple moralism, as a simple expression of free will, not understanding that the effects of original sin are so great. It is a total depravity that God must reconstitute, if you will, in the wake of sin, the very self. That's how damaging the effects of sin are to personhood. And God does that through conscience, through a certain measure of freedom, through a certain knowledge of the moral law, knowledge of the basic attributes of God, and all of that, having the cumulative effect that we talked about earlier. And so God does that. And God has to do that alone, because we can do nothing as a mass of sin as being utterly and totally depraved. So there have been some misunderstandings out there when even Methodists theologians would argue that, you know, God sovereignly gives grace to the self irresistibly.


Well, that's wrong, because there really isn't a self there. That is what is at stake and has to be reconstituted so that one is in a savable. Condition. And so the giving of the faculties, of proving your grace reestablish responsibility, accountability. Because now we have the restoration of a person who is savable. So I realize there's a lot to hold together there. But it's important. Again, proving and grace is not sovereignly restored in the sense that a personality is overrun or that a viable, accountable self already exists and is simply provided with faculties. That that's a misreading, a serious misreading of Wesley's theology. Rather, such grace is necessary indeed is prior in the best sense of the term prevents in order to bring into being a responsible self. In part precisely by restoring faculties. Simply put, the inception of the process of salvation requires not co-option, grace. That would be a sheer impossibility at this point. You understand why, but free grace, the activity of God alone. Moreover, understanding privilege and grace, at least in some sense as a species of free grace, demonstrates once again that Wesley highlighted the sheer graciousness, the utter benevolence, the this, the necessary initiative of a loving God in a way remarkably similar to John Calvin. Wesley's claim, then, of being within a hair's breadth of the Genevan leader's theology with respect to some important doctrines was no empty boast. One of the chief differences, however, between Calvinism on the one hand and Wesleyan ism on the other hand, is at what point in the order of salvation or in the order of salutes does sovereign grace occur, but that both traditions affirm Sovereign grace is clear. For Calvin, it is sanctifying grace which is sovereignly given. For Wesley, it is the faculty of privilege and grace, the faculties of purveying in grace which are sovereignly given, and to use Wesley's language, quote, Wade, if not for the call of man.


And finally, it should be apparent by now that although the continental reformers and Westley all affirmed a doctrine of total depravity, the basic contours of their theologies nevertheless remain distinct, and they remain distinct due to different understandings of grace. Thus, Wesley's doctrine of preventive grace allows him to hold together without contradiction the four motifs of first total depravity. Second, salvation by grace. Salvation will be by grace. Third human responsibility, and then for the offer of salvation, the offer of salvation to all. Okay. And so when we talk about original sin and then talk about prevention grace, we are already seeing, even before we get to the doctrines of justification and the doctrines of regeneration, that Wesley's theology is very sophisticated and it is marked by several nuances, that it is a conjunction, on the one hand of both free grace sovereignly given by God in the face of human turpitude. But then there is also co-opting grace, because in the giving of prevailing grace, and we've seen in terms of the restoration of the faculties, because God has already acted. There is something that men and women can do. You know, God works, therefore we can work. God works, therefore we must work. And so I think I'll stop there and take some questions. Yeah, it seems like when you talk about. Prevent Greece and how that's offered to everyone. And it's universal. That's right. It seems like some people even reject that, that God gives us the opportunity to have a conscience, to have a sense of moral responsibility. And that. It seems like some people even. Are. Have a position that. Not only they don't have that, but nobody needs to. Nobody needs to. Yeah, a conscience or a basic sense of right and wrong.


Right. That everybody can do whatever they want. And whatever you do is up to you and that you determine your own morality. Okay. Yeah. See, I think that what you just said there at the end, everyone can determine their own morality would quickly break down once we are in human society. In other words, once we are, among others. Because I can't simply treat other people any which way. And that will become readily apparent by the consequences of others in terms of how I might treat them. You see what I'm saying? So I know in our culture today and I often hear the arguments of moral relativism, but I think just if you sit down and think it through using reason, you will realize, you know, sort of what Buddhist Chayefsky, the Roman Catholic ethicist, was talking about in terms of deep conscience as opposed to superficial conscience, you know, that we could appeal to that whole arena. And I suppose in a sense that would represent the grace of God. But I'm suggesting right now that even in terms of just using human reason, thinking through almost in a utilitarian way, what would be the consequences that I would receive if I acted towards other people in certain ways. And and that, of course, would be operative for everyone else in the community. And I think once you start looking at that, you know, the social dimension of that, it's going to be clearly evident that some actions are going to be viewed as good and some actions are going to be viewed as evil. Yes, I think that's that's very clear. I think part of the difficulty in the 20th century, in the 21st century, in terms of this precise area that you're referring to, in other words, in the whole moral realm, the whole moral dimension is because we've had such a difficulty recognizing the truth of moral judgments, because we have been so bedazzled by the truth of empirical, factual judgments, you know, statements in terms of correspondence, theory of truth, and the ascertaining of facts and the proof of facts.


And there's a difference between empirical investigations that are focused on an issue and facts. And then there's a difference in the whole moral realm, which is not focused on facts, but on values. And the fact that in the moral realm, we are making judgments in terms of values, assessments of worth, it's no less true. It's no less true, even though it's not like the judgments that we make in the factual empirical realm. It's a different domain. And I think lots of people have had trouble moving from one domain to the next and thinking that because values are not like facts, therefore they are nothing or they're simply matters of taste. And one can choose one or the other in determinant life. I don't think that's so. And I mean, I think I quoted earlier Aristotle in the Committee and Ethics where he made a case just based upon reason, how we can come to the truth of moral judgments and the goods that human beings will pursue, and then rejecting those actions or procedures that prevent human beings from pursuing the goods that they pursue. So what I'm suggesting is, I think the kind of moral relativism that was suggested in your observation of what's happening cannot walk the gantlet of the kinds of tests that we can throw at it, that if we start looking at the human community seriously, what it is to live among each other in an accountable, responsible way. I think we're going to come up with a basis for making moral judgments and even for talking.