Let me start out by saying that John Wesley was a theological genius! What I will write about here deals with his view, which I cannot help but adopt when presented with the logic of his argument concerning the subjects in the title of this post.

First, let me postulate that good cannot exist apart from God.

I do not believe that any Christian will intentionally try to refute this statement on the surface; however, I do see that some may take issue with it  in regards to its dogmatic nature, because we know of many (seemingly) caring and loving people who do many (seemingly) noble and selfless things. These people may, some of which, be our friends or even family. This is sufficient cause for immediate offense in response to such a suggestion. But in point of fact, I am stating that such individuals, loved-ones of yours and mine though they may be, are incapable of love and good deeds.

I do not make such an offensive statement lightly! I will give you Wesley’s argument here (this comes from his sermon, “Justification by Faith”):

1. No works are good,  which are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done.

2. No works done before justification are done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done.

3. Therefore, no works done before justification are good.

There it is. Now, the first presupposition with which we begin is self-evident to the Christian: this is simply the definition of a good work. It is then the second presupposition that needs affirming evidence in order for us to accept it as true.

Wesley argues that in order for a work to be good, it must be acceptable to God; in order to be acceptable to God, a good work must necessarily originate in a perfectly pure motivation. Because of the fallenness of humankind (thus, we must presuppose the doctrines of original sin and total depravity), no human is capable of such a pure and perfect motivation; we are spiritually dead, separated from God in the completest sense of the phrase, and therefore unable to partake in any of the Divine attributes. Thus, if one fully embraces his or her own depravity and state of sinfulness, one must conclude that he or she is completely and totally without any means of self-redemption whatsoever. This being said, the only conclusion we may come to is that unless God intervene on our behalf, we must accept that we are ultimately damned, condemned by both our own heart that tells us that we are depraved, and what is more, by God Himself, Who cannot abide evil whatsoever. Thus, to put it simply, if one accepts any one of the doctrines of original sin, total depravity, or justification by faith, one must necessarily also accept the others: therefore, we can only conclude that the second presupposition presented above is true.

We can restate Wesley’s argument using symbols to test its validity and soundness:

1. p*q

2. r>~q

3. ⁂ r>~p

The implications of this are staggering! Just because one does such great works of charity that we are astounded, it does not follow that these are truly good. Just because a work is beneficial to humankind in one way or another (or even in many ways), it does not follow that such a work is done out of the motivation that makes a work acceptable to God -and therefore, good. They are then, essentially, “splendid sins”.

This must, of course, be held lightly, else we will give sufficient offense to unbelievers as to turn them away rather than draw them close. The intent in evangelism should be not to point out sin in sinners (the Law, the Holy Ghost, and their own cognizance are sufficient for the sinner to recognize his or her own sin, if one so allows), but to help the sinner come to accept the sin that is self-evident in them. This is a subtle but important difference, and abuse of this principle (mainly on the basis of ignorance of it), has done the Church and Christ in God significant damage.

What say you?

Secondly, let me propose (again, at the prodding of Wesley’s sermon) that not only does a distinction exist between sanctification and justification, but the former must follow the latter. Sanctification is the “fruit” of justification. Justification, then, is the pardon of God, His forgiveness of sins on the basis of the good work of Christ’s propitiation. God thus chooses to refrain from giving us, sinners that we are, the due recompense for our rebellion against Him. He is not the subject of some grand self-deception, as though He no longer recognizes that we have either sinned before, or are any longer, sinners. Rather, He sees all this and yet He, for the sake of His Son, is merciful to us!

Sanctification, then, follows justification. It is the natural outcome of the life changed by the living God. This is the immediate process that commences at the point of justification and that must thereafter continue.

All of these things, Wesley argues, are based on faith, that faith that leads to salvation: such faith is defined more fully by Wesley in his sermon “Salvation by Faith”, given before the University of Oxford 11 June 1738.

I pray the Lord will quicken your understanding according to His marvelous grace. Amen!