Article-Seventeen’s Omission

A while back, I debated with a friend about the Wesley’s omission (from the Thirty-Nine Articles) of Article 17, On Predestination. My major point was classical Arminians, like Wesley, had no quarrel with Predestination or Election (given God’s foreknowledge). Rather, their omission owed to the sharpness of party division making Predestination an, all to often, occasion for controversy. Wesleyans agreed with the Article, though emphasizing particulars related to ‘calling’–“they through grace obey the calling”– rather than assuming too much about “decreed by his counsel secret to us”.  Accordingly, when Wesley sent his Abridged Version of the Articles to America, aka. the 25-Articles, with his Sunday Service and Collection of Hymns, he kept only what he believed essential to doctrine and preaching. 

Wesley’s instructions to the American Methodists are particularly interesting. His inclusion of a slightly Abridged Prayer Book and Articles of Belief reveal the closeness by which he desired his Societies to remain to the Church of England, even unfettered from Establishment. Unfortunately, the destitution of the American frontier tended to neglect this legacy. But, this likely neither was the wish of Mr. Wesley nor the early American Conference(s). Dr. Wheeler, in his History and Exposition on the Twenty-five Articles, reviews their history, included as part of the MEC’s discipline. Even Mr. Coke said he wished to see the ME standards ‘in the house of every Methodist’ (Wheeler, p. 910). See below:

Remarkably, a form of subscription to the Articles was adopted for, presumably, class or society members in 1864. Not surprisingly, this form coincided with the MEC’s recovering Wesley’s Sunday Services, so it’s part and parcel of 19-century Anglicanization’. A precedent might derive from Fletcher’s requirement that Madeley society members know Articles 9 thru 13 (of the Thirty-Nine).  We might keep in mind, Wesley sided with Dean Thomas Nowell during the Oxford expulsions, upholding subscription for university students, school masters, and of course clergymen. So, the principle of subscription hardly escaped methodism, despite degrees of difference in number of Articles. Wesley was only adopting a reduced version of Articles, avoiding controverted points and somewhat amendable to Toleration. So, the 25-Articles’ abbreviation hardly tell us what Wesley found disagreeable, but what would best ensure the continuation of the Societies without being torn apart, while simultaneously retaining the closest ties to England.

More specifically Wesley’s Arminianism should be understood in the classical sense, agreeing with moderate Calvinists regarding the ascription of Evil to God with absolute decrees, while eschewing latter ‘elaborations’ of Amrinius’ followers and the ‘mongrel system’ developed under the title of Arminianism in revivalistic America (Wheeler, p. 31):

Wesley’s express view of Predestination as it pertains to needless argument is given Wesley’s letter regarding Mr. Harvey’s critical work, Apasio Vindicated. Wesley would rather bow-out from the Calvinist debate, confessing (Misc. Works V1, p. 551-2):

It’s this opinion (regarding Wesley’s love of the Church, Evangelicals having bigger fish to fry, and keeping a peace on fundamentals) that inclined the omission of Article 17 from the Abridged version sent to America. A further consideration regarding that “old goose” is found within the 1662 Book of Common Prayer itself, upon “His Majesty’s Declaration“, issued at the time of high-Calvinist controversy during the Reign of Charles I, which warns:

Knowing the sympathies of King Charles I, we might assume the Crown wished to shut out controversy by forbidding unnecessary expositions on Predestination, for example, the chain of eternal decrees, whether by God’s omnipotence or omniscience. In either case, practical theology remains intact– the common ground of Arminian and Calvinist Evangelicals. Keep in mind, the Wesleyans often included Calvinists as well as Arminians in their ranks, though these would tend to move back and forth between respective Connexions. We might end this post with Wesley’s Hymn to Whitefield (applicable also to the Calvinist preachers) which affirms their common ordination in the Church of England and desire to save sinners from the wrath to come, “Scorn to contend with Flesh and Blood, And trample on so mean a Foe, By stronger Fiends in vain withstood, Dauntless to nobler Conquests go”:

A student of Mr. Wesley and the English Church during its 18th-century Revival might have wondered if Wesley anticipated the eventual deterioration of classical Arminianism (as he feared the separation of his people from the Church). It may very well be this is why Wesley encouraged the regular study of books by his preachers along with founding the Kingswood Academy.. However, this is a question of Wesley’s library as well as the significance of the Academy will be analyzed another time.


One thought on “Article-Seventeen’s Omission

  1. Though I’ve been taken to the rack on Wesley’s omission, on more than one occasion, notice even the Reformed Episcopal Church’s widening of Article 17 (apparently combining it with article 10 on Free Will). REC 35-Articles titles it as “Article. 18”:

    “Article 18. Of Election, Predestination, and Free Will
    While the Scriptures distinctly set forth the election, predestination, and calling of the people of God unto eternal life, as Christ saith: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me;” they no less positively affirm man’s free agency and responsibility, and that salvation is freely offered to all through Christ.

    This Church, accordingly, simply affirms these doctrines as the Word of God sets them forth, and submits them to the individual judgment of its members, as taught by the Holy Spirit; strictly charging them that God commandeth all men everywhere to repent, and that we can be saved only by faith in Jesus Christ.”

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