Interdependence of law and grace in John Wesley's teaching and preaching
Tyson, John Horton
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The purpose of this study is to prove that from 1738, in Wesley's preaching and teaching, both law and grace are proclaimed and function together in strict interdependence. Wesley firmly resisted all attempts to disrupt the delicate theological balance between these two elements. In exploring this idea, we will first trace the formation of Wesley's theology of law and grace, through the moralistic influence of the Church of England and the evangelical influence of the Moravians. Then we will examine the controversies which help illustrate the interdependence of law and grace, as well as the boundaries of each, in Wesley's thinking.We shall see that Wesley's doctrine of the moral law is dependent upon grace in that the desire and ability to fulfil the law comes only by the grace of faith. Wesley's doctrine of grace is dependent upon the law in that faith can be maintained and strengthened only through obedience, and in that without obedience to the moral law the fruits and purpose of grace are made void. Without Wesley's doctrine of grace, his doctrine of law is mere legalism. Yet without the law, his doctrine of grace is utterly frustrated, since the ultimate purpose of grace in Wesley's thinking is to make possible that sanctification which is the fulfilling of the law.The contention of this thesis, however, is not merely that Wesley's doctrines of law and grace are interdependent, but that they are strictly interdependent. By strictly interdependent I mean that this interdependence is precisely defined at certain key points, and that these key points of interdependence remain constant without exception from 1738. The key points of interdependence are these: 1. There are degrees of faith ranging from a low species of faith to Christian perfection and beyond (Christian perfection is not static). 2. This faith must be strengthened and maintained through obedience. 3. Faith alone is absolutely necessary to justification and sanctification. 4. Justifying faith necessarily issues in dominion over all outward sin and in increasing dominion over inward sin. 5. Justification must precede sanctification.These points of interdependence take shape in the period immediately after Aldersgate and remain constantly characteristic of Wesley's ministry to his death. The place of grace is safeguarded in that faith alone is necessary to justification, and in that sanctification cannot be a condition of justification. The place of the law is safeguarded in that obedience to the law is necessary to the strengthening and maintenance of faith (this includes those species of faith inferior to justifying faith) and in that justifying faith is partly defined as necessarily issuing in obedience.