Like John Harding in his candid review of Iain Murray’s new book on Wesley, I was alarmed at the author’s exodus from Reformed doctrines. Could he not praise Wesley objectively for the good he did without having to side with him in his errors? Murray has lost his balance. Formerly he was pro Whitefield and contra Wesley, now he is pro Wesley and Whitefield is forgotten. Forgotten, too, are the adverse teachings of Wesley on the doctrines of grace, his extraordinary superstitions such as his belief in ghosts and his shocking treatment of sound men such as Hervey, Toplady, Erskine, Cennick, Cudworth and the Hill brothers. Murray tells us that it is not his task to enquire into these things. Thus we are only permitted to see Wesley at his Sunday best, with Murray polishing up Wesley’s own down-to-earth accounts to make them more spiritual and gentlemanlike.
Between the lines, we learn that Methodism spread by poaching where Calvinists had already evangelized. Oddly enough, in his conclusion regarding the success of Methodism Murray mentions merely the work of such as Newton and Cecil, the Evangelicals of the Church of England and the evangelical political lobby. None of these were Wesleyans.
Leaving his cut-down account of Wesley behind Murray describes Bramwell, Ouseley and Collins as men who lack their leader’s faults and possess a greater number of virtues, including a belief in the doctrines of grace. Can they then be described as Wesley’s followers?
On doctrine, Murray finds that Wesley merely appears ambiguous, mystifying, devious, misleading and self contradictory because of the impossibility of being otherwise with his living such a busy life. Nevertheless, Murray concludes that if we stick to Wesley’s sermons on justification and righteousness, we have a sound guide. Hervey, however, demonstrated for Wesley how those very sermons were the doctrines of Trent. Even when commenting on Wesley’s most erroneous doctrine of perfection, Murray claims that it “was not sufficient to deflect Methodists from what is basic to the Christian”.
Murray’s work is slip-shod and superficial with little documented evidence to back up his compromising theories. He provides no evidence whatsoever for his claim that Methodism was a truly Bible-based religion. Murray’s muddled message is that in matters of Calvinism and Arminianism we must become Calminians. But who wants to be a Mr Facing-Bothways?