Theology and John Wesley

Wesley begins; “The Scripture avers, that “by one man’s disobedience all men were constituted sinners;” that “in Adam all died,” spiritually died, lost the life and the image of God; that fallen, sinful,” (#44, Para. 4). There was a time when there was no sin in the world. This thought would posit innumerable questions, theories, and thousands of new books, studies, essays, courses, and philosophy. Therefore, no attention is given out of pure curiosity and addressed by none that I am currently aware of.

As for the question of original sin and its origins, one need not go far without bumping into somebody who has tightly held convictions. On the other hand, there are those who assume that every prominent, early church father had volumes to say on the subject. This, however, would not be the true case. According to Jesse Couenhoven, “since it has been an axiom for most historical theologians that the doctrine of original sin cannot be traced back beyond Augustine, one would expect Augustine’s view of original sin to be especially well studied. Oddly, however, there are no definitive treatments of Augustine’s views on this matter,” (Couenhoven, 2005).

For the matter of Wesley and his doctrine of original sin, much like that of Luther, it is an entirely different story. Wesley’s rudimentary thoughts on original sin parallels Augustine’s, in that the two both believed that without the doctrine of original sin, the doctrines of faith, grace, justification, and sanctification are mute. Yet Joshua Hoffmann attributes the following quote to Edward T. Oakes; “No doctrine inside the precincts of the Christian Church is received with greater reserve and hesitation, even to the point of outright denial, than the doctrine of Original sin,” (Oakes, 1998).

In his sermon on justification by faith, Wesley references chapter 5 of Romas, using Paul’s words to define original sin. “Thus “by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin. And so death passed upon all men,” as being contained in him who was the common father and representative of us all. Thus, “through the offense of one,” all are dead, dead to God, dead in sin, dwelling in a corruptible, mortal body, shortly to be dissolved, and under the sentence of death eternal. For as, “by one man’s disobedience,” all “were made sinners;” so, by that offense of one, “judgment came upon all men to condemnation,” (Wesley, #44. Para. 6).

Plainly Wesley’s interpretation of original sin comes directly from Scriptures themselves. He in no wise attempts to create his own definition. With that established Wesley does join the extensive list of both predecessors as well as contemporaries in formulating a doctrine on sin.

Against Taylor specifically, Wesley affirmed the six propositions of the Westminster Confession relating to sin. “Taylor opposed all six propositions…because he thought they (1) demeaned human freedom and moral agency, and (2) intensified the impasse of theodicy,” (Oden, 2012). According to Oden, Wesley answered these objections by Taylor. He further adds; “Original sin does not imply that humanity lacks moral choice, for through prevenient or initiating grace, God is forever offering to lead humanity toward saving grace,” (Oden, 2012).

According to Hoffmann, Calvin, while connecting his doctrine of original sin to “the fall,” writes that “he rejects the view that Original sin is an inherited malady passed on by physical process such as biological heredity. Rather, he takes up the view that it is God himself who gave humanity its splendid gifts in Adam, and it is God himself who has universally deprived humankind of these gifts through Adam,” (Hoffmann, 2014).

The subject of predestination notwithstanding Wesley’s doctrine on sin closely parallels Calvin’s. They both rightly determine the original sin. I believe the two differ, however, from that point forward. Wesley writes, “Is God the cause of…sinful motions? He is the cause of the motion…[but] of the sin, He is not…otherwise you make God the direct author of all the sin under heaven,” (Oden, 2012). By claiming that God universally deprives humankind of “gifts” because of Adam, Calvin does set God up as the reason that Adam’s original sin is passed on.

Reformers such as Calvin and Luther, regarding original sin, insist on the total depravity of man and Wesley agrees. It is when we get into the subject of grace that they part ways. Wesley simply believes that apart from grace, we are unable to realize our condition. On the other side, the Catholic and Orthodox churches did not see man in total depravity, “incapable of cooperating with God’s grace,” (Knight, 2008).

In Augustine’s doctrine of original sin, “human identity is rooted in a reality that is prior to human willing,” (McFarland, 2007). “The essential distinction, I believe, is between sin and evil: sin is a particular form of evil, a culpable mis-relation to God and the world. Thus, sin is not simply evil; neither is it merely evil to which humans contribute. Rather, sin is a blameworthy evil for which one is responsible,” (Couenhoven, 2005). Also, according to Couenhoven, Augustine’s doctrine of original sin was worked through in relation to unjustly blaming infants for an inherited condition. While several of our theologians worked through and developed their own doctrines of original sin they did so for varied reasons. For Wesley, it led not only to grace but to prevenient grace.

With the help of Sandra Richter, we can view Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 as complementary and “together they communicate the parameters of God’s plan.” Richter includes an excellent analysis of God’s original intent in The Epic of Eden. In her chapter on God’s Original Intent, she summarizes, “This was God’s perfect plan: the people of God in the place of God dwelling in the presence of God,” (Richter, 2008).

There is no better analogy to the perceived image of God in humanity other than an image of pieces of a shattered mirror strewn across the ground after Adam disobeyed God’s singular command–and I certainly stress the word, singular. Adam and Eve, according to His own words, were created in “our image.” They were created in the image of God. They were to be in relation to God, nothing less. However, as Adam chose to disregard God’s single command, that mirror [and man] bearing the image of God fell and shattered. Thus, our image of God as well as our own [of humanity] was shattered as well distorted to a point man could no longer rightly discern that image. In Conclusion, doctrines of original sin and doctrines of grace were born out of “the fall,” which took place in Eden. In the end, they are commentaries on “the fall,” in attempts to describe or explain the before and after factor.

References I
Brandt, G. (2017) Luther on Original Sin. Gareth Brandt: Reflections about God and Life.

Retrieved from

Chadwick, H. (2009) Augustine of Hippo: A Life. New York, NY: Oxford University Couenhoven, J. (2005) St. Augustine’s Doctrine of Original Sin. Villanova University. Retrieved from

Crutcher, T. (2014) Wesley: His Life and Thought. Kansas City, KS: Beacon
Hoffmann, J. (2014) John Calvin on Original Sin. Joshua Hoffmann: Secondary Teaching. Retrieved from

Knight, H. (2008) Wesley on Original Sin. Catalyst: Perspectives for Wesleyan-Methodist Seminarians and Leaders. Retrieved from

McFarland, I. (2007) The fall and Sin. The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology. Retrieved from

Oakes, E. (1998) Original Sin: A Disputation. FT 87: 16. [cited by Hoffmann] Oden, T. (2012) John Wesley’s Teachings: Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan

Richter, S. (2008) The Epic of Eden. Downers grove, IL: InterVarsity

Smith, A. (2021) The Origins of Original Sin for Augustine. Anthony Smith. Retrieved from

Wesley, J. Sermon #44, Original Sin. Wesley Center Online. Retrieved from original-sin/

©2023 Clayton Moore for Theology of John Wesley.

(As was previously submitted towards requirement for MA. Min. 2022)


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