In his sermon “Free Grace,” John Wesley lays out several reasons why he finds predestination an unholy doctrine. Among those reasons is this one:
the doctrine itself, — that every man is either elected or not elected from eternity, and that the one must inevitably be saved, and the other inevitably damned, — has a manifest tendency to destroy holiness in general; for it wholly takes away those first motives to follow after it, so frequently proposed in Scripture, the hope of future reward and fear of punishment, the hope of heaven and fear of hell. That these shall go away into everlasting punishment, and those into life eternal, is not motive to him to struggle for life who believes his lot is cast already; it is not reasonable for him so to do, if he thinks he is unalterably adjudged either to life or death.
Despite the publicity received by some forms of resurgent Calvinism, we are not likely to run into a lot of hard-line predestinarians, but reading Wesley’s point makes me think of something we do encounter a great deal – universalism.
Universalism is predestination with a two-headed coin. It is a case of everyone wins. Wesley’s sermon on free grace raises some objections to predestination which universalism avoids, but the two doctrines run afoul of Wesley on some grounds.
In addition to the point raised above, Wesley objects to predestination because it undermines zeal for good works, it contradicts Scripture, and it calls into question the need for God’s revelation at all. If everyone is already set for heaven or hell – on in the case of universalism, heaven – then would that destiny not be the same if God had never been revealed?
The wise universalist will have answers to Wesley’s objections, and Wesley clearly would not object to universalism as strongly as he did to the “horrible doctrine” of predestination. But I think considering his arguments against the one might give us reason to think more about the other.
In the end, it seems to me, both doctrines remove from us responsibility. To claim that we are responsible but that we bear not accountability seems a hollow responsibility to me. It clearly is not for many. Universalism – or its more robust cousin predestination – can be experienced as a great relief, but I fear it is a case of easing the tension before the true cure is found.