John Wesley on Universal Restoration  

Posted by Joe Rawls

John Wesley (1703-1791), priest of the Church of England and founder of Methodism,  had a wide-ranging theological imagination.  A classical scholar, he was steeped in the writings of the Greek and Latin Fathers.  His notion of "sanctification" is virtually identical with the Eastern Christian concept of theosis.  Another shared interest with the East concerns eschatology, the branch of theology dealing with the end of the present space-time continuum and the start of "the life of the world to come."  Wesley clearly believed that at the eschaton not only human beings would be resurrected.  The entire physical cosmos, including animals and plants, would also be restored in some sense.  A key scriptural text alluding to this is Romans 8: 19-21:  "Indeed, the whole created world eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God.  Creation was made subject to futility not of its own accord but by him who once subjected it; yet not without hope, because the world itself will be freed from its slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God." 

Wesley expanded on this and other biblical texts in a sermon excerpted in The Christian Theology Reader, Alister E McGrath ed, second edition, Blackwell 2001, pp 630-631.


But will "the creature", will even the brute creation, always remain in this deplorable condition?  God forbid that we should affirm this; yea, or even entertain such a thought.  While "the whole creation groaneth together" (whether men attend or not), their groans are not dispersed in idle air, but enter the ears of Him that made them.  While His creatures "travail together in pain," he knoweth all their pain, and is bringing them nearer and nearer to the birth, which shall be accomplished in its season.  He seeth the "earnest expectation" wherewith the whole animated creation "waiteth for" that final "manifestation of the sons of God," in which "they themselves also shall be delivered" (not by annihilation; annihilation is not deliverance) "from the present bondage of corruption into" a measure of " the glorious liberty of the children of God"...

A general view of this is given us in the twenty first chapter of the Revelation.  When He that "sitteth on the great white throne" hath pronounced "Behold, I make all things new", when the word is fulfilled, "the tebernacle of God is with men, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God"--then the following blessing shall take place (not only on the children of men; there is no such restriction in the text; but) on every creature according to its capacity....

To descend to a few particulars.  The whole brute creation will then, undoubtedly, be restored, not only to the vigour, strength, and swiftness which they had at their creation, but to a far higher degree of each than they ever enjoyed.  They will be restored, not only to that measure of understanding which they had in paradise, but to a degree of it as much higher than that, as the understanding of an elephant is beyond that of a worm.  And whatever affections they had in the garden of God, will be restored with vast increase; being exalted and refined in a manner which we ourselves are not able to comprehend.  The liberty they then had will be completely restored, and they will be free in all their motions.  They will be delivered from all irregular appetites, from all unruly passions, from every disposition that is either evil in itself, or has any tendency to evil.  No rage will be found in any creature, no fierceness, no cruelty, or thirst for blood.  So far from it that "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the young lion together, and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like an ox.  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain" (Isaiah 11: 6-7)....

But though I doubt not that the Father of All has a tender regard for even his lowest creatures, and that, in consequence of this, he will make them large amends for all they suffer while under their present bondage; yet I dare not affirm that he has an equal regard for them and for the children of men.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 8, 2013 at Tuesday, October 08, 2013 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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