Controversy between Augustus Toplady and John Wesley

By: Rev. Augustus M. Toplady (1740-1778)

The following text was extracted from "The Complete Works of Augustus Toplady" (1794; re-released in America by Sprinkle Publications in 1987) pp. 719-728.

Whitefield's letter to Wesley is often cited and quoted by Wesley sympathizers, as though it gives the stamp of approval to Wesley and permission for Calvinists to support him. Here is Toplady's letter to Wesley, which those sympathizers and others, need to read. John Wesley had taken a tract written by Augustus Toplady, a Calvinist, in which Toplady had translated from Latin and published an excerpt of, Jerome Zanchius' work "Absolute Predestination". Wesley changed the meaning of the tract completely, disavowing the doctrines of grace found in it, and then published it with Toplady's initials, behind his back, in an obvious attempt to undo the good Toplady's tract was doing in England. Here is Pastor Toplady's letter confronting Wesley. March 26, 1770

Sir, Possibly the following letter may fall into the hands of some who are unacquainted with the merits of the occasion on which I write. For the information of such, I must premise that, in November, 1769, I published a Two Shilling Pamphlet, entitled "The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination stated and asserted: with a preliminary Discourse on the Divine Attributes. Translated, in great measure, from the Latin of Jerom Zanchius."Though you neither are mentioned, nor alluded to, throughout the whole book, yet it could hardly be imagined that a treatise apparently tending to lay the axe to the root of those pernicious doctrines which, for more than thirty years past, you have endeavored to palm on your credulous followers, with all the sophistry of a Jesuit, and the dictatorial authority of a pope, should long pass without some censure from the hand of a restless Arminian, who has so eagerly endeavored to distinguish himself as the bellwether of his deluded thousands.Accordingly, in the month of March, 1770, out sneaks a printed paper (consisting of one sheet, folded into twelve pages; price one penny) entitled, "The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination stated and asserted, by the Reverend Mr. AT".

Wherein you pretend to give an abridgment of the pamphlet above referred to. But,1. Why did you not make your abridgment truly public? For an apparent reason that, if possible it might elude my knowledge, and so escape the rod. Born of a stole's embrace, it was needful for the spurious pusillanimous performance to steal its way into the world. It privately crept abroad from the Foundry, the seat of its nativity; it was sold indeed, but sold under the rose; it was carefully circulated in the dark, and the friends of Mr. Wesley were designed to be the sole sphere of its acquaintance. Thus every one that doth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light lest his deed should be reproved. In such conduct, I can discern much of the Jesuit, but nothing of the saint. - I had to this hour remained unapprised of the secret stab, but for the information received from some of superior integrity to yourself. - I will put Christianity quite out of the question, and suppose it to have no kind of influence. But should you not at least act as a man of common honour? Come forth openly, sir, in future, like an honest generous assailant; and, from this moment forward, disdain to act the ignoble part of a lurking sly assassin. 2. Why did you not abridge me faithfully and fairly? Why must you lard your ridiculous compendium with additions and interpolations of your own; especially as you took the liberty of prefixing my name to it? Your reasons are obvious. My publication had spread among some of your people: and the longer it continued to diffuse itself, the more you trembled for your Diana. Hence, Demetrius-like, you found it needful, by the help of a pious fraud, to prejudice your Ephesians against the doctrines of St. Paul. The book was likely to give the Arminian Babel a shake: therefore, no way so effectual to secure it as by endeavoring to spike the cannon which was planted against it. That you might seem to gratify the curiosity of your partisans, and keep them really hood-winked at the same time, you draw up a flimsy, partial compendium of Zanchius: a compendium which exhibits a few detached propositions placed with the most disadvantageous point of view, and without including any part of the evidence on which they stand.But this alone was not sufficient to compass the desired end. Unsatisfied with carefully and totally suppressing every proof alleged by Zanchius in support of his argument; a false colouring must likewise be super induced, by inserting a sentence or two now and then of your own foisting in. After which you close the motley piece, with an entire paragraph, forged every word of it by yourself: and conclude all, as you began, with subjoining the initials of my name: to make the ignorant believe that the whole, with your omissions, additions, and alterations, actually came from me. - An instance of audacity and falsehood hardly to be paralleled! I am very far from desiring the reader to take my word in proof of the charge alleged against you. As an instance of your want of honour, veracity, and justice, I refer to the following paragraph, 1. as published by me; and 2. as quoted by you.1." When all the transactions of providence and grace are wound up in the last day, he (Christ) will then properly sit as judge, and openly publish, and solemnly ratify, if I may so say, His everlasting decrees, by receiving the elect, body and soul into glory: and by passing sentence on the non-elect (not for having done what they could not help, but) for willful ignorance on divine things and their obstinate unbelief; for their omissions of moral duty, and for their repeated iniquities and transgressions." Doctrine of Absolute Predestination. "In the last day Christ will sit as Judge and openly publish and solemnly ratify his everlasting decrees, be receiving the elect into glory, and by passing sentence on the non-elect (not for having done what they could not help, but) for their willful ignorance of divine things and their obstinate unbelief; for their omissions or moral duty, and for their repeated iniquities and transgressions which they could not help." Wesley Abridgment, p. 9 Whether my view of the doctrine itself be, in fact, right or wrong is no part of the present enquiry: the question is, have your quoted me fairly? Blush, Mr. Wesley, if you are capable of blushing. For once publicly acknowledge yourself to have acted criminally: "unless", to use your own words on another occasion, "shame and you have shook hands and parted."Your concluding paragraph, which you have the effrontery to palm on the world as mine, runs thus:"The sum of all this: one in twenty (suppose) of mankind are elected; nineteen in twenty are reprobated. The elect shall be saved, do what they will; the reprobate shall be damned, do what they can. Reader, believe this, or be damned. Witness my hand, A T."In almost any other case, a similar forgery would transmit the criminal to Virginia or Maryland, if not to Tyburn. If such an opponent can be deemed an honest man, where shall we find a knave? - What would you think of me, were I infamous enough to abridge any treatise of yours, sprinkle it with interpolations, and conclude it thus: Reader, buy this book, or be damned. Witness my hand, John Wesley?"And is it thus you contend for victory? Are these the weapons of your warfare? Is this bearing down those who differ from you with meekness? Do you call this binding with cords of love? Away, for shame, with such disingenuous artifices. At least, endeavor to conceal that narrow sectarian spirit, which betrays itself more or less in almost every thing you write. Renounce the low serpentine cunning, which puts you on falsifying what you find yourself unable to refute. And, as you regard your character and the cause you espouse, dismiss those dirty subterfuges (the last resources of mean malicious impotence), which degrade the man of parts into a lying sophist, and sink a divine beneath the level of an oyster-woman. Cease to fight like the French, with old nails and broken glass. Charge fairly and fire as forcibly as you can. But if you persist to employ the weapons of scurrility and falsehood, the splinters will not only recoil on yourself, but you will continue to be posted for a theological coward.And why should you, of all people in the world, be so very angry with the doctrines of grace? Forget not the days and months that are past. Remember that it once depended on the toss of a shilling, whether you yourself should be a Calvinist or an Arminian. Tails fell uppermost, and you resolved to be an Universalist. It as a happy throw which consigned you to the tents of Arminius: for it saved us form the company of a man who, by a kind and religious gambling peculiarity his own, risked his faith on the most contemptible of all lots; and was capable of tossing up for his creed as porters or chairmen toss up for a halfpennny.I have read of princes and other eminent persons, who, having risen from ignoble life to greatness, took care to have some striking memorials of their former obscurity frequently in their view, by way of a counterpoise to pride, and as a preservative from being exalted above measure. When from the pinnacle of your own importance you look down upon the advocates of free-grace, and consider them as reptiles, to be treated by you as you please, only recollect the humbling circumstance of which I have just reminded you: and repress the complacent swellings of self-adulation, by some such soliloquy as this: "I have been in danger myself of believing that St. Paul says true, when he declares that God hath mercy on whom He will have mercy. How pernicious was the shilling, and above all, how lucky was the throw, which convinced me of St. Paul's mistake!" Forgive us if we as implicitly determine our faith by the Scriptures as you determined yours by the fall of the splendid shilling.But even since this memorial epoch, you have by no means proved yourself that steady Arminian you should have the world believe. Proteus-like, you disdain to be shackled and circumscribed by any certain form. Her ladyship of Loretto, though she has a different suit for every day in the year, is semper eadem, when compared with the quondam fellow of Lincoln College. There are times when you vary as much from your preceding self, as you do at all times from the rest of mankind. Possessed of more than serpentine ability, you cast your slough not once a year, but almost once an hour. Hence your innumerable inconsistencies and flagrant self-contradictions; the jarring of your principles (ever at intestine war with each other), and the incoherence of your religious system. Your scheme of doctrines reminds me of the feet of a certain visionary image, which, as the sacred penman acquaints us, seemed to be composed of iron and clay - heterogeneous materials which may, indeed be put together, but will never incorporate with each other. Somewhat like the necromanic soup, of which you have probably read in the tragedy of Macbeth; your doctrines may be stirred into a chaotic jumble, but witchcraft itself would strive in vain to bring them in coalition. - On the contrary, evangelical truth knows nothing of this harlequin assemblage. It is not like Joseph's coat of many colours; nor made up of a patch from Donatus, of another from Pelagius, and a third from Arminius: but is invariably simple, uniform, and harmonious; resembling the robe of it adorable Teacher, which is without seam, and woven from the top thoughout.On one occasion you had the candor to own your own levity, as to points of faith. I am acquainted with a very respectable person (Mr. J. D.) who, not many years ago, taking the freedom to tell you that "your prejudices, like armed men, stood with their swords ready drawn, to guard all the passes of conviction, and hew down every truth as fast as it presented itself to your mind." you had the unusual honesty to answer, "Ah, sir! If you knew how distressed I have been what doctrines I should embrace, and how I have been tossed about from system to system, you would think me the most open to conviction, and the lest liable to prejudice of any man you ever knew." - This answer did you read honor, for I am persuaded you spoke true. Yet why should you, who have been so remarkably tossed about, take upon you to revile those who have gained the harbor or truth: and that amidst all your manifold shifting from system to system, you will at length be enabled to fix on the only right system, which asserts the lawfulness of God's doing what He will with His own. I am told the penny-sheet (which occasions this free address), is to be followed, sometime hence, by a four-penny pamphlet against Zanchius: wherein you are to besiege the doctrine of predestination in form. Commence the siege, and welcome. Open your trenches and plant your batteries. Bring forth your strong arguments and play them off with vigor. I publicly profess, and subscribe my name to it, that if I cannot beat you back, I will freely capitulate and own myself conquered. But remember that if you would do anything to purpose you must make a regular attack. You must encounter the whole of Zanchius, and take his arguments in their regular connection and dependency on each other. You must go through with my preface, which I prefixed to my translation of that great man. Having carried and dismantled the out-work, you must next proceed to demolish the dissertation on the divine attributes: which having destroyed, you are then to assail the citadel; I mean those five stubborn chapters which make up the body of the treatise itself. All the allies or the arguments drawn from Scripture and reason, must likewise be put to the sword. This should you attempt to do in a manner worthy of a scholar and a divine, I shall have no objection (if life and health continue) to measuring swords, or breaking a pike, with you. Controversy properly conducted is a friend to truth, and no enemy to benevolence. When the flint and the steel are in conflict some sparks may issue, which may both warm and enlighten. ~ But I have no notion of encountering a windmill in lieu of a giant. If, therefore, you come against me (as now) with straws instead of artillery, and with chaff in the room of ammunition, I shall disdain to give you battle: I shall only laugh at you from the ramparts.Much less, if you descend to your customary resource of false quotations, despicable invective, and unsupported dogmatisms, shall I hold myself obliged again to enter the lists with you. An opponent who thinks to add weight to his argument by scurrility and abuse, resembles the insane person, who rolled himself in mud, in order to make himself fine. I would no more enter into a formal controversy with such a scribbler, than I would contend for the wall with a chimney-sweeper.When some of your friends gave out, two or three months before your late doughty publication, that Mr. John (as they call you) was shutting himself up, in order to answer the translator of Zanchius: I really imagined that something tolerably respectable was going to make its appearance. But Quid dignum tanto tulit hic promissor hiatu? After the teeming mountain had been shut up a competent time, long enough to have been brought to bed of a Hercules, forth creeps a puny toothless mouse! A mouse of heterogeneous kind: having little more than its head and tail form you; and the main of its body made Currente rota, cur urceus exit? If I may judge of the future, by the past, and unless you amend greatly in a short time, your four-penny supplement, when it appears, will be no less inconsiderable than the penny sheet already extant. And, as the mouse is not cheap at a penny, I am very apprehensive the rat, when it ventures out, will be far too dear at at groat.Hitherto your treatment of Zanchius resembles that of some clumsy, bungling anatomist: who in the dissection of an animal dwells much on the larger and more obvious particulars; but quite omits nerves, the lymphatics, the muscles, and the most interesting parts of the complicate machine. Thus, in your piddling extract from the pamphlet, you have thought proper to curtail, you only give a few of the larger outlines; without al all entering into the spirit of the subject, or so much as producing (so far from attempting to refute) any of the turning points, on which the argument depends. Wrench the finest eye that ever shone in a lady's head from its socket, and it will appear frightful and deformed: whereas, in its natural connection, the symmetry and brilliancy, the expressiveness and the beauty, are conspicuous. So it often fares with authors. A detached sentence, artfully misplaced, or unseasonably introduced, maliciously applied, or unfairly cited, may appear to carry an idea the very reverse of its real meaning. But replace dislocated passage, and its propriety and importance are restored. I would wish every unprejudiced person, into whose hands your abridgment of my translation has fallen, to suspend his judgment concerning it until he sees the translation itself. On comparing the two together, he will at once perceive how candid and honest you are; and what quantity of confidence may be reposed on your integrity as a citer.

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