Note that, since Roberts was a Methodist, it is not surprising that “Wesley and Fletcher” held to a related doctrinal error of an improper “immediate enjoyment of personal assurance” (pg. 180, The Doctrine of Justification, James Buchanan). Noll explains Wesley’s error:
[Early in his ministry,] John Wesley summed up his thoughts on this subject in a letter written in January, 1740: “I never yet knew one soul thus saved without what you call the faith of assurance; I mean a sure confidence that by the merits of Christ he was reconciled to the favour of God” [pg. 200, Wesley’s Standard Sermons]. Thus the cognition that saving grace had worked in a life was seen as the final means to ascertain if saving grace had indeed been present. The implications of this teaching, taken by itself, seem to lead to a condition in which superficial self-analysis (“yes, I’ve got the witness”) results in spirituality while the kind of doubt which assailed such people as Luther and even at times John Wesley himself results in a loss of the hope of salvation. (pg. 171, “John Wesley and the Doctrine of Assurance,” Mark A. Noll. Bibliotheca Sacra 132:526 [April 1975])
However, by 1755 Wesley had moderated his position slightly, so that one could be shaken in his assurance without losing his salvation, although a total lack of assurance was still only compatible with a lost estate:
I know that I am accepted: And yet that knowledge is sometimes shaken, though not destroyed, by doubt or fear. If that knowledge were destroyed, or wholly withdrawn, I could not then say I had Christian faith. To me it appears the same thing, to say, “I know God has accepted me”; or, “I have a sure trust that God has accepted me.” . . . [Nonetheless,] justifying faith cannot be a conviction that I am justified. . . . But still I believe the proper Christian faith, which purifies the heart, implies such a conviction. (pgs. 452-453, Letter DXXXII, July 25, 1755, in The Works of the Rev. John Wesley, Vol. 12, 3rd ed., with the last corrections of the author.
Mason, 1830) London
Furthermore, Wesley affirmed that objective marks cannot be elaborated to distinguish between the witness of the Spirit to one’s regenerated state and self-delusion. “[T]his kind of defense based on intuition . . . raised the specter of enthusiasm for some of Wesley’s critics” (pg. 174, Ibid.). In this doctrine of assurance Wesley’s view was similar to that of Jacob Arminius: “Arminius thought that no one would be a true Christian who did not have a present assurance of present salvation. He wrote: ‘Since God promises eternal life to all who believe in Christ, it is impossible for him who believes, and who knows that he believes, to doubt of his own salvation, unless he doubts of this willingness of God.’” (pgs. 164-165, “John Wesley and the Doctrine of Assurance,” Noll, citing pg. 348, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation, Carl Bangs.
Press, 1971. Compare The Doctrine of Assurance, with Special
Reference to John Wesley, Arthur S. Yates. Nashville : Epworth, 1952). London
Wesleyan confusion about conversion and assurance appeared in various preachers influenced by his theology, not Evan Roberts alone; thus, for example, Seth Joshua wrote: “[People] are entering into full assurance of faith coupled with a baptism of the Holy Ghost. . . . I also think that those seeking assurance may be fairly counted as converts” (pg. 122, The Welsh Religious Revival, Morgan, citing Mr. Joshua’s diary. Of course, some people who think that they are in need of assurance truly are unconverted, but such clarity appears to be lacking in Mr. Joshua’s comments. Spirit baptism has nothing to do with obtaining assurance in the Bible.). Methodist confusion on assurance passed over into the Pentecostal movement, which taught that assurance was of the essence of saving faith: “If God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you your sins, you know it. And if you do not know it better than you know anything in this world, you are still in your sins. When you go down in the atonement, in the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, you are accepted. And if you are accepted, and He has given you a clean heart and sanctified your soul, you know it. And if you do not know it, the work is not done” (pg. 2, The Apostolic Faith I:2 [
1906], reprinted on pg. 6, Like As of Fire: Newspapers from
the Los Angeles Azusa Street World
Wide Revival: A Reprint of “The Apostolic Faith” [1906-1908],
coll. Fred T. Corum & Rachel A. Sizelove).
Scripture teaches that all believers can have assurance of salvation, but that assurance that one has personally passed from death to life is not of the essence of saving faith (cf. London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, 18:1-4). However, Wesley’s acceptance of baptismal regeneration was an even more dangerous error than his confusion on assurance (see “John Wesley’s View on Baptism,” John Chongnahm Cho. Wesleyan Theological Journal 7 [Spring 1972] 60-73).