Primitive Methodist beliefs
There are not really any beliefs peculiar to Primitive Methodism, deriving as they do from the parent Wesleyan body. Primitive Methodist historian and minister John Petty tells us that in the connexional Deed Poll enrolled in Chancery “the doctrines believed and taught by the Primitive Methodist connexion were and are that system of religious doctrines which was laid down and established by John Wesley”.
Primitive Methodist beliefs were set out in the 1836 and 1849 Minutes of Conference which say:
What are the doctrines held by us?
- The innocency of man in his first state
- The fall of man [1849 add “and that of their posterity”]
- General redemption by Jesus Christ
- Justification by faith of the ungodly on their turning to God
- The witness of the Spirit
- Sanctification by the Holy Spirit, producing inward and outward holiness
- The doctrine of the Trinity
- The proper divinity of Jesus Christ
- The resurrection of the dead
- The general judgment
- Eternal rewards and punishments
The early church drew up the foundational teachings of Christianity in the ancient creeds agreed at Nicæa (AD 325), Constantinople (AD 381) and Chalcedon (AD 451), and these are held dear to this day by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Protestants. Nothing in Methodism contradicts them: Primitive Methodism is a flowering and expression of true, ancient Christianity.
Nonetheless, some of its beliefs or emphases may be considered characteristic of Methodism, and are not shared by, or so strongly emphasised, by every other Christian denomination. These are
- General Redemption (that is, that Christ died for all) which opposes Particular Redemption as taught by Calvinists (that Christ died only for the elect);
- the witness of the Spirit, which, though not peculiar to Methodism, was brought into prominence under the Wesleys, and is often called the doctrine of Assurance: that a person may know he is a true Christian, reconciled to God and united through faith and forgiveness to Christ;
- and the particular Methodist understanding of sanctification, as explained especially well by W. E. Sangster in his book The Path to Perfection.
These are all strongly expressed in Charles Wesley’s hymns. For example, the first (General Redemption):
Thy sovereign grace to all extends,
Immense and unconfined;
From age to age it never ends;
It reaches all mankind…
So wide, it never passed by one,
Or it had passed by me.
The inner witness of God’s Spirit with the believer’s spirit, that he is a child of God:
Where shall my wondering soul begin?
…That I, a child of wrath and hell,
I should be called a child of God,
Should know, should feel my sins forgiven,
Blest with this antepast of heaven.
And entire sanctification:
Finish then thy new creation,
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see thy great salvation,
Perfectly restored in thee.