John Wesley, the great apostle of Arminianism in the following century, manifested the same malicious spirit of persecution against Augustus Toplady, an earnest defender in his day of the doctrines of free and sovereign grace, and author of 'Rock of Ages Cleft for Me.' When Toplady was thought to be on his death-bed, Wesley industriously circulated a report that Toplady had recanted the principles which it had been the business of his life to advocate. Wesley supposed Toplady to be too near the grave to contradict this foul calumny and write in his own defence. "But to the confusion of his enemies" to quote from Volume I of Toplady's Works "strength was given him to do both. Nor did he ever appear more triumphant than when, almost with his dying breath, he made so honourable and so successful an effort to repel the attacks of calumny and maintain the cause of truth.
"On [Lord's-day], June 14th, less than two months before his death, he came from Knightsbridge, and after a sermon by his assistant, the Rev. Dr. Illingworth, he ascended the pulpit, to the utter astonishment of his people, and delivered a very short but a very effective discourse from 2 Peter 1:13,14, Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this, my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me.' "When speaking of the abundant peace he experienced, and the joy and consolation of the Holy Ghost, of which for months past he had been a partaker, together with the persuasion that in a few days he must resign his mortal part to corruption, as a prelude to seeing the King in His beauty, the effect produced was such as may, perhaps, be conceived, but certainly cannot at all be described. His closing address was in substance the same with the following paper which was published the week after, and entitled, 'The Rev. Mr. Toplady's Dying Avowal of His Religious Sentiments.'"
Concerning Toplady's end we are told, "All his conversations, as he approached nearer and nearer to his decease, seemed more heavenly and happy. He frequently called himself the happiest man in the world. 'O!' (says he) 'how this soul of mine longs to be gone! Like a bird imprisoned in a cage, it longs to take its flight. O that I had wings like a dove, then would I flee away to the realms of bliss and be at rest for ever!' .... Being asked by a friend if he always enjoyed such manifestations, he answered, 'I cannot say there are no intermissions; for, if there were not, my consolations would be more or greater than I could possibly bear; but when they abate they leave such an abiding sense of God's goodness and of the certainty of my being fixed upon the eternal Rock Christ Jesus, that my soul is still filled with peace and joy.'
"Within the hour of his death he called his friends and his servant… and said, 'It will not be long before God takes me; for no mortal man can live (bursting while he said it into tears of joy) after the glories which God has manifested to my soul.' Soon after this he closed his eyes and found (as Milton finely expresses it)—'A death like sleep, A gentle wafting to immortal life' on Tuesday, August the 11th, 1778, in the 38th year of his age." (pp. 119, 120).
Toplady was not long in his grave when John Wesley publicly asserted that "the account published concerning Mr. Toplady's death was a gross imposition on the public; that he had died in black despair, uttering the most horrible blasphemies, and that none of his friends were permitted to see him."
Sir Richard Hill, a friend of Mr. Toplady's, and also the Rev. J. Gawkrodger publicly wrote John Wesley and accused him of vilifying the ashes and traducing the memory of the late Mr. Augustus Toplady," and affirming that "many respectable witnesses could testify that Mr. Toplady departed this life in the full triumph of faith." (Vol. I, pp. 121-128).
The report continues that a pious dissenting minister expostulated in a pamphlet with Mr. Wesley on his unjust assertions in the following words: "Mr. Wesley and his confederates, to whom this letter is addressed, did not only persecute the late Mr. Toplady during his life, but even sprinkled his death-bed with abominable falsehood. It was given out, in most of Mr. Wesley's societies, both far and near, that the worthy man had recanted and disowned the doctrines of sovereign grace, which obliged him, though struggling with death, to appear in the pulpit emaciated as he was, and openly avow the doctrines he had preached, as the sole support of his departing spirit. Wretched must that cause be, which has need to be supported by such unmanly shifts, and seek for shelter under such disingenuous subterfuges. O! Mr. Wesley, answer for this conduct at the bar of the Supreme. Judge yourself and you shall not be judged. Dare you also to persuade your followers that Mr. Toplady actually died in despair! Fie upon sanctified slander! Fie! Fie!
"Those who have read the preceding letters (by Sir Richard Hill and Rev. J. Gawkrodger) astonished as they must have been at their contents, will yet be more astonished to hear, that to the loud repeated calls thus given to him to speak for himself, Mr. Wesley answered not a word. Nor is it too much to say, that by maintaining a pertinacious silence in such circumstances, the very vitals of his character were stabbed by himself. He thus consented to a blot remaining on his name, among the foulest that ever stained the reputation of a professed servant of Christ."
Why should Toplady who kept the faith and finished his course in this world with joy be the target of the shafts of Wesley's venom? It is because he refuted on Scriptural grounds the Arminianism of Wesley, and fearlessly stood in defence of the eternal truths of free and sovereign grace. "By what spirit," writes Toplady: "this gentleman and his deputies are guided in their discussion of controversial subjects, shall appear from a specimen of the horrible aspersions which, in 'The Church Vindicated from Predestination,' they venture to heap on the Almighty Himself. The recital makes one tremble; the perusal must shock every reader who is not steeled to all reverence for the Supreme Being. Wesley and Sallon are not afraid to declare that on the hypothesis of divine decrees, the justice of God is no better than the tyranny of Tiberius. That God Himself is 'little better than Moloch.' 'A cruel, unwise, unjust, arbitrary, a self-willed tyrant.' A being devoid of wisdom, justice, mercy, holiness, and truth.' 'A devil, yea, worse than the devil.' Did the exorbitancies of the ancient ranters, or the impieties of any modem blasphemers, ever come up to this? ... Observe, reader, that these also are the very men who are so abandoned to all sense of shame, as to charge me with blasphemy for asserting with Scripture, that God worketh all things according to the counsel of His own will, and that whatever God wills is right."
"It is amazing that any true evangelical Calvinist would ever quote John Wesley with approval, either in speech or in writing," wrote the late Rev. J.P. MacQueen, London. "He bitterly hated and rejected Calvinism, while he taught a theory of justification practically identical with sanctification. His apologists have tried to persuade their readers that Wesley's Sacramentalism was 'merely an Oxford phase, and that it disappeared when he entered upon active evangelistic effort.' His treatise on Baptism, which he published in 1756, proves the contrary: 'By water, then, as a means—the water of baptism—we are regenerated or born again, whence it is also called by the Apostle the washing of regeneration. Herein a principle of grace is infused which will not be wholly taken away unless we quench the Holy Spirit of God by long-continued wickedness.' If the foregoing quotation does not embody the false doctrine of baptismal regeneration, one does not know what does. Wesley commended the same so-called 'devotional literature' as the Oxford Tractarians, such as the works of Romanists like Thomas a Kempis, Francois de Sales, and Cardinal Bona. He even published the 'Introduction to a Devout Life' by Francois de Sales, the sworn foe of Calvinism, in 1750. He advocated prayers for the dead, justifying himself thus: 'Prayer for the dead, the faithful departed, in the advocacy of which I conceive myself clearly justified.'" (Works, ed. 1872, IX. 55). The blessed departed are beyond the need of the poor sinstained prayers of the Church militant, for they are perfect in holiness.
"It is, of the very essence of historical falsehood," writes Mr. MacQueen, "to declare that the Romanist Oxford Tractarian Movement was the heir of the Evangelical Revival, whereas it was the logical development from the false teaching of the Arminian Methodist John Wesley." "Dr. J.H. Rigg says concerning John Wesley: 'The resemblance of his practices to those of modern High Anglicans is, in most points, exceedingly striking… He inculcated fasting and confession and weekly communion; he refused the Lord's Supper to all who had not been baptized by a minister episcopally ordained; he re-baptized the children of Dissenters; and he refused to bury all who had not received Episcopal baptism' ('Churchmanship of John Wesley' pp. 28-29). The present writer is amazed at Evangelical Calvinists who say that while John Wesley was undoubtedly Arminian in his views, his brother Charles was Calvinistic. After a careful perusal of their lives and the views of both of them, I am thoroughly persuaded that they were both Arminian to the core, Charles' hymns notwithstanding. Their false undermining Arminian teaching and influence weakened the Protestant witness against Popery in England and throughout the British Dominions, while Scotland itself was by no means exempt, and this evil free-willism, as a result, continues rife and rampant in professedly evangelical circles in England and Scotland, and the whole English-speaking world, to this day. While thus, the eighteenth Century Revival saved England from the 'withering blight of Atheism, masquerading under the euphemistic name of Deism,' it is a great mistake to confound Evangelicalism with Wesleyanism, or to imagine that Wesley and Whitefield both belonged to one Movement and preached the same Gospel. On the contrary, their teaching was diametrically opposed, free grace being Scriptural, while free-will is the illegitimate product of the carnal mind. Whitefield was… Calvinistic… while Wesley, and his associates, were Arminian, semi-Pelagian and Sacramentalist.
"One of the strangest, and most persistent inaccuracies in British secular and religious history is that which describes John Wesley as the true author of the Eighteenth Century Evangelical Revival," continues Mr. MacQueen, "whereas anything of permanent value in the Evangelical Movement must be attributed, as God's honoured instrument, to the Rev. George Whitefield, outstandingly. The contrary view could never find favour with any honest, impartial, serious student of history. It is, however, conventional today among English and British Dominion Evangelicals generally to give the whole credit for that revival to Rev. John Wesley, and his brother Charles, while Mr. Whitefield is only occasionally—and these occasions very rare— mentioned incidentally. It is a popular error, that needs to be corrected, that the evangelicals were more or less indebted to the teaching and influence of the Wesley brothers. They were certainly not the leaders of the Evangelical Revival.