Friday, March 28, 2008

Wesley & Whitefield

John Wesley and George Whitefield were friends. They knew each other as young men, and each of them felt the Lord's call on his life to preach.

However, Wesley & Whitefield sharply disagreed on the doctrine of predestination. It is interesting to read the correspondence between the two men, as they each tried to convince the other that his beliefs were wrong.

It's not that the debate wasn't heated. Here is an excerpt from a letter George Whitefield wrote to John on the issue of predestination:

Honoured Sir, how could it enter into your heart to choose a text to disprove the doctrine of election out of Romans 8, where this doctrine is so plainly asserted? Once I spoke with a Quaker upon this subject, and he had no other way of evading the force of the Apostle's assertion than by saying, "I believe Paul was in the wrong." And another friend lately, who was once highly prejudiced against election, ingenuously confessed that he used to think St. Paul himself was mistaken, or that he was not truly translated. Indeed, honoured Sir, it is plain beyond all contradiction that St. Paul, through the whole of Romans 8, is speaking of the privileges of those only who are really in Christ. And let any unprejudiced person read what goes before and what follows your text, and he must confess the word "all" only signifies those that are in Christ. And the latter part of the text plainly proves, what, I find, dear Mr. Wesley will, by no means, grant. I mean the final perseverance of the children of God: "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, [i.e., all Saints] how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32). [He shall give us] grace, in particular, to enable us to persevere, and every thing else necessary to carry us home to our Father's heavenly kingdom. Had any one a mind to prove the doctrine of election, as well as of final perseverance, he could hardly wish for a text more fit for his purpose than that which you have chosen to disprove it! One who did not know you would suspect that you were aware of this, for after the first paragraph, I scarce know whether you have mentioned [the text] so much as once through your whole sermon. But your discourse, in my opinion, is as little to the purpose as your text, and instead of warping, does but more and more confirm me in the belief of the doctrine of God's eternal election. I shall not mention how illogically you have proceeded. Had you written clearly, you should first, honoured Sir, have proved your proposition: "God's grace is free to all." And then by way of inference [you might have] exclaimed against what you call the horrible decree. But you knew that people (because Arminianism, of late, has so much abounded among us) were generally prejudiced against the doctrine of reprobation, and therefore thought if you kept up their dislike of that, you could overthrow the doctrine of election entirely.

The last paragraph is a plea for Mr. Wesley to study the Scriptures. It is passionate, but kind - caring as well as conciliatory. Mr. Whitefield does not back down one iota on his message, yet he does it in a gentle manner:

Dear, dear Sir, O be not offended! For Christ's sake be not rash! Give yourself to reading. Study the covenant of grace. Down with your carnal reasoning. Be a little child; and then, instead of pawning your salvation, as you have done in a late hymn book, if the doctrine of universal redemption be not true; instead of talking of sinless perfection, as you have done in the preface to that hymn book, and making man's salvation to depend on his own free will, as you have in this sermon; you will compose a hymn in praise of sovereign distinguishing love. You will caution believers against striving to work a perfection out of their own hearts, and print another sermon the reverse of this, and entitle it "Free Grace Indeed." Free, not because free to all; but free, because God may withhold or give it to whom and when he pleases. Till you do this, I must doubt whether or not you know yourself. In the meanwhile, I cannot but blame you for censuring the clergy of our church for not keeping to their articles, when you yourself by your principles, positively deny the 9th, 10th and 17th. Dear Sir, these things ought not so to be. God knows my heart, as I told you before, so I declare again, nothing but a single regard to the honour of Christ has forced this letter from me. I love and honour you for his sake; and when I come to judgment, will thank you before men and angels, for what you have, under God, done for my soul. There, I am persuaded, I shall see dear Mr. Wesley convinced of election and everlasting love. And it often fills me with pleasure to think how I shall behold you casting your crown down at the feet of the Lamb, and as it were filled with a holy blushing for opposing the divine sovereignty in the manner you have done. But I hope the Lord will show you this before you go hence. O how do I long for that day! If the Lord should be pleased to make use of this letter for that purpose, it would abundantly rejoice the heart of, dear and honoured Sir, Yours affectionate, though unworthy brother and servant in Christ, 10 GEORGE WHITEFIELD.

I have been surfing the web for the past few days, trying to make sense of a sharp disagreement of this modern day. The Bible states that there is nothing new under the sun, and that is apparent when you read Christian History. From Bible times to the present, men and women who love God disagree with other men and women who love God. This ought not to be so, but it is evidence that we live in a fallen world.

What grieves me is the rancour that I have witnessed. Even though some have suggested that if the two opposing parties sat down together they might even discover that they have much in common, and that they in fact, could like each other, they seem unwilling to do so. Fingers are flying as emails are composed in order to expose error or reveal lies.

I am not against exposing error or revealing lies, but what I am saying is this: Where is the peaceful confrontation made respectfully that I see in the letter above? Have we in this modern age simply become crass?

Although George Whitefield disagreed with John Wesley on some theological matters, he was careful not to create problems in public that could be used to hinder the preaching of the gospel. What mattered was the cause of Christ. George Whitefield continued to be gentle and gracious, even when Wesley did things to hinder him. George always considered John to be his friend.

When someone asked Whitefield if he thought he would see Wesley in heaven, Whitefield replied, “I fear not, for he will be so near the eternal throne and we at such a distance, we shall hardly get sight of him.”

I pray that those who have differences will tremble at the thought of grieving the Holy Spirit by attacking a brother or sister in Christ. I pray that disagreements will be tempered by a gracious and peaceful attitude which comes from knowing that God, who knows the truth, will make all things right on that day of judgment Whitefield refers to in the letter, above.


KeepItSimple said...

Excellent, Janet!!!

Is this from a book? If so, which one? I would love to read more...for you see dear sister, we are somewhere on the path between these two brothers in Christ.

Blessings -

thehappypetersons said...

Well said, Janet.

And I think PW is one place where you and the others have made sure this kind of harmony still exists.

Thank you!


Janet said...

Camille, I learned about Wesley and Whitefield in a Christian History class I took a few years ago. However, the quote in the blog I found online. There are many, many resources for studying history from primary sources online. It's amazing to me that people have sat and typed out so many old texts! But I am sure glad they did!

Susan, thanks for the vote of confidence. We do our best to maintain a place where women are free to learn and grow and even disagree on occasion, but with love and respect rather than with bitterness and rancour. I couldn't ask for a wiser bunch of women to work with, and that makes all the difference!

Blessings to both of you,