Monday, December 13, 2010

Whitefield's 1740 Letter to Wesley trying to convince Wesley of the errors of his Arminianism

Fascinating letter from Goerge Whitefield to John Wesley (HT: Borrowed Light). You'll remember that both these Englishmen were used mightily by God in the eighteenth century revival, and both were Anglican (turned Methodist) in terms of their ecclesiastical convictions, with much overlap in their theology. While Wesley is commonly regarded as the father of Methodism, Dallimore's magisterial 2-volume biography argues that Whitefield is more accurately seen as its founder, despite Wesley's undeniable organizational genius and ecclesial entrepreneurialism.

They differed, however, on some key soteriological matters. In this letter Whitefield seeks to convince Wesley of the errors of his Arminianism.

Note the tone with which Whitefield writes: brotherly, courteous, mourning over the need to disagree, mindful of his own fallibility. Loving. 'I am sure,' writes Whitefield at one point, 'I love you in the bowels of Jesus Christ, and think I could lay down my life for your sake; but yet, dear Sir, I cannot help strenuously opposing your errors upon this important subject.'

This is a model for us, brothers.

One bit especially struck me. Whitefield responds to Wesley's charge that election destroys the foundation for love and humility by saying,
Dear Mr. Wesley perhaps has been disputing with some . . . narrow-spirited men that held election, and then he infers that their . . . narrowness of spirit was owing to their principles? But does not dear Mr. Wesley know many dear children of God, who are predestinarians, and yet are meek, lowly, pitiful, courteous, tender-hearted, kind, of a catholic spirit, and hope to see the most vile and profligate of men converted? And why? Because they know God saved themselves by an act of his electing love, and they know not but he may have elected those who now seem to be the most abandoned. . . .
I beg you would observe that your inference is entirely set aside by the force of the Apostle's argument, and the language which he expressly uses in Colossians 3:12-13: 'Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering . . .'
Here we see that the Apostle exhorts them to put on bowels of mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, etc, upon this consideration: namely, because they were elect of God. And all who have experientially felt this doctrine in their hearts feel that these graces are the genuine effects of their being elected of God.
Read, consider, and grow, with me, into maturity.
Dane Ortlund

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