George Whitefield and John Wesley were contemporaries on the theological landscape of 18th Century England. Originally, they were close friends, but throughout their lives, doctrinal differences separated the two greatly. In private letters, they shared sharp words with one another.
But how they presented their differences in the public’s eye was uncommon…both then and now.
Both of these mighty men served their country and their continent through their impassioned and anointed preaching. Both of these men also traveled to the new colonies being formed in America to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. Both of these men shaped the religious landscape of their day and ours.
Ironically, their message was 99% the same, but they disagreed vehemently on the idea of “election.” Whitefield took a stance that aligned with Calvinism, and Wesley argued with him from an Arminiast’s point of view. In fact, even after Whitefield died, Wesley still defended himself against his former friend.
At one point, Whitefield publically embarrassed Wesley early in their careers, and sought Wesley’s forgiveness of the matter the duration of his life. From then on, Whitefield made good on his repentance, truly changing how he characterized his theological opponent in public. Thus, his remarks to a close friend, regarding Wesley’s own salvation, were unsurprising.
Whitefield was asked if he thought he’d see Wesley in Heaven. He 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.”
Today’s Christian leaders would do well to take a page from Whitefield’s Disagreeing with Fellow Christians for Dummies. These days, churches split over matters of opinion. These days, hundreds – if not thousands – of websites are launched by Christian groups attacking other Christian groups. These days, pastors slander their colleagues out of pride, jealousy, or fear.
These public disputes makes Whitefield’s example stand out even more. But, then, didn’t Jesus say it would?
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)
Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching and Preachers by Warren W. Wiersbe. Moody Press, 1984, Page 255.
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(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)