I picked up this book a while ago and greatly recommend it. It's a biography about one of the greatest evangelists that has ever lived, George Whitefield. His life and achievements in the Lord, however, are little known, and are seemingly overshadowed by the reputation and accomplishments of John Wesley. But, as the author if this book clearly demonstrates, historians and biographers can be very selective and biased at times, favoring and focusing upon one individual of their liking, while completely ignoring another--and sometimes even going so far as to slander the reputation of the other with false information (whether this is intentional or not is for the Lord to judge). Such has been the case with the man of God, George Whitefield. Throughout the past two centuries or so, there have been myriads of John Wesley books published, mainly written by Arminian biographers. Some of these books extol Wesley to a very unhealthy degree (I even remember one that stated on the back cover that "God needed a man like Wesley"!!!). Their bias and favoritism is evident, especially with the secondary role they give to Whitefield in the 18th Century awakenings in England and America. Not so with this book, however. It reveals the documented truth about this forgotten hero of the faith, and in so doing unavoidably lifts the proverbial rug, exposing the many inconsistencies of his much revered friend, John Wesley--faults and failings often overlooked by many a biographer.
Hence, I have decided to post some excerpts of the book here to 1) bring a little balance to the spotless, golden image of Wesley that we're often presented with, and 2) to make known the true humility and servanthood of the man, George Whitefield, who by the grace of God alone "labored even more than all of them". May the Lord Jesus Christ receive glory through this.
Chapter 6: Doctrinal Differences and Sad Divisions(from George Whitefield: God's Anointed Servant in the Great Revival of the Eighteenth Century)
It has long been recognized that there were doctrinal differences between John Wesley and George Whitefield, and the point we have now reached in our narrative is that at which a separation came about between the two men. Since this affair played a highly important part in their lives, we have no choice but to look into it. It has, however, generally been reported in a manner strongly biased in Wesley’s favor, and therefore we must attempt to rectify matters to some extent.
Wesley separated first from the Moravians. He was at the time in association with the Fetter Lane Religious Society, but this body, under the instruction of Peter Bohler, was fast becoming Moravian in doctrine and practice. Bohler, however, soon left for America, and Wesley was not chosen to succeed him.
Count Zindendorf, the gracious but lordly commander of Moravianism, sent instead a man from Germany, Philip Henry Molther. Molther assumed that most members of the Society were not truly converted and, stressing the Stillness Teaching, advocated waiting in quietness till God should plant faith within them. He suggested also that they refrain from partaking of the Sacrament of the Church of England lest they trust in it for salvation.
Some of the people, however, carried this teaching to an extreme. They refused to even attend the services of the Church of England, and a few went so far as to declare they no longer believed in doing good works, lest these also be depended upon to save them.
To Wesley this attitude was a denial of the function of the Church, and in the meetings of the Society he contended against it. In his striving he exaggerated these tendencies and charged that they characterized the entire Moravian movement. He finally led nineteen people out of the Fetter Lane hall and into a Society he had recently formed in a building he termed the Foundery. Thus he also removed himself from being subject to the superior rank of Count Zindendorf.
Wesley next separated from Whitefield. Upon leaving Bristol Whitefield had “conjured” him, said Wesley, “to enter into no disputes, least of all concerning Predestination…” (1) Predestination is a doctrine essential to “Calvinism,” a theological system he knew Whitefield favored. But Wesley had been taught, particularly by his mother, to believe the opposite system, known as “Arminianism.”
A recent development, however, made Whitefield’s counsel, “enter into no disputes”, difficult for Wesley to follow. Under Wesley’s ministry people had begun to undergo convulsion-like attacks, causing them to lie on the ground writhing, and he reports instances in which four strong men could not hold one who was subject to this experience. Charles Wesley spoke of the experience as “the fits,” and Whitefield also expressed his dislike of it. These inexplicable events took place only under John Wesley’s ministry, and he was certain that they were supernatural signs which God was effecting through him alone.
Thus far Wesley’s position in the evangelistic work was secondary. Whitefield had the great congregations; he had begun the open-air ministry and had thrust Wesley into undertaking it too. But Wesley possessed inherited traits that made it natural for him to desire prime position, and it was this ability that God later used in making him the leader that he became. But as Robert Southey stated, “If he was incapable of bearing with an equal, Wesley could as little brook a superior,” (2) and it was not surprising that he would seek to make himself superior to Whitefield, as he had to Count Zindendorf and as he would later to Lady Huntington.
In the sermon, which he termed “Free Grace,” (3) Wesley began by defining predestination. He did not state some recognized definition, but gave it a meaning of his own, and then declared that all who hold the doctrine must hold it in the same extreme sense. He then went on to assert concerning predestination,
It is a doctrine full of blasphemy, of such blasphemy as I should dread to mention, but the honour of our gracious God and the cause of truth, will not suffer me to be silent…I will mention a few of the horrible blasphemies contained in this horrible doctrine.
This doctrine represents our blessed Lord, “Jesus Christ the righteous” as an hypocrite, a deceiver of the people, a man void of common sincerity.
This is the blasphemy clearly contained in the horrible decree of predestination! And here I fix my foot. On this I join issue with every assertor of it. You represent God as worse than the devil; more false, more cruel, more unjust…
Having made these assertions, Wesley adopted for the sake of argument a position in which he supposed the doctrine of predestination to be true, and from that position he thus addressed the Devil:
Thou fool, why dost thou roar about any longer? Thy lying in wait for souls is as needles and useless as our preaching. Hearest thou not that God hath taken thy work out of thy hands; and that He doeth it more effectively? Thou, with all thy principalities and powers canst only assault that we may resist thee; but He can irresistibly destroy both body and soul in hell!
O how would the enemy of God and man rejoice to hear these things were so! How would he cry aloud and spare not! How would he lift up his voice and say, “To your tents, O Israel! Flee from the face of this God, or ye shall utterly perish!” But whither will ye flee? Into heaven? He is there. Down to hell? He is there also. Ye cannot flee from an omnipresent tyrant…
We do Wesley no wrong in assessing his motives in separating from the Moravians and from Whitefield. He definitely believed the Moravians were at fault in their failure to use the Sacrament of the Church of England; and even though he had not correctly understood Calvinism, he was sincerely certain it was erroneous. But he also possessed a sense of his own superiority and a mighty ambition, and these tendencies were basic to his actions.
Wesley shortly went to London, and Whitefield had him preach immediately to a great audience. “The Lord give him ten thousand times more success than He has given me,” (4) he prayed, and he went on to have him preach also to his Moorfields and Kennington congregations.
Wesley returned to Bristol, but when Whitefield heard of his sermon he wrote to him saying, “I hear, Honoured Sir, that you are about to print a sermon against predestination. It shocks me to think of it! What will be the consequences but controversy? ...Silence on both sides will be best.” (5)
However, in his declaration, “Here I fix my foot! On this I join issue with every assessor of it!” Wesley had vowed contention. The lot had said, “Preach and Print,” and it would not be long before he sent this divisive sermon throughout the land.
Wesley now began also to declare a still more divisive doctrine, that which he named “Christian Perfection.” (6)
He did not, however, clearly define this teaching. Rather he left it in two forms, and they were contradictory. It could mean merely a high state of Christian maturity, and, of course, on this definition there was no difference of opinion. But it could also mean a state of entire sinlessness, and concerning this the strongest of differences existed. Yet it was this latter meaning that Wesley constantly presented, and this was the doctrine’s only raison d’être.
Whitefield hard various of Wesley’s followers claim that they were perfect, declaring that they had not sinned in so many weeks or months, and to him the assertion was both un-Scriptural and dangerous.
Personal holiness was an important element of Whitefield’s daily life. Statements to this effect abound in his letters and sermons, and he summed up his attitude in saying,
Every grace that is in the blessed Jesus is to be transplanted into our hearts; we are to be delivered from the power of sin but not from the indwelling and being of sin in this life. Hereafter we are to be preserved blameless, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.
Howell Harris’ views in this matter agreed entirely with those of Whitefield, and during these days Harris exhorted a friend,
Rest not till you have the Spirit of God continually bearing witness with your spirit that you are born of God; …see that faith grows, and then Love, Meekness, Brokenness of heart, Godly sorrow, Resignation of will, Humility, Holy fear, watchfulness, tenderness of conscience, and all other graces will grow.
These doctrinal differences enabled Wesley to begin a cause of his own—his own branch of Methodism. He erected a small building at Bristol, the New Room, and had Whitefield come and join together the two main Societies. Using it as his Bristol meeting-place, he termed his movement “The United Societies.” As we have seen, he also acquired a building in London, the Foundery, and this he made his headquarters. Though Charles opposed the convulsion experiences, he agreed to join John on other matters, and together they pursued their cause with unremitting zeal.
During these months Whitefield entered into a friendship with a young lady, Elizabeth Delamotte. Her father, Thomas Delamotte, was the master of a grand mansion, Blendon Hall, at Bexley, a few miles southeast of London. Thomas also operated a sugar-importing business in London, and while there he and members of his family attended the Fetter Lane Society. Elizabeth and her sister had professed conversion under the influence of Charles Wesley, and the home frequently resounded with the singing of hymns and the voice of prayer.
Whitefield was then expecting at any time to board the vessel that would carry him to America, and he needed to be near the downriver ports. Thus, at Thomas’ invitation he became a guest at Blendon Hall, but ranged out daily on his ministry. He had never allowed himself a close friendship with any member of the opposite sex, but now, although he fought against the tendency, he found an affection for Elizabeth forcing itself into his heart.
As the time of his departure drew near, knowing that he would be out of England for a year or more, Whitefield overlooked Wesley’s divisive actions and informed his numerous followers in Bristol, Gloucester, and London that Wesley would lead them during his absence. Then, on Monday, August 13, 1739, he dined with the Delamottes, of whom he speaks as “my dear weeping friends,” and they accompanied him to Gravesend where his vessel was ready to sail.
Thus, with these two matters upon his mind—his dread of the division being caused by Wesley and his affection for Elizabeth Delamotte—Whitefield set out on his second visit to America.
1. John Wesley’s Letters, Volume 1, p. 302.
2. Robert Southey, Life of Wesley, Volume 2 (London: Longmans 1858), p. 208.
3. Sermon “Free Grace,” found in various editions of Wesley’s Works, and in Sermons on Several Occasions by the Rev. John Wesley, M.A., Volume 3 (London: Mason,, 1847), p. 359; Whitefield: Life and Times, pp. 310-313.
4. Ibid., p.315.
6. Ibid., pp. 316, 317. Also John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection (London: Epworth, n.d.) pp. 15, 16.