George Whitfield and John Wesley were contemporaries. They were both students at the same time at Oxford University back in the early 1700s. Any student of church history knows that these 2 men were great men of God. The greatness of their influence was undeniable.
George Whitfield was one of the key men responsible for the First Great Awakening revivals that swept the Eastern seaboard in the United States back in the 1700s resulting in multitudes saved. Whitfield was known as a mighty orator who frequently thundered the word of God in the open air to crowds of thousands.
John Wesley was also a preacher of great influence. He was known for living an extraordinarily disciplined life in effort to maintain holiness and closeness to the Lord. Like Whitfield, Wesley also ministered in the open air and developed a large following that resulted in the Methodist movement. Many were converted in his ministry.
Theologically, Whitfield was a Calvinist and Wesley was an Arminian.
(I will assume that the reader already knows the differences between Calvinistic and Arminian theology. If not, you can learn about them in the series of lessons I taught against Calvinism here.)
Unfortunately, this difference in theology caused Whitfield and Wesley to become fierce opponents. The situation was similar to that of the sharp contention between Paul and Barnabas in Acts chapter 15 and Paul and Peter in Galatians chapter 2.
Of the many doctrinal debates throughout church history not many have been as divisive and contentious as the conflict between Calvinists and Arminians. Of course, folks like myself take things to another level because those of my persuasion don’t agree with either. I vehemently defy Calvinism’s T.U.L.I.P. theology, and I strongly oppose the Arminian belief that a believer can lose his salvation.
Despite my opposition to both theological ditches, however, I still appreciate the good impact that Wesley and Whitfield made upon the world for the cause of Christ, despite their theological flaws.
Many things were written and distributed by both Wesley and Whitfield in opposition to each other’s theology in a battle for the minds of the many new converts that were resulting from their revivals. Naturally, this soured their friendship for many years to the point that some even mistakenly perceived them as being enemies one with another.
One of Whitfield’s devoted followers said to Whitefield, “We won’t see John Wesley in heaven will we?” Whitfield responded, “Yes, you’re right, we won’t see him in heaven. He will be so close to the Throne of God and we will be so far away, that we won’t be able to see him!”
Despite their “sharp contention”, Whitfield and Wesley still managed to maintain a brotherly respect for one another.
At one point, Wesley became so sick that it seemed he was about to die. Whitfield wrote him a letter at this time and it stated, “…a radiant throne awaits you, and ere long you will enter into your master’s joy. Yonder he stands with a massive crown, ready to put it on your head amidst an admiring throng of saints and angels.”
Wesley recovered from his sickness and actually outlived Whitfield. When Whitfield was on his death bed, he requested for Wesley to preach his funeral, which Wesley did. In memorial of the mighty Whitfield, Wesley spoke lovingly of his theological opponent.
My point in telling this story is this. I am greatly troubled with how easily we as preachers in the Independent Baptist world will write one another off. If Brother so and so doesn’t dot his i’s and cross his t’s exactly the way I do than we will have nothing to do with one another.
There is a time to withdraw fellowship from a brother. Paul makes that clear in 1st Corinthians chapter 5 when he talks of those who are guilty of gross immorality. In such a case the church is instructed to discipline such an offender. Paul also talks about avoiding certain folks in Romans 16:18 and even rejecting some in Titus 3:10. However, I’m afraid that we as Independent Baptists are way too quick to write off someone for simply not seeing eye to eye on some of the most knitpicky issues.
I wish brethren would learn from this example of Wesley and Whitfield. It is possible to disagree with someone and still maintain an appreciation and respect for that person. We can still fellowship, or at least we ought to, even if we don’t tie our shoelaces the same way.
If the only people I can fellowship with are folks that I never disagree with on anything, than I can’t even be married. My wife and I don’t always see eye to eye on everything, yet we still love one another. And that mutual love, appreciation, and respect drives us to forgive one another and to find a way to work through our differences of opinion without allowing it to drive us apart and affect our fellowship. That’s true love!
John 13:35 “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
Dear brethren, let’s stand strong for what we believe in. Both Whitfield and Wesley were militant in their stances. But as Whitfield and Wesley let’s still maintain respect for one another despite our different ways of viewing some things. After all, we most likely have way more in common than otherwise anyways.