Thursday, January 18, 2007

Christians Working Together - The Example of Whitefield with Wesley

Still considering how it is that Christians of profoundly different theological slants can work together, I am posting here a lengthy quote from Arnold Dallimore's, George Whitefield (Banner of Truth, vol. 2, 1980. 256-258).

Dallimore spends an entire chapter demonstrating the catholicity of spirit that marked all of the mature ministry of the great evangelist. The more one understands the personal cost involved in this working together, the more impressive it becomes.

Again, Whitefield did not shrink from fully declaring his convictions concerning the matters over which he disagreed with Wesley and others. But this was almost exclusively done in defense of false accusations or the like. He did not spend time initiating critiques of Wesley's errant theology (as Wesley did of him - preaching entire sermons on what he considered to be the errors of Whitefield's calvinism).

The passage I quote from here is describing Whitefield's decision to not establish a counter movement (the calvinistic methodists). There is much to be learned here which I may comment on in the days to come, but for now, read the description painted by Dallimore (a fine Canadian pastor, I might add!).

During his ministry in England in the years immediately after the controversy of 1741—1744, he had devoted himself largely to his own movement. Now, however, having severed his particular ties with one branch of the Revival he was free to assist it in all its branches. In later pages we shall see him preaching under the auspices of Independents, Presbyterians, Baptists and sometimes Quakers, and above all helping Wesley, and this was the work he began to undertake from this time.

In this activity Whitefield sought to preach especially the great underlying truths of the faith, the recognized essential elements of Christianity, and he defined the basis of his collaboration, saying:

‘I truly love all that love the glorious Emmanuel, and though I cannot depart from the principles which I believe are clearly revealed in the book of God, yet I can cheerfully associate with those that differ from me, if I have reason to think they are united to our common Head.”

The tact, however, that while refusing to lead his own movement, Whitefield was assisting others, especially Wesley, drew protest from among his people. Many of them still refused to accept his resignation; they were determined to consider him their leader and some called themselves ‘Whitefieldites.’

They urged him to retain his position, increase his party and continue the prominence of his name. They reminded him that if he failed to do so he would not go down in history in the fame and glory that rightfully were his.

But Whitefield needed no reminding as to the effect of the decision he had made. He had well considered his action and to the pleas of the people he made such replies as:

‘Let my name be forgotten, let me be trodden under the feet of all men, if Jesus may thereby be glorified.’

‘Let my name die everywhere, let even my friends forget me, if by that means the cause of the blessed Jesus may be promoted.’

‘I want to bring souls, not to a party... but to a sense of their undone condition by nature, and to true faith in Jesus Christ.’

‘But what is Calvin, or what is Luther? Let us look above names and parties; let Jesus be our all in all. — So that He be preached.. . I care not who is uppermost. I know my place. . . even to be the servant of all. I want not to have a people called after my name...’

And to an American correspondent who felt that he should be quick to deny the false tales so often told about him lest they permanently damage his reputation, he stated:

‘I am content to wait till the judgement day for the clearing up of my character; and after I am dead I desire no other epitaph than this, “Here lies G.W. What sort of a man he was the great day will discover.”'

It is evident, however, that Whitefield’s decision to relinquish his leadership was one that moved him to the very depths of his being.

When he had first burst into fame at the beginning of his ministry and had been the centre of an almost unparalleled popularity, he had turned a deaf ear to the praise of men and had been concerned only to be worthy of the commendation of God. And in this present renunciation of earthly position this attitude was repeated, and it was not in any reluctance but rather with the deepest willingness and with joy that he turned from the place of prominence and became as he said, ‘simply the servant of all.’

This great renunciation, rare even in the annals of Christianity, has been grievously overlooked. But it marked a further all-important turning point in his life and if we are to have a true knowledge of George Whitefield we must fully recognize and appreciate this extraordinary deed.

Had Whitefield so desired he could have continued to lead his movement and to establish Societies and have made Calvinistic Methodism a powerful and lasting force among the denominations of England. But such prospects he gladly renounced in order that the rivalry might be removed and a new measure of harmony established, thereby

“To force the heathen world to say,

See how these Christians love’