John Wesley’s sermon, entitled “Free Grace” was published in August, 1739. In it he attempted to show how God’s grace is “free in all and free for all.” His message was strongly directed toward the doctrine of predestination and election, which was held to by many believers in Wesley’s day. He believed that this doctrine was a dangerous one and that it blasphemed the very person and nature of God.
In response to Wesley, George Whitefield wrote “A Letter from George Whitefield to the Rev. John Wesley. Whitefield saw Wesley’s doctrine of “free grace” as being the one that was blasphemous and dangerous to the faith. He argued that the Bible clearly presents the doctrine of predestination, and that any doctrine that stated otherwise led to the heresy of universalism. The two men had worked together in the ministry for quite some time when these two documents were published. Wesley adopted many evangelical views of Christianity when he was converted, but he retained some of his pre-conversion beliefs concerning predestination. When Whitefield left England on a trip, Wesley quickly published his sermon on “free grace.” When Whitefield returned, he was determined to respond and set the record straight.
Both of these men presented strong arguments supporting both of their views. It is difficult to compare the two equally, because Whitefield only addresses certain issues in Wesley’s sermon and not it’s entirety. That being said, I believe that George Whitefield’s
arguments concerning predestination and soteriology are superior to John Wesley’s due to how he handles Scripture and logical thought.
Wesley’s sermon on “free grace” had six major points. For the purpose of this paper, I have selected for discussion only the points that Whitefield directly addressed in his letter of response. In doing so, I hope to make apparent that Whitefield had a much stronger argument and a much more biblical understanding of predestination in soteriology.
Wesley begins his sermon with a fair and accurate assessment of the possible views a person might hold, concerning predestination. He clearly shows that while many people may say that they only hold to certain parts of the doctrine, they ultimately believe in the whole. He defines the doctrine as, “As virtue of an eternal, unchangeable, irresistible decree of God, one part of mankind are infallibly saved, and the rest infallibly damned; it being impossible that any of the former should be damned, or that any of the latter should be saved.” This is a very good and biblical definition of predestination, but the implications Wesley draws from it are not.
The first error that Wesley concludes is that predestination eliminates the need for evangelism. He says, “[Preaching] is needless to them that are elected; for they, whether with preaching or without, will infallibly be saved.” In other words, if God will unconditionally elect some people, then it is unnecessary for those people to be evangelized. The same goes for the non-elect. If they are to be unconditionally damned to hell, then evangelism will have no effect in saving them. In Predestination Calmly Considered, he says:
“His ministers indeed, as they know not the event of things, may be sincere in offering salvation to all persons, according to their general commission, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.’ But how can God or Christ be sincere in sending them with this commission, to offer his grace to all men, if God has not provided such grace for all men, no, not so much as conditionally?”
I believe that Whitefield has a much clearer understanding of Scripture when he responds to Wesley’s statement concerning evangelism. He asks, “Hath not God, who hath appointed salvation for a certain number, appointed also the preaching of the Word as a means to bring them to it?” Whitefield understood that evangelism is the means that God uses to bring His elect to salvation. Whitefield goes on saying,...
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