I’d like you to read the following excerpt from the funeral sermon of one of God’s giants – George Whitefield. Listen to how Whitefield was regarded. Listen to this most wonderful mode of preaching. It will be important when we reach the end.
Here the sermon is as recorded by one of England’s finest divines of another age – J. C. Ryle.
“His [Whitefield’s] fundamental point was to give God all the glory of whatever is good in man. In the business of salvation he set Christ as high and man as low as possible. With this point he and his friends at Oxford – the original Methodists so-called – set out. Their grand principle was, there is no power by nature, no merit in man. They insisted, ‘all grace to speak, think, or act right, is in and from the Spirit of Christ; and all merit is not in man, how high soever in grace, but merely in the blood of Christ.’ So he and they taught. There is no power in man, till it is given him from above, to do one good work, to speak one good word, or to form one good desire. For it is not enough to say all men are sick of sin: no, we are all dead in trespasses and sins.
“And we are all helpless, both with regard to the power and the guilt of sin. For who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? None less than the Almighty. Who can raise those that are dead, spiritually dead in sin? None but He who raised us from the dust of the earth. But on what consideration will He do this? Not for works of righteousness that we have done. The dead cannot praise thee, O Lord, nor can they do anything for which they should be raised to life. Whatever, therefore, God does, He does it merely for the sake of His well-beloved Son. ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities. He Himself bore all our sins in His won body on the tree. he was delivered for our offences, and rose again for our justification.’ Here, then, is the sole meritorious cause of every blessing we can and do enjoy, and, in particular, of our pardon and acceptance with God, of our full and free justification. But by what means do we become interested in what Christ has done and suffered? ‘Not by works, lest any man should boast, but by faith alone.’ ‘We conclude,’ says the apostle, ‘that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the Law.’ And ‘to as many as receive Christ he give the power to become sons of God; even to them which believe in His name, who are born not of the will of man but of God.’
“Except a man be thus born again he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. But all who are thus born of the Spirit have the kingdom of God within them. Christ sets up His kingdom in their hearts – righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. That mind is in them which was in Christ Jesus, enabling them to walk as Christ walked. His indwelling Spirit makes them holy in mind, and holy in all manner of conversation. But still, seeing all this is a free gift through the blood and righteousness of Christ, there is eternally the same reason to remember – he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
“You are not ignorant that these are the fundamental doctrines which Mr. Whitefield everywhere insisted on; and may they not be summed up, as it were, in two words – ‘the new birth and justification by faith?’ These let us insist upon with all boldness, and at all times, in all places, in public and in private. Let us keep close to these good old unfashionable doctrines, how many soever contradict and blaspheme.”
Now, let me let Mr. Ryle tell you himself what is of such interest in these words. The author of them is the one whose picture appeared above. I quote Ryle: “Such were the words of the Arminian, John Wesley. I make no comment on them. I only say, before any one despises this great man because he was an Arminian, let him take care that he really knows what Wesley’s opinions were. Above all, let him take care that he thoroughly understands what kind of doctrines he used to preach in England.”
I am a Calvinist. Unashamed. Unabashed. Not because I buy into Calvin himself, but because when I study God’s Word, those great truths issuing out of a proper understanding of God’s sovereignty, frame the whole of my own theology in a very similar vein. If Scripture teaches anything, it teaches that man is so corrupt in the whole of his being as to have not the smallest iota of righteousness or good will toward God to bring to the table, he is justly condemned and unclean and cares nothing for God’s righteousness or true salvation; that Scripture unambiguously affirms that God saves whom He will, and that those so chosen are not chosen for anything in themselves, but wholly out of God’s own sovereign will; that Jesus Christ died as a man with the guilt of the whole Adamic race of which He was a part placed upon Him, yet that His death is applied redemptively only to the elect; that each of those chosen can and do try to resist His saving grace, but are in the last unable to do so; and that all those chosen and redeemed will follow Christ to the end.
These are not questions in my mind. But some, very good, Gospel preaching, Christ loving, soul winning men and women of God strain over them – just like Wesley. And we had better not try to sever their ties with the Church for their defects, any more than we should adopt such measures for our own defects.
Whitefield, a decided and solid Calvinist himself located the basis of true Christian fellowship in this: “Did they profess repentance toward God, faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, and holiness of conversation (behavior)?” If they did, they he counted them brethren.
One last word from Ryle on this: “ I should think my sketch of Wesley incomplete if I did not notice the objection continually made against him – that he was Arminian in doctrine. I fully admit the seriousness of the objection. I do not pretend either to explain the charge away, or to defend his objectionable opinions. Personally, I feel unable to account for any well-instructed Christian holding such doctrines as perfection and the defectability of grace, or denying such as election and the imputed righteousness of Christ.
“We must learn to distinguish between things that are of the essence of the Gospel and things which are of the perfection of Gospel. We may think a man preaches an imperfect Gospel who denies election, considers justification to be noting more than forgiveness, and tells believers in one sermon that they may attain perfection in this life, and in another sermon that they may entirely fall away from grace. But if the same man strongly and boldly exposes and denounces sin, clearly and fully lifts up Christ, distinctly and openly invites men to believe and repent, shall we dare to say that the man does not preach the Gospel at all? Shall we dare to say that he will do no good? I for one, cannot say so, at any rate. If I am asked whether I prefer Whitefield’s Gospel or Wesley’s, I answer at once that I prefer Whitefield’s: I am a Calvinist, and not an Arminian. But if I am asked to go further, and to say that Wesley preached no Gospel at all, and did no real good, I answer at once that I cannot do so. That Wesley would have done better if he could have thrown off his Arminianism, I have not the least doubt; but that he preached the Gospel, honored Christ, and did extensive good, I no more doubt than I doubt my own existence.”
All above excepts were taken from Banner of Truth’s “Christian Leaders of the 18th Century”, by J. C. Ryle. I’m reading it for about the 4th time. A must read.