A letter from George Whitefield to John Wesley, in answer to Wesley's sermon entitled "Free Grace"

"When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong." Galatians 2:11


December 24, 1740

Very dear brother,
God only knows what unspeakable sorrow of heart I have felt on your account since I left England last. Whether it is my infirmity or not, I frankly confess, that Jonah could not go with more reluctance against Nineveh, than I now take pen in hand to write against you. If nature was to speak, I would rather die than do it; and yet if I am faithful to God, and to my own and others' souls, I must not stand neutral any longer. I am very apprehensive that our common adversaries will rejoice to see us differing among ourselves. But what can I say? The children of God are in danger of falling into error. No, indeed numbers have already been misled, whom God has been pleased to work upon by my ministry; and a greater number are still calling aloud upon me to also voice my opinion. I must then show that I know no man after the flesh, and that I have no partiality, James 2:9 any further than is consistent with my duty to my Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.

This letter, no doubt, will lose me many friends: and for this cause perhaps God has laid this difficult task upon me—even to see whether I am willing to forsake all for him, or not. From such considerations as these, I think it my duty to bear a humble testimony, and to earnestly plead for the truths which I am convinced are clearly revealed in the Word of God. In the defense of it, I must use great plainness of speech, and treat my dearest friends on earth with the greatest simplicity, faithfulness, and freedom, leaving the consequences of all to God.

For some time before, and especially since my last departure from England, both in public and private, by preaching and printing—you have been propagating the doctrine of universal redemption. And when I remember how Paul reproved Peter for his dissimulation, I fear I have been sinfully silent too long. O then do not be angry with me, dear and honored Sir, if I now deliver my soul by telling you that I think you greatly err in this.

It is not my design to enter into a long debate on God's decrees. I refer you to Dr. John Edwards' (of Cambridge) work, "Evangelical Truths Restored", which, I think is unanswerable.

I will only make a few remarks upon your sermon, entitled "Free Grace". And before I enter upon the discourse itself, let me take note briefly of what in your Preface you say is an indispensable obligation to make it public to all the world. I must admit that I always thought you were quite mistaken on that point.

The case stands thus: When you were at Bristol, I think you received a letter from a private hand, charging you with not preaching the gospel, because you did not preach election. On this you drew a lot; the answer was "preach and print." I have often questioned, as I do now, whether in doing so, you did not tempt the Lord. A due exercise of religious prudence, without drawing a lot, would have directed you in that matter. Besides, I never heard that you inquired of God whether or not election was a gospel doctrine.

But, I fear, taking it for granted that it was not, you only inquired whether you should be silent, or preach and print against it.

However this may be, the lot came out to "preach and print"; accordingly you preached and printed against election. At my desire, you suppressed publishing the sermon while I was in England; but you soon sent it into the world after my departure. O that you had kept it in! However, if that sermon was printed in answer to a lot, I am apt to think that one reason why God would so allow you to be deceived, was that hereby a special obligation might be laid upon me to faithfully declare the Scripture doctrine of election; and that thus the Lord might give me a fresh opportunity to see what was in my heart, and whether I would be true to his cause or not.

The morning I sailed from Gibraltar, you arrived from Georgia. Instead of giving me an opportunity to converse with you, even though the ship was not far off shore, you drew a lot, and immediately set off to London. You left a letter behind with words to this effect: "When I saw that God, by the wind which was carrying you out, brought me in—I asked the counsel of God. His answer you have enclosed." This was a piece of paper in which were written these words, "Let him return to London."

When I received this, I was somewhat surprised. Here was a good man telling me he had cast a lot, and that God would have him return to London. On the other hand, I knew my call was to Georgia, and that I had taken leave of London, and could not justly go from the soldiers who were committed to my charge. I took myself to prayer with a friend. That passage in 1 Kings 13 was powerfully impressed upon my soul, where we are told that the Prophet was slain by a lion when he was tempted to go back (contrary to God's express order) upon another Prophet's telling him that God would have him do so. I wrote you word that I could not return to London. We sailed immediately.

Some months after, I received a letter from you at Georgia, in which you wrote to this effect: "Though God never before gave me a wrong lot, yet perhaps he allowed me to have such a lot at that time, to test what was in your heart." I would never have published this private transaction to the world if the glory of God did not call me to it. It is plain you had a wrong lot given to you here, and justly so, because you tempted God in drawing one. And thus I believe it is in the present case. And if so, do not let the children of God, who are your intimate friends and mine, and also advocates for universal redemption, think that this doctrine is true—just because you preached it in compliance with a lot supposedly given from God.

This, I think, may serve as an answer to that part of the Preface to your printed sermon, in which you say, "Nothing but the strongest conviction, not only that what is advanced here is the truth as it is in Jesus, but also that I am indispensably obliged to declare this truth to all the world." That you believe what you have written to be truth, and that you honestly aim at God's glory in writing—I do not doubt in the least. But then, honored Sir, I can only think you have been greatly mistaken in imagining that your tempting God, by casting a lot in the way you did, could lay you under an indispensable obligation to any action, much less to publish your sermon against the doctrine of predestination to eternal life.

I must next observe, that as you have been unhappy in printing at all upon such an imaginary warrant, so you have been as unhappy in the choice of your text. Honored Sir, how could it enter into your heart to choose a text to disprove the doctrine of election out of Romans 8, where this doctrine is so plainly asserted? Once I spoke with a Quaker on this subject, and he had no other way of evading the force of the Apostle's assertion than by saying, "I believe Paul was in the wrong!" And another friend recently (who was once highly prejudiced against election), ingenuously confessed that he too used to think Paul himself was mistaken, or that he was not accurately translated.

Indeed, honored Sir, it is plain beyond all contradiction that Paul, through the whole of Romans 8, is speaking of the privileges of those alone who are really in Christ. And let any unprejudiced person read what goes before and what follows your text, and he must confess the word "all" signifies only those that are in Christ. And the latter part of the text plainly proves what I find that dear Mr. Wesley will by no means grant. I mean the final perseverance of the children of God: "He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, [that is, all the saints] how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)—give us grace, in particular, to enable us to persevere, and everything else necessary to carry us home to our Father's heavenly kingdom.

If anyone had a mind to prove the doctrine of election, as well as final perseverance, he could hardly wish for a text more fit for his purpose, than that which you have chosen to disprove it! One who did not know you, would suspect that you were aware of this; for after the first paragraph, I scarcely know whether you have mentioned the text so much as once throughout your whole sermon.

But your discourse, in my opinion, is as little to the purpose as your text; and instead of convincing me, it only more and more confirms me in the belief of the doctrine of God's eternal election.

I will not mention how illogically you have proceeded. If you had written clearly, you would first, honored Sir, have proved your proposition: "God's grace is free to all." And then by way of inference, you would have argued against what you call the horrible decree of reprobation. But you knew (because Arminianism, as of late, has so abounded among us) that people were generally prejudiced against the doctrine of reprobation; and therefore you thought that if you kept up their dislike of that, you could overthrow the doctrine of election entirely. For without a doubt, the doctrine of election and reprobation must stand or fall together!

But passing by this—and also your equivocal definition of the word grace, and your false definition of the word free—and so that I may be as brief as possible, I frankly acknowledge that I believe the Doctrine of Reprobation in this view:

"That God intends to give saving grace through Jesus Christ only to a certain number; and that the rest of mankind, after the fall of Adam, being justly left by God to continue in sin—will at last suffer that eternal death which is its proper wages."

This is the established doctrine of Scripture, and it is acknowledged as such in the 17th article of the Church of England. Yet dear Mr. Wesley absolutely denies it.

But the most important objections you have urged against this doctrine, as reasons why you reject it—being seriously considered, and faithfully tried by the Word of God—will appear to have no force at all. Let the matter be humbly and calmly reviewed, as to the following points:

First, you say that if this is so (that is, if there is an election) then all preaching is in vain: it is needless for those who are elected, for whether with preaching or without, they will be infallibly saved. Therefore the end of preaching, to save souls, is void with regard to them. And it is useless for those who are not elected for they cannot possibly be saved. Whether with preaching or without, they will infallibly be damned. The end of preaching is therefore likewise void with regard to them. So that in either case, our preaching is in vain, and your hearing is also in vain. Page 10, paragraph 9.

O dear Sir, what kind of reasoning—or rather sophistry—this is! Has not God, who has appointed salvation for a certain number, also appointed the preaching of the Word as a means to bring them to it? Does anyone hold election in any other sense? And if so, how is preaching needless for those who are elected, when the gospel is designated by God himself to be the power of God unto their eternal salvation? Romans 1.16. And since we do not know who are elect and who are reprobate, we are to preach promiscuously to all. For the Word may be useful, even to the non-elect, in restraining them from much wickedness and sin. However, it is enough to excite us to the utmost diligence in preaching and hearing, when we consider that by these means, some—even as many as the Lord has ordained to eternal life—shall certainly be quickened and enabled to believe. And whoever attends to this, especially with reverence and care, who can tell whether he may not be found among that happy number?

Second, you say that the doctrine of election and reprobation tends to directly destroy holiness, which is the end of all the ordinances of God. "For" (says the dear mistaken Mr. Wesley) "it wholly takes away those first motives to follow after it, so frequently proposed in Scripture: the hope of future reward and fear of punishment, the hope of Heaven and fear of Hell," etc.

I thought that one who carries perfection to such an exalted pitch as dear Mr. Wesley does, would know that a true lover of the Lord Jesus Christ would strive to be holy for the sake of being holy, and work for Christ out of love and gratitude, without any regard for the rewards of Heaven or fear of Hell. You remember, dear Sir, what Scougal says, "Love's a more powerful motive that moves them."

But passing by this, and granting that rewards and punishments (as they certainly are) may be motives from which a Christian may be honestly stirred up to act for God, how does the doctrine of election destroy these motives? Do the elect not know that the more good works they do, the greater their reward will be? And is that not encouragement enough to set them upon, and cause them to persevere in, working for Jesus Christ?

And how does the doctrine of election destroy holiness? Who ever preached any other election than what the Apostle preached when he said, "Chosen... through sanctification of the Spirit?" (2 Thessalonians 2:13). Indeed, is holiness not made a mark of our election by all who preach it? And how then can the doctrine of election destroy holiness?

The instance which you bring to illustrate your assertion, indeed, dear Sir, is quite impertinent. For you say, "If a sick man knows that he must unavoidably die or unavoidably recover, though he knows not which, it is not reasonable to take any medicine at all."

Dear Sir, what absurd reasoning is here? Were you ever sick in your life? If so, did not the bare probability or possibility of your recovering, even though you knew it was unalterably fixed that you must live or die, encourage you to take medicine? For how did you know that that very medicine might not be the means God intended to recover you by?

This is just as it is with the Doctrine of Election. I know that it is unalterably fixed that I must be damned or saved; but since I do not know which for certain, why should I not strive, even though at present I am in a state of nature, since I do not know if this striving may be the means God has intended to bless me, in order to bring me into a state of grace?

Dear Sir, consider these things. Make an impartial application, and then judge what little reason you had to conclude the 10th paragraph, page 12, with these words: "Thus this doctrine directly tends to shut the very gate of holiness in general, to hinder unholy men from ever approaching it, or striving to enter it."

"Just as directly," you say, "this doctrine tends to destroy several particular branches of holiness, such as meekness, love," etc. I shall say little, dear Sir, in answer to this paragraph. Dear Mr. Wesley perhaps has been disputing with some warm narrow-spirited men who held election, and then he infers that their warmth and narrowness of spirit was owing to their principles? But does not dear Mr. Wesley know many dear children of God, who are predestinarians, and yet are meek, lowly, merciful, courteous, tender-hearted, kind—and hope to see the most vile and profligate of men converted? And why? Because they know God saved themselves by an act of his electing love, and they do not know whether he may not have elected those who now seem to be the most abandoned.

But, dear Sir, we must not judge the truth of principles in general, nor this of election in particular, entirely from the practice of some who profess to hold them. If so, I am sure much might be said against your own. For I appeal to your own heart, whether or not you have felt in yourself, or observed in others, a narrow-spiritedness, and some disunion of soul respecting those that hold universal redemption. If so, then according to your own rule, universal redemption is wrong, because it destroys several branches of holiness, such as meekness, love, etc. But not to insist upon this, I beg that you would observe that your inference is entirely set aside by the force of the Apostle's argument, and the language which he expressly uses in Colossians 3:12-13: "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."

Here we see that the Apostle exhorts them to put on tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, etc., upon this consideration: namely, because they were elect of God. And all who have experientially felt this doctrine in their hearts, feel that these graces are the genuine effects of their being elected of God.

But perhaps dear Mr. Wesley may be mistaken in this point, and calls it "passion" which is only zeal for God's truths. You know, dear Sir, the Apostle exhorts us to "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). Therefore you must not condemn all that appear zealous for the doctrine of election as narrow-spirited, or persecutors, just because they think it is their duty to oppose you. I am sure that I love you in the tenderness of Jesus Christ, and think I could lay down my life for your sake; yet, dear Sir, I cannot help strenuously opposing your errors on this important subject, because I think you warmly, though not designedly, oppose the truth as it is in Jesus. May the Lord remove the scales of prejudice from the eyes of your mind and give you a zeal according to true Christian knowledge!

Third, says your sermon, "This doctrine tends to destroy the comforts of religion, the happiness of Christianity, etc."

But how does Mr. Wesley know this, who never believed election? I believe those who have experienced it will agree with our 17th article, that the godly consideration of predestination, and election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and those who feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing their minds to high and heavenly things, because it greatly establishes and confirms their faith of eternal salvation, to be enjoyed through Christ, and because it fervently kindles their love towards God," etc.

This plainly shows that our godly reformers did not think election destroyed holiness or the comforts of religion. As for my own part, this doctrine is my daily support. I would utterly sink under a dread of my impending trials, if I were not firmly persuaded that God has chosen me in Christ from before the foundation of the world, and that now being effectually called, he will allow no one to pluck me out of his almighty hand! John 10:28

You proceed thus: "This is evident as to all those who believe themselves to be reprobate, or only suspect or fear it; all the great and precious promises are lost to them; they afford them no ray of comfort."

In answer to this, let me observe that none living, especially none who are desirous of salvation, can know that they are not of the number of God's elect. None but the unconverted can have any just reason so much as to fear it. And would you, dear Mr. Wesley, give comfort, or dare you apply the precious promises of the gospel, being children's bread, to men in a natural state, while they continue as such? God forbid! What if the doctrine of election and reprobation does put some to doubting? So does regeneration. But is this doubting not a good means to put them to searching and striving? And is that striving not a good means to make their calling and election sure? 2 Peter 1:10

This is one reason among many others why I admire the doctrine of election, and why I am convinced that it should have a place in gospel ministrations, and should be insisted on with faithfulness and care. It has a natural tendency to rouse the soul out of its carnal security. And therefore many carnal men cry out against it. Whereas universal redemption, sadly, is a notion adapted to keep the soul in its lethargic, sleepy condition; and therefore so many natural men admire and applaud it.

Your 13th, 14th and 15th paragraphs come next to be considered. "The witness of the Spirit," you say, "experience shows to be greatly obstructed by this doctrine."

But, dear Sir, whose experience? Not your own; for in your journal, from your embarking for Georgia to your return to London, you seem to acknowledge that you do not have it, and therefore you are no competent judge in this matter. You must mean then the experience of others. For you say in the same paragraph, "Even in those who have tasted of that good gift, who yet have soon lost it again," (I suppose you mean lost the sense of it again) "and fallen back into doubts and fears and darkness, even horrible darkness that might be felt," etc.

Now, as to the darkness of desertion, was this not the case of Jesus Christ himself, after he had received an unmeasurable unction of the Holy Spirit? Was his soul not exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death, in the garden? Matthew 26:38. And was he not surrounded with a horrible darkness, even a darkness that might be felt, when on the cross he cried out, "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?" Matthew 27:46

And is it not evident from Scripture that all his followers are liable to the same thing? For, the Apostle says, "He was tempted in all things, as we are" (Hebrews 4:15) so that he himself might be able to support those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:18). And is not their liableness to it consistent with that conformity to him in suffering, which his members are to bear (Philippians 3:10)? Why then should persons falling into darkness, after they have received the witness of the Spirit, be any argument against the doctrine of election?

"Yet," you say, "many, very many of those that do not hold it, in all parts of the earth, have enjoyed the uninterrupted witness of the Spirit, the continual light of God's countenance, from the moment in which they first believed, for many months or years, to this very day."

But how does dear Mr. Wesley know this? Has he consulted the experience of many, very many, in all parts of the earth? Or if he could be sure of what he has advanced without sufficient grounds, would it follow that their being kept in this light is owing to their not believing the doctrine of election? No, this doctrine, according to the sentiments of our church, "greatly confirms and establishes a true Christian's faith of eternal salvation through Christ," and is an anchor of hope, both sure and steadfast, when he walks in darkness and sees no light; as certainly he may, even after he has received the witness of the Spirit, whatever you or others may unadvisedly assert to the contrary.

Then, to have respect toward God's everlasting covenant, and to throw himself upon the free distinguishing love of that God who does not change, will make him lift up the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees. Hebrews 12:12

But without the belief of the doctrine of election, and the immutability of the free love of God, I cannot see how it is possible that anyone should have a comfortable assurance of eternal salvation. What could it signify to a man whose conscience is thoroughly awakened, and who is warned in good earnest to seek deliverance from the wrath to come, even though he should be assured that all his past sins are forgiven, and that he is now a child of God—if notwithstanding this, he may afterward become a child of the devil, and be thrown into Hell at last? Could such an assurance yield any solid, lasting comfort to a person convinced of the corruption and treachery of his own heart, and of the malice, subtlety, and power of Satan?

No! That which alone deserves the name of a full assurance of faith, is such an assurance that it emboldens the believer, under the sense of his interest in distinguishing love, to challenge all his adversaries, whether men or devils, with regard to all their future as well as present attempts to destroy—saying with the Apostle, "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:33-39).

This, dear Sir, is the triumphant language of every soul that has attained a full assurance of faith. And this assurance can only arise from a belief of God's electing, everlasting love. That many have an assurance they are in Christ today, but take no thought for, or are not assured that, they will be in him tomorrow—no, to all eternity—is their imperfection and unhappiness rather than their privilege. I pray to God to bring all such persons to a sense of his eternal love, so that they may no longer build upon their own faithfulness, but upon the unchangeableness of that God whose gifts and callings are without repentance. "For those whom God has once justified, he will also glorify." Romans 8:30

I observed before, dear Sir, that it is not always a safe rule to judge the truth of principles from people's practice. And therefore, supposing that all who hold universal redemption in your way of explaining it, after they received faith and enjoyed the continual uninterrupted sight of God's countenance—it does not follow from this, that this is a fruit of their principle. For that, I am sure, has a natural tendency to keep the soul in darkness forever; because the creature is thereby taught that his being kept in a state of salvation, is owing to his own free will. And what a foundation of sand that is for a poor creature to build his hopes of perseverance upon! Every relapse into sin, every surprise by temptation, must throw him "into doubts and fears, into horrible darkness, even darkness that may be felt."

Hence it is, that the letters which have been sent to me lately by those who hold universal redemption, are dead and lifeless, dry and inconsistent, in comparison to those I receive from persons on the contrary side. Those who settle in the universal scheme, even though they might begin in the Spirit (whatever they may say to the contrary), are ending in the flesh, and building up a righteousness that is founded on their own free will: while the others triumph in hope of the glory of God, and build upon God's never-failing promise and unchangeable love, even when his sensible presence is withdrawn from them.

But I would not judge the truth of election by the experience of any particular persons: if I did (O bear with me in this foolish boasting) 2 Corinthians 11:16, I think I myself might glory in election. For these five or six years I have received the witness of God's Spirit; since then—blessed be God—I have not doubted a quarter of an hour of having a saving interest in Jesus Christ. But with grief and humble shame, I acknowledge that I have fallen into sin often since then. Though I do not—dare not—allow any one transgression, Romans 7:19 yet up to now I have not been (nor do I expect that while I am in this present world I ever shall be) able to live one day perfectly free from all defects and sin. And since the Scriptures declare that there is not a just man on earth (no, not among those of the highest attainments in grace) who does good and does not sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20), we are sure that this will be the case of all the children of God.

The universal experience and acknowledgment of this among the godly in every age, is abundantly sufficient to confute the error of those who hold in an absolute sense, that after a man is born again he cannot commit sin. Especially since the Holy Spirit condemns the persons who say they have no sin as deceiving themselves, as being destitute of the truth, and as making God a liar (1 John 1:8, 10). I have also been in heaviness through manifold temptations, and I expect to be often so before I die. Thus were the Apostles and primitive Christians themselves; thus was Luther, that man of God who, as far as I can find, did not (peremptorily, at least) hold to election; and the great John Arndt was in the utmost perplexity, but a quarter of an hour before he died—and yet he was no predestinarian.

And if I must speak freely, I believe your fighting so strenuously against the doctrine of election, and pleading so vehemently for a sinless perfection, are among the reasons or culpable causes why you are kept out of the liberties of the gospel; and from that full assurance of faith which those enjoy who have experientially tasted, and daily feed upon God's electing, everlasting love.

But perhaps you may say that Luther and Arndt were no Christians, or at least they were very weak ones. I know you think little of Abraham, though he was eminently called the friend of God: and, I believe, also of David, the man after God's own heart. No wonder, therefore, that in a letter you sent to me not long ago, you would tell me that no Baptist or Presbyterian writer whom you have read, knew anything of the liberties of Christ. What? Neither Bunyan, Henry, Flavel, Halyburton, nor any of the New England and Scots divines? See, dear Sir, what narrow-spiritedness and lack of charity arise from your principles; so then, do not cry out against election any more on account of its being "destructive of meekness and love."

Fourth, I will now proceed to another topic. Says the dear Mr. Wesley: "How uncomfortable a thought this is, that thousands and millions of men, without any preceding offence or fault of theirs, were unchangeably doomed to everlasting burnings?"

But who ever asserted that thousands and millions of men, without any preceding offence or fault of theirs, were unchangeably doomed to everlasting burnings? Do those who believe God's dooming men to everlasting burnings, not also believe that God looked at them as men fallen in Adam? And that the decree which ordained the punishment, first regarded the crime by which it was deserved? How then are they doomed without any preceding fault? Surely Mr. Wesley will admit God's justice in imputing Adam's sin to his posterity. And also, after Adam fell, and his posterity fell in him, God might justly have passed them all by, without sending his own Son to be a Savior for anyone. Unless you heartily agree to both these points, you do not believe original sin correctly. If you do admit them, then you must acknowledge the doctrine of election and reprobation are highly just and reasonable. For if God might justly impute Adam's sin to all, and afterwards have passed by all, then he might justly pass by some. On the right hand or on the left, you are reduced to an inextricable dilemma. And if you would be consistent, you must either give up the doctrine of the imputation of Adam's sin, or else receive the amiable doctrine of election with a holy and righteous reprobation as its consequent. For whether you can believe it or not, the Word of God abides faithful: "The elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded" (Romans 11:7).

I will pass over your 17th paragraph, page 16. What was said on the 9th and 10th paragraphs, with a little alteration, will answer it. I will only say that it is the doctrine of election that most presses me to abound in good works. I am willing to suffer all things for the elect's sake. This makes me preach with comfort, because I know salvation does not depend on man's free will, but the Lord makes us willing in the day of his power, and he can make use of me to bring some of his elect home, when and where he pleases.

But, Fifth, you say, "This doctrine has a direct manifest tendency to overthrow the whole Christian revelation. For," you say, "supposing there is an eternal, unchangeable decree, one part of mankind must be saved, as though the Christian revelation were not in existence."

But, dear Sir, how does that follow? It is only by the Christian revelation that we are acquainted with God's design of saving his church by the death of his Son. Indeed, it is settled in the everlasting covenant that this salvation shall be applied to the elect through the knowledge and faith in him. As the prophet says in Isaiah 53:11, "By his knowledge my righteous servant shall justify many." How then has the doctrine of election a direct tendency to overthrow the whole Christian revelation? Who ever thought that God's declaration to Noah, that seed-time and harvest should never cease, could afford an argument for the neglect of plowing or sowing? Or that the unchangeable purpose of God—that the harvest should not fail—rendered the heat of the sun, or the influence of the heavenly bodies, unnecessary to produce it? Neither does God's absolute purpose of saving his chosen preclude the necessity of the gospel revelation, or the use of any of the means through which he has determined the decree shall take effect. Nor will the right understanding, or the reverent belief of God's decree, ever allow or suffer a Christian in any case to separate the means from the end, or the end from the means.

And since we are taught by the revelation itself that this was intended and given by God as a means of bringing home his elect, we therefore receive it with joy, prize it highly, use it in faith, and endeavor to spread it through all the world, in the full assurance that wherever God sends it, sooner or later it will be savingly useful to all the elect within its call.

How then, in holding this doctrine, do we join with modern unbelievers in making the Christian revelation unnecessary? No, dear Sir, you are mistaken. Infidels of all kinds are on your side of the question. Deists, Arians, and Socinians arraign God's sovereignty and stand up for universal redemption. I pray to God that dear Mr. Wesley's sermon, as it has grieved the hearts of many of God's children, may not also strengthen the hands of many of his most avowed enemies!

Here I could almost lie down and weep. "Do not tell it in Gath; do not publish it in the streets of Ashkelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph" (2 Samuel 1:20,21)

Further, you say, "This doctrine makes revelation contradict itself." For instance, you say, "The asserters of this doctrine interpret that text of Scripture, 'Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated,' as implying that God, in a literal sense, hated Esau and all the reprobates from eternity!"

Yet, when considered as fallen in Adam, were they not objects of his hatred? And might not God, of his own good pleasure, love or show mercy to Jacob and the elect—and yet at the same time, do the reprobate no wrong? But you say, "God is love." And can God not be love, unless he shows the same mercy to all?

Again, says dear Mr. Wesley, "They infer from that text, 'I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,' that God is merciful only to some men, namely, the elect; and that he has mercy for those only—flat contrary to which is the whole tenor of the Scripture, as is this express declaration in particular, 'The Lord is loving to every man, and his mercy is over all his works.'"23

And so it is, but not his saving mercy. God is loving to every man: he sends his rain upon the evil and upon the good. Mat 5.45 But you say, "God is no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34). No! For every one, whether Jew or Gentile, that believes on Jesus, and works righteousness, is accepted by him. "But he who does not believe shall be damned" (Mark 16:16). For God is no respecter of persons on account of any outward condition or circumstance in life whatever; nor does the doctrine of election in the least suppose him to be so. But as the sovereign Lord of all, who is debtor to none, he has a right to do what he will with his own; and to dispense his favors to what objects he sees fit, merely at his pleasure. And his supreme right in this is clearly and strongly asserted in those passages of Scripture where he says, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion" (Romans 9:15, Exodus 33:19).

Further, from the text, "the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calls; it was said to her [Rebekah], The elder shall serve the younger" (Romans 9:11-12)—you represent us as inferring that our predestination to life in no way depends on the foreknowledge of God.

But who infers this, dear Sir? For if foreknowledge signifies approval, as it does in several parts of Scripture, then we confess predestination and election do depend on God's foreknowledge. But if by God's foreknowledge you mean God's fore-seeing some good works done by his creatures, as the foundation or reason for choosing and therefore electing them, then we say, in this sense, predestination does not in any way depend on God's foreknowledge.

But I referred you, at the beginning of this letter, to Dr. Edwards's Veritas Redux, which I recommended to you also in a recent letter, with Elisha Coles on God's Sovereignty. Be pleased to read these, and also the excellent sermons of Mr. Cooper of Boston in New England (which I also sent you), and I do not doubt that you will see all your objections answered. Though I would observe, that after all our reading on both sides of the question, we will never in this life be able to search out God's decrees to perfection. No, we must humbly adore what we cannot comprehend, and with the great Apostle, at the end of our inquiries, we must cry out, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" (Romans 11:33-34)—or say with our Lord, when he was admiring God's sovereignty, "Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in your sight" (Matthew 11:26).

However, it may not be amiss to take notice that if those texts, "The Lord is . . . not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9) and "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (Ezekiel 33:11)—and others like these—are taken in their strictest sense, then no one will be damned.

But here's the distinction. God takes no pleasure in the death of sinners, so as to delight simply in their death; rather, he delights to magnify his justice by inflicting the punishment which their iniquities have deserved. A righteous judge who takes no pleasure in condemning a criminal, may yet justly command him to be executed so that law and justice may be satisfied, even though it is in his power to procure him a reprieve.

I would hint further, that you unjustly charge the doctrine of reprobation with blasphemy; yet it is the doctrine of universal redemption, as you set it forth, that is really the highest reproach on the dignity of the Son of God, and the merit of his blood. Consider whether it is not blasphemy rather to say, as you do, "Christ not only died for those who are saved, but also for those who perish."

The text you have misapplied, to gloss over this, is explained by Ridgely, Edwards, and Henry; and I purposely omit answering your texts myself so, that you may be brought to read such treatises which, under God, would show you your error. You cannot make good the assertion that Christ died for those who perish without holding that all the damned souls would hereafter be brought out of Hell (as Peter Bohler, one of the Moravian brethren, in order to prove universal redemption, frankly confessed in recent a letter). I cannot think Mr. Wesley is thus minded. And yet unless this can be proved, universal redemption taken in a literal sense, falls entirely to the ground. For how can all be universally redeemed, if all are not finally saved?

Dear Sir, for Jesus Christ's sake, consider how you dishonor God by denying election. You plainly make salvation depend not on God's free grace, but on man's free-will. And if that is so, then it is more than probable that Jesus Christ would not have had the satisfaction of seeing the fruit of his death in the eternal salvation of one soul.26 Our preaching would then be vain, and all the invitations for people to believe in him would also be in vain.

But, blessed be God, our Lord knew for whom he died. There was an eternal compact between the Father and the Son. A certain number was then given him as the purchase and reward for his obedience and death. He prayed for these, and not for the world (John 17:9). For these elect ones, and these only, he is now interceding, and with their salvation he will be fully satisfied.

I purposely omit making any further particular remarks on the several last pages of your sermon. Indeed if your name, dear Sir, had not been prefixed to the sermon, I could not have been so uncharitable as to think you were the author of such sophistry. You beg the question, in saying that God has declared (notwithstanding that you admit, I suppose, some will be damned) that he will save all—that is, every individual person. You take it for granted (for you have no solid proof) that God is unjust if he passes by any; and then you decry the "horrible decree": and yet, as I hinted before, in holding to the doctrine of original sin—you profess to believe that he might justly have passed by all.

Dear, dear Sir, O do not be offended! For Christ's sake, do not be rash! Give yourself to reading. Study the covenant of grace. Down with your carnal reasoning. Be a little child. And then, if the doctrine of universal redemption is not true, instead of pawning your salvation (as you have in a recent hymn book), and instead of talking of sinless perfection (as you have done in the preface to that hymn book), and instead of making man's salvation depend on his own free will, as you have in this sermon—you will compose a hymn in praise of sovereign distinguishing love. You will caution believers against striving to work perfection out of their own hearts; and print another sermon the reverse of this, entitled "Free Grace Indeed!" Free, not because it is free to all; but free, because God may withhold or give it to whom and when he pleases.

Until you do this, I must doubt whether you know yourself. In the meanwhile, I cannot help but blame you for censuring the clergy of our church for not keeping to their articles, when you yourself, by your principles, positively deny the 9th, 10th and 17th articles.

Dear Sir, these things should not be so. God knows my heart, as I told you before; so I declare again, nothing but a single regard for the honor of Christ has forced this letter from me. I love and honor you for his sake; and when I come to judgment, I will thank you before men and angels for what you have, under God, done for my soul.

There, I am persuaded, I shall see dear Mr. Wesley convinced of election and everlasting love. And it often fills me with pleasure to think how I shall behold you casting your crown down at the feet of the Lamb and, as it were, filled with a holy blushing for opposing the divine sovereignty in the manner you have done.

But I hope the Lord will show you this before you go from here. O how I long for that day! If the Lord should be pleased to make use of this letter for that purpose, it would abundantly rejoice the heart of, dear and honored Sir.

Yours affectionate, though unworthy brother and servant in Christ,
George Whitefield