Whitefield the…Arminian? Say It Isn’t So!

GW1 Preeminent evangelist of the first Great Awakening, George Whitefield (1714-1770), has grown to be a “hero” of sorts for me over the last decade. His life has challenged me to be more active in the Lord’s harvest field, especially since my family gave me Dallimore’s two volume biography of the great orator.

In the past couple of years I managed to procure three separate volumes of Whitefield’s sermons (compiled and published by Pietan Publications) and am finally getting around to reading them.

Today’s message from GW that I read is titled “The Kingdom of God,” with Romans 14:17 as his text. Dispensationalists like myself should not be surprised by GW’s definition of the Kingdom:

that work of grace, that inward holiness, which is wrought in the heart of every soul that is truly converted and brought home to God. The Lord Jesus Christ is king of his church, and the Lord Jesus Christ has got a kingdom; and this kingdom is erected and set up in the hearts of sinners, when they are brought to be subject to the government of our dear Redeemer’s laws…we are to take the kingdom of God in the text as signifying that inward work of grace, that kingdom which the Lord Jesus Christ sets up in the hearts of all that are truly brought home to God (1:11-12).

While I recognize the position I put myself in by disagreeing with the great evangelist, I do agree with him in this: one cannot be a citizen of God’s Kingdom merely by having connection with a church or professing orthodox doctrine–

you may have orthodox heads, and yet you may have the devil in your hearts (1:14)

I expected GW’s divergent view of the Kingdom. I didn’t expect to read this:

Open the door of your heart, that the king of glory, the blessed Jesus, may come in and erect his kingdom in your soul (1:23)

Ouch! Shades of Arminianism! It can’t be! Not out of the mouth of the great evangelist of the Doctrines of Grace! Say it isn’t so!

Well, let’s get the rest of the context. After the above, GW says:

Make room for Christ; the Lord Jesus desires to sup with you tonight; Christ is willing to come into any of your hearts, that will be pleased to open and receive him. Are there any of you made willing Lydias?…Does power go with the words to open your heart? and find you a sweet melting in your soul? Are you willing? Then Christ Jesus is willing to come to you (1:23)

Now, that’s easier to take, for sure. I still don’t care for the “open your heart to Jesus” terminology, but I’ve never heard any preacher or evangelist couch the heart being made willing to be opened as a necessary prerequisite! Usually it’s put entirely in the lap of the sinner; all that needs to be done is raise the hand, come forward, or pray the prayer.

Whitefield recognized the grace of God in initiating salvation that enabled the sinner to respond to salvation.

Way to go, GW.

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Author: Dan Greenfield

I am an undeserving sinner saved by God's grace through Jesus Christ, a happy husband, proud father of 6 great kids, pastor of Orwell Bible Church, Executive Secretary of the American Council of Christian Churches, and member of the Ohio Bible Fellowship .

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