Summary: God unites us to one another with the same Gospel which unites us to himself.
The Matterhorn rises 14,692 feet, one of the highest peaks in the Alps and also one of the world’s deadliest mountains. The climb is technical and difficult, and even though ropes are fixed on parts of the route to make it safer, each year several climbers fall to their death.
R. A. Torrey tells of four men climbing the most difficult northern face of the Matterhorn, all roped together. As they crossed a particularly treacherous place, one lost his footing and slid over the side. The sudden pull on the rope caused another to lose his grip and be pulled away also. The same happened with the third. But the guide in the lead, feeling the first pull on the rope, drove his ax into the ice, braced his feet, and held fast. Three men dangled on the cliff face which had taken many lives. But held back by one, the other three eventually regained their footing and climbed back to safety. The Bible holds out a similar hope for the church. When one member slips, others hold her up until she regains her footing.
In John 17, Jesus prays for the kind of unity among his followers which he has with God the Father, a perfect unity in heart and mind. May God be pleased to answer that prayer in our fellowship, for his glory and our joy.
[Read John 17.20-26. Pray.]
George Whitefield was one of the greatest preachers in church history. One biographers writes: “Though slender in build, he stormed in the pulpit as if he were a giant. During his own lifetime, it was said of him ‘his voice startled England like a trumpet blast.’ Without amplification, he held spellbound 20,000 people in outdoor, open air preaching…. He preached about 18,000 sermons in his lifetime, an average of ten a week. He was a firm Calvinist in his theology yet unrivaled as an aggressive evangelist….” (www.CCEL.org).
He was also friends with John Wesley, an opponent of Whitefield’s Calvinism. Wesley believed that God gave all people a prevenient grace (one that goes before) which empowers every person either to accept or reject Christ. He taught that Christ’s death atoned for all people and only those who resisted grace were lost. Wesley also felt the doctrines of grace resulted in antinomianism, so in addition to opposing Reformed theology, he taught Christian perfectionism.
Whitefield ardently disagreed with Wesley, and not over what Romans 14 calls, “doubtful things” (Romans 14.1, NKJ); these were fundamental truths. Yet George Whitefield said: “The good Mr. John Wesley has done in America is inexpressible. His name is very precious among the people; and he has laid a foundation that I hope neither men nor devils will ever be able to shake.” And Whitefield asked Wesley to preach his funeral sermon.
Charles Spurgeon wrote of the disagreements between these men: “Wesley had laid down clearly the differences between his views and those of the Calvinists. It is much to the credit both of Mr. Whitefield’s friends and of Wesley that this was not allowed to interfere with their invitation to him to preach the [funeral] sermon, nor with his own affectionate and ungrudging recognition of the greatness and goodness of his departed fellow worker. Indeed, their difference of opinion had never been permitted to interrupt their mutual love and esteem; they agreed to differ, and still to love one another.”
Iain Murray pastored in the Presbyterian Church in Australia until he returned to England as co-founder of Banner of Truth. He is a most respected church historian and expert in Puritan theology and practice. He observes: “Some evangelical writers have sought to minimize the division between Whitefield and Wesley by referring to their ‘minor differences’…. The truth is that Whitefield rightly made a distinction between a difference in judgment and a difference in affection; it was in the former sense that he differed from the Wesleys, and that difference was such that it led them to build separate chapels, form separate societies, and pursue, to the end of life, separate lines of action…. The gulf between Wesley and Whitefield was immense. But his personal affection for the Wesleys as Christians was preserved to the last. In this respect Whitefield teaches us a needful lesson. Doctrinal differences between believers should never lead to personal antagonism. Error must be opposed even when held by fellow members of Christ, but if that opposition cannot co-exist with a true love for all saints and a longing for their spiritual prosperity then it does not glorify God nor promote the edification of the Church.”
We too must meld our commitment to pursue Biblical truth with maintaining of love if we would glorify God and edify the church. It will not be easy. I studied much this week on unity; and almost every learned and godly author speaks of the difficulty of this topic.