Why I Just Don’t Want to Argue Anymore
And the reasons will be clearer when you discover for yourself the moral of this totally untrue story:
Mrs. W. had many lovely children, among whom were two godly young men, I will call them John and Charles. But they could be anyone. They got along well enough, but one day when she took the tea tray to her dear sons, she heard them quarreling hotly about what was greater in the salvation of souls: one said it was the worship of the Lord with music that is angel-breathed, so profound being the words, so majestic the sound of it, that the heart is captured by the beauty of the Saviour and drawn by the Spirit to the Cross. The other said not so; it was the preaching of the word, with God-breathed reasoning from the Scripture that pierced men’s souls, and enabled a decision. Mrs. W. sat through the discussion with her apron over her head, and sometimes a sob or a sigh could be heard over the fractious din of her boy’s increasingly heated discussion; and as they were quite used to this odd behaviour of their mother’s–she was given to throwing that old apron of hers over her face when she was overcome!–so they took no notice of her. At last, the young men humbled themselves, and admitted their faults to one another, and agreed to disagree, until more light was shed, so there might be love between them. Mrs. W. quietly took her apron down from her face, and cleared the tea things.
When she had left the room, Charles leaned over and murmured to his brother “You know, sometimes I wonder if she is even saved.”
Yes, go ahead and think this is Wesley and Whitfield if you want. Better you should think maybe you and me. But we can learn from our betters, can’t we? Even though the great revivalists never came to terms over their theological differences, they eventually learned to respect each other. One of Whitfield’s followers (who obviously still liked to argue) said to Whitfield, “We won’t see John Wesley in heaven, will we?” Whitfield humbly replied “Yes, you’re right, we won’t see him in heaven. He will be so close to the Throne of God and we will be so far away, that we won’t be able to see him!”
At one point, when Wesley was ill and seeming near death, Whitfield wrote him and said, “…a radiant throne awaits you, and ere long you will enter into your master’s joy. Yonder he stands with a massive crown, ready to put it on your head amidst an admiring throng of saints and angels.”
It was Whitfield who died first. At Whitfield’s request, Wesley preached at three memorial services held for Whitfield in London. Wesley spoke lovingly and respectfully of Whitfield and said, “There are many doctrines of a less essential nature with regard to which even the most sincere children of God…are and have been divided for many ages. In these we may think and let think; we may ‘agree to disagree.’”
Both Wesley and Whifield passed through the the same pearly gates of Heaven, which in J.I. Packer’s inspired description, bear on the front an inscription that reads, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17) Gratefully both passed through the gate to Heaven, but glancing back at the gate, they saw another inscription on this side of the gate that reads, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” (Ephesians 1:4)
So, we may, mayn’t we, my brothers and sisters? Agree to disagree?
Al Mohler has this to say about arguing:
Some theological disputes amount to very little and serve mostly as exercises in missing the point, if indeed there is a point. Other doctrinal exchanges are quite different, and deal with matters of central and essential concern to the Christian faith. The first sort of dispute is a waste of precious time and energy, and should be avoided at all costs. The second sort of debate is a matter of both urgency and importance. The church cannot avoid and should not seek to evade this kind of theological conversation.
So, I will make these giants of the faith be my model. I will seek to charitably disagree and defend to the utmost those truths central to the person of Christ, and the Gospel. All else is unbecoming and does not adorn the doctrine of God.
And here is the one true part of my totally untrue story: those naughty Wesley brothers certainly questioned the salvation of their sainted mother Susanna! (That fictional mother and her apron described above was based on Mrs. Wesley, who threw it over her head to create an “inner room” in which to withdraw to pray amidst her many children. Susanna is a particular heroine of mine) When she testified, at age seventy, to an experience in communion, that at last she knew deep in her soul that God had forgiven her sins, and thus she felt an assurance of her salvation, Charles in particular was troubled. He wrote to his mother that all her years previous to this experience were spent in seeking a salvation in works. Charles was often confused by experiences. She graciously answered him that actually she had “defected”, like the church in Ephesus,” I have not been faithful to the talents committed to my trust, and lost my first love…”
Charles, (with great presumption!) however, had on her tombstone inscribed that his mother “lived a legal night of seventy years.” What cheek! I rather think Charles Wesley’s reward in glory might be a little diminished by his summary judgment of his own mother’s walk with God. Her biographer Adam Clarke was certainly more charitable when He wrote:
” I have traced her life with much pleasure, and received from it much instruction; and when I have seen her repeatedly grappling with gigantic adversities, I have adored the grace of God that was in her, and have not been able to repress my tears. I have been acquainted with many pious females; I have read the lives of several others, and composed memoirs of a few; but such a woman, take her for all in all, I have not heard of, I have not read of, nor with her equal have I been acquainted. Such a one Solomon has described in the last chapter of his Proverbs; and to her I can apply the summed-up character of his accomplished housewife: Many daughters have done virtuously; but SUSANNA WESLEY has excelled them all.”
I am so glad that Susanna’s tombstone was later rewritten, a little less poetically perhaps; but a little more accurately to reflect her life and achievements. We should shudder to make a summary judgment of our brother’s salvation. We should hide ourselves from the coming wrath of God if we argue with our mother about hers!
You can read a very good biography of Susanna Wesley by Kathy McReynolds, (Bethany House Publishers,1998), and you will find Adam Clarke’s more fitting eulogy of her on page 120; or here is a good blog post summarizing how we women can emulate her example.
Well, that was quite a digression–from declaring my abstention from arguing to defending the honor of a particular heroine of mine. In my opinion, Susanna Wesley’s kitchen meetings were the birth of the Methodist revival.
But I will not argue with you about it!
I sure liked to argue in the past. I thrilled to debates about the OSAS controversy, Cessationism, the Jewish Roots Movement, and the meaning of Predestination. I was going to save the world from all errors of thought. I have now hung up my cape. I am willing to give my life for the truths of the Gospel. But no longer can I bicker about the non-essentials of the faith. Go ahead and baptize your babies if you want to, I just want to go forth and make disciples of them! Children, we only see in part….one day we shall know!