Edwards, Whitefield and Wesley

Before the twentieth century, evangelicals (Calvinist and Arminian) taught conversion as a definite, mystical event, orchestrated by a sovereign God. The pre-twentieth century understanding of salvation lined up with the Bible.

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Both George Whitefield and John Wesley taught the born-again experience as definite, complete and identifiable.1 If someone asked a new convert about his experience, he could describe exactly how he had changed. How different that is from today, when pastors have to twist the arms of kids for testimonies of how they “got saved” at church camp.

Before the twentieth century, salvations were rare, but real.As Whitefield taught it, the new creation was not a “mere metaphor.”“It was as self-evident and palpable as a ‘tasteless palate’suddenly brought alive at a sumptuous feast.”2 People received the illumination of the Holy Spirit ... not just the convincing message of a talented evangelist.

Charles Spurgeon summed up the sentiment: “I do not come into this pulpit hoping that perhaps somebody will of his own free will return to Christ. My hope lies in another quarter. I hope that my Master will lay hold of some of them and say, ‘You are mine, and you shall be mine. I claim you for myself.’ My hope arises from the freeness of grace, and not from the freedom of the will.”3