Hodge on Whitefield’s Revivalism

I understand the distinction that some neo-Puritans make between revivals and revivalism. It holds us if one is contrasting orthodoxy with Finneyism. It breaks down once one applies it to the normal life of the church. This is from Charles Hodge’s Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Church in the United States.

The problem is obvious. Whitefield’s revivalism undercuts the catechetical ministry of the church.


I broke the below into more manageable paragaphs.

It is impossible to open the journals of Whitefield without being painfully struck on the one hand with the familiar confidence with which he speaks of his own religious experience, and on the other with the carelessness with which he pronounces others to be godly or graceless, on the slightest acquaintance or report. Had these journals been the private record of his feelings and opinions, this conduct would be hard to excuse; but as they were intended for the public, and actually given to the world almost as soon as written, it constitutes a far more serious offence.

Thus he tells us, he called on a clergyman, (giving the initials of his name, which, under the circumstances completely identified him,) and was kindly received, but found `he had no experimental knowledge of the new birth.’ Such intimations are slipped off, as though they were matters of indifference. On equally slight grounds he passed judgment on whole classes of men. After his rapid journey through New England, he published to the world his apprehension `lest many, nay most that preach do not experimentally know Christ.’ . . . Whitefield was much in the habit of speaking of ministers as being unconverted; so that the consequence was, that in a country where `the preaching and conversation of far the bigger part of the ministers were undeniably as became the gospel, such a spirit of jealousy and evil surmising was raised by the influence and example of a young foreigner, that perhaps there was not a single town,’ either in Massachusetts or Connecticut, in which many of the people were not so prejudiced against their pastors, as to be rendered very unlikely to be benefited by them (from a Letter to Whitefield from Edward Wigglesworth, in the name of the faculty of Harvard College, 1745). This is the testimony of men who had received Mr. Whitefield, on his first visit, with open arms.”

“Whitefield . . . assumed the right, in virtue of his ordination, to preach the gospel wherever he had an opportunity, `even though it should be in a place where officers were already settled, and the gospel was fully and faithfully preached. This, I humbly apprehend,’ he adds, `is every gospel minister’s indisputable privilege.’ It mattered not whether the pastors who thus fully and faithfully preached the gospel, were willing to consent to the intrusion of the itinerant evangelist or not. `If pulpits should be shut,’ he says, `blessed be God, the fields are open, and I can go without the camp, bearing the Redeemer’s reproach. This I glory in; believing if I suffer for it, I suffer for righteousness’ sake.’ If Whitefield had the right here claimed, then of course Davenport had it, and so every fanatic and errorist has it. This doctrine is entirely inconsistent with what the Bible teaches of the nature of the pastoral relation, and with every form of ecclesiastical government, episcopal, presbyterian, or congregational. Whatever plausible pretences may be urged in its favor, it has never been acted upon without producing the greatest practical evils.”[The Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, 1839, II:89-90, 98.]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s