It’s an admirable quality to hold firm, clear convictions in an area, yet remain gracious toward those with whom you differ.
Spirit-wrought humility enables a man to be rigid yet conciliatory, unyielding yet deferential. That balance can be particularly difficult to maintain in theological disputes. The issue of God’s sovereignty in election is an oft-discussed and thorny debate. As an ardent Reformed Baptist myself, I must concede that “our team” has not always carried the doctrines of grace with . . . well, grace.
For that reason, I’m instructed and encouraged by a conversation that occurred in the 18th century between Charles Simeon (a Calvinist) and John Wesley (an Arminian). Handley Carr Glyn Moule, in his biography of Simeon, includes the following exchange:
Charles Simeon: Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it in to your heart?
John Wesley: Yes, I do indeed.
Charles Simeon: And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?
John Wesley: Yes, solely through Christ.
Charles Simeon: But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?
John Wesley: No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.
Charles Simeon: Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?
John Wesley: No.
Charles Simeon: What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?
John Wesley: Yes, altogether.
Charles Simeon: And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?
John Wesley: Yes, I have no hope but in Him.
Charles Simeon: Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things where in we agree.