The Great Gospel
Within the last thirty years and within fifty miles of Atlanta, it was reported that a Calvinist preacher, who early attained marked prominence in his denomination, represented God as standing by the side of the road along which the human race was passing. At intervals he would touch one of his children, saying, "Come out here, I will save you," while the others were allowed to go on to their frightful doom without a chance, being predestinated to damnation.
In imagination travel back to the early pioneer days of Georgia history and listen to that doctrine, unmitigated and with no refinements; hear those illiterate preachers, so untutored that they gloried in their ignorance and had much of which to boast, tell of the unconditional election of certain people to eternal life and the equally unconditional election of certain other people to eternal damnation, the number in each classification being so definitely fixed by God from all eternity that it could neither be increased nor diminished, listen as they reach their climax in proclaiming that there are "infants in hell not a span long." Hard, crystallized Calvinism was the pulpit message in those days, with little variation. Then came Methodism, jubilantly declaring that God loved all, redeemed all, invited all and saved all who would come. Good news indeed! But too good to be quickly received by people long steeped in the opposite faith, for Arminianism was as intolerable to Calvinism as Calvinism was to Arminianism. So the battle was pitched. Methodism insisted its gospel was true, stood its ground boldly and met argument with superior argument. There was no temporizing, no half-heartedness, no appeasement, no weak apology as though Methodist doctrine was an unwarranted intrusion upon the sacred preserves of another faith. Those early Methodist itinerants proclaimed a universal atonement as if they believed it, exulted in preaching it; rarely delivered a sermon that did not ring with the all-inclusive-ness of the gospel invitation. And the hearts of the people, as they came to understand that strange story, were made glad by the knowledge that they were not the victims of an unjustly imposed doom but the sharers of a great love that played no favorites.
Not content with proclaiming a universal atonement, Methodism clashed with accepted theology again when it declared not only that every man could be saved but that every man could know that he had been saved. Such arrogance, they were scornfully told, was Pharisaism. But what others denied, Methodists affirmed and made real; the Spirit Himself, they declared, bore witness with their spirits that they were children of God; and if children then heirs; heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.(ck. footneote 10 at bottom) This they said so confidently, so joyously, that those who heard felt that it must be true, and so felt its truth that they reached out eagerly to claim that gracious experience as their own.
It was an assured salvation, not because they could not lose it, but finer, far finer, because they could keep it. Temptations, bewitching, powerful, were all about them, but nearer still was their almighty Helper. They did not expect to be carried to heaven on flowery beds of ease; they expected to fight, but to fight, not doubtfully as though the issue was uncertain, but triumphantly, already feeling themselves as conquerors in the making.
It was an eternal salvation. Heaven was no hazy conception to the Methodists of those days. Life was hard but with comforting assurance they would sing:
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan's fair and happy land
Where my possessions lie."
While faithfully seeking to bring heaven to earth, they did not forget that there was another heaven just as real and, beyond imagination, more wonderful which lay beyond the earth. Of that heaven they frequently thought, of that heaven they often talked, of that heaven they time and again preached, and, in joyous anticipation of that heaven, they often sang of the house not made with hands.
This great gospel peculiarly appealed to the frontier where equality of opportunity was in the very atmosphere; where they especially welcomed the announcement that there was no favored class in redeeming grace; where they rejoiced to know that every man's destiny, for weal or for woe, was bound up with his own efforts, and that, beyond peradventure, they could make it for weal if they worked at it hard enough.
10 Romans 8:16, 17.