Potholes in the Splendid Road

Earle E. Cairns (1910-2008) was for many years chairman of the history department at Wheaton College. An expert in the field of church history, Dr. Cairns has authored a number of books including Christianity Through the Centuries. This is where I first encountered him in some six hours of Church History courses. It was a readable book and the classes were taught by a skilled instructor.
Cairns wrote other works, including God and Man in Time, and The Christian in Society.  As an expert in his field his also served as consulting editor and contributor to several now standard reference works: The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church and was senior reviser of The Wycliffe Biographical Dictionary of the Church. Dr. Cairns holds held the MA and PhD from the University of Nebraska.
In reading a 1986 Tyndale House edition, I noted several apparent errors in facts presented and was somewhat surprised. It serves as reminder that there is sound value in the use of footnotes and citations. If Cairns was presenting new information supported by in-depth research that served to provide improved data it would have been lost in the 'common man' reading format of the work. It may be more likely the publisher did not do an adequate job of fact checking or editing the work.  It may be hoped that later editions may have corrected errors to provide a more accurate presentation of information.
One instance is on page 76 where the story of John Wesley's moment of assurance that he had been saved was sparked during the public reading of a commentary prefaced by Martin Luther.  In Cairn's work it reads that it was the Commentary on Galatians.   According to Wesley's writings on the event, it was the preface to the Commentary on Romans.
He credits George Whitefield with the phase " The whole world is now my parish" and it verbalized as Whitefield headed to North America in 1739 (pg. 70). Most other sources assign the quote to John Wesley as it is recorded in his journal of 1739. "I look on all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty, to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation."  Journal (11 June 1739). Given the fact that both men, at the time, were fellow travelers on an evangelical road of revival in the established church and shared society, either source may be correct.  It is inferred by some researchers that the phrase originated in the Oxford "Holy Club" itself.

Wesley served as mentor and spiritual guide to the gifted Whitefield at one point. Whitefield led the way in the area of preaching in fields and other places out of doors once church doors began to close to such services. In late spring and early summer he introduces Wesley to this experience.  Wesley, so staunchly indoctrinated that according to an orderly church sinners could only come to salvation in the church building, would have a revelation at seeing God at work in the fields of these services.

In the 1877 The Life of Rev. George Whitefield by Luke Tyerman is an allusion to the Oxford origins of the phrase (pg. 316). He notes that Wesley uses the term but then quotes Whitefield employing a similar phrase, however the Whitefield phrase is undated and thus difficult to affirm if one employed it earlier than the other man.
The absence of notations informing the researcher of to why one is credited as author and not the other may reflect more the biases of the author.  Whitefield would lead a branch of the 'Methodist' movement along Calvinistic lines while Wesley would move another branch along Arminian lines to the extent a 'Wesleyan-Arminian' theology will develop.
These potholes in what is otherwise a most splendid road of reading about revivals and their leaders does cause one to pause and wonder what other mistakes were allowed to slip into the text? If other sources are mistaken in their attributions, it is only right that corrections be noted and the records cleared up. That is the duty of the researcher and the scholar. That is the reason for footnotes.


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