By mid-eighteenth century, two religious titans of the Anglo-Saxon world, erstwhile allies, were at loggerheads over the question of just how many people were destined for an eternity in hell. George Whitefield attacked John Wesley in 1740 for asserting “God’s grace is free to all.” Wesley had agonized over “How uncomfortable a thought is this, that thousands and millions of men, without any preceding offence or fault of theirs were unchangeably doomed to everlasting burnings!” Some, like Francis Okely, simply abandoned the restrictive hell: “Neither doeth it damn any Man, that he hath not the Word of God, if it is not given to him.” And some went on trial for so doing: Robert Breck was charged with believing “the heathen who obeyed the light of nature could be saved.”

Document Type


Publication Date


Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2012, Institute on Religion and Public Life. This article first appeared in First Things, March 12, 2012 (2012).

Please note that downloads of the article are for private/personal use only.