Tuesday, June 5, 2007

I am reading the biography by Arnold Dallimore on George Whitefield. No, unfortunately, it is not the two volume set (though I do hope to get to that someday), but I'm reading the condensed version of Dallimore's large tome.
As I have been reading this wonderful and encouraging work on the life and ministry of this hero in Christian history who proclaimed God's Word fearlessly to thousands upon thousands in his lifetime, I have been greatly encouraged.
Whitefield was born in 1713 in Gloucester, England to a well-to-do, upper class home. Whitefield was converted when he was twenty years old (in 1735). These were the words he penned after his conversion expressing his new delight in reading the Bible:
"My mind being now more open and enlarged, I began to read the Holy Scriptures on my knees...This proved meat indeed and drink indeed to my soul. I daily received fresh life, light and power from above" (p.21).
Dallimore notes that we can visualize him at 5 in the morning in his room over Harris's bookstore. He is on his knees with his Bible, his Greek Testament, and a volume of Matthew Henry's commentary spread out before him. With intense concentration he reads a portion in English, studies its words and tenses in the Greek, and then considers Matthew Henry's exposition of the whole.
Then we find out that we shortly will see him preaching forty and more hours per week with virtually no time whatsoever for preparation, we may look back upon these days and recognize that he was then laying up a store of knowledge on which he was able to draw amidst the tumult and haste of that later ministry (p.22).
Whitefield once preached a sermon based on Romans 8:30 which reveals that a theological system was already forming in his mind. It was the system long referred to as "Calvinism," but which he preferred to term "the doctrines of grace" (p.27).
He was a traveling man and made numerous trips across the sea to America. His first brought him to Georgia to pursue ministry there and on his way the conditions on that vessel were wretched. Whitefield said that he wanted to minister to this lost group of people on the ship: "Oh, that I may catch them with a holy guile." So Whitefield had brought with him many tasty items of food and several medicines, and since there was much sickness among the passengers, he went among them every day dispensing of his supply and giving encouragement. Each morning and evening he read prayers on the open deck, although for the time being he did not attempt to preach, lest he deter the people from attending.
Whitefield was a master preacher. He was a gifted communicator and an eloquent speaker. In his own journal, he notes that he preached to 10,000 at one time, 20,000 at another time and 50,000 at other times. And he would preach 10 times a week! Think of this, before the electrical amplification of sound, congregations of people were undoubtedly the largest ever reached by a human voice in all of history. And this was the work of a youth of only 24!
One more quote will suffice for today: This is the writing of Mrs. Sara Pierpont (the wife of Jonathan Edwards) regarding the preaching of Whitefield:
"It is wonderful to see what a spell he casts over an audience by proclaiming the simplest truths of the Bible. I have see upward of a thousands people hang on his words with breathless silence, broken only by an occasional half-suppressed sob. He impresses the ignorant, and not less the educated and refined...our mechanics shut up their shops, and the day-labourers throw down their tools to go and hear him preach, and few return unaffected ...many, very many persons in Northampton date the beginning of new thoughts, new desires, new purposes, and a new life, from the day they heard him preach of Christ" (p.89).


Anonymous said...

Geoff, here's one of my favorite anecdotes about Whitefield's preaching. This is from a Banner of Truth article about this great man of God.


Miners in tears

After a visit to America in 1738, Whitefield returned to England to find closed Anglican pulpits because of his powerful Spirit-anointed preaching. J. C. Ryle, the first Bishop of Liverpool wrote, 'The Church was too much asleep to understand him, and was vexed at a man who would not keep still and let the devil alone'. The pulpit ban became a blessing in disguise when Whitefield took to open-air preaching. The evangelist described his first open-air preaching in his Journal: 'I hastened to Kingswood [Bristol]. There were about 10,000 people to hear me. The trees and hedges were full. All was hush when I began; the sun shone bright and God enabled me to preach for an hour with great power, and so loudly that all, I was told, could hear me. The fire is kindled in this country and I know all the devils in hell shall not be able to quench it'. Miners, just up from the mines, listened and the tears flowed making white gutters down their coal-black faces. Whitefield's preaching gave birth to the 18th century Evangelical Revival.

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