A Certain Hope in Uncertain Days: 30 Days of Hope-filled Focus
Day 12: A Great Messenger of Hope
I love Christian biographies. One of my favorites is that of George Whitefield. From his dramatic conversion to his final day on earth, his life speaks to how God can work in miraculous fashion to save a man from the depths of despair and then use him in an unexpected and amazing way. Here’s the story…
Book Review: “George Whitefield, God’s Anointed Servant in the Great Revival of the Eighteenth Century,” by Arnold A. Dallimore
This is a wonderful easy-reading biography of one of the most influential Pastors in the 1700s–a man who played a large role in the Great Awakening that transformed the American colonies.
The life of George Whitefield was anything but typical. While at Oxford and attending “The Holy Club” under the influence John Wesley, Whitefield was convinced by a book that he was not born again. Fearful of being eternally lost he determined to find his way. Over a period of months, he fasted, prayed, and humbled himself before God. His studies and his health suffered. He became so weak that a physician confined him to bed for seven weeks. When there was nothing else that he could do, God revealed Himself in grace and granted to Whitefield that which he could not earn. He was born again.
Having first preached some in England, in December of 1737 Whitefield boarded a vessel bound for Georgia to preach the gospel. His visit to Georgia impressed upon him the need to provide for an Orphan house for the numerous orphans of settlers who had died. He returned to England to secure a charter and money for that purpose. His efforts to minister to the orphans continued for the rest of his life.
Because of the nature of his preaching Whitefield was shut out of many churches in England. His preaching was unique, from that found in many of the established churches, in that he spoke of the need to be born again through faith in Christ. He spoke plainly and simply such that the common people could understand. He possessed a voice of unusual clarity. Through the influence of another man he began “Open Air” meetings. During one period he was holding 30 some meetings a week. These meetings drew huge crowds. It was not unusual for him to speak to six or seven thousand and on some occasion’s tens of thousands. On one occasion following his return to America, Benjamin Franklin–a friend of Whitefield’s–measured the distance at which Whitefield’s voice could be heard, and stated, “I computed he might well be heard by more than thirty thousand.”
Though he had been influenced much by John Wesley, doctrinal divisions worked to separate the two. Whitefield favored Predestination, Wesley opposed it and even preached a sermon against Whitefield’s view. Wesley’s evangelistic work was sometimes accompanied by “convulsion-like attacks,” Whitefield expressed his dislike of that. Wesley began to declare his doctrine of “Christian Perfection,” Whitefield argued against it. He summed up his attitude in saying, “Every grace that is in the blessed Jesus is to be transplanted into our hearts; we are to be delivered by the power of sin but not from the indwelling and being of sin in this life. HEREAFTER we are to be preserved blameless, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.”
In 1740 Whitefield again visited America. He preached repeatedly throughout the thirteen colonies. This period, the Great Awakening, was undoubtedly the richest time of spiritual blessing in the nation’s history. His presence was not without controversy. He wrote a letter condemning the harsh treatment of slaves. In those days it was frequently asked, “Does the Negro have a soul?” and Whitefield gave the first widely heard positive reply that the black man was basically no different than the white man. Notably, his preaching to the blacks also led to the creation of the “Negro Spiritual.” These matters combined with his supposed “un-Anglican” actions led an Anglican leader to attempt to expel him from the ministry.
Whitefield and other Pastors in England determined to take the gospel message to the “Mobs.” These were the “wildest and most brutal of men” unreached by the “Religious Societies” of the day. The Mob responded to preaching of the gospel with fists and clubs and beating of Pastors, but still the ministers of the gospel returned. Whitefield himself experienced some of that kind of treatment. The efforts of Whitefield and others bore fruit over time as many ultimately trusted in Christ for salvation.
He continued his ministry in England, Scotland, and America with fruitfulness. He literally preached himself to death. On one occasion he was warned by a doctor to allow himself a period of rest. His reply? “I intend to preach till I drop.” On September 29, 1770 Whitefield preached a final sermon. It was given with such clearness and eloquence that many hearers stated it was the greatest sermon they had ever heard from him. It was from the text, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith.” One gentleman wrote of the occasion, “Mr. Whitefield rose and stood erect, and his appearance alone was a powerful sermon. He remained several minutes unable to speak, and then said, “I will wait for the gracious assistance of God…” “I go,” he cried, “I go to a rest prepared; my sun has arisen and by aid from Heaven has given light to many. It is now about to set–no, it is about to rise to the zenith of eternal glory. Many may outlive me on earth, but they cannot outlive me in Heaven. Oh thought divine! I shall soon be in a world where time, age, pain, and sorrow are unknown. My body fails, my spirit expands. How willingly would I live to preach Christ! But I die to be with Him!” George Whitefield died the next morning.
George Whitefield preached some 30,000 sermons. He preached to the poor and uneducated and to English aristocrats and American statesmen. He was considered in his day to be “the most brilliant and popular preacher the modern world has ever known.” You will be encouraged and inspired by this book.