George Whitefield was one of the greatest (if not the greatest) evangelists to ever preach the gospel. Living from 1714-1770, this man has been noted as preaching more than he had slept. He preached between 40-60 hours a week, and at one point it could be said that four out of every five Americans had seen Whitefield preach. Furthermore, preaching to sometimes over 20,000 people in a field, he accomplished this gargantuan task without the aid of modern transportation or technology – no microphones. Some historians have noted that his voice could be heard at two miles away.
The man was burdened with a God-given task and passion, and he sought to discipline every faction of his soul and body to complete it. “I had rather wear out than rust out… We are immortal until our work is done.”(1) Yes, these declarations of work ethic sound inspiring, but they are even more remarkable when one learns of Whitefield’s conditions of implementation: “he often had severe spells of vomiting” and “arose each morning at four o’clock.”(2)
If one wants to learn more concerning the inspirational life and ministry of George Whitefield, I would suggest picking up the biography by Arnold A. Dallimore. Nevertheless, in my short analysis of his life, I have come across a most edifying teaching.
Here is a man who became the pictorial paradigm of the Great Awakening, the greatest revival ever to hit American soil. Yet, the man was not one of shallow doctrine, simplistic aims, or compromise. He was consumed with preaching what God revealed in His word, and nothing more or less. He did not accommodate God’s truth with the culture’s desire. More specifically, he was a man who exulted in the Doctrines of Grace. Inasmuch as Calvinistic ideologies are marked as anti-evangelistic and exclusionary, one ought to point to the Calvinist doctrine of one of the greatest evangelists to ever walk across American soil, George Whitefield. Furthermore, Whitefield notes, “I embrace the Calvinistic scheme not because Calvin, but Jesus Christ has taught it to me.”(3) He wrote to John Wesley in 1740, “I never read anything that Calvin wrote.”(4)
Let the picture be fastened in one’s mind as to rid the destructive correlations of Calvinism and anti-evangelism (I would also suggest J. I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God). Whitefield was a man that delighted in the free election of God, His irresistible grace, the effectual atonement of Christ, and bestowal of true perseverance to His saints; yet, it only caused him to preach the Gospel more and more to all that would listen.
For my part I cannot see how true humbleness of mind can be attained without a knowledge of [the doctrine of election]; and though I will not say, that every one who denies election is a bad man, yet I will say, with that sweet singer, Mr. Trail, it is a very bad sign: such a one, whoever he be, I think cannot truly know himself; for, if we deny election, we must, partly at least, glory in ourselves; but our redemption is so ordered, that no flesh should glory in the Divine presence; and hence it is, that the pride of man opposes this doctrine, because, according to this doctrine, and no other, ‘he that glories must glory only in the Lord.’
But what shall I say? Election is a mystery that shines with such resplendent brightness, that, to make use of the words of one who has drunk deeply of electing love, it dazzles the weak eyes even of some of God’s children; however, though they know it not, all the blessing they receive, all the privileges they do or will enjoy, through Jesus Christ, flow from the everlasting love of God the Father.”(5)
In the broadest sense, be courageous in presenting what God has illuminated through the Scriptures. Whatever heart-felt study and prayer leads one to rightly interpret in the Scriptures, that ought to be proclamation of your lips. Do not let the world suppress the truth of God’s revelation in hopes of acquiring more rear-ends for your pews.
1. Warren W. Wiersbe, “George Whitefield,” in 50 People Every Christian Should Know, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009), p. 38
2. Ibid., pp. 38-39
3. J. I. Packer, “The Spirit with the Word: The Reformational Revivalism of George Whitefield,” in Honouring the People of God, The Collected Shorter Writings of J. I . Packer, Vol. 4 (Carlisle, England: Paternoster Press, 1999), p. 47.
4. Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth-Century Revival Vol. 1, (Westchester, Illinois: Cornerstone Books, 1979), p. 574.
5. Michael A. G. Haykin, editor, The Revived Puritan: The Spirituality of George Whitefield (Dundas, Ontario: Joshua Press, 2000), pp. 97-98.