Weighing in at almost 1,200 pages, Arnold Dallimore’s two-volume biography on the life of George Whitefield would hardly be called an easy weekend read. Persevere, however, and you will be richly rewarded. Arguably the greatest English-speaking preacher of the gospel, (with sincere apologies to Charles Haddon Spurgeon), the consideration of how God used this humble servant of Christ will be beneficial to any who long to be used by God and live for His glory. Read about this man’s life and you will likely feel a number of emotions:
Gratitude to God for His grace in saving and using someone like George Whitefield. Born in Gloucester, England, in December 1714, he was brought up in the Bell Inn, a “public house,” which was owned and operated by his parents. His father died when George was two years old. Dallimore writes: “… many of the lowest of mankind made a hostelry a place of debauchery.” Those frequenting the Inn would scarcely have imagined the purposes of grace God had for the mischievous young boy working in such unsavory surroundings. As a young man at Oxford, he trusted Christ and was born from above. “God was pleased to remove the heavy load, to enable me to lay hold of His dear Son by a living faith, and by giving me the Spirit of adoption to seal me even to the day of everlasting redemption.”
Worship of God for His mighty power in saving souls. Described as “preaching that startled the nation,” Whitefield’s mighty messages of grace brought divine life to untold thousands of people. Along with the Wesley’s, his preaching literally changed the course of English society. Later on, he would be just as mightily used – if not more so – in the 13 colonies that would become the United States.
Humility and Aspirations
Humility that we have done so little, and aspirations to be used by God to reach the lost. Whitefield seemed indefatigable in his labors for Christ. Called “The traveling lightning rod of the Great Awakening,” he tirelessly carried the message of the gospel up and down the eastern seaboard of the colonies as well as through England. Yet he refused to speculate on how many of his listeners had been converted. “There are so many stony-ground hearers which receive the word with joy, that I have determined to suspend my judgment till I know the tree by its fruits.” Jonathan Edward’s wife, Sarah, wrote about Whitefield to her brother in New Haven: “It is wonderful to see what a spell he casts over an audience by proclaiming the simplest truths of the Bible … Our mechanics shut up their shops, and the day-laborers throw down their tools to go and hear him preach, and few return unaffected.” A New England farmer gave an enthralling account of the great excitement that Whitefield’s preaching caused. “I longed to see and hear him and wished he would come this way … Then on a sudden in the morning about 8 or 9 of the clock there came a messenger and said Mr. Whitefield preached at Hartford and Wethersfield yesterday and is to preach at Middletown this morning at ten of the clock. I was in my field at work. I dropped my tool that I had in my hand and ran home to my wife, telling her to make ready quickly and to go and hear Mr. Whitefield preach at Middletown, and then ran to my pasture for my horse with all my might, fearing that I should be too late.” He tells of jumping off and running as fast as he could alongside to rest the horse to “get along as if we were fleeing for our lives, all the while fearing we should be too late to hear the sermon.” He describes the clouds of dust, the steady stream of farmers and families all going to the meeting. “All along the 12 miles I saw no man at work in his field but all seemed to be gone … When I saw Mr. Whitefield my mind put me into a trembling fear before he began to preach; for he looked as if he was clothed with authority from the great God, and a sweet solemnity sat upon his brow, and my hearing him preach gave me a heart wound. By God’s blessing, my old foundation was broken up and I saw that my righteousness would not save me.” Of the effect Whitefield was having on Philadelphia, Ben Franklin wrote: “From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk through the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung by different families of every street.” Franklin went on to say, “I knew him intimately upwards of thirty years. His integrity, disinterestedness, and indefatigable zeal in prosecuting every good work I have never seen equaled and shall never see excelled.” As well as ceaseless labors in the gospel, he saw to the construction of an orphan home in Georgia and the care of numerous children; he was directly involved in the founding of Princeton University (NJ), the University of Pennsylvania, and Dartmouth College (NH). And yet this eminent soul-winner said of himself: “I do not deserve the rank of a common soldier in Christ’s army.” Engraved on the pedestal of Whitefield’s statue in the Quadrangle dormitory, upper courtyard, of the University of Pennsylvania are these words:
The Reverend George Whitefield
Bachelor of Arts, 1736,
Pembroke College, Oxford
Humble Disciple of Jesus Christ
Eloquent Preacher of the Gospel.
Prayer that the mighty hand of God would again be seen in our lands, effecting revival, restoration, and regeneration. “We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work Thou didst in their days, in the times of old” (Psa 44:1).
Exhausted with his labors, Whitefield came to the house of Jonathan Parsons in Newburyport, MA. Earlier that day, he was heard to say, “Lord Jesus, I am weary in Thy work, but not of Thy work. If I have not yet finished my course, let me go and speak for Thee once more in the fields, seal Thy truth, and come home and die.” As he was making his way up the stairs to his bed, a crowd of people pressed at the door, pleading to hear him preach to them again. Holding a candle in his hand, he preached the gospel to them until the candle flickered and burned out. It was symbolic of his life, consumed in the service of the Lord Jesus. Whitefield went to his room, read his Bible, prayed, and went home to be with Christ that night (September 30, 1770).
Of Whitefield and Newburyport, John Greenleaf Whittier wrote:
“Still, as the gem of its civic crown,
Precious beyond the world’s renown,
His memory hallows the ancient town!”
George Whitefield:The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the 18th-Century Revival by Arnold Dallimore. (Published originally by Banner of Truth and Cornerstone Books in two volumes. Abridged versions are available for the faint of heart).