Struggling to achieve salvation through his own efforts, the Gloucester-born student,
George Whitefield, at the age of twenty, read 'The Life of God in the Soul of Man',
written by a 17th century Puritan divine, Henry Scougal. Near death for seven weeks
because of his constant fasting, Whitefield learnt from this book that it is Christ's
dying and not our doing that gives the sinner acceptance with God. Whitefield wrote
in his Journal, 'God was pleased to remove the heavy load, to enable me to lay hold
of his dear Son by a living faith. With what joy - joy unspeakable - was my soul
filled!' This great event took place in the spring of 1735 - three years before John
and Charles Wesley trusted Christ alone for salvation.
Fifteen 'mad people'
Ordained on June 20th 1736; a week later, Whitefield preached his first sermon at
St. Mary de Crypt, Gloucester. 'Fifteen people were driven mad' complained some of
his hearers to the Bishop who responded with the wish that the madness would not
wear off before next Sunday. These first fifteen conversions paved the way for a
ministry spanning thirty-five years throughout Great Britain and in thirteen American
colonies. Historians estimate that Whitefield preached 18,000 sermons before he died.
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.
Eyewitnesses speak of Whitefield's eloquence, envied even by actors such as David
Garrick who said 'I would give a £100 to say "Oh" like George Whitefield'. Pennsylvania's
Benjamin Franklin, a publisher and a Quaker with little spiritual interest in the
evangelist's message gave a glowing report of his preaching. 'The multitudes of all
sects and denominations that attended his sermons were enormous. I observed the extraordinary
influence of his oratory on his hearers, and how much they admired and respected
him, notwithstanding his common abuse of them' - he called his hearers sinners! The
changed lives of Whitefield's hearers impressed Franklin even more than the preacher's
oratory. An American farmer who heard Whitefield preach wrote, 'He looked almost
angelical, a young slim tender youth. He looked as if he was clothed with authority
from the great God. A sweet solemnity sat upon his brow. My hearing him preach gave
me a heart wound. ... I saw that my righteousness would not save me'. Dr. Martyn
Lloyd-Jones called Whitefield 'the greatest preacher that England has ever produced'.
George Whitefield skilfully adapted his message to his hearers - the noisy crowds
on London's Kennington Common and at Moorfields and the aristocrats in the home of
Selina, the Countess of Huntingdon. He believed that the unchanging gospel is 'the
power of God' for all sorts of sinners (Rom. 1:16).
What was Whitefield's message? The doctrines known as Calvinism: the depravity of
sinners and the freeness of God's grace; he rejoiced in the substitutionary atonement
of Christ for God's elect; he proclaimed that all those for whom Christ died will
persevere to the end of their lives and will then be glorified in heaven. Where did
he learn these truths? 'My doctrines I had from Jesus Christ and His apostles; I
was taught them of God', he wrote, and added two years later, 'I embrace the Calvinistic
scheme, not because Calvin, but Jesus Christ, has taught it to me'. Whitefield, the
convinced Calvinist, preached the gospel earnestly and persuasively urging and commanding
sinners to go to Jesus Christ for salvation. A mark of revival is heartfelt gospel
preaching whether the preacher is a Calvinist, such as George Whitefield, or an Arminian,
such as John Wesley - both men preached that salvation is through Christ alone.
'I die to be with him'
Whitefield died, during an asthmatic attack, in America on Sunday morning September
30th 1769, having reached the age of 55, and was buried at Newbury Port, New England.
Shortly before dying he said, 'Lord Jesus, I am weary in the work, but not of it.
If I have not yet finished my course, let me go and speak for You once more in the
fields and come home to die'. God answered this prayer and he preached for two hours.
While preaching this last sermon he cried out, 'Works! Works! A man get to heaven
by works! I would as soon as think of climbing to the moon on a rope of sand! How
willingly would I live forever to preach Christ, but I die to be with him'.
The Secret of Whitefield's Success
1. Natural eloquence - a gift from God - used by the power of God's Holy Spirit.
2. Fellowship with God. Whitefield gives us a glimpse in his Journal of his walk
with God. 'Early in the morning, at noonday, evening and midnight, nay, all day long,
did the blessed Jesus visit and refresh my soul. At other times I would be overpowered
with a sense of God's Infinite Majesty'.
3. Godliness. 'Above all he was a great saint, and Wesley and others bore tribute
to this during his life and his death. This was the ultimate secret of his preaching
4. Concern for the lost and the conviction that sinners are in danger of an everlasting
5. Wholehearted commitment to God. 'If ever a man burnt himself out in the service
of God, it was Whitefield. He was tireless and relentless in his efforts to win souls.
Throughout his life he enjoyed the presence of God in his preaching. Even on his
last day in this world he preached, though he was very ill. He was a man whose sole
desire was to preach Christ crucified' (Nigel Clifford, Christian Preachers, Bryntirion
Stan K. Evers
Biography of George Whitefield (2 volumes), Arnold Dallimore
The Journal of George Whitefield
The Letters of George Whitefield
Select sermons of George Whitefield
All published by the Banner of Truth.
Quinta Press have the most comprehensive Works of George Whitefield in a CD with
an index. Not only are the six Works of Whitefield on the CD but also a number of