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1714 – 1770 Deep passion for the Gospel
In 1737, when only a twenty-two year old Oxford graduate, George Whitefield's voice startled England like a trumpet blast. Attacked by clergy, press and mob alike, Whitefield nevertheless became the most popular and influential preacher of the age. At a time when London had a population of less than 700,000, he could hold spellbound 20,000 people at a time at Moorfields and Kennington Common. For thirty four years his voice resounded throughout England and America.
A firm Calvinist in creed yet unrivalled as an aggressive evangelist; slim in person yet storming in preaching as if he were a giant; a clergyman of the Church of England yet crossing the Atlantic thirteen times and becoming the 'apostle of the England empire'; a favorite preacher of coal miners and London roughnecks yet an equal favorite of peers and scholars; weak and broken in body yet preaching his last sermon'until the candle which he held in his hand burned away and went out in its socket'; the name of George Whitefield scarce knows a parallel.
"The most extraordinary man of our times",declared Lord Bolingbroke. "Often as I have read his life", wrote C. H. Spurgeon,"I am conscious of distinct quickening whenever I turn to it. He lived. Other men seemed to be only half-alive; but Whitefield was all life, fire, wing , force.My own model, if I may have such a thing in due subordination to my Lord, is George Whitefield; but with unequal footsteps must I follow in his glorious track."
In his new book, "Five Great Evangelists", John Armstrong writes,"One of the most remarkable evangelists that ever lived, George Whitefield (pronounced Whitfield), impacted the eighteenth century religious scene with such effect that the mark he left still profoundly influences evangelical Christianity.
Certainly no English-speaking evangelist has ever preached the gospel with more effect and determination than George Whitefield. Whatever history concludes regarding other great evangelists the amazing life of George Whitefield demonstrates that he belongs with the greatest evangelists of all time. Undoubtedly, he was a massively effective popular preacher. He moved the masses as no-one before him and hardly anyone since. His life is filled with instruction for Christians today."
This thorough going Calvinist of whom no school or theology or church bears his name sparked America's Great Awakening. George Whitefield also in fact the founder of the movement called Methodism and the man whom Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, called his role model. Whitefield's deep passion for the Gospel and strong doctrinal preaching of the alien righteousness of Christ revealed from faith to faith (Rom 1:17) stirred the hearts of thousands across colonial America.
The Church would do well to re-familiarize itself with the life, work and theology of this great man of God. The following articles, stories and sermons are provided with the hope they will help to do just that. Mark A. Noll in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mindwrites, "In many ways, the defining figure in the history of Ameican eangelicalism is the eighteenth-century revivalist George Whitefield.
As shown in the splendid recent biography by Harry Stout, Whitefield's style - popular preaching aimed at emotional response - has continued to shape American evangelicalism long after Whitefield's specific theology (he was a Calvinist), his denominational origins (he was an Anglican), and his rank (he was a clergyman) are long forgotten. Daniel Pals has well summarized Whitefield's career:
'The very thing that...accounts for his success [was] a deeply populist frame of mind. Almost every one of Whitefield sermons is marked by a fundamentally democratic determination to simplify the essentials of religion in a way that gives them the widest possible mass appeals.' As it was in the days of Whitefield, so it has been in the two centuries since. The most visible evangelicals, with the broadest popular influence, have been public speakers whose influence rested on their ability to communicate a simple message to a broad audience."