The Life of George Whitefield
Thursday, November 1, 2012
What would you guess is the most important criteria today for singles dating online? Religion? Family background? Moral convictions? Ethnicity? No… none of these.
I suppose it should be expected – during a presidential campaign – that politics is the deal breaker for singles dating online. But it appears that the divide between conservative and liberal is greater during this political season than ever before. Selective Search Incorporated – a matchmaking service for professionals based out of Chicago – says it has never seen so many singles refusing to date members of the opposite political party in more than four presidential elections. One in six marriages – according to a recent study – begin through online dating services. What should be the primary criterion for a Christian looking for a spouse? I believe we should look for a mate who loves Jesus and wants to serve his church. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God,” says our Savior, “and all these things shall be added unto you.”
Welcome to HT, I’m CM sharing the GS that’s all about Jesus and a program on The Life of George Whitefield. Every once in a while we look back at a Christian who has gone before us and that’s what we will do in the next few minutes, so stay with me. By the way, did you know that George Whitefield wrote the forward for the third edition of John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress? It’s the second best selling, but maybe least read book in the English language. But everyone who has ever read this treasure, comes away saying how encouraged they were. You see, when you read this classic written out of prison cell the same century the King James Bible was released, you start to see your life in the life of the main character whose name is Christian. John Bunyan, a persecuted Baptist preached wrote it and as we start a new month together, I want you to read it as well. Now something happens that I’ve notice over the past 12 years when a general election comes around. People quit giving. And yet our needs to share Jesus with others continues. So as November opens, our giving needs your help. Would you call us after the program and ask for a copy of Pilgrims Progress in Today’s English when you make your gift to Haven Ministries. Just call us day or night at 1-800-654-2836. That’s 1-800-65-HAVEN. Or go online after the program and find us at haventoday.org. That’s haventoday.org.
OPEN: "Carrier" by Jared Anderson- Integrity Music
HAVEN Today opening with a song by Jared Anderson called Carrier from his “Live From My Church” project and we’re calling this program “The Life of George Whitefield”. Have you heard of this man who was called by Charles Spurgeon the greatest preacher who ever lived. Quite a compliment from Spurgeon.
Haven Today and a program called, “Christians You Should Know…The Life of George Whitefield” and that, of course, was from the “Just Go” album by Haven, “Go and Tell the World”. George Whitefield at age 22 prayed as a recent Oxford graduate and newly ordained Church of England minister, “Oh, Heavenly Father, for thy dear Son’s sake, keep me from climbing.” He had every reason to pray such a prayer as his popularity began to soar. Great crowds were coming to hear him preach the Gospel in parks and in the fields. He was the boy wonder of London. Hundreds professed faith in Christ whenever he preached. His preaching shook both Great Britain and the United States and the results are still with us today. Historians tell us that Whitefield preached from 40 to 60 hours a week, a total of more than 18,000 sermons over 34 years of public ministry! He crossed the Atlantic 13 times and ministered extensively in the American colonies. He preached to thousands in England with 14 visits to Scotland and 3 trips to Ireland. He told one friend who worried he preached too often, “I’d rather wear out than rest out.” He often quoted a line, “We are immortal until our work is done.” But it’s learned that Whitefield was not a healthy man but he often had severe spells of vomiting and that he got up each morning at 4, this record of ministry becomes even more amazing. Personally, I first learned of Whitefield when I lived in Philadelphia. I’ve stood on the cobblestones of Center City Philadelphia where Whitefield preached. Although never meeting Christ, Benjamin Franklin always came to hear him and the two became good friends. Franklin was fascinated with the amazing voice of Whitefield that carried so far. He would step off the distance from where Whitefield was preaching and then count the people. In the days before microphones and loud speakers Franklin estimated the crowds as high as 25,000 who could still hear the voice in the open air. A friend of mine, a judge outside of Philadelphia once took me to a corn field in rural Pennsylvania where the slim, frail minister shared the Gospel outdoors since churches were too small to contain the crowds. The word would get out that Whitfield was coming. Farmers would abandon their plows and take their families. In that Chester County, Pennsylvania corn field more people listened on an afternoon than lived in the entire county. The Lord used Whitefield to launch what has been called, “The Great Awakening”. I’ll never forget, late one night with that friend of mine, the judge, both of us standing in that corn field praying that God would use us in some small way to lead others to faith in Jesus Christ. My predecessor in this ministry, Ray Ortland, began his ministry in a church a few miles away from where Whitefield preached. More than once I’ve sat in a church graveyard East of Lancaster, Pennsylvania reading some of the 90 sermons that remain of this man called to preach the good news of Jesus. Attacked by clergy, press and mob alike, Whitefield nevertheless became the most popular and influential preacher of the age. A favorite of coal miners and London roughnecks yet an equal favorite of peers and scholars, week and broken in body much of the time. I’ll never forget visiting Newburyport, Massachusetts. It was his last visit to what became the United States of America. He was scheduled to preach the next day at the local Presbyterian church and he was staying with the local pastor but the word got out that Whitefield had come and hundreds gathered outside the small, two story manse begging him to preach. His throat was hurting, hurting bad and he was coughing up blood, yet he agreed to preach. And so he preached until the candle which he held in his hand burned away and went out in its socket. It was dark and as the light flickered out he spoke a final prayer, sent the people on their way and went to bed. They buried George Whitefield under the pulpit at that very church near the house where he died. As so happens when greatness appears in a human, the skeleton of his hand was stolen and taken back to England during the Revolutionary War by someone who just happened to think, superstitiously, that having part of his body would help his native England win the war. But this small but powerful m an was strong not because of his body or who he was but because the Spirit of the Lord rested on him as he preached the Word of the Lord. In his book, “5 Great Evangelists” my friend John Armstrong in Wheaton writes, “One of the most remarkable evangelists that ever lived, George Whitefield, impacted the 18th 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.” John Armstrong says that. This thorough-going Calvinist – yes he was a Calvinist, but he was an evangelist of whom no school or theology or church bears his name – sparked America’s Great Awakening. George Whitefield also in fact, was the founder of the movement called “Methodism” with John and Charles Wesley. Whitefield’s deep passion for the Gospel and strong doctrinal preaching from faith to faith stirred the hearts of thousands across Colonial America. The church today and all those in the church today would do well to refamiliarize ourselves with the life, the work and the teaching of this great man of God. The church historian Mark Knoll in his “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” writes, “In many ways the defining figure in the history of American Evangelicalism is the 18th century revivalist George Whitefield. Whitefield’s style, popular preaching aimed at an emotional response, has continued to shape American Evangelicalism long after Whitefield’s specific theology. His denominational origins were Anglican. He was a Calvinist and his rank was that of clergyman, all that, long forgotten.” Daniel Powells has well summarized Whitefield’s career, “The very thing that accounts for his success was a deeply populace frame of mind. Almost every one of Whitefield’s sermons is marked with a fundamentally democratic determination to simplify the essentials in the way that gives them the widest possible appeal.” As it was in the days of Whitefield, so it has been in the 2 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 broader audience.
Now, if you’ve just joined us, this is Haven Today. We’re talking about a Christian who came before us. His name was George Whitefield. Let me tell you just a bit more of his background. He was born in Gloucester, England in 1714 into a respectable family that owned and managed the Bell Inn. He was only 2 years old when his father died and when his mother remarried 8 years later the match was an unhappy one. Young George had a good memory and a glib tongue so he excelled in making speeches in school and acting in plays. Little did he realize that his youthful public appearances would help to prepare him for his pulpit ministry the rest of his life. As a youngster he got involved in the usual sins of youth, even to the point of stealing money from his mom but even in the midst of his “childhood corruption”, that’s how he termed it, he had the conviction that one day he would become a preacher. When he was about 15 he left school to assist his mother in the work of the inn. He continued to read the Bible even though he wasn’t yet a Christian and during a visit with his brother in Bristol he found great delight in attending church. By God’s providence he was awarded a scholarship to Oxford and that’s when he met John and Charles Wesley and became a part of their “Holy Club” even before any of them were born again. They were moral. They tried to be religious yet they still had to discover new birth in Christ. John Wesley gave Whitefield a copy of a spiritual classic, “The Life of God and the Soul of Man” by Henry Struggle and the reading of that work opened his eyes to the miracle of the new birth. Wesley himself knew nothing yet of the new birth. Whitefield was moving in a new direction. In the spring of 1735 he cast himself on God’s mercy and experienced new life in Christ. He then returned to his home town of Gloucester and that’s where he lived with friends for several months. He began his lifelong practice of reading the Bible on his knees and studying his Greek New Testament. He also purchased the famous Mathew Henry Commentary and read it carefully. In fact, the set became his constant companion in all his travels the rest of his life. He gathered around him a small group of new believers, many of them old friends from the “Holy Club” and they met weekly for Bible study and prayer. It comes as no surprise to many to learn that it was George Whitefield, not the Wesley brothers, who founded the Methodist church. The Wesley’s entered into Whitefield’s labors and eventually were given the leadership of the movement by Whitefield while his life was spent off preaching. That was the beginning of a miracle ministry. In July Whitefield graduated from Oxford and for the next 2 months he ministered in London as a supply preacher for a friend. He then preached for 4 months in Oxford followed by a marvelous ministry in Gloucester, Bristol and London. Thousands came to listen, hundreds were brought to the Savior. He personally counseled with hundreds of seekers and wherever he preached the crowds were great, but the benefits were lasting. He was a minister of the Church of England but the church didn’t know what to do with him. It was unheard of to preach, much less share an invitation to the Gospel outside the confines of a church. His approach earned him the disrespect of priests and bishops alike. Excluded from the established churches, that led him to take to the open air. Charles Spurgeon told his students many years later, “It was a brave day for England when Whitefield began preaching in the fields.” He went to the people who had never entered a church. Hardened miners in the North of the country would cry with tears running down their coal smeared cheeks when confronted not only with their sin but also the freedom that freely came in Jesus Christ alone who died for them on the cross. He carried a portable pulpit and spoke this good news to the poor as well as the upper class. Even the little children crowded close to hear the preacher’s words. The persecution was great but the blessings were greater. Not out for himself he said, “Let my name be forgotten. Let me be trodden under the feet of all men. If Jesus may thereby be glorified, let us look above names and parties. Let Jesus be our all in all. I care not who is uppermost, I know my place even to be the servant of all.” He spent the rest of his days as an assistant to all. The more popular he became the more the opposition grew and the slander increased. He was even mimicked on the London stage and obscene songs were written about him. He ignored them all and continued to magnify Jesus Christ. He raised great amounts of money for the care of orphans and the poor and he helped to establish several educational institutions. At what is now the Ivy League University in Pennsylvania, there is today a large statue of him in an inner courtyard. From Gloucester to Newburyport where he died, Whitefield stayed true to the end sharing the great story that’s all about Jesus, a story that’s offered to you today.
Song: Jesus Saves
Performed by: Travis Catrell
That is a song that I suppose I was probably 2 or 3 years old when I first heard. It’s a new version by Travis Catrell, we hear him often here on this program, “Jesus Saves” and I hope that this will have impact on your life, that the Spirit of the Living God, the Spirit that spoke through George Whitefield is speaking to you in your heart and in your mind today. If George Whitefield were living today what would he say? I know what he would say because I’ve read enough of his sermons that remain. He would say, “Come to Jesus. Jesus saves. That is who you need to know.” Well, would you join me in prayer right now?
Thank you Lord for Jesus. Lord for those of us in Christ we know we don’t measure up but I thank you that Jesus has. Strengthen our trust and our faith in Jesus today. May we not be the same today as yesterday? May we by the power of the Spirit be committed to live like him? And for those of us who have never met Jesus, we’ve never professed our faith and confessed our sins, may we realize today that we are sinners and we are in deep need of repentance. May we fall at the foot of the cross and cry out with the loudest voice we can muster, “Lord save me today!” just as the thief on the cross. May we find this grace living in us today and living in us every day for the rest of our lives and then on living with you into eternity. I ask this now not because of my faithfulness but because of the faith given to us by Jesus Christ.
Well, if you want to know more about this Jesus, and that’s what George Whitefield would say to you and that’s what I’m saying to you today, here is a way that you can know more about Jesus. Here is a way that you can have Jesus living inside you and that can happen today. May I invite you right now to go to our website, haventoday.org? We haven’t used a lot of scripture as we normally do in our program but I hope by telling the life of this Christian you may not have known, George Whitefield, that you have been led to the great story of Jesus. Read more by going to haventoday.org. There on our homepage on the right hand side you’ll find an article about Christianity and how to know God.
For a gift of any amount
Millions of Christians have cherished John Bunyan's allegorical tale of the journey Christian and Christina made to the Celestial City. Written in the 1600s, this immortal classic is now available in a modern-day, understandable text, making it clearer and more forceful to the modern reader. Join Christian and his...
[Get It Now]