George Whitefield 1714-1770
George Whitefield's audiences were not always large. On one trip across the Atlantic while he was still but twenty-five years of age - tall, graceful, and well-proportioned - he addressed a group of just thirty people. His pulpit was the swaying deck of a ship whose sails were tattered and whose gear was out of gear! His blanket was a buffalo hide, and though he had slept in the most protected part of the vessel, he had been drenched through twice in one night. It had taken the vessel three months to sight the Irish coast.
On the Atlantic or on either side of it, whether preaching to a few on a ship's hatchway or galvanizing the vast audience of the field into rapt attention, Whitefield's message was the same: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
The lamp that lit the path that led to the kingdom for Whitefield was a book. At Oxford, Charles Wesley had seen Whitefield and passed on to him Henry Scougal's The Life of God in the Soul of Man.
In America, Whitefield pushed through the matted forests to reach the Indians. From tribe to tribe he went and from wigwam to wigwam. To get to the encampments of the Delawares, he shot the angry rapids in a frail bark canoe. He ferreted out the backwoodsmen. Men must hear the message; they must have the life of God in their souls.
From the squalor of Indian camps this seraph-like preacher moved with ease of disposition to the stately historic homes of England. Whence all those carriages? What drew those poets, peers and princes, philosophers and wits together? Proud of their blue blood and pedigree, those aristocrats came - some of them three times a week - to hear the scorching words "Ye must be born again."
From a lordly chamber heavy with the pungent aroma of costly perfumes, Whitefield would race off to a street meeting. Catch his joy as he says, "There I was honored with having stones, dirt, rotten eggs, and pieces of dead cats thrown at me."
Coming from Gloucester as he did, Whitefield knew that for being too outspoken on the things of Christ during Queen Mary's reign, Bishop Hooper of Gloucester was burned within sight of his own cathedral. Whitefield cared not about consequences for obedience. Tyndale was a Gloucester man too, and think what his faith cost him!
Whitefield was of the Baxter-Brainerd-McCheyne mold; he wore the harness of discipline with ease. He drove stakes deep into his own mind. His "thou shalt not's" were for himself, and he never forced others to wear his sackcloth.
The Pope's flattering (?) words about Luther, "This German beast does not love gold," might have been said of Whitefield too.
What was the secret of Whitefield's success? Some say three things: He preached a pure gospel; he preached a powerful gospel; he preached a passionate gospel.
"I believe I never was more acceptable to my Master than when I was standing to teach those hearers in the open fields."
"I now preach to ten times more people than I should, if had been confined to the Churches."