When God purposes to do a work he prepares for it by raising up people to accomplish it. Such was notably the case before the Evangelical Revival of the eighteenth century which led to a transformation of our national life.
One such instrument was plucked out of the Bell Inn in Gloucester to become one of the greatest preachers in that spiritual awakening. Whereas John Wesley was the consolidator in the work, George Whitefield was in every sense the pioneer, opening up the way both in Britain and in America.
He crossed the Atlantic thirteen times and died in the New World at the age of fifty-five, having preached on over 18,000 occasions to vast crowds, usually in the open air. He was a most eloquent and moving preacher whose amazing oratory gripped every class of hearers.
The Countess of Huntingdon (converted early in the revival) made him one of her chaplains in 1748 and gave him the opportunity to preach in her drawing rooms to many of the nobility.
Whitefield knew how to distinguish between primary and secondary issues and refused to become sectarian, seeking to hold together those touched by the revival. Nevertheless, he did not hesitate to contend for essential truths – and knew how to suffer wrong without becoming resentful or bitter.
Preachers today have much to learn from him – above all, the need to blend the invitations of God’s grace with the inevitability of judgement, without which the gospel has no raison d’être.
One does question Whitefield’s wisdom in shouldering most of the responsibility for the orphanage he established in Georgia. It became something of a millstone which caused him unnecessary anxiety and distress, and led to some misrepresentation over fund-raising.
This biography by Robert Philip, first published in 1837, was one of the earliest to do justice to this humble, loving and courageous servant of God. The book is quite readable, though somewhat wordy, and provides an excellent insight into the character of this tireless evangelist.
Though the publishers gave us the excellent modern treatment of Whitefield’s life in two volumes by Arnold Dallimore (best for an introduction) this volume provides the bonus of further valuable insights and appraisals.