Monday, August 2, 2010

A New Old Dead Guy

Well good day to you.  Here it is Monday again and as you may be accustomed we will present the work of an old dead guy.  Oh but which one, that is the quandary for there are many to select from.  I have however chosen a man whom God used mightily during the 1st Great Awakening and is credited with great oratory skill even though many churches of his day would not let him in the Pulpit.  That man George Whitefield

Today I wanted to give a brief introduction to him and next week we will look a selected sermon.  

George Whitefield 1714 – 1770

- was born and raised in Gloucester, England, in the most difficult circumstances. His father, a public tavern owner, died when George was two and his widowed mother re-married eight years later, but the relationship was plagued with grief and ultimately ended in divorce. His early years gave him little value in a formal education yet at the age of 17 he managed to enter in to studies at Oxford University

At Oxford he became serious about spiritual things joining the ‘Holy Club’ with the Wesley brothers, who became life-long friends. The group was not evangelical but was more for seekers and enquirers after true religion. The Wesleys’ seriousness of devotion provoked him to a deeper walk with God and he was the first in the group to recognize the difference between a legalistic religion and experiencing an inner change through the new birth in Christ. Nevertheless it took him a full year to make the transition from asceticism and human works designed to earn God’s favor, to receiving forgiveness and love by the unmerited grace of God.

He wrote, ‘Oh what joy – joy unspeakable – joy full and big with glory was my soul filled when the weight of sin came off, and an abiding sense of the pardoning love of God and a full assurance of faith broke in on my soul.’ After receiving ordination as a deacon in the Church of England in 1736, he began preaching on the necessity of the ‘New Birth.’

Whitefield's first sermon was preached in his home town and his great authority was immediately evident to all. He said, ‘I was enabled to speak with some degree of gospel authority. Some few mocked, but most seemed for the present struck; and I have since heard that a complaint was made to the bishop that I drove fifteen mad at  the first sermon!'

However Whitefield was not for England, and after a brief pastorate in Dummer, Hampshire he was encouraged by the Wesleys’ to visit the colony of Georgia in The New World, to assist in the care of an Orphan House which had been set up near Savannah for the children of colonists.

Heeding their encouragement, in 1737 at the age of  23 he sailed to America staying for a year and having departed would not return to America until 1739. During these first two visits he was led to begin open-air preaching and remarkable scenes began to accompany his ministry where thousands flocked to hear his irresistible eloquence and engaging fervor. Hundreds made professions of faith as they listened.

By late 1735 the New England revival had begun to decline; but Whitefield’s arrival heralded the second wave of blessing. His great and sudden fame had preceded him and he was in immediate demand. He began preaching in Philadelphia at once and thousands flocked to hear him. The population of the town did not exceed 12,000, yet his initial audiences are estimated to be numbered from 6,000 to 8,000!

He then embarked on a two year preaching itinerary and at just 25 years old he was aptly called ‘the boy preacher!’ His audiences grew progressively as he moved around the nation until he was captivating audiences of 20,000 and then up to 30,000! What Bishop Ryle said of his ministry in London was no less true here, “Whether on week-days or Sundays, wherever he preached, the churches were crowded, and an immense sensation was produced.”

He was tireless at his craft, in one six-week tour he preached over one hundred and seventy-five sermons to tens of thousands of people, leaving the region in a spiritual upheaval. It remains one of the most remarkable periods of American Christianity on record. His preaching ‘in season and out of season’ approach encouraged evangelical ministers of all denominations to follow his example. His free use of natural gestures, illustrations, and a more extemporaneous style permanently altered American evangelical preaching. He was also a preacher of extraordinary power and possessed a supreme ability to hold audiences, attracting people from every rank and station in life.

Benjamin Franklin, estimated that Whitefield could be heard clearly by up to thirty thousand people at one time wrote in his journal, “From being thoughtless and indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk through Philadelphia in the evening without hearing Psalms sung in different families of every street.”

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