Category Archives: Church History

Whitefield’s Sin Exposing Spotlight

Whitefield was convinced that any presentation of the gospel must begin by exposing the listener’s sin and his dire need for salvation. This necessitated the preacher’s confronting his hearers’ rebellion against God and warning of the eternal consequences of their rejection. Whitefield plainly understood that none rightly desire the gospel of Christ until they know of their own condemnation before God. Whitefield preached those truths that reveal sin, namely, the holiness of God, the fall of Adam, the demands of the law, the curse of disobedience, the certainty of death, the reality of the final judgment, and the eternality of punishment in hell.

When addressing the unregenerate masses, Whitefield sought to ensure that their depravity was fully laid bare. Martyn Lloyd-Jones aptly stated, “No man could expose the condition of the natural unregenerate heart more powerfully than George Whitefield.” Only when confronted with their sinfulness, Whitefield insisted, would unbelievers seek to embrace Christ as their Savior and Lord. He peeled back the outer layers of people’s self-righteousness in order to bring about self-awareness of their sinful hearts.

The work of evangelism mandated that he address the eternally devastating effects of sin in his preaching. Whitefield, like a watchman on the tower, warned of sin, death, and judgment. He sought to disturb his listeners with their lost condition before a righteous Judge in heaven. “The sin of your nature, your original sin, is sufficient to sink you into torments, of which there will be no end,” he preached. “Therefore unless you receive the Spirit of Christ, you are reprobates, and you cannot be saved.” He believed the lost must be driven to the brink of utter desperation before they will come to faith in Christ.

Whitefield was a master at sweeping away all useless rhetoric in order that the unconverted would recognize their desperate need to repent. He implored them, “You are lost, undone, without Him; and if He is not glorified in your salvation, He will be glorified in your destruction; if He does not come and make His abode in your hearts, you must take up an eternal abode with the devil and his angels.” None who heard Whitefield were put to sleep with a false sense of security.

Pointing back to Adam’s transgression, Whitefield emphasized that all are born with an inherited sin nature from the first man. He declared, “We all stand in need of being justified, on account of the sin of our natures: for we are all chargeable with original sin, or the sin of our first parents.” It was this strong belief in original sin and total depravity that caused his every sermon to drive his listeners to grasp a sense of their desperate condition in sin. All humanity is born spiritually dead, he believed:

Can you deny that you are fallen creatures? Do not you find that you are full of disorders, and that these disorders make you unhappy? Do not you find that you cannot change your own hearts? Have you not resolved many and many a time, and have not your corruptions yet dominion over you? Are you not bondslaves to your lusts, and led captive by the devil at his will?

Whitefield’s sermons were filled with vivid warnings of the horrific dangers of remaining in a state of sin. In his sermon “Walking with God,” he warned that hell may be but one step away for them: “For how knowest thou, O man, but the next step thou takest may be into hell? Death may seize thee, judgment find thee, and then the great gulf will be fixed between thee and endless glory for ever and ever. O think of these things, all yet that are unwilling to walk with God. Lay them to heart.” Whitefield understood that gospel preaching must include the threat of hell, which is intended to drive men to flee to Christ and escape His terrors.

By such strong statements, Whitefield shined a sin-exposing spotlight into the dark crevasses of depraved hearts. Only then would sinners flee to the foot of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ to hear about a Savior who died for their guilty souls.

This excerpt is taken from The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield by Steven Lawson.

Source: Whitefield’s Sin Exposing Spotlight

Patrick the Saint: Behind the fanciful legends of the fifth-century British missionary stands a man worthy of embellishment

A fleet of 50 currachs (longboats) weaved its way toward the shore, where a young Roman Brit and his family walked. His name was Patricius, the 16-year-old son of a civil magistrate and tax collector. He had heard stories of Irish raiders who captured slaves and took them “to the ends of the world,” and as he studied the longboats, he no doubt began imagining the worst.

With no Roman army to protect them (Roman legions had long since deserted Britain to protect Rome from barbarian invasions), Patricius and his town were unprepared for attack. The Irish warriors, wearing helmets and armed with spears, descended on the pebbled beach. The braying war horns struck terror into Patricius’s heart, and he started to run toward town.

The warriors quickly demolished the village, and as Patricius darted among burning houses and screaming women, he was caught. The barbarians dragged him aboard a boat bound for the east coast of Ireland.

Patricius, better known as Patrick, is remembered today as the saint who drove the snakes out of Ireland, the teacher who used the shamrock to explain the Trinity, and the namesake of annual parades in New York and Boston. What is less well-known is that Patrick was a humble missionary (this saint regularly referred to himself as “a sinner”) of enormous courage. When he evangelized Ireland, he set in motion a series of events that impacted all of Europe. It all started when he was carried off into slavery around 430.

Escape from sin and slavery

Patrick was sold to a cruel warrior chief, whose opponents’ heads sat atop sharp poles around his palisade in Northern Ireland. While Patrick minded his master’s pigs in the nearby hills, he lived like an animal himself, enduring long bouts of hunger and thirst. Worst of all, he was isolated from other human beings for months at a time. Early missionaries to Britain had left a legacy of Christianity that young Patrick was exposed to and took with him into captivity. He had been a nominal Christian to this point; he now turned to the Christian God of his fathers for comfort.

“I would pray constantly during the daylight hours,” he later recalled. “The love of God and the fear of him surrounded me more and more. And faith grew. And the spirit roused so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and at night only slightly less.”

After six years of slavery, Patrick received a supernatural message. “You do well to fast,” a mysterious voice said to him. “Soon you will return to your homeland.”

Before long, the voice spoke again: “Come and see, your ship is waiting for you.” So Patrick fled and ran 200 miles to a southeastern harbor. There he boarded a ship of traders, probably carrying Irish wolfhounds to the European continent.

After a three-day journey, the men landed in Gaul (modern France), where they found only devastation. Goths or Vandals had so decimated the land that no food was to be found in the once fertile area.

“What have you to say for yourself, Christian?” the ship’s captain taunted. “You boast that your God is all powerful. We’re starving to death, and we may not survive to see another soul.”

Patrick answered confidently. “Nothing is impossible to God. Turn to him and he will send us food for our journey.”

At that moment, a herd of pigs appeared, “seeming to block our path.” Though Patrick instantly became “well regarded in their eyes,” his companions offered their new-found food in sacrifice to their pagan gods.

Patrick did not partake.

The prodigious son returns

Many scholars believe Patrick then spent a period training for ministry in Lerins, an island off the south of France near Cannes. But his autobiographical Confession includes a huge gap after his escape from Ireland. When it picks up again “after a few years,” he is back in Britain with his family.

It was there that Patrick received his call to evangelize Ireland—a vision like the apostle Paul’s at Troas, when a Macedonian man pleaded, “Help us!”

“I had a vision in my dreams of a man who seemed to come from Ireland,” Patrick wrote. “His name was Victoricius, and he carried countless letters, one of which he handed over to me. I read aloud where it began: ‘The Voice of the Irish.’ And as I began to read these words, I seemed to hear the voice of the same men who lived beside the forest of Foclut … and they cried out as with one voice, ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.’ I was deeply moved in heart and I could read no further, so I awoke.”

Despite his reputation, Patrick wasn’t really the first to bring Christianity to Ireland. Pope Celestine I sent a bishop named Palladius to the island in 431 (about the time Patrick was captured as a slave). Some scholars believe that Palladius and Patrick are one and the same individual, but most believe Palladius was unsuccessful (possibly martyred) and Patrick was sent in his place.

In any event, paganism was still dominant when Patrick arrived on the other side of the Irish Sea. “I dwell among gentiles,” he wrote, “in the midst of pagan barbarians, worshipers of idols, and of unclean things.”

Demons and druids

Patrick did not require the native Irish to surrender their belief in supernatural beings. They were only to regard these beings in a new light as demons. The fear of the old deities was transformed into hatred of demons. If Christianity had come to Ireland with only theological doctrines, the hope of immortal life, and ethical ideas—without miracles, mysteries, and rites—it could have never wooed the Celtic heart.

Predictably, Patrick faced the most opposition from the druids, who practiced magic, were skilled in secular learning (especially law and history) and advised Irish kings. Biographies of the saint are replete with stories of druids who “wished to kill holy Patrick.”

“Daily I expect murder, fraud or captivity,” Patrick wrote, “but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God almighty who rules everywhere.”

Indeed, Patrick almost delighted in taking risks for the gospel. “I must take this decision disregarding risks involved and make known the gifts of God and his everlasting consolation. Neither must we fear any such risk in faithfully preaching God’s name boldly in every place, so that even after my death, a spiritual legacy may be left for my brethren and my children.”

Still, Patrick periodically avoided such confrontations by paying protection money: “Patrick paid the price of 15 souls in gold and silver so that no evil persons should impede them as they traveled straight across the whole of Ireland,” wrote one biographer.

Patrick was as fully convinced as the Celts that the power of the druids was real, but he brought news of a stronger power. The famous Lorica (or “Patrick’s Breastplate”—see I Rise Today), a prayer of protection, may not have been written by Patrick (at least in its current form), but it expresses perfectly Patrick’s confidence in God to protect him from “every fierce merciless force that may come upon my body and soul; against incantations of false prophets, against black laws of paganism, against false laws of heresy, against deceit of idolatry, against spells of women and smiths and druids.”

According to legend, it worked. The King, Loiguire, set up a trap to kill Patrick, but as the bishop came near, all the king could see was a deer. (Thus the Breastplate has also been known as the Deer’s Cry.)

There was probably a confrontation between Patrick and the druids, but scholars wonder if it was as dramatic and magical as later stories recounted. One biographer from the late 600s, Muirchœ, described Patrick challenging druids to contests at Tara, in which each party tried to outdo the other in working wonders before the audience:

“The custom was that whoever lit a fire before the king on that night of the year [Easter vigil] would be put to death. Patrick lit the paschal fire before the king on the hill of Slane. The people saw Patrick’s fire throughout the plain, and the king ordered 27 chariots to go and seize Patrick.…

“Seeing that the impious heathen were about to attack him, Patrick rose and said clearly and loudly, ‘May God come up to scatter his enemies, and may those who hate him flee from his face.’ By this disaster, caused by Patrick’s curse in the king’s presence because of the king’s order, seven times seven men fell.… And the king, driven by fear, came and bent his knees before the holy man.…

“[The next day], in a display of magic, a druid invoked demons and brought about a dark fog over the land. Patrick said to the druid, ‘Cause the fog to disperse.’ But he was unable to do it. Patrick prayed and gave his blessing, and suddenly the fog cleared and the sun shone.… And through the prayers of Patrick the flames of fire consumed the druid.

“And the king was greatly enraged at Patrick because of the death of his druid. Patrick said to the king, ‘If you do not believe now, you will die on the spot for the wrath of God descends on your head.’

“The king summoned his council and said, ‘It is better for me to believe than to die.’ And he believed as did many others that day.”

Yet to Patrick, the greatest enemy was one he had been intimately familiar with—slavery. He was, in fact, the first Christian to speak out strongly against the practice. Scholars agree he is the genuine author of a letter excommunicating a British tyrant, Coroticus, who had carried off some of Patrick’s converts into slavery.

“Ravenous wolves have gulped down the Lord’s own flock which was flourishing in Ireland,” he wrote, “and the whole church cries out and laments for its sons and daughters.” He called Coroticus’s deed “wicked, so horrible, so unutterable,” and told him to repent and to free the converts.

It remains unknown if he was successful in freeing Coroticus’s slaves, but within his lifetime (or shortly thereafter), Patrick ended the entire Irish slave trade.

Royal missionary

Patrick concentrated the bulk of his missionary efforts on the country’s one hundred or so tribal kings. If the king became a Christian, he reasoned, the people would too. This strategy was a success.

As kings converted, they gave their sons to Patrick in an old Irish custom for educating and “fostering” (Patrick, for his part, held up his end by distributing gifts to these kings). Eventually, the sons and daughters of the Irish were persuaded to become monks and nuns.

From kingdom to kingdom (Ireland did not yet have towns), Patrick worked much the same way. Once he converted a number of pagans, he built a church. One of his new disciples would be ordained as a deacon, priest, or bishop, and left in charge. If the chieftain had been gracious enough to grant a site for a monastery as well as a church, it was built too and functioned as a missionary station.

Before departing, Patrick gave the new converts (or their pastors) a compendium of Christian doctrine and the canons (rules).

Self doubt

Despite his success as a missionary, Patrick was self-conscious, especially about his educational background. “I still blush and fear more than anything to have my lack of learning brought out into the open,” he wrote in his Confession. “For I am unable to explain my mind to learned people.”

Nevertheless, he gives thanks to God, “who stirred up me, a fool, from the midst of those who are considered wise and learned in the practice of the law as well as persuasive in their speech and in every other way and ahead of these others, inspired me who is so despised by the world.”

Over and over again, Patrick wrote that he was not worthy to be a bishop. He wasn’t the only one with doubts. At one point, his ecclesiastical elders in Britain sent a deputation to investigate his mission. A number of concerns were brought up, including a rash moment of (unspecified) sin from his youth.

His Confession, in fact, was written in response to this investigation. Reeling from accusations, Patrick drew strength from God: “Indeed he bore me up, though I was trampled underfoot in such a way. For although I was put down and shamed, not too much harm came to me.”

If Patrick was not confident about his own shortcomings, he held a deep sense of God’s intimate involvement in his life. “I have known God as my authority, for he knows all things even before they are done,” he wrote. “He would frequently forewarn me of many things by his divine response.”

Indeed, Patrick recorded eight dreams he regarded as personal messages from God. And scattered throughout his Confession are tributes to God’s goodness to him: “Tirelessly, I thank my God, who kept me faithful on the day I was tried, so that today I might offer to him, the Lord Jesus Christ, the sacrifice of my soul. He saved me in all dangers and perils.… So, whatever may come my way, good or bad, I equally tackle it, always giving thanks to God.”

According to the Irish annals, Patrick died in 493, when he would have been in his seventies. But we do not know for sure when, where, or how he died. Monasteries at Armagh, Downpatrick, and Saul have all claimed his remains. His feast day is recorded as early as March 17, 797, with the annotation; “The flame of a splendid sun, the apostle of virginal Erin [Ireland], may Patrick with many thousands be the shelter of our wickedness.”

Ultimate model

It is difficult to separate fact from fiction in the stories of Patrick’s biographers. It is historically clear, however, that Patrick was one of the first great missionaries who brought the gospel beyond the boundaries of Roman civilization. According to tradition, he had established bishops throughout northern, central, and eastern Ireland. Only Munster, in the south, was to remain pagan until a century after Patrick’s death.

Patrick was the ultimate model for Celtic Christians. He engaged in continuous prayer. He was enraptured by God and loved sacred Scripture. He also had a rich poetic imagination with the openness to hear God in dreams and visions and a love of nature and the created.

He is, then, most worthy of the appellation saint, as one “set apart” for a divine mission. As such, he became an inspiring example. Hundreds of Celtic monks, in emulation of Patrick, left their homeland to spread the gospel to Scotland, England, and continental Europe.

It is a legacy Patrick was proud of: “For God gave me such grace, that many people through me were reborn to God and afterward confirmed and brought to perfection. And so then a clergy was ordained for them everywhere.”

Mary Cagney, a former editorial resident at Christianity Today, has written a screenplay titled A Celtic King.

More resources:

The best starting place to learn about Patrick is with his own words. Few doubt his authorship of the autobiographical Confession and his angry Letter to Coroticus, available in several books, including a new translation by John O’Donohue.

The works are also available in Saint Patrick’s World by Liam de Paor. Combining primary source documents with an informative 50-page “introduction,” it should be in the library of anyone interested in this topic.

If you’re interested in more detail, check out the biography In the Steps of St. Patrick by Brian De Breffny.

Links:

The author of this piece, Mary Cagney, is a former editorial resident for the news department of Christianity Today, where she wrote several articles on the North Ireland peace process.

St. Patrick’s Confession is also available online, as is his Letter to Coroticus.

Some time between the fifth and eighth centuries, a biographical hymn was written about Patrick. Traditionally attributed to Fiacc, a fifth-century Bard, the Hymn of Fiacc is one of the few accepted primary sources for the life of St. Patrick other than his own writings.

Biographies of Patrick abound on the Web. There’s a large one at the Treasury of Irish Folklore. There’s The St. Patrick You Never Knew at American Catholic, a tour company’s True Legend of Saint Patrick, and a biography that doubles as a rant against Catholicism.[1]


[1] Patrick the Saint. (1998). Christian History Magazine-Issue 60: How the Irish Were Saved.

Three Reasons We Should Care About Saint Patrick

“We make too little of you, Lord, too often,” my coworker prayed. Our staff had been reading The Ten Commandments, and Exodus 20:7 had prompted his prayer:

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”

Saint Patrick’s Day is a day when our culture makes much revelry, making too little of our Lord. Even Christians make too little of our Lord by failing to revere him, forgetting to acknowledge him and thoughtlessly making casual statements about him. But the holiday’s namesake was a man who, by his own Confession, delighted to revere the Lord. It’s a funny thing we’ve founded our worldly revelry in remembrance of his life, which gives quite the opposite impression.

Who Was Saint Patrick?

Dr. Philip Freeman gives us a good introduction to this man:

The historical Patrick was not Irish at all, but a spoiled and rebellious young Roman citizen living a life of luxury in fifth-century Britain when he was suddenly kidnapped from his family’s estate as a teenager and sold into slavery across the sea in Ireland…He went to Ireland an atheist, but there heard what he believed was the voice of God.

Patrick escaped Ireland after six years, but returned to preach Christ to the people there. “He was a man of great insecurities who constantly wondered if he was really cut out for the task he had been given” (Freeman), which is clear as you read his confession.

How do we honor God’s name, rather than take it in vain, on Saint Patrick’s Day and every day?

Three Reasons We Should Care About Saint Patrick

Here are three ways Saint Patrick made much of God’s name by telling of his works—and three reasons Christians should care about him. He did this in his little book, “which Patrick, a sinner without learning, wrote in Ireland.” It was his confession before he died (62).

1. He made much of Jesus’ Lordship.

Saint Patrick writes in his confession:

…there is no other God, nor will there ever be, nor was there ever, except God the Father. He is the one who was not begotten, the one without a beginning, the one from whom all beginnings come, the one who holds all things in being—this is our teaching.

And his son, Jesus Christ, whom we testify has always been, since before the beginning of this age, with the father in a spiritual way. He was begotten in an indescribable way before every beginning. Everything we can see, and everything beyond our sight, was made through him. He became a human being; and, having overcome death, was welcomed to the heavens to the Father. The Father gave him all power over every being, both heavenly and earthly and beneath the earth.

Let every tongue confess that Jesus Christ, in whom we believe and whom we await to come back to us in the near future, is Lord and God. He is judge of the living and of the dead; he rewards every person according to their deeds. He has generously poured on us the Holy Spirit, the gift and promise of immortality, who makes believers and those who listen to be children of God and co-heirs with Christ…This is the one we acknowledge and adore—one God in a trinity of the sacred name. (4)

We revere the Lord by confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, and by living in obedience to him, not depending on our own efforts to be made more like him, but depending on the Spirit whom he has given to us. In this we honor the Father.

Will you revere the Lord by confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, by repenting of your sins to him, the Judge, and by living by faith according to his commands through the help of the Holy Spirit?

2. He made much of God’s Word and prayer.

In the Notes section following Saint Patrick’s 64-point confession, we find these words:

Patrick often quotes parts of the Bible directly. Even more frequently he uses phrases from the Bible as a normal part of his writing…To give every single possible allusion would make this translation far too unwieldy.

Reading Saint Patrick’s confession proves this note abundantly true. You feel as if every other sentence is a quote from Scripture—so much so that the editors thought it too daunting a task to include all the references. God’s Word had clearly taken root in this man’s heart and was highly regarded by him, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” ( Matthew 12:4).

Not only was Scripture on his heart and tongue, but also prayer. He says:

I tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same. I even remained in the woods and on the mountain, and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worse for it, and I never felt lazy—as I realise now, the Spirit was burning in me at that time. (16, emphasis added)

Saint Patrick made prayer top priority, no doubt paired with the intake of Scripture. Why? It fueled his love for God, for “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). To revere God is to love him by seeking him in prayer and wanting to know him through his Word.

Will you revere the Lord by prioritizing loving fellowship with him through his Word and prayer?

3. He made much of God’s mission.

I commend my soul to my most faithful God. For him I perform the work of an ambassador, despite my less than noble condition. (56)

But this I know for certain, that before I was brought low, I was like a stone lying deep in the mud. Then he who is powerful came and in his mercy pulled me out, and lifted me up and placed me on the very top of the wall. That is why I must shout aloud in return to the Lord for such great good deeds of his, here and now and forever, which the human mind cannot measure. (12, emphasis added)

It is right to spread abroad the name of God faithfully and without fear, so that even after my death I may leave something of value to the many thousands of my brothers and sisters—the children whom I baptised in the Lord. (14)

Saint Patrick confesses that he “never had any other reason for returning to that nation from which [he] had earlier escaped, except the gospel and God’s promises” (61). What would compel a man to return to a land where he was enslaved? Only a tale worth telling, worth eternity. For, “we believe in and adore the true sun, that is, Christ, who will never perish. Nor will they perish who do his will but they will abide forever just as Christ will abide forever” (60). “It is right to make known the gift of God and his eternal consolation” (14).

Christian, it’s right to “shout aloud” of what God has done for you! This gives him glory. It’s right to make known his free gift of salvation, available in Christ. Will you revere the Lord by telling others about the free gift of eternal life he offers through Jesus Christ, and how faith in Jesus has changed your life? Who will you talk to today?

Whether it’s among family or while sipping Shamrock shakes, make much of the Lord this Saint Patrick’s Day.

[Photo Credit: Unsplash]

RELATED POSTS:

The post Three Reasons We Should Care About Saint Patrick appeared first on Unlocking the Bible.

CultureWatch: More Lessons From the Life of Whitefield

The other day I penned a piece about the life and ministry of the great evangelist George Whitefield. It was largely based on the two-volume, 1200-page biography by Arnold Dallimore. There are so many lessons for us today that we can learn from the man, that one article was never going to be sufficient.

So here is my next instalment – and more perhaps may still be forthcoming. But several further major themes based on him and his ministry and the Great Awakening can be offered. Here I present two more vital truths and lessons from the mighty evangelist.

Preaching a full, biblical gospel

There is no question that one of the reasons for the amazing effectiveness of his ministry was the sort of gospel he proclaimed. He offered a full, biblical gospel, not a man-pleasing gospel. He never shrank back from proclaiming the whole counsel of God.

And that always included a very strong emphasis on the core Christian doctrines: the justice and holiness of God; the devastating nature of sin; the reality of future judgment including the reality of hell; the sole remedy of a crucified Christ; and the utter necessity of new birth.

Consider just one of those emphases: Hellfire preaching was a normal part of his ministry and that of the other revivalists. They were not at all shy about speaking on the wrath of God and judgment to come. Oft heard was the admonition about ‘fleeing the wrath to come’.

And this sort of preaching had the desired effect. Hundreds of thousands were converted in England and the colonies in America. Yet today most Christians think this is not the sort of thing we should even mention in our pulpits. I actually heard one megachurch pastor say these topics may have been OK in the past, but they are not workable today.

Mind-boggling! Does he actually think that he can improve on what Jesus, the disciples, and all the great evangelists and revivalists preached on? So we should tell Jesus he needs to get with the times and go with a feel-good message of acceptance and your best life now?

As Dallimore rightly says:

Whitefield speaks to us about the power of the Gospel. It was not the “social gospel” but the gospel of “redeeming grace” that brought the great change two hundred years ago. In the knowledge of the power of the Gospel Whitefield went with confidence to the semi-heathen Kingswood colliers or the equally godless aristocracy and to all other classes of mankind and witnessed the transformation of lives among all.
The Gospel is the need of this present hour. Not the partial Gospel which characterises so much of today’s evangelicalism, but the whole Gospel that declares the majesty and holiness of God, the utter helplessness of man, the necessity of repentance, and a salvation that is manifested, not in a mere profession, but in the miracle of a new life. May Whitefield’s example bring Christians back to the Gospel in its fullness and therefore its power!

Let me mention just two other things about his gospel preaching. One, it was from a heart broken by God. He loved God and so he loved sinners. As one of his associates put it:

I hardly ever knew him to go through a sermon without weeping, more or less, and I truly believe his tears were the tears of sincerity. His voice often interrupted by his affection; and I have heard him say in the pulpit, “You blame me for weeping, but how can I help it when you will not weep for yourselves, though your immortal souls are on the verge of destruction, and for aught you know, you are hearing your last sermon, and may never more have an opportunity to have Christ offered to you.”

Secondly, Whitefield was never concerned with mere numbers when he preached. He was interested in real disciples. So he never counted “converts” but instead insisted on real signs of the new birth. Says Dallimore, “He chose to wait until conversion had been manifested by months of a transformed life, and his attitude is well expressed in his words, ‘Only the judgment morning will reveal who the converts really are’.”

One more quote:

Whitefield did exercise an effective leadership of this movement. It was not, however, a leadership by domination and the giving of commands; rather it was one of affection and example. Most of the exhorters had been converted under his ministry and looked on him, as many of them stated, as a spiritual father. In turn, holding him in such high esteem and seeing in him an embodiment of so much of their own Christian ideal, they delighted to be his co-laborers and to co-operate with his plans. Whitefield was inflexible in matters of moral rectitude and expected the men to maintain a life of strong Christian discipline and tremendous activity, but in general his relationship with the people and exhorters throughout his movement was by his heart-felt concern, his unfailing encouragement, and his personal example.

His ever-busy, relentless ministry

No one reading about the life of Whitefield can fail to notice how doggedly relentless and dedicated he was. He never seemed to slow down. He never seemed to allow himself any of the luxuries and pleasures of life. His sole purpose in life was to share the glories of Christ and to win souls.

He was daily up at 4am and went to bed at 10pm, but because of his amazingly busy ministry, it was often midnight and beyond before he could retire. He preached countless sermons, sometimes two hours in length. Henry Venn said he probably spent 40 to 60 hours a week at this labour.

In addition to preaching he was constantly counselling people and dealing with their spiritual questions and problems. As he said, “I sleep and eat but little, and am constantly employed from morning till midnight.” As one person said of his life: “Whitefield’s career permitted him hardly a day of what would be called repose, till he found it in the grave at the age of fifty-six.”

Already back in 1748 he was doing so much outdoor preaching and the like that he developed pain in breathing that would afflict him until he died in 1770. Quite often after he preached to an especially large crowd, he would afterward vomit a “large quantity of blood”.

His boundless love for God and his passion for souls meant he could never rest. He always felt the need to reach out to the lost. As he lay on his deathbed one of his associates greatly concerned about his deteriorating health said that he wished he would not preach so often. Whitefield famously replied, “I would rather wear out than rust out.”

Of course most Christians today would rightly say there is indeed a place for regular rest, for breaks, and for a downtime from ministry, simply to keep our bodies in shape as temples of the Holy Spirit. So I am not saying we all should copy Whitefield in his tireless and non-stop ministry.

His incredibly busy life more than likely contributed to his perhaps premature death. But we can all emulate and learn from his total commitment to Christ, his undying passion for souls, and his determination to see God glorified in everything he did.

Says Dallimore: “The burning desire to reach the hosts of mankind with the message of saving grace overruled all trials that came in the way, and he testified to the Divine assistance he experienced in learning the task, and the joy that was his as he performed it.”

Other

There are many other items I could mention here. But more articles will be needed for that. So let me close by encouraging you to learn about this amazing man and his amazing ministry. There are various books out there about his life.

For those who simply cannot countenance the prospect of a 1200-page read – and some Christians struggle with finding ten minutes a day to read God’s Word! – there is some relief. In 1990 Dallimore did a 200-page abridgement of his 2-volume work, which, while nowhere near as full and detailed – sort of like reading an abridged version of The Lord of the Rings – still offers a helpful overview of the man and his ministry.

Why not grab a copy and be inspired and blessed? Happy reading.

[1402 words]

The post More Lessons From the Life of Whitefield appeared first on CultureWatch.

CultureWatch: Lessons from the Life of Whitefield

For those few ferociously faithful followers of this website, you may have noticed that things have been a bit quiet here for the past few days. That is because I have been rather busy, and the main thing occupying my attention has been devouring 1200 pages of an inspiring and captivating biography.

Yes, it took me quite a while, but I finally bought the superlative 2-volume biography of George Whitefield by Arnold Dallimore (Banner of Truth). After twenty years of painstaking research, volume 1 was released in 1970. Another decade of research saw volume 2 making its appearance in 1980.

At 600 pages each, the two volumes are a rich, detailed and thorough look at one of the greatest preachers and revivalists of the Christian church. For those who know nothing about the man – and you all should know about him – see my writeup here: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/03/31/notable-christians-george-whitefield/

There is just so much that a Christian today can relate to, learn from, and be moved by in this great biography. In so many ways I found myself identifying with what Whitefield was going through, including so many of his trials, heartaches, conflicts and tribulations.

Numerous lessons can be pointed to, but I can only highlight a few of them here. Another article or two will be needed to deal with some of the other important lessons.

Opposition and persecution

Whenever a wonderful work of God is under way, you can be sure the ugly opposing work of Satan will be there. One of the dominant themes found in this work is the extent and enormity of the relentless opposition – from friend and foe, men and devils, believers and non-believers.

The more God used Whitefield and the other revivalists, the more opposition and resistance they faced. Plenty of it was outright diabolical hatred and fury. Physical violence was faced by all the major preachers. Consider one of Whitefield’s diligent co-workers, Howell Harris. He was actually doing open air preaching some years before Whitefield, and then the Wesleys. Dallimore says this:

Harris’s mother treated him with bitter scorn and his brother Joseph wrote to him as though he were mentally deranged. Magistrates threatened to throw him in jail and warned that heavy fines would be imposed against all persons who allowed him to minister in their houses. Some of the people, infuriated by his condemnations, became violent against him, seeking to do him bodily harm.

On one occasion in 1741 for example he was set upon by a raging mob, attacked with fists and clubs, leaving him covered in blood: “The enemy continued to persecute him… striking him with sticks and staves, until overcome with exhaustion he fell to the ground… They still abused him, though prostrate…”

Now that is persecution. But what is even more appalling is this: these attacks were often instigated by the religious leaders! Says Dallimore, “The local clergyman, in what he called an effort ‘to defend the Church,’ opened a barrel of beer on the main street and used it to entice a mob to attack the evangelist.”

A year earlier he was hit in the eye with a stone while preaching, but went right back to it the next day: “We had continual showers of stones, walnuts, dirt, a cat and also a dead dog thrown at us. I was much afraid of the hurt on my eye, but the voice to me was ‘Better endure this than hell!’ I was struck on my forehead and under my right eye again, and also on my side with a stone.”

Wow. As mentioned, all the revivalists faced such opposition and physical assaults. In one brutal attack Whitefield was nearly killed. He often allowed spiritual inquirers to visit him with their spiritual problems. One night he let in a man to his room, only to be savagely beaten with a gold-headed cane. A second attacker appeared, but the commotion caused them to flee when others in the house appeared. The pair had intended to murder him.

Then there was all the verbal opposition, especially from church leaders, priests, bishops, etc. That was the really shocking thing. You would expect the heathen to oppose these Christians, but when church leaders joined the opposition, that was just so painful to witness and endure.

Many of these church leaders were not even genuine Christians, and most were carnal, compromised, worldly and spiritually dead. Pamphlets and books were written, published and distributed widely, attacking them as fanatics, troublemakers, lawbreakers and worse. All manner of lies and falsehoods were levelled against them.

Many of these Whitefield just ignored, but at times, for the sake of the gospel, he had to dispel the lies and clear his name from the slander and malicious rumours. This was something he had to deal with all throughout his 34-year evangelistic ministry.

All this offers a salutary lessons for us believers today. Just what sort of opposition are we facing? I suspect most of us have known nothing of such persecution. We all have a long way to go before having to endure this sort of demonic opposition. So we need to persevere, and prepare for possibly much worse to come.

Divisions, rivalries and dealing with criticism

One thing that was clear from this account of the great Awakening (and of any other move of God) is the way various rivalries will form, divisions creep in, and polarisation takes place. I already mentioned opposition from non-believers as well as nominal Christians.

But those within the same evangelical camp also tended to splinter and divide over theological issues, organisational methods, and behavioural activities. As a clear example, Whitefield, who was as much a founder of the Methodist movement as the Wesleys were, was Calvinist in his theology, while the Wesleys were Arminian.

That led to plenty of longstanding divisions, and John Wesley published a book denouncing what he saw as major errors in Whitefield’s theology. Eventually and reluctantly Whitefield published a reply to it. But all along Whitefield sought to be a peacemaker, and never gave up hope of having Christian unity with the Wesleys.

Decades later this became a reality. But for many years Whitefield was all but written off by the brothers. But he never gave up attempting to reconcile and unite. He hung on to his theological convictions, to be sure, but he always sought to bring peace and restoration.

And as the revival and awakening in England progressed, three distinct bodies began to emerge: the Moravians (founded by Zinzendorf), the Methodists, and the Whitefieldians. The three tended to attack each other and seek to take members from each other. Whitefield himself had long sought and worked for unity, and long sought to keep all the parties as one – but without compromising key doctrinal beliefs.

We all can learn from this. I am still trying to get all this right, especially on the internet. When do I stand firm theologically speaking, and when should I give a bit of ground? When should I publicly rebuke error, and when should I just hold my tongue? How much should I seek to be a peacemaker and strive for unity?

When must fellowship be severed? How can I seek to love others, while standing strong against clear errors in theology and doctrine? These and related questions I still am grappling with. The example of Whitefield certainly moved me and challenged me greatly.

As to dealing with criticism, Whitefield was constantly criticised and attacked – and from all sides. When he defended his Calvinism, he was criticised and attacked by non-Calvinists, most notably the Wesleys. But when he sought long and hard to keep relationships open with his various theological opponents, including the Wesleys, he was attacked by fellow Calvinists and others.

His usual response was to not respond to the critics. He knew he would be attacked as Christ and the disciples were, but he pressed on with his heavenly calling. But sometimes he had to reply publicly to all the lies, misinformation and false reports. And when he did reply, it was often in a far more gracious and Christlike manner than his attackers.

As I say, I am still learning how to deal with all this. I know all about criticism from all sides. It seems so often you just can’t win! It seems no matter what you do, what you say, or what you believe, you will always be surrounded by critics.

When and where do we respond, and when do we just bear with all the attacks? And how does this all work out in terms of Christian unity and fellowship? For example, the Wesleys could be quite cantankerous at times, and would not let ‘recalcitrants’ stay in their societies – much like being unfriended on Facebook today!

When do we take such harsh steps, and when do we seek and pray for a resolution? When is a public rebuke necessary, and when is just a prayer for your critics enough? When should we allow others to go their own way, as painful as it may be?

There is so much for all of us to learn here. I know I have such a long way to go in all of this. Thus reading about Whitefield in great detail as he dealt with this continuously was a real help and encouragement to me. It convicted me in many areas, and drove me to my knees. That is always a good thing!

And a last word on criticism. Like Luther at first, so here: it was not the intention of Whitefield and others to form a new church or a new denomination. Whitefield always considered himself to be a loyal member of the Anglican Church, although he fully loved working with other like-minded saints in nondenominational endeavours.

This too created all sorts of problems and resulted in all sorts of enemies rising up against him. He sought to be true to the CoE but he also extended the right hand of fellowship to true believers everywhere – within reason of course. Real fanatics and heretics had to be rebuked and rejected.

But Whitefield was certainly one of our best examples of a proper sort of ecumenism and working together. His deep humility and his willingness for others to get the credit played a big role in this. As long as God’s Kingdom was advancing and God was being glorified, he was happy to press on.

As mentioned, much more remains to be said, so stay tuned for further articles on the amazing life and ministry of George Whitefield.

[1757 words]

The post Lessons from the Life of Whitefield appeared first on CultureWatch.