What can we gather from the life of the famous preacher George Whitefield for our edification and encouragement today? Many preachers have been and continue to be encouraged by the life of Whitefield, and we also believe his life had many wonderful examples for us to look at as children of God and believers in Jesus Christ.
This is not an exhaustive listing of lessons and truths, but only a few helpful ones that we can apply to our Christian lives today.
Lesson 1: Not Seeking the Applause of this World
The first lesson we can learn is that Whitefield fought against the desire to be accepted by the world and its ways. He was esteemed by the masses at age twenty-one and by age twenty-two hated by most. Such is the fickleness of the world we live in and that crucified our Lord. At one moment they want to make him King and at the next moment they are crying out, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" (Luke 23:21).
This world is at enmity with God; and when a god is shown to them that approves of the world-system and their actions, there is an embracing of this god of only benevolent love. Yet when God is shown to be the holy God that cannot stand in the presence of sin, that exposes the sins of the heart, at that moment the hatred of the world becomes utmost. It was in the height of hatred when they crucified God's Son.
"This man was handed over to you by God's deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him (Acts 2:23–24).
We can learn from the life of Whitefield to not seek the favor of the crowds, but to proclaim the truth as God shows it to us, whether that makes us famous or unpopular.
Sadly, the applause and favor of the world is something that many modern-day Christians seek after. We want to be radical believers but at the same time be accepted by all others.
If our very Lord, who bought us with his blood, was not accepted by this world, should we not consider that it will be the same for us? Whitefield, though he spoke with presidents and kings, still preached the uncompromised gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let us make this practical for all who are reading this. What opportunities do you have in your business, vocation, or school where you can simply follow God's guidance and not make decisions from the pressure of what others will think. Can you, as Whitefield did, speak to men in light that God is watching and knows the intentions of your heart?
Lesson 2: Thirsting after God
Through the time of legalism and self-effort, Whitefield felt apart from the refreshing, empowering presence of God. His cry, "I thirst!" brought true trust in Christ to him, and he found solace in the very presence of God. This thirsting after God is something we can learn from Whitefield.
He would spend days in prayer and prostrate himself on the floor. Why did he do this? Was it for a sermon or a new book? No! He sought God for God himself. He wanted to know God. He saw the great value of the blood of Jesus Christ, and out of great love for God prayed to God intensely.
"Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place" (1 Chron. 16:27).
"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?" (Psa. 42:1–2).
How do you feel in your Christian life? Are you tired and worn out by intense schedules, self-effort, and business as usual? Have you sought God in a way that left you satisfied, full of grace and his presence? Whitefield sought God and found him. He found peace and stillness in the presence of an all-sufficient God. The same Godhead is available to us. The Father in heaven is waiting to spend time with us.
The way has been opened by the blood of Christ. Free access to seek God and be in his presence has been made. No matter what God has called you to in this life, it will be impossible to fulfill that purpose without having a thirst to seek God in prayer. Thirst means that there is life! Without spiritual thirst, the world will deaden anything of the living God in our hearts.
Lesson 3: Preaching the Simplicity of the Gospel of Christ
Though in modern evangelicalism we have an abuse of the presentation of the free grace of Christ (known as hyper-grace), this should not cause us to stop preaching and offering that salvation as a free gift from above.
George Whitefield trumpeted the message of free grace that Jesus Christ became sin for the world. These old preachers used to preach and make sin so dreadful, hell so wicked, and heaven so beautiful that when they offered and preached of Jesus Christ in all his glory men grabbed at this wonderful free gift. Have you ever heard a powerful gospel presentation where Jesus Christ was shown to be the solution and answer, and your heart leaped within you? Has Jesus Christ ever been made to be wonderful in your eyes?
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:3–5).
Whitefield's message was: "Ye must be born again." Should that not be ours also?
Never lose faith in the simple message of trust in the person of Jesus Christ for eternal salvation. In modern America, false professions of faith in Christ are abundant, and many have been made to believe they are saved when they are not. Yet even in that atmosphere we must preach Christ! He is the only solution for the sins of mankind. He is the door to eternal life. Without him we are lost and heading towards an eternal hell.
Whitefield preached this message until his dying day. Is that our passion? Is Christ truly that wonderful answer to everything, or is our message different?
Lesson 4: Weeping for Lost Souls
I can already sense that some readers are being lost in the grandeur of these things. "Surely there is no one alive that is like George Whitefield," someone can think in their doubting mind. Yet we can distill it down more simply thus far.
Do you live separate from the world, seek God in prayer beyond other needs, and share the good news of the gospel with others? If so, then you are doing what Whitefield did.
You do not need to sound like him or preach to 10,000 people at once — you in your normal simple life working as a newspaper delivery man or plumber, or perhaps a business owner or computer developer. You! Yes, you can do the same things that Whitefield did and share in the same experiences that he has in measure with Jesus Christ.
Why did Whitefield weep so much for souls? He did this publicly in open-air meetings, where the front row of the audience were wet with some of his tears as he passionately pro- claimed faith. Whitefield was a passionate preacher, and some accused him of dramatism because of his body movements and emotional language. Yet his tears showed his sincerity. He simply was close enough to God that God shared his burdens with him.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
You, my friend, can seek God in your own life and come close enough to God where he will start to break your heart over men and women that do not know him. It may be that poor starving child you see in humanitarian ads. But if you are sharing God's true heart, you will start to see normal people in society as sad, broken, lost ones who are eternally apart from God.
Would you pray to the Lord to have him share his broken heart for the lost? Christ still is weeping over this broken world of seven billion souls. Just as in the days of Noah, God's heart breaks. God is love. He desires none to perish. Life is a breath. Eternity is soon. Whitefield saw it and wept.
Originally posted at hellochristian.com, this work was based upon the book, "Uncompromising Faith: Brief Pen Sketches of George Whitefield, John Cennick, George Fox, and Henry Alline."