For Pastors, Speakers, Proclaimers, Exhorters, Evangelists and Such

Posted: January 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

As an aspiring clergymen, it is important to study the life and teachings of the minsters of the past in order to gather as much helpful information as possible. Therefore, I recently purchased a book on the life of George Whitefield by Arnold Dallimore to attempt to discover some key components in regards to the success or effectiveness of the ministry God blessed him with. A fifth into the book I came across a clearly orchestrated description that the author ascribes to the success of this man.

“Doubtless, the mass of these people were drawn by a deep spiritual hunger. Amist the conditions that surrounded them- the widespread rejection of moral restraint, blatant denial of the Scriptures, rampant crime and glaring heartlessness- they had long sought in vain for help from the churches. The generality of the parochial clergy (pastors) were looked upon in bitter contempt, as Bishop Ryle says of these men:

‘The vast majority of them were sunk in worldliness and neither knew nor cared anything about their profession… They hunted, they shot, they farmed, they swore, they drank, they gambled. They seemed determined to know everything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. When they assembled it was generally to toast ‘Church and King’ and to build one another up in the earthy-mindedness, prejudice, ignorance and formality. When they retired to their own homes, it was to do as little and preach as seldom as possible. And when they did preach, their sermons were so unspeakably and indescribably bad that it is comforting to reflect they were generally preached to empty benches.’

Of course, there were many better men among all denominations, but evangelistic zeal was hardly to be found among them, and strong, unbending convictions regarding Christian truth these days were Isaac Watts and Philip Doddridge, but even these good men were over-fearful of being styled enthusiasts, as indeed were the vast majority of ministers, and bodily aggressive Christianity was unknown.

Scores of Londoners, have failed to find food for their souls in the churches, had resorted to the Religious Societies. But so strong seemed the forces of sin and unbelief that, even in these groups there was a sense of defeat, yet at the same time many expressed the longing- perhaps the expectancy- that God would raise up some mighty man to champion His cause.

It was while these conditions prevailed that the voice of George Whitefield began to be heard in the London pulpits. He spoke with the firmest of convictions and his sermons were such that all could understand. He preached nothing but the basic doctrines of the Church of England; in glowing contrast to the majority of the clergy, his life was marked by personal holiness and everything about him seemed ablaze with zeal. No doubt some people were attracted by curiosity and others by the excitement associated with his going to Georgia; but, above all, it was a spiritual hunger that drew the crowds, and many followed him from church to church, vigorously endeavoring to be present every time he preached.

Moreover, we may be sure that they people found something highly attractive in the young preacher himself. He was always exceptionally neat about his person- an element of his concept of Christian discipline- and his manner was gracious and easy. At this stage of his development, he was still marked by an unassuming youthfulness, but his consciousness of being called of God gave him an extraordinary spiritual authority and courage. To many of his hearers he seemed as a messenger from heaven; and, like Charles Wesley who spoke of him as ‘an angel guest’, many were beginning to refer to him as ‘The Seraph’.

But this personal attractiveness does not overshadow the fact that Whitefield possessed a most remarkable eloquence. The gift of public utterance which had been evident when he preached his first sermon, had been developed by his months of experience in preaching. Benjamin Franklin, after hearing him frequently during later months, stated:

‘…every accent, every emphasis, every modulation of voice, was so perfectly well turned and well placed, that, without being interested in the subject, one could not help being pleased with the discourse; a pleasure of much the same kind with that received from an excellent piece of music.’

Yet it would be very misleading to assume that there was anything of a mere performance in Whitefield’s preaching. On the contrary, it was the utter lack of anything artificial, and its burning sincerity which were its most noticeable qualities. His delivery was simply the outflow of that spiritual passion which inflamed his whole life.

These are, however, but the human explanations of Whitefield’s success. They reveal the possession of exceptional abilities, but his effectiveness lay not in his eloquence nor his zeal. As we look back from our present standpoint we see that God’s chosen time to ‘arise and have mercy upon Zion… yea, the set time had come’, and that in raising up Whitefield, He had granted upon him and his ministry ‘a mighty effusion of the Holy Ghost’; and it was this, the Divine power, which was the first secret of his success”

May we learn and excel in the “human explanations” of ministerial success but not lose sight that the one true factor for our effectiveness is that the mercy of the Triune God is fulfilling His promise in drawing people unto Himself through those who are willing to obey.

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