Those who have studied both George Whitefield (1714 – 1770) pictured on the left and John Wesley have considered both of them to be one of the greatest evangelists since the first century. Their compassion for souls drove them to preach and consequently reach thousands of precious souls for Jesus Christ. George Whitefield’s new life began as the result of reading a book called The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal.
As he was reading a few paragraphs further he got a shock. Scougal laments that few who want to be religious understand what Religion means:
Some placing it in the understanding, in orthodox notions and opinions. Others place it in the outward man, in a constant course of external duties and a model of performances; if they live peaceably with their neighbors, keep a temperate diet, observe the returns of worship, frequenting the church or their closet, and sometimes extend their hands to the relief of the poor, they think they have sufficiently acquitted themselves.
George was astonished:
All his ideas were overturned” Alas! If this be not true religion, what is it?” He pushed the book away. “Shall I burn this book? Shall I throw it down? Or shall I search it?”Feeling like a debtor who does not dare to look in his ledger for fear of finding himself bankrupt, he drew the book towards him gingerly, and stood up. Lifting up his eyes he said aloud: “Lord, if I am not a Christian, for Jesus Christ’s sake show me what Christianity is, that I may not be damned at last. He sat down and read on: “But certainly Religion is quite another thing….True Religion is a Union of the Soul with God, a real participation of the divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the Soul, or in the Apostle’s phrase, it is Christ formed within us.
Whitefield blinked. He read it again-and the room seemed ablaze with light. In a second he saw, as plainly as if God had written the message in letters of fire, “I must be born again a new creature! Christ must be formed within me! I must leave no means unused which will lead me nearer to Jesus Christ.” The more he thought the more obvious it seemed:
New birth was the point of all his devotion. He seized a pen, sharpened it, cut some paper and began to write one letter after another, to his brothers and sisters, to his mother and to Gabriel Harris the bookseller. All Gloucester must be urged towards attaining this new birth, this union with Jesus Christ. He could hardly write fast enough. “All our corrupt passions,” he wrote, “must be subdued, and a complex habit of virtues such as meekness, lowliness, faith, hope and love of God and man be implanted in their room before we can have the least title to enter into the Kingdom of God…. We must renounce ourselves and take up our cross daily…. Unless we have the Spirit of Christ we are none of His.”
He tried all religious practices in order to live a holy and acceptable life to God but all was done in vain. He tried all kinds of sacrifices and his friends became worried of his excesses about “the new birth” until he met woman who wanted to commit suicide in the Thames because her husband was in jail and children her were starving.
This woman wanted to repent and to be saved, and the only man who could understand her woes was George Whitefield. He gave her money and promised to visit them both in prison that afternoon. True to his word, he visited them and he began reading to the poor couple the third chapter of John, about the new birth, the chapter he had puzzled over again and again. He reached the words:
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. “I believe! I believe!” cried the woman. “I shall not perish because I believe in Him now! I am born again, I’m saved!” Her husband trembled, grasped Whitefield’s hand, and cried out, “I am on the brink of hell!” Next moment the man’s whole face changed. “I see it too! I’m saved! Oh joy, joy, joy!”
George Whitefield was astonished. He had labored nearly a year yet these two notorious sinners seemed to have been forgiven in a second. So as he entered into a real experience of the new birth, he became a man indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. As a result of being repeatedly endued with new power from high he made a tremendous impact by his life and preaching in England and on North America. His message like that of John Wesley was accompanied with great spiritual power.
He constantly called for repentance and faith—repentance towards our Lord Jesus Christ. When he crossed the Atlantic Ocean to preach in the American Colonies, he preached to many people and Benjamin Franklin, who was a scientist, author, statesman, and inventor measured his voice and said it could be heard at a distance of one half mile (800 meters), and that he could be heard at a distance of one mile away if conditions were good.
George preached, as he had in England, both to win souls and to collect alms for my poor orphans. His opponents spread the word that he would embezzle the offerings. Benjamin Franklin, who knew Whitefield’s scrupulous honesty, thought the Orphan House should be built in Philadelphia and I silently resolved he should get nothing from me. I had in my pocket a handful of copper money, three of four silver dollars, and five pistols in gold. As he proceeded I began to soften, and concluded to give the copper.
Another stroke of his oratory determined me to give the silver; and he finished so admirably that I emptied my pockets wholly into the collector’s dish, gold and all.”When Franklin went to his club afterwards a friend who also disapproved of George came up to him, chuckling. “I suspected, “he said, a collection would be made, so I emptied my pockets before leaving home. Towards the end of the sermon I asked a neighbor who stood near me to lend money for the collection. God had given him a supernatural ability in speaking. When he arrived back in England in 1739, he found the churches closed to him and society in England was in wicked state.
John Wesley’s discipline of study equipped him intellectually to be a defender of the faith. But most of all he failed through self-effort to be brought to salvation or a sense of fulfillment in his ministry, and this ultimately led him to seek salvation where alone it can be found—namely, in an unconditional reliance on the merits of Christ the Redeemer. It was Wesley’s conversion that made him an evangelist. Until the experience at Aldersgate Street on the 24th May, 1738, he was too preoccupied with the problem of saving his own soul to be effective in winning others. After that personal encounter he resolved in his brother’s words:
To spend, and to be spent, for them
Who have not yet my Saviour known
Christianity at this time was based solely on the Bible because a Bible religion demanded a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. Wesley taught that one could never be a “thorough Christian” without extensive reading. This discipleship concept set thousands of converts to teach themselves to read, so that they might search the Scriptures and other books which were designed to strengthen their moral and spiritual lives.
The Bible therefore became central to countless people’s lives. To the individual Christian it was the handbook of moral and spiritual guidance, which became underlined because it was personal. The Bible became the medium of family worship and it was regarded as both chart and compass in the journey of life in the British Isles.