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George Whitefield: The Evangelist (History Maker) Paperback – May 20, 2009
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"George Whitefield was a courageous, pioneering evangelist who defied the prejudices and constraints of his day. Whilst he was no saint, he preached the gospel in places where others feared to tread. John Pollock's biography is highly readable and succeeds in bringing to life the man and his amazing ministry. I hope it will inspire the next generation of preachers and evangelists who have heard God's call." (John Sentamu ~ The Archbishop of York)
"May the rising generation catch a spark of that flame which shone with shuch distinguished lustre in the spirit abd practice of ths faithful servant of the most high God." (John Wesley speaking about George Whitefield after his death)
The "Billy Graham" of his time
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What about George Whitefield?
George Whitefield (1714-1770) is associated with John and Charles Wesley as one of the key figures in what is known as the Great Awakening, the religious revival in both Britain and the American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s. Whitefield initiated the practice of open-air preaching – out of necessity, when this Church of England minister was banned from preaching in British churches (he aroused “enthusiasm” and attracted “lowlife” like coal miners, who had never attended church before).
John Pollock, in “George Whitefield: The Evangelist,” tells the man’s story, but he does it in an unusual way. First, this isn’t a standard biography; it reads more like a novel. Yet it’s based on reports, writings, papers, sermons, and contemporary accounts, so that it is “biographical.”
Second, Pollock starts the story with Whitefield at Oxford as a young man, just beginning his ministry. His earlier life is slightly referred to throughout the book but not described in any detail. For example, we only know of Whitefield’s birthplace of Gloucester, England, because of his visits home and ministry in the area.
And third, it is Whitefield the evangelist who is the focus, as opposed to Whitefield the man. This is not a full account of his life but it is a detailed account of his evangelistic outreach in England and America.
Whitefield made some 13 trips to America, starting in the colony of Georgia but eventually including all of the colonies. Benjamin Franklin knew him well. Franklin didn’t embrace Whitefield’s message of salvation but the two men were good friends and Franklin became his American publisher.
In his younger days, Whitefield was slender and not terribly impressive physically. Many friends and critics alike cited his “squinting,” a result of being cross-eyed. But his voice was captivating; listeners often compared it to music. And it could carry – Franklin estimated that up to 30,000 people could actually hear him clearly in Philadelphia.
His first open-air sermon was near Bristol, England. Denied the use of the churches’ pulpits (despite his being an ordained Church of England minister), he stood in an open field and preached to miners leaving their work in the coal mines. He had no idea of whether they were listening or not until he saw the white streaks on their coal-dust faces; the men had been moved to tears. A gathering of a few hundred soon became a gathering of thousands.
Pollock points how the close relationship Whitefield has with the Wesley brothers, but they became estranged for a time. The Wesleys would break with the Church of England to found Methodism, while Whitefield remained within the C of E even if it often banned him from speaking.
Whitefield had a phenomenal impact in America; millions would eventually hear his message from both himself and the evangelists he inspired. And he kindled an American awareness of the idea that all men were equal in the sight of God, a belief that became common throughout the colonies and would set the stage for the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution.
Pollock (1924-2012) originally published “George Whitefield” in 1973; it was reissued in 2007 and more recently as an e-book. He was also the author of “The Apostle: The Life of Paul;” “D.L. Moody: Moody without Sankey;” “Wilberforce;” “Hudson Taylor and Maria: A Match Made in Heaven;” “The Cambridge Seven: The True Story of Ordinary Men Used in No Ordinary Way;” “Gordon of Khartoum;” and several other books. He was also an official biographer of Billy Graham.
“George Whitefield” is a well-told story. The Great Awakening and Whitefield had a major influence on the creation of the United States, and Pollock explains how that happened.
Author John Pollock's writing is engaging, highly descriptive and thoroughly enjoyable. His portrayal of George Whitefield from early life in England, through multiple voyages to the 13 colonies of early America, his enthralling gift of unusually powerful preaching up and down the colonies and throughout England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and his founding of an orphanage in Georgia, all the way to his ultimate and too-early end of life, is drawn from Whitefield's and others' letters and documents of the mid-1700's. Pollock has a skill for bringing those times and events to vivid life.
The greatest value of this superb book in my view is its contribution to knowledge of the immense spiritual awakening stirred by Whitefield's irresistible personal appeal and the effect of his anointed, powerful preaching. Benjamin Franklin, for example, was greatly impressed, and estimated George Whitfield's uniquely powerful, pleasing voice was clearly heard by crowds of up to 30,000 at outdoor gatherings. Many literally ran or rode furiously to get to his meetings, often announced from horseback by a rider racing through local towns and communities.
Sadly, too much of our Christian heritage and the true history of this early nation have been submerged, overlooked or forgotten. This book provides a vivid view of a man totally committed to his calling, who was a key catalyst for the high moral climate and faith so necessary and instrumental to help usher in the American Revolution and the birth of this great, most blessed of all nations. I'm grateful to have read it and don't hesitate to recommend it highly to anyone interested.