Yesterday, as the 16th December ticked past and we all raced towards another Christmas, we in the UK missed George Whitefield's 300th birthday!
How was this allowed to happen? Our American cousins were full of celebrations yesterday, honouring Whitefield through articles, blogs and books. Indeed, owning him as their very own hero of their very own brand of reformed Christianity. This is not a bad shout, but he is ours, and we have forgotten him!
Although Whitefield courageously crossed the Atlantic many times to serve in the colonies, the main impact and fruit of his unparalleled preaching ministry was here in the UK. My personal view is that George Fox another neglected Englishman from an earlier generation, and the contemporary of Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, had more of a shaping effect on both American Christianity and constitution. However, there is no doubt that Whitefield's magnificent preaching gift foundationally influenced the States.
In an era of dead English religion and a nation far from God, the young Whitefield took first the UK by storm. Joined soon by other greats like the Wesleys, but unmatched in his zeal and authority with the gospel to the point that the nation was changed. We refer back to his time now as the Great Awakening simply because an entire generation of unreached English, Scots, Welsh and Irish were transformed by the gospel through the preaching of George Whitefield and his peers.
Lists of stats about the number of sermons given, the persecution faced, the open air preaching, the hours spent on horseback, on boats, in prayer.....all of this would give some insight to Whitefield's legacy. And yet it was his deep compassion for the lost, and his ability to reach them through his preaching gift that tells the story best. If I could select one story alone to celebrate 300 years since Whitefield, and to stir our generation, it would be his early encounter with the poor Miners at Kingwood, Bristol on February 25th 1839. Whitefield aged just 25.
This underclass of the newly emerging working class poor were outside of society, far from the gospel, unwelcome in established churches. Going to them, against advice, to preach. Observers noted that they could see the effects of the message visibly displayed on the Miner's faces. Streaks appearing down their blackened faces as they listened with tears of repentance to this wonderful open air preacher.
Whitefield himself notes from that day in his journal: 'At four in the afternoon I hastened to Kingswood. At a moderate computation there were about 10,000 people to hear me. The trees and hedges were full. All was hush when I began; The sun shone bright and God enabled me to preach for an hour with great power, and so loudly that all, I was told, could hear me.....The fire is kindled in the country: and I know that all the devils in hell shall not be able to quench it.
Happy Birthday George Whitefield, and may your story amongst the British be a provocation and impetus for new fires to be kindled of such power and transformation once again!