George Whitfield – inspires us to go to where people are with the gospel
George Whitfield was born in Gloucester, and his early life was anything but religious – writing that he was “addicted to lying, filthy talking, and foolish jesting”. This went on until he went to study at Oxford University, where he was converted, became good friends with other Christian leaders such as the Wesley brothers, enjoyed the writings of the learned Puritans, and immersed himself in the Bible.
At aged 22, Whitfield was ordained into Christian ministry, and began preaching regularly throughout London. He was blessed with an extraordinary for preaching and quickly obtained a popularity as a preacher that had not been seen before – wherever he preached, the place was packed. However, in the eyes of the Church of England, he was seen to be a fanatic – and his access to preach in church pulpits quickly diminished. That led to Whitfield adopting a system of open-air preaching. He was so determined to reach people with the good news of God’s grace – especially those who wouldn’t come to church on a Sunday – that he made it his goal to go after them “into the highways and hedges” and “compel them to come in”.
As such, thousands of people – who never dreamed of setting foot in a church building – would come to hear him preach the gospel outdoors; and this was Whitfield’s pattern of ministry for the rest of his life. It is said that there was hardly a town in England, Scotland or Wales that he did not visit as an evangelist – and in his 34 years of public ministry, it is estimated that he preached about a thousand times a year, that’s more time spent preaching than sleeping! As one biographer puts it – “His whole life may be said to have been consumed in the delivery of one continuous, or scarcely interrupted sermon”.
Whitfield was not perfect – there was, as he freely confessed, sin he battled with ’til his dying breath – but this was what drove him in his ministry. As he himself wrote, “I know no other reason why Jesus has put me into the ministry, than because I am the chief of sinners, and therefore fittest to preach free grace to a world lying in the wicked one.”