Chapter 6: Other Notable Stories From Whitefield's Preaching Days

 •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 5
“IN A MINISTRY OF THIRTY-FOUR YEARS, HE CROSSED THE ATLANTIC THIRTEEN TIMES, AND PREACHED MORE THAN EIGHTEEN THOUSAND SERMONS. AS A SOLDIER OF THE CROSS, HUMBLE, DEVOUT, ARDENT, HE PUT ON THE WHOLE ARMOR OF GOD.” – Inscription on Whitefield’s Monument.
In the year 1749, George Whitefield met Selina, the Countess of Huntingdon, who from then on persuaded many of the nobility to attend his preaching.
“I would often have settled down,” said Whitefield, “but God wouldn’t let me. He has always put a thorn in my nest. Travelling seems to be my calling, and I am prepared to hunt for souls until all England is converted.”
So Whitefield once again went out into the open fields to preach, and there he experienced many unique instances of gracious success.
“Oh that I may drop and die in my Master’s work,” said Whitefield. “I think it’s worth dying for. If I had a thousand bodies, they would all be travelling and preaching for Jesus.”
We can, like Whitefield, welcome shame and weariness for Jesus’ sake when we are “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:1313Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; (Titus 2:13)).
One time Whitefield noticed a young man who had climbed up into a tree to see and mock the preacher. Whitefield looked straight at him and said, “Ah, poor Zaccheus, are you there? Christ can see you! The leaves of the tree can’t hide you from His view. Don’t be afraid, don’t worry! Come down, Zaccheus, come down from the tree, and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as the Saviour of your soul.”
The young man came down from the tree, believed, and became a follower of Jesus.
Another time Whitefield observed Shuter, a well-known stage-actor, among the congregation. The great preacher fixed his eyes on him and said, “And you too, poor Shuter, you who have long strayed from Christ, come also, and Jesus will welcome you and be your Saviour. What have you gained for all your wandering but wounds and sorrows, grief and disappointment? Come, and end all your drifting now. Yes, come at once to Jesus!”
Shuter was deeply moved by the appeal, and he came afterward to see Mr. Whitefield.
“Oh sir, I feel like I’ve been called tonight,” he said. “I felt like I was going to faint when you put me on the spot, but it was the voice of God speaking to my soul.”
“Then don’t disobey the invitation from heaven. Come now to Jesus!”
“I’ve been trapped by the rich and famous! Poor things, they are unhappy with all their influence and wealth, and they need to have Shuter in order to make them laugh. Oh, it’s a hard life to serve the devil. If I died now, what would I be able to show for all my work and suffering through life?”
“Then give it up, Shuter! Leave the theater behind and give yourself to Christ!” pleaded Whitefield, sensing the precarious moment of decision facing the man before him.
“I feel like I need to choose either one or the other, but it’s hard to give up the theater! It demoralizes, and it prepares the soul for worse evils, but I can’t break away from it now. Mr. Whitefield, beg your young listeners never to step inside a theater! Tell them to avoid it like the plague. Would to God that I had never seen it. But now I can’t begin life again!” sobbed Shuter.
“Why not? It’s never too late to call on Jesus! He can save unto the uttermost.”
“You don’t know, Mr. Whitefield, how addicted I am to the applause of my fans. I can’t live without it. It’s part of my life.”
“But are you really going to give up Christ for the empty applause of a crowd of sinners who are just like yourself? I thank God that He has delivered me from feeling like I need to hear human praises. When I die, the only epitaph that I want to be engraved on my tombstone is: ‘Here lies George Whitefield; what sort of man he was the great day will discover.’”
“You’re different from me because you’ve been a Christian for a long time. If a man refuses to yield to the Spirit’s pleading, after a while he becomes less sensitive to the sin in his life.”
All Whitefield’s pleading was for nothing, as he couldn’t convince Shuter to come to Christ and abandon his profession. He preferred to remain in the far country to which he had strayed.
Satan has many ways of deceiving and distracting sinners to the point that they forget that they need to be saved. Even true believers in Jesus can be put to sleep by all the distracting noise and activity that Satan’s world has to offer. Be careful what you watch and listen to! “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:1818While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)). “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (1 John 2:15-1715Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. (1 John 2:15‑17)).
As Whitefield’s popularity grew, so did the congregations that came to listen to him preach. These larger numbers led him to build the Tabernacle, a large meeting hall, on Tottenham Court Road, along with other associated buildings. Some of Whitefield’s critics called the Tabernacle his “soul trap.” In it the great preacher delivered some of his most famous sermons.
One of Whitefield’s listeners told of a specific sermon like this: “Whitefield,” he said, “described the Sadducean character, but that didn’t touch me. The Pharisees, now that shook me a little. But then he abruptly broke off and burst into a flood of tears, and lifting up his hands he cried with a loud voice: ‘Oh, my hearers! The wrath is to come! The wrath is to come!’ These words sunk into my heart like lead in water. I wept; I went out alone. These words followed me wherever I went. For days and weeks I could think of but little else than the awful words: ‘The wrath is to come — is to come!’”
“And I remember another passage,” he continued. “I’ll never forget when Mr. Whitefield preached about Peter.
“‘Spiritual slothfulness,’ he said, ‘as well as spiritual pride helped to stumble this apostle. The Sun — that glorious Sun of Righteousness — was anticipating His entrance into the three hours of darkness. Satan, who had left Him for a season, until the time of His passion, returns with all the powers of darkness. From the table where they ate the Passover and the Lord’s Supper together, the Saviour moves on to the garden. See His agony! See how He falls to His knees in prayer under the amazing pressure! See, see, oh my soul, how He sweats! But what is that which I see? BLOOD — drops of blood — great drops of blood falling down to the ground! Oh! Was there ever any sorrow like unto His sorrow? LISTEN! What do I hear? Oh what strong crying! Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from Me. LISTEN, He speaks again! Amazing! Behold how His agony increases! Hear how He prays! And where is Peter all this time? Surely he won’t leave his Lord in such deep distress! What is he doing? I blush to answer. He is sleeping. Even when awakened once by His agonizing Lord with a “Simon, sleepest thou?” yet his eyes, in spite of his profession of faithfulness unto death, are heavy with sleep. O Lord, what is man?’”
A man named Mr. Thorpe once went to hear Whitefield preach, and after the sermon was over, he went into a bar with some of his immoral friends. One after another they began to mimic the preacher’s mannerisms, raising a lot of loud laughter from their drunk companions. Soon it was Thorpe’s turn, and he jumped up on the table.
“Give me a Bible!” he shouted. “I’ll beat you all.”
He opened the Bible, and read out loud the first verse he saw: “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:33I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. (Luke 13:3)).
Immediately his conscience was touched, and he felt very guilty.
“God forgive me, I’ve committed an awful sin,” he cried, and he immediately closed the book and cried out, “Oh, that perishing! That perishing! How can I repent?”
“Come on, don’t be a coward,” yelled one of his friends, “be a man and stop whining. Keep preaching away, Thorpe.”
“I don’t dare. Oh my sins, my awful sins! I’ve grieved the Holy Ghost, and perhaps He has forsaken me. I can’t rest until I’m forgiven. I need to go to Mr. Whitefield.”
Another time, one Sunday evening, the infidel Lord Chesterfield sat in Lady Huntingdon’s pew listening to the great preacher. Then God spoke to the nobleman’s heart, and he was forced to pay attention.
“Oh, poor sinner,” Whitefield was saying, “you are in the earth like a poor blind beggar who is walking along a dangerous road. Look at him! He hears one and then another fall over the cliff! Crash! Oh the wailing of the lost! But the blind man feels like he’s at least not in too much danger while his little dog remains with him. See how he holds onto the leash with white knuckles. Now he must be careful, for he is near the edge of the precipice. Oh look, the dog has escaped, and the blind man has to feel his way with his stick. He holds it out in front and gropes his way cautiously along! There! The stick has slipped out of his fingers! It has fallen off into the abyss! The old man stoops to pick it up. ‘Be careful, old man — be careful — the edge of the cliff is crumbling away beneath your feet!’ He stumbles forward; he can’t save himself.”
“He’s over the edge! Over the edge!” shouted Chesterfield, jumping up from his seat as if he would help the old beggar and reach out to pull him back to safety. He himself, like that blind man, had tried to feel his way through life by the help of wealth, politeness, and reason, which alone can never lead to God.
Friend, you will certainly fall into the bottomless pit of eternal punishment unless Jesus Christ is your Shepherd and unless He heals your blind eyes and gives you sight. He alone can save. And even as one of His sheep, you can’t feel your own way safely through the many dangers of daily life unless you let Him be your Guide. He says, “I am the door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture . . . . I am the Good Shepherd: the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep . . . . My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:9, 11, 27-299I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. (John 10:9)
11I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)
27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 29My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. (John 10:27‑29)
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