In the establishment of ONV, I’ve been enthralled as of late on the vital connection between a person’s love for lost people and their effectiveness in reaching them. Expanding this to a church, what is the connection between a communities’ passion for reaching her community and her effectiveness in fulfilling that desire? Needless to say, the relationship is massive. I’ll be pleading with our two churches in the ensuring weeks the following position: If we have all the components of a healthy church in place, and yet as a group we have something less than a full-blown passion for lost people, we are fools to believe that we can still be successful. Without arguing that position here, I’d rather offer a positive example of a heart all aglow for the lost: George Whitefield.
George Whitefield, known as the “apostle of the English Empire” was one of the fire brands of the Great Awakening in the 18th century transatlantic revival. Born in Gloucester England in 1714, he died in Newburyport, Massachusetts in 1770. At the age of twenty-one, he converted to Christ and commenced one of the most remarkable evangelistic ministries of the English speaking world.
“Over the 34 years between his conversion and death in 1770 in Newburyport, Massachusetts, it is calculated that he preached around 18,000 sermons…if one included all of the talks that he gave, he probably spoke about a thousand times a year during his ministry…his sermons were delivered to massive congregations that numbered 10,000 to 20,000 or so.”During these thirty-four years, Whitefield preached all throughout England, visited Ireland twice and journeyed to Scotland fourteen times. He crossed the Atlantic thirteen times, as well as spending eleven weeks in Bermuda. He preached in virtually every major town on the eastern seaboard of America (all when traveling 20 miles from home was a serious challenge). He’d preach “in fields and foundries, in ships, cemeteries, and pubs, atop horses and even a hangman’s scaffold, from stone walls and balconies, stair cases and windmills.”
He seized every opportunity to share Christ.
“God forbid that I should travel with anybody a quarter of an hour without speaking of Christ to them.”Millions heard the gospel through his itinerant ministry.
What was the great source of his missional prowess and productivity? What can Whitefield teach us? Though he is dead, what would is he speaking to us?
Robert Philips, mid-nineteenth century biography of Whitefield, answers:
“the grand secret of Whitefield’s power was…his devotional spirit.”Sarah Edwards similarly observed,
“He speaks from a heart all aglow with love.”Looking back on his earlier years, Whitefield himself speaks of the source of his power:
“My food and drink was praising God and a fire was kindled in my soul and I was clothed with power…and could have spoken to the King.”On his third preaching tour, he prayed
“Oh that I was a flame of pure and Holy Fire, and had a thousand lives to spend in the dear redeemer’s service.”What was the great source of his missional prowess and productivity? His life was ablaze because his heart was aglow. What can Whitefield teach us? Though he is dead, what would he speak to us? Do everything to cultivate rich and radical affections for God and our neighbors, and watch your life blaze for his glory.
“14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. 16 Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh” ( 2 Corinthians 5:14-16).