From Whitefield’s personal experience of salvation to his first efforts in sharing his faith
The first sign of a breakthrough came when George Whitefield, after months of legalism and misguided fervency, was finally born again at Oxford University in 1735.
He immediately returned to his home town of Gloucester where he joyfully preached the gospel. Several young people were converted and he organised them into a small group (or, ‘society’ as they were called) based on Wesley’s ‘Holy Club’ at Oxford.
A season of growing and learning in Gloucester
Whitefield was overjoyed in his new found faith, much to the surprise of his friends who were expecting a glum, religious depressive. He began to diligently study the Scriptures.
He became clearer in his responsibility to preach justification by faith alone, rather than some of the more mystical teachings he had been exposed to by the Oxford group.
He read Joseph Alleine’s ‘Alarm Call to the Unconverted’ as well as other puritan titles. He devoured the commentaries of Matthew Henry.
He writes, ‘Oh what sweet communion had I daily…with God in prayer..! How often have I been carried beyond myself when sweetly meditating in the fields! How assuredly have I felt that Christ dwelt in me and I in Him! And how did I daily walk in the comforts of the Holy Ghost and was refreshed in a multitude of peace!’ (GW Journals, BOT edition, p.61)
His personal relationship with God was the foundation of His own desire to serve God. He had many wonderful experiences of the Spirit at this time which began to govern his early view of ministry.
Promptings from God?
He had a dream of a prisoner in Gloucester coming to him for help and instruction. He went to the prison but could not gain access. A little while later, a letter arrived from Oxford saying that there was a prisoner who had escaped the Oxford prison but had been recaptured and was now held in Gloucester. Would Whitefield visit him? He did so and began preaching to a group of prisoners in the prison, providing for them and helping secure the release of some of them. (GW Journals, p.63)
He tended to respond to what he felt were definite promptings of the Holy Spirit and the immediate fruit was remarkable. Although cautioned on this point by Edwards a few years later, Whitefield instinctively knew that being ‘led by the Spirit’ was certainly preferable to John Wesley’s practice of casting lots for guidance.
After 6 months in Gloucester, he was ready to return to Oxford, ready to face the daunting possibility of being ordained as a Minister, and ready to face the challenge of bringing the teaching of the New Birth, of Justification by Faith in Christ alone, to 18th Century England.
© 2009 Lex Loizides