Prayer and Passion in the Journals of George Whitefield

George Whitefield's Journals
George Whitefield's Journals

A Great Outpouring!

One week after the New Years all-night prayer meeting, which had so amazed John Wesley, they were at it again!

On Sunday Jan 7, 1739 George Whitefield records that another ‘love-feast’ took place where the brothers gathered, shared a meal together and then prayed through the night.

Again Whitefield is able to report, ‘There was a great pouring out of the Spirit amongst the brethren’, even though he was not himself so ‘overwhelmed with joy’ as he had been the week before. (GW Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p.197)

The following evening he met with small groups of 6 or 7 new believers who shared and compared their spiritual experiences. These 18th century Evangelists were thorough.

Days of Private Infilling and Public Power

For George Whitefield, the first weeks of 1739 were filled with numerous preaching opportunities, and private encounters with the Holy Spirit.

If you glance through his journals for this period you find many phrases describing this double aspect of inspiration for his ministry:

‘Mon Jan 22 – God fills me with love, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. Such is His free grace in Christ Jesus.’

‘Tues Jan 23 – Preached at St Helens with power to a crowded and attentive audience…Oh how does the Holy Ghost cause me to joy in God!’

‘Wed Jan 24 – Wrote several letters to my friends at Savannah, and was filled with the Holy Ghost. Oh, that all who deny the promise of the Father might thus receive it themselves!’ (p.201)

‘Sun Jan 28 – expounded to two large companies…with such demonstration of the Spirit as I never spoke with before. I offered Jesus Chrisst freely to sinners, and many, I believe, were truly pricked to the heart.

‘Now, my friends, your prayers are heard, God has given me a double portion of His Spirit indeed.

‘Oh free grace in Christ Jesus. With what love, peace and joy does God fill this soul of mine! Lord I am not worthy, but Thy mercies in Christ Jesus are infinite.’ (p.203)

While convincing many, the Spirit-filled Whitefield could not convince all!

‘Mon Jan 29 – Expounded twice, and sat up till near one in the morning, with my honoured brother and fellow-labourer, John Wesley, in conference with two clergymen of the Church of England, and some other strong opposers of the doctrine of the New Birth.

‘God enabled me, with great simplicity, to declare what He had done for my soul, which made them look upon me as a madman.

‘Fundamental Differences’ between those who are in Christ and those who are not

‘We speak what we do know, and testify that we have seen, and they receive not our testimony. Now therefore, I am fully convinced there is a fundamental difference between us and them. They believe only an outward Christ, we further believe that He must be inwardly formed in our hearts also.

‘But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’ (p.203-204)

This last point was to become contentious throughout the period of the Awakening. It soon became clear that the reality of the experience of the new birth was the defining Christian experience – in fact, the one experience apart from which you could not enter the Kingdom of God (see John chapter 3).

Lessons for us?

Leadership demands great skill. Christian Leadership hinges on the activity of the Holy Spirit. George Whitefield was devoted to prayer, committed to personal experiences of the Holy Spirit, unflagging in service to those outside the faith, and committed to essential doctrines, even when defending them was uncomfortable.

As we examine his life we would do well to allow the challenge of his example to change and shape us in our understanding of leadership and service.

You can purchase George Whitefield’s Journals here

© 2009 Lex Loizides


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