‘The Devil in Hell is in you all!’
Resistance to Whitefield’s preaching was growing. One member of the clergy wrote, ‘I believe the devil in hell is in you all. Whitefield has set the town on fire, and now he is gone to kindle a flame in the country.’
The friend who reported these words to Whitefield adds, ‘Shocking language for one who calls himself a minister of the gospel…
‘I am persuaded, it is not a fire of the Devil’s kindling, but a holy fire that has proceeded from the Holy and Blessed Spirit. Oh, that such a fire may be kindled, but blow up into a flame all England, and all the world over!’ (George Whitefield Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p. 213-214)
Churches closed but the people need to hear the gospel
Whitefield, ever willing to serve the people by preaching the good news to them, found himself not only criticised privately but opposed publicly. While not all clergy were hostile, increasing numbers were, and, even where permission to preach in certain Anglican churches was granted, the local vicars were not always willing to let him in.
A coincidental by-product of this hostility was that people would go to him wherever he was. This gradually compelled him to preach in places he never would have before.
Preaching in a Pub
Describing one evening in February 1739, he writes, ‘afterwards [I] was agreeably surprised by several who came uninvited to see me. After a little conversation, I perceived they were desirous to hear the Word of God, and being in a large dining room in the public house, I gave notice I would expound to as many as would come.
‘In a short time I had above a hundred very attentive hearers, to whom I expounded for above an hour…
‘Blessed be God for his opportunity! I hope I shall learn more and more every day, that no place is amiss for preaching the gospel.
‘God forbid that the Word of God should be bound because some, out of a misguided zeal, deny the use of their churches…
‘The more I am bidden to hold my peace, the more earnestly will I lift up my voice like a trumpet.’ (p.208-209)
A growing sense of destiny
Feb 11, 1739 – ‘There are many promises to be fulfilled in me, many souls to be called, many sufferings to be endured, before I go hence.’ (p.211)
Into the fields – the coal workers in Bristol (1st sermon)
Saturday Feb 17, 1739 – ‘About one in the afternoon, I went with my brother Seward and another friend, to Kingswood…[I] have long since yearned [for] the poor colliers, who are very numerous and as sheep having no shepherd.
‘After dinner, therefore, I went upon a mount, and [spoke] to as many people as came unto me. They were upwards of two hundred.
‘Blessed be God that I have now broken the ice! I believe I never was more acceptable to my Master than when I was standing to teach those hearers in the open fields.’ (p.216)
The great C.H Spurgeon, preaching a century after Whitefield, said ‘It was a brave day for England when Whitefield began field preaching.’ (Quoted by Dallimore, George Whitefield, Vol 1, Banner of Truth, p.248)
The work in Bristol proved to be a major turning point in the history of 18th century Christianity. What followed there was truly breathtaking and is very moving to read.
God, in His mercy, was seeking to reach a generation far from Himself. And so He raised up the gift of the Evangelist. We’ll see what the Evangelist did, and what God did through him, next time!
You can purchase George Whitefield resources here
© 2009 Lex Loizides