From the Pub to the Street to the Fields
In the last post we saw how George Whitefield ‘broke the ice’ by following Howell Harris’s bold example and preaching in the fields.
His first attempt at this was to coal miners in Kingswood, Bristol. About 200 gathered to listen to him as he preached from a small hill (which he calls a ‘mount’).
Whitefield had, of course, already realised that he needed to take his message outside the confines of church buildings. Although there were exceptions, he was gradually being excluded by local vicars who were not allowing him the use of their facilities.
This led to Whitefield preaching in a pub, and then in a street. Of preaching in the street, this was somewhat unintended, and he says, ‘I hastened to Nicholas Street, where was a great crowd waiting for me upon the stairs, yard, and entry of the house, as well as in the room itself…
‘God was pleased to fill me with unspeakable joy and power. All were wondrously touched and when, after my exposition, I prayed…the whole company was in tears, and said most earnest Amens…
It is remarkable we have not had such a continued presence of God amongst us since I was threatened to be excommunicated.’ (George Whitefield Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p. 219)
From 200 to 2000!
But the breakthrough was really happening in Kingswood. When he first preached there about 200 gathered. Four days later, it was more like 2000:
‘At three in the Afternoon, according to my Appointment, I went to Kingswood amongst the Colliers.
‘God highly favoured us in sending a fine Day, and near two thousand People were assembled on that Occasion.
‘I preached on John ch. 3. ver. 3 [‘Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’] and enlarged for near an Hour, I hope, to the Comfort and Edification of those who heard me.
‘God grant the Seed sown may not fall on stony or thorny, but on good Ground.’ (p.220)
Without being conscious of it, George Whitefield was beginning to model many of the features of modern evangelism: the passionate style of preaching, the appeal for people to follow Christ without delay, an emphasis on the New Birth.
In addition to this, and perhaps as important, was the context of his preaching – to large numbers outside normal church services. He was, in effect, creating a spiritual event that was able to win the attention of the masses. And as we’ll see in his subsequent visits to the colliers of Kingswood, it was an event so powerful as to draw tens of thousands.
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© 2009 Lex Loizides