In Isaiah 44 God promises ‘I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit…’ (Isa 44:3).
What took place on George Whitefield’s visits to the coal miners of Bristol seems to be an apt fulfillment of this wonderful promise.
Having ‘broken the ice’ and preached twice from a small hill to the colliers, the 24 yr old Whitefield returned several times.
On his third visit, in a freezing cold February, between four and five thousand people gathered to hear the passionate Evangelist. He says, ‘The sun shone very bright, and the people standing in such an awful [awe-filled] manner round the mount, in the profoundest silence, filled me with a holy admiration. Blessed be God for such a plentiful harvest.’ (George Whitefield Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p.221)
However, nothing could quite prepare him for the wonder of seeing the first truly huge crowds gathering in the open air to hear him.
From 200 to 2000 to 4000 to 10,000!
He writes, ‘At four I hastened to Kingswood. At a moderate computation there were about ten thousand people to hear me.
‘The trees and the hedges were full. All was hush when I began; the sun shone bright, and God enabled me to preach for an hour with great power and so loudly that all, I was told, could hear me.
Mr. B…n spoke right. The fire is kindled in the country; and I know, all the devils in hell shall not be able to quench it.’ (ibid p.223)
The white gutters made by their tears
He adds, ‘Having no righteousness of their own to renounce, they were glad to hear of a Jesus who was a friend of publicans and sinners, and came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.
‘The first discovery of their being affected was to see the white gutters made by their tears which plentifully fell down their black cheeks, as they came out of their coal pits.
‘Hundreds and hundreds of them were soon brought under deep convictions, which, as the event proved, happily ended in a sound and thorough conversion.’ (quoted in ‘Memoirs of the Life of the Reverend George Whitefield, MA’, John Gillies, 1772 edition, p.28)
Mass Evangelism, Emotionalism or Effective Mission?
Ah, someone might say, typical emotionalism in Evangelism. But where’s the fruit? Didn’t Whitefield himself give the impression that he had not built stability into the young converts?
Here is John Wesley’s assessment from one year after the events we’ve been looking at. Let his testimony stand:
‘The scene is already changed. Kingswood does not now, as a year ago, resound with cursing and blasphemy. It is no more filled with drunkenness and uncleanness, no longer full of wars and fightings, of wrath and envyings. Peace and love are there. Great numbers of the people are mild, gentle and easy to be entreated.’ (Quoted by John Pollock in Wesley, Hodder edition, p.133)
Good fruit indeed!
You can see more Whitefield resources here
© Lex Loizides