George Whitefield Meets Howell Harris

George Whitefield Preaching in the Fields
George Whitefield Preaching in the Fields

Whitefield imitates Harris’ freedom

Howell Harris, the Welsh Evangelist was a shining example to others in the 18th Century.

His work was effective on a massive scale, and thousands came to Christ in Wales.

George Whitefield had been in touch by letter and had already begun to imitate his faith by preaching outside normal church services and buildings.

This new style of preaching was effective for Whitefield too. And he was able to report huge numbers coming to hear him preach in the fields of Bristol:

14,000 people gather to hear Whitefield

‘Sunday 4 March. At four in the afternoon, I went to the mount on Rose Green, and preached to above fourteen thousand souls, and so good was my God, that all could hear.

‘I think it was worth while to come many miles to see such a sight. I spoke, with great freedom…’ (George Whitefield’s Journals, Banner of Truth edition, p.226)

During February and March Whitefield preached from a wall, from the steps of a house, from a table, on a bowling green, and from the Judges Seat in the local Town Hall!

Whitefield on Harris: A Burning and Shining Light!

At last, in March 1739, these two great servants of God finally met.

‘After I came from [preaching in the Judges] Seat, I was much refreshed with the sight of my dear Brother Howell Harris, whom, though I knew not in person, I have long since loved in…Christ, and have often felt my soul drawn out in prayer in his behalf.

‘A burning and shining light has he been in those parts; a Barrier against profaneness and immorality, and an indefatigable promoter of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

‘He is now about twenty five years of age. Twice he has applied (being every way qualified) for holy orders; but was refused, under a false pretence, that he was not of age.

‘About a Month ago he offered himself again, but was put off. Upon this, he was, and is still resolved to go on in his work…

Harris’ zeal, courage and generosity of spirit

‘For these three years…he has discoursed almost twice every day for three or four hours together…

‘Many alehouse people, fiddlers, harpers etc sadly cry out against him for spoiling their business.

‘He has been made the subject of numbers of sermons, has been threatened with public prosecutions, and had Constables sent to apprehend him.

‘But God has blessed him with inflexible courage; instantaneous strength has been communicated to him from above; and he still continues to go on from conquering to conquer.

Harris was willing to work with all true Believers

‘He is of a most catholic Spirit, loves all that love our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore, he is [described] by Bigots as a Dissenter.

‘…Many call, and own him as their spiritual Father, and, I believe, would lay down their Lives for his sake.

‘He discourses generally in a Field; but at other times in a house, from a wall, a table, or any thing else. He has established nearly thirty Societies in South Wales, and still his sphere of action is enlarged daily. He is full of faith, and the Holy Ghost.

Catching the Fire!

‘When I first saw him, my heart was knit closely to him. I wanted to catch some of his fire, and gave him the right hand of fellowship with my whole heart.

‘After I had saluted him…we spent the remainder of the evening in taking sweet council together, and telling one another what God had done for our souls.

‘My heart was still drawn out towards him more and more. A divine and strong sympathy seemed to be between us, and I was resolved to promote his interest with all my might.

The Birth of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism?

‘Accordingly we took an Account of the several Societies, and agreed on such Measures as seemed most conducive to promote the common interest of our Lord.

‘After much comfortable and encouraging Discourse with each other, we kneeled down and prayed…

‘This done, we eat a little Supper, and then, after singing a Hymn, we went to Bed, praising and blessing God for bringing us Face to Face.

‘I doubt not but Satan envied our Happiness. But, I hope, by the help of God we shall make his Kingdom shake.

God loves to do great things by weak instruments, that the power may be of God, and not of man.’ (ibid p.228-230)

For Whitefield, meeting Harris and a cluster of non-Anglican preachers was to prove a turning point. But an equally significant turning point was about to take place for the burgeoning evangelical movement: John Wesley was due to arrive in Bristol and participate in the work.

© 2009 Lex Loizides

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