The Gospel in the Great City

18th Century London
18th Century London

In a future post we’ll look at the experience of someone in the midst of the crowd of thousands listening to Evangelist George Whitefield.

We’ll get an idea of the excitement on hearing that he was to preach, the growing expectation as Whitefield arrives at the venue and then the power of the preaching as lives are changed.

But before we get there it will be instructive for us to hear Whitefield’s inner thoughts and excitement as he enjoyed regular scenes of crowds in excess of 10,000. A nation was being transformed by gospel preaching and Whitefield had the privilege of spearheading the movement.

Londoners Love Whitefield!
Of various London open-air meetings in mid-1739 he writes:

‘Preached this morning at Moorfields, to about twenty thousand, and God manifested Himself still more and more. My discourse was near two hours long.

‘My heart was full of love, and people were so melted down on every side…’

‘Great numbers were in tears…’

‘Preached at Kennington…with much sweetness and power…’

London is a City of Huge Congregations
It is at this point, when the massive crowds were so regular in their attendance that Whitefield calls the gatherings in Kennington, ‘my usual congregation’!

It was not until the 20th century when Christian ministers could rightly refer to normal church gatherings of ten or twenty thousand as their ‘regular congregations’.

Londoners Love Preaching!
London was in the midst of a full-on move of God. Whitefield describes preaching in Mayfair, ‘near Hyde Park Corner’ to a congregation that was estimated at being nearly 80,000 people!

Where you live in the world right now probably determines your response to that number. If you’re reading this in Nigeria, or in South America where much larger crowds have gathered in the open air to hear a visiting Evangelist you’re probably knowingly celebrating. But if you’re in Europe your tendency might be to question the estimate and want to bring it down by at least 50%. OK! Let’s bring it down by 50% – now let’s imagine 40,000 Londoners gathering to hear about Jesus!

Whatever the precise size, Whitefield wrote, ‘It was by far the largest I ever preached to yet. A high and very commodious scaffold was erected for me to stand upon…’

He preached with mighty power and passion, and finishes his description of that meeting by saying, ‘All love, all glory, be to God through Christ.’

Blackheath, Hampstead Heath, Chatham, Shadwell were on the periphery of London (‘Blessed be God!’, said GW, ‘We begin to surround this great city!’) Kennington Common, Moorfields, Mayfair, Bexley, Hackney and many other boroughs and suburbs – Londoners were suddenly craving the gospel. The foremost city of the 18th Century world was waking up and turning to Christ.

‘I have seen the Kingdom of God come with power!’

‘Oh what marvellous great kindness has God shown me in this great city!’ Whitefield wrote in his journal, ‘Indeed, I have seen the kingdom of God come with power!’

Oh London, London! Why don’t you spend a few moments praying for the gospel to have great success once again in that great city.

(Quotations from Whitefield’s Journal, quoted by Arnold Dallimore, Vol 1 p.292-294)
© 2009 Lex Loizides

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