George Whitefield by Nigel Scotland
Well researched biography of this truly remarkable preacher, described here as the first Transatlantic Revivalist
By Nigel Scotland
ISBN No: 978-0-7459-8028 7
Reviewed by Martin Poole
Nigel Scotland’s biography of George Whitefield is a well researched volume boasting more than 1,000 footnotes and a bibliography exceeding 70 titles. This in itself is evidence of a considerable interest in, as Nigel describes him – “The first Transatlantic Revivalist”.
For any unfamiliar with this amazing evangelist Nigel’s book is worth a read, which will be rewarded by an understanding of one who was keen, as he announced on his deathbed, “rather to wear out than rust out”. He made 13 potentially perilous crossings of the Atlantic in an effort to be a servant of the gospel in Britain and the new world of America, dismissed and derided as the unimportant colonies. He also rode huge distances on horseback and carriage, leading Nigel to proclaim that “No Christian preacher in the days before mechanised transport ever travelled comparable distances on land and sea”.
Forced to preach often outdoors due to many churches being closed to this “enthusiast”, Nigel gives a good account of this truly remarkable preacher. Sometimes sounding like cricket scores with noughts added, we are told of crowds in the thousands, even 30,000, who hung on his unamplified word and responded in great number to his appeals to be saved. Whitefield would no doubt be amused by the sound desks of today found in the most modest of sanctuaries. However there is little doubt that he would make use of today’s new advances as he often pioneered new means of communication. He adopted a “print and preach strategy” that flooded the Atlantic world with printed sermons and extracts from his journal.
His oratory was such that it led the impresario David Garrick to state “Whitefield could move men to tears just by pronouncing the word “Mesopotamia”. Although a regular critic of the theatre alongside dancing, games of chance etc. Whitfield had, prior to his conversion, read and acted in plays and he wove dramatic gifts into his preaching.
Contemporaries of Whitefield were Howell Harris (the famed Welsh evangelist), Jonathan Edwards a key figure in the Great Awakening in America, and Lady Selina Countess of Huntingdon, who opened the doors of British high society into which Whitfield poured the unchanging gospel message. However the relationship that is of key interest is between Whitefield and John Wesley. Nigel charts their relationship from the Holy Club group of which Whitefield was a late entrant and junior partner to Wesley, through joint ministry and then the fallout resulting from the strident embracing of Calvinism by the former and Arminianism by the latter.
Having fully charted Whitefield’s unique ministry, the biography makes a very interesting analysis of Whitefield’s views on Social work, primacy of the Holy Spirit, Major foundational role in Methodism, marriage, Churchmanship, slavery etc.
It is perhaps these latter discussions that are of considerable interest even to those whose basic biographical details of Whitefield are already well known.
The Revd Martin Poole is a retired pastor of Eastleigh, Godalming and Tabernacle Penarth, Baptist churches