Steven J. Lawson
Orlando: Reformation Trust, a Division of Ligonier Ministries, 2013
I love people. I love talking to people and getting to know them. I also love reading biographies of people from the past. I began reading biographies in about fifth grade. I especially read those of famous Americans and great Christians. From time to time I still read biographies, and I’m always inspired by their lives!
Recently I have discovered a set of biographies called “The Long Line of Godly Men Profiles”, edited by Baptist pastor Steven J. Lawson, currently the president of OnePassion Ministries, a ministry designed to bring about biblical reformation in the church today. This series includes biographies of John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, Isaac Watts, John Owen, John Wycliffe, George Whitefield, and others. https://www.ligonier.org/store/collection/long-line-godly-men
George Whitfield (1714-1770), who was a friend and classmate of John and Charles Wesley was converted at Oxford in his early twenties by reading Henry Scougal’s The Life of God in the Soul of Man. From that point onward he burned candles in the wee hours of the morning reading the Bible, the Greek New Testament, and the commentaries of Matthew Henry, always praying over what he was reading.
Prayer was a big part of Whitfield’s life. In fact, in his diary he had a list of fifteen criteria that he regularly used to examine himself and his actions. Prayer is mentioned in six of those fifteen maxims, more than any other spiritual discipline. It is obvious that the Holy Spirit used the twin disciplines of prayer and Bible reading to transform Whitefield into a humble, godly servant of Christ
Many call George Whitefield the greatest preacher of all times. Charles Spurgeon saw him as his role model. Martyn Lloyd Jones called him “a pietist who saw practical devotion to the Father and His Son through the Spirit as always the Christian’s top priority.” J. C. Ryle said Whitefield was “a man of singleness of eye who lived for two objectives – the glory of God and the salvation of man.” Though he strongly held to the doctrines of grace, he was convinced of them not by reading Calvin, but by studying the Bible itself.
Whitefield was first and foremost an evangelist. He preached sometimes four or five times a day usually in the open air. Sometimes he was taunted and pelted by eggs and dead cats, but he kept on preaching, not only in Great Britain, but also in North America. He crossed the Atlantic Ocean thirteen times for the express purpose of preaching the gospel. He spent what would amount to almost three years on a ship in route to preach the Word. In his thirty-four years of ministry he preached some eighteen thousand sermons. If informal sermons are included, this number easily increases to the thirty thousand.
His passion was the gospel. Steven J. Lawson, the author of his biography does more than recount his life story. He analyzes his life and preaching. In the excellent chapter “A LIFE OF SINGULAR DEVOTION” five characteristics of this great man of God are described – Immersed in Scripture, Saturated in Prayer, Focused on Christ, Cloaked in Humility, and Striving for Holiness. In another superb chapter “A GOSPEL WITHOUT COMPROMISE” the author develops the five main themes of his preaching – Exposing Sin, Exalting the Cross, Requiring Regeneration (“ye must be born again”), Summoning the will, and Pointing to Eternity. Though he never gave gospel invitations to come forward to pray to receive Christ, as Billy Graham did, his favorite word in preaching was COME.
In the last very powerful chapter entitled “A MANDATE FROM THE LORD” Lawson develops the theme of the power of the Holy Spirit in Whitfield’s life under the following rubrics “Sovereignly Called”, “Relentlessly Driven”, “Spiritually Energized”, “Divinely Comforted”, and “Supernaturally Effect.”
One final lesson from George Whitfield – he reminds those of us who are Calvinists that orthodox doctrine is not enough – the power of Spirit is absolutely necessary!