Monday, June 8, 2015

Book Review: George Whitefield

George Whitefield: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought. James L. Schwenk. 2015. P&R Publishing. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I enjoyed reading James L. Schwenk's George Whitefield: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought. George Whitefield is someone I enjoy reading about. I find his story compelling, and, I love his passion for evangelism as well. In Schwenk's biography, the focus is on the man and the message.

The first half of the book is purely biographical focusing on the man and his ministry in the UK and the US. The second half of the book are excerpts from Whitefield's writings. Among the excerpts: Whitefield's autobiography, Whitefield's Letter to Wesley December 24, 1740 (the one about predestination), and three sermons, "The Almost Christian," "Britain's Mercies, and Britain's Duties," and "The Good Shepherd."

I love the balance of the two sections. Readers get an opportunity to learn more about George Whitefield, but, they also get the opportunity to read more Whitefield, to get to know him in his own words. In some cases, the material is covered twice. For example, the controversy between George Whitefield and John Wesley is first covered in Schwenk's biography. He extensively discusses the matter. But Whitefield's letter is also included in the second section, so readers get the full story! I must admit that this was the highlight of the book for me!!!

I did enjoy the biographical section. It definitely provided context for reading his work. But I must admit that I enjoyed reading Whitefield's letter to Wesley and his sermon, "Almost Christian" a tiny bit more!

John Wesley's Sermon, "Free Grace"
George Whitefield's Letter to John Wesley 

Quotes from The Almost Christian:
And therefore, from the words of the text [Acts 26:28], shall endeavor to show these three things:
FIRST, What is meant by an almost-Christian.
SECONDLY, What are the chief reasons, why so many are no more than almost Christians.
THIRDLY, I shall consider the ineffectualness, danger, absurdity, and uneasiness which attends those who are but almost Christians; and then conclude with a general exhortation, to set all upon striving not only be almost, but altogether Christians. 
An almost Christian, if we consider him in respect to his duty to God, is one that halts between two opinions; that wavers between Christ and the world; that would reconcile God and Mammon, light and darkness, Christ and Belial. It is true, he has an inclination to religion, but then he is very cautious how he goes too far in it: his false heart is always crying out, Spare thyself, do thyself no harm. He prays indeed, that "God's will may be done on earth, as it is in heaven." But notwithstanding, he is very partial in his obedience, and fondly hopes that God will not be extreme to mark every thing that he willfully does amiss; though an inspired apostle has told him, that "he who offends in one point is guilty of all." But chiefly, he is one that depends much on outward ordinances, and on that account looks upon himself as righteous, and despises others; though at the same time he is as great a stranger to the divine life as any other person whatsoever. In short, he is fond of the form, but never experiences the power of godliness in his heart. 
O let us scorn all base and treacherous treatment of our King and Savior, of our God and Creator. Let us not take some pains all our lives to go to heaven, and yet plunge ourselves into hell as last. Let us give to God our whole hearts, and no longer halt between two opinions: if the world be God, let us serve that; if pleasure be a God, let us serve that; but if the Lord he be God, let us, O let us serve him alone. Alas! why, why should we stand out any longer? Why should we be so in love with slavery, as not wholly to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil, which, like so many spiritual chains, bind down our souls, and hinder them from flying up to God. Alas! what are we afraid of? Is not God able to reward our entire obedience? If he is, as the almost Christian's lame way of serving him, seems to grant, why then will we not serve him entirely? For the same reason we do so much, why do we not do more? Or do you think that being only half religious will make you happy, but that going farther, will render you miserable and uneasy? Alas! this, my brethren, is delusion all over: for what is it but this half piety, this wavering between God and the world, that makes so many, that are seemingly well disposed, such utter strangers to the comforts of religion? They choose just so much of religion as will disturb them in their lusts, and follow their lusts so far as to deprive themselves of the comforts of religion. Whereas on the contrary, would they sincerely leave all in affection, and give their hearts wholly to God, they would then (and they cannot till then) experience the unspeakable pleasure of having a mind at unity with itself, and enjoy such a peace of God, which even in this life passes all understanding, and which they were entire strangers to before. It is true, it we will devote ourselves entirely to God, we must meet with contempt; but then it is because contempt is necessary to heal our pride. We must renounce some sensual pleasures, but then it is because those unfit us for spiritual ones, which are infinitely better. We must renounce the love of the world; but then it is that we may be filled with the love of God: and when that has once enlarged our hearts, we shall, like Jacob when he served for his beloved Rachel, think nothing too difficult to undergo, no hardships too tedious to endure, because of the love we shall then have for our dear Redeemer. Thus easy, thus delightful will be the ways of God even in this life: but when once we throw off these bodies, and our souls are filled with all the fullness of God, O! what heart can conceive, what tongue can express, with what unspeakable joy and consolation shall we then look back on our past sincere and hearty services. Think you then, my dear hearers, we shall repent we had done too much; or rather think you not, we shall be ashamed that we did no more; and blush we were so backward to give up all to God; when he intended hereafter to give us himself?

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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