Arminian Today

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The Failure of George Whitefield

In reality, George Whitefield was not a failure.  Many souls were saved under his preaching of the gospel.  I don’t doubt one minute that God didn’t use Whitefield to honor His name and to make known His name among the English-speaking peoples.  God raised up George Whitefield and used him mightily for His own divine purposes.  I am not then writing that Whitefield was a failure in the sense that he was not used by God nor that souls were not saved under his preaching.  That is not what I am meaning by the use of “failure” in this post.

I’m actually borrowing from Whitefield’s own testimony at the end of his life.  Both he and John Wesley had preached all over England.  It was Whitefield who had encouraged Wesley to preach in the open air (field preaching they called it).  Whitefield was perhaps the better preacher (so I am told) and that his voice was a powerful preaching voice.  Wesley was the leader.  Wesley would preach but he was quick to organize and Wesley never left the Church of England.  Wesley was seeking to bring reformation to the Anglicans.  Wesley would preach but he would create societies and bands wherever he went.

It was here, Wesley’s societies and bands, that Whitefield looked back on his life and admitted his failure.  Whitefield stated:

“My brother Wesley acted wisely.  The souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined to societies, and thus preserved the fruit of his labor.  This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand.”

Thousands upon thousands were no doubt awakened by the Spirit of God under both George Whitefield and John Wesley.  Wesley, however, would take the newly awakened souls and place them in societies.  In fact, Wesley did not give altar calls for salvation nor did he lead people in “the sinner’s prayer” as we know today in many evangelical churches.  Instead, souls hungry to be saved were placed under the care of a true Christian and they would pray with the sinner and read the Bible with the sinner until the sinner came to know Christ and have the assurance of their salvation.  While I would prefer baptizing such sinners into Christ (Acts 2:41), this would be the time when the Church would recognize the awakened sinner to be a saved saint of God.  The new Christian would be placed then in a society meeting where they would meet with other saints to confess sin, to be encouraged, to pray, to read the Bible, and to grow in holiness.

This act of sanctification kept the saints.  It was this that Whitefield failed at.  Whitefield preached and many souls were saved.  However, Whitefield did not organize them into societies.  He left the church to do that and few did.  Many fell away because of a lack of accountability and discipleship.  Even John Piper admits that sanctification is a work in the church and not just in the individual.  Sanctification is not just the work of the Lord in the heart of the saint but it is the work of the Church as well (Hebrews 10:23-25; James 5:16).  As we gather with other saints, we are encouraged to continue in the faith and to keep our eyes on Jesus at all times.  We are able to confess our sins to each other and find help to overcoming sin.  Sanctification then is not just my work but it is a team work, a work of the church as well (Ephesians 4:11-16).

In terms of application, let me warn my fellow saints who enjoy sharing the gospel with the lost (which should be us all), we must preach Christ to the lost but we must encourage those who are seeking salvation to be discipled after being set free from sin.  It is not enough to preach that Jesus saves from sin and then leave the new Christian alone to just wander.  Matthew 13:18-23 warns what will happen to the seed that we plant apart from being rooted in Christ.  I am aware that some Calvinists will preach that Christ saves and expect God to keep the new saints but read Whitefield’s words again and again.  Let them sink deep into your soul.  Jesus told us to go and make disciples and not just to preach the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20).  Even the Apostles in Acts 2 obeyed the words of Jesus and did just what He said in Acts 2:42.  I pray that we would as well.  Preach the gospel as Whitefield and Wesley did but place people in societies for the purpose of sanctification as Wesley did.  This will bear fruit.

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Written by The Seeking Disciple

11/05/2014 at 2:42 PM

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