Book Review: George Whitefield: God’s Anointed Servant by Arnold Dallimore
George Whitefield: God’s Anointed Servant in the Great Revival of the Eighteenth Century by Arnold A. Dallimore
“God give me a deep humility, a well-guided zeal, a burning love and a single eye, and then let men or devils do their worst.”
This prayer from Whitefield as he boarded a ship that would take him to begin his missionary work in America captures the great evangelist’s life.
Arnold A. Dallimore’s George Whitefield: God’s Anointed Servant in the Great Revival of the Eighteenth Century is a condensation of his larger two volume work on Whitefield. This book recounts in a moving pace the life of this incredible eighteenth century preacher.
Prior to reading Dallimore’s book, I knew little of George Whitefield and his place in history. This short book remedied that situation. From its opening pages, this book captures the reader’s attention and holds it throughout the duration of the tour it gives of Whitefield’s amazing life. Dallimore’s writing style is unobtrusive and clear, moving the reader through the life and work of George Whitefield. The reader is taken from Whitefield’s youth and pre-conversion zeal (where something of Whitefield’s character and disposition is revealed), to his intense and driven singular passion for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Of special interest to the seminary student is the description of Whitefield’s devotion to study of the Bible. We are told that Whitefield would at 5am be on his knees before his English Bible, his Greek Testament, and Matthew Henry’s commentary and
“with intense concentration he reads a portion in English, studies its words and tenses in the Greek, and then considers Matthew Henry’s exposition of the whole” and then praying over every line and every word in both the English and the Greek, feasting his mind and his heart upon it till its essential meaning has become a part of his very person.” (pg 22)
Another interesting fact that must surely bring a smile to the face of Westminster Seminary’s own Dr. Hywel Jones is that “the idea of preaching out-of-doors did not originate with Whitefield. It came to him through correspondence with a tireless, fearless, dynamic Welshman, Howell Harris” (pg 44). Included in Dallimore’s book is a wonderful nugget of how Whitefield and a Moravian were unable to communicate because Whitefield did not speak German and the Moravian did not speak English—so they conversed in Latin! (pg 80)
Whitefield’s life exhibits feats of mythical proportions from the incredible number of people that gathered to hear him preach (60-80 thousand), to the sheer number of times he preached (40 or more hours per week). Dallimore notes that the people who gathered to hear him in a pre-amplification age were “undoubtedly the largest ever reached by a human voice in all history” (pg 56). The equally astounding danger and violent harassment endured by the movements at the time (Whitefield’s, Harris’, and Wesley’s people as well as the Moravians) were also staggering.
Describing the mob’s violent behavior in Whitefield’s day against his close friend and colleague Cennick and the Welshman Harris, “the mob fired guns over our heads, holding the muzzles so near to our faces that we were made as black as tinkers with the powder…[they] broke all the windows [of a friend’s home]…cut and wounded four of his family, and knocked down one of his daughters” (134) . Other encounters with the mob against Whitefield and his colleagues included attacks, bodily thrashings, severe stonings, and other harsh injury and assault. These kinds of things are difficult for those of us in America in 2011 to comprehend.
Especially moving and significant for the student preacher are the descriptions of Whitefield’s preaching and its effect on the multitudes that heard him. His preaching is described as being not only heard but felt (53, 54). And so as the Holy Spirit worked through Whitefield’s preaching on the people of a coal mining town, we have this account:
“Having no righteousness of their own to renounce, they were glad to hear of a Jesus who was a friend of publicans and sinners, and came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. The first discovery of their being affected was to see the white gutters made by the tears which plentifully fell down their black cheeks, as they came out of their coal pits. Hundreds and hundreds of them were soon brought under deep convictions, which, as the event proved, happily ended in a sound and thorough conversion. ” (46)
I highly recommend this short volume to all. It is a great and accessible biography. Anyone interested in history, from the high school student to the retiree, will count the small investment of time and money more than worthwhile. It is very encouraging and inspiring for the aspiring and the already minister and a must-read for those working on the mission field or in evangelism. The only warning I have about the book is that it may stir within the reader the desire to obtain the larger work.
Reviewed by Tony Garbarino, MDiv Candidate