George Whitefield - A Bitesize Biography

Reading biographies is something that I find both enjoyable and beneficial, particularly when I am learning about the life of a brother or sister in Christ who has lived well. Thus it is little surprise that I deeply enjoyed the most recent entry into the Bitesize Biographies series, published by EP books. I previously reviewed Earl Blackburn’s volume in the series, which had John Chrysostom as its subject. That review can be found in the November 2014 issue of Themelios, the journal of The Gospel Coalition.

 Michael Haykin, a professor of Church History at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written a brief volume on the life and work of George Whitefield. Haykin presents a vision of Whitefield that reclaims him from the revivalistic excesses of other itinerate preachers, demonstrates his thoroughgoing Calvinism, and clears him from accusations of antinomianism. Whitefield was a faithful, Anglican who saw God’s sovereignty over salvation as an encouragement to evangelize and exhort others toward personal holiness.

 Unlike his contemporaries and friends, Charles and John Wesley, Whitefield understood that Christian perfection is a product of divine work that will be completed at a future date. He wrestled with his own sinfulness, yet still saw fit to call others to repentance. In Whitefield’s words:

It is good to see ourselves poor, and exceeding vile; but if that sight and feeling prevent our looking up to, and exerting ourselves for our dear Saviour, it becomes criminal, and robs the soul of much comfort. I can speak this by dear-bought experience. How often have I been kept from speaking and acting for God, by a sight of my own unworthiness; but now I see that the more unworthy I am, the more fit to work for Jesus, because he will get much glory in working by such mean instruments; and the more he has forgiven me, the more I ought to love and serve him. Fired with a sense of his unspeakable loving-kindness, I dare to go out and tell poor sinners that a lamb was slain for them; and that he will have mercy on sinners as such, of whom I am chief.

Such is the motivation of a man who made seven trips across the Atlantic to America to preach up and down the East Coast, proclaiming Christ to many who had not heard the gospel before. Such is the attitude of the man who preached tens of thousands of times to crowds as large as 30,000. Such is the character of a man that would preach in the open air when it was common for scoffers to throw rocks and seek to do harm to the preacher to disrupt the presentation.

Whitefield is a worthy subject of such a biography. This format of very brief, but well-researched biographies is a helpful tool for Christian discipleship. Reading a popular-level account of the life of a significant believer reminds the reader that great things are possible for those who are faithful to use their talents according to their calling. It is also a testimony of God’s faithfulness, as he raised up someone to preach and through him revived true religious fervor despite the moral decay in Britain and America in the 18th century.

If you’ve ever been interested in reading Christian biographies, the Bitesize Biography series is a great place to start. They are affordable and accessible. They are written by authors who are academically qualified and who have a desire to provide an aid for discipleship. I cannot commend this book or this series highly enough for personal or church libraries.

Bitesize Biographies: George Whitefield
By Michael A. G. Haykin

Note: A copy of this book was provided to me without charge by the publisher with no expectation of a positive review. All opinions are my own.