One of my favorite sections in Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas is an early chapter about the influences of Christianity in the society throughout England and in the world. Metaxas details the work and ministry of George Whitefield and his Great Awakening of Britain.
Shocking the proper theological establishment of the day, Whitefield began to preach in the open fields so that the maximum amount of people could hear the Gospel – which was often twenty to thirty thousand people. Whitefield was hated by the established Anglican Church of England along with the press and those who despised religion.
He did not shy away from Biblical words like sin, Hell, wrath, and repentance and while explicitly affirming God’s sole work in salvation he urged the poor, lost, and undone sinner to come to Christ for saving. This one-man army carried a collapsible pulpit, went from town to town preaching, and preached over 18,000 sermons (with no microphone or amplification device).
One striking characteristic of Whitefield was that he was cross-eyed. As one may expect, a man who preaches a word that is “utter foolishness” to those around him is going to be ridiculed and viciously mocked everywhere he goes. For his distinct ocular deformity, he was labeled the unflattering name of “Dr. Squintum.” However, it is said that some admirers just said that “even his eyes make the sign upon the cross upon which Jesus died.”
The Hell-Fire Club
There was a group of detractors who called themselves the Hell-Fire Club that would actually follow Whitefield from town to town and mock his preaching. They hated this traveling preacher and were led by a large man named Thorpe.
On one occasion, Thorpe stood up next to a preaching Whitefield and mimicked his entire sermon perfectly imitating Whitefield’s tone, facial expressions, hand movements, and even his cross-eyed characteristic. It is said that in the middle of the mocking performance, Thorpe was so convicted by the Gospel that he stopped, fell on his knees, and began to weep and ask God for forgiveness and saving. Soon thereafter Thorpe became an effective evangelist and preacher for the Lord.
George Whitefield understood the power of the Gospel and was obedient to proclaiming the good news. Therefore in the footsteps of great men like Whitefield, I urge you to preach the Gospel like gentlemen, persuading while knowing we can not regenerate anyone, and then stand back while God uses all his extensive powers to convict and change the sinner.
In short, be faithful in proclaiming the good news as George Whitefield was.