June 27, 2007

SNEAK PEAK #4: "The Life and Times of George Whitefield"


The Life and Times of George Whitefield
by Robert Philip
ISBN 13 #978-0-85151-9609 \ 300 pages
Paperback \ $19.00 (U.S.)

Writes Iain H. Murray:
"Philip’s Life and Times of Whitefield was one of the first biographies I read as a young Christian and I never return to it without being stirred afresh by its enduring message."

"There can be few Christians who changed the life of nations only to be as little remembered as George Whitefield (1714-70). In part this was because he left no denomination. Except for the short biography by the Scotsman, John Gillies (published two years after his death), Whitefield’s memory was left largely in the hands of those who wished to attribute his influence to ‘theatrical talent’ and fanaticism. The English evangelical, Thomas Wilson, who died in 1794, called for a fuller biography, but nothing came until Robert Philip’s volume in 1837. After Philip’s work there was a turning of the tide, and by 1852 J.C.Ryle was among those popularizing the belief that ‘Whitefield was one of the most powerful and extraordinary preachers the world has ever seen.’ Later and more definitive biographies were to confirm this opinion, notably the two volumes of Luke Tyerman 1876-77 and of Arnold Dallimore in 1970 and 1980.

Philip’s work, however, has not been displaced. It remains the best account to be found in a single volume. As a biographer he has his own distinctive merits. Although Whitefield was dead more than twenty years before he was born, Philip knew and spoke with those who had a personal knowledge of his subject. From them, and from his own extensive study of Whitefield’s Journals, letters and sermons, he grasped the great lesson of his life, namely, it is the Holy Spirit who makes preachers. In a brief personal allusion, Philip tells us (pp.553-55) how he first saw this as a youth in Huntly, Scotland, where his minister, George Cowie, preached ‘bathed in tears of love’ - the result of ‘tender and intense love to souls’. Not without cause was Cowie called ‘the Whitefield of the north’, yet, as a child, Philip was present in September 1799 when the Synod of the Antiburgher Presbyterians excommunicated him. His fault lay in no weakening of Calvinistic orthodoxy, it was for his recognition of evangelists outside his denomination whose preaching was owned of God. Cowie led Philip into the secret of Whitefield’s life: effective preaching is more than the demonstration of truth; it must be ‘in demonstration of the Holy Spirit and power’. ‘God makes ministers a blessing to others, by blessing themselves first. He works in them, in order to work by them.’

Philip is not an uncritical writer, and he is ready to note weaknesses and failures that admirers of Whitefield have sometimes passed over. But the great feature of his work is the way in which he leaves his subject to speak for himself. He seems to have absorbed all that Whitefield ever said and wrote, and his selection brings us into direct contact with the man. Thus Philip can truthfully write: ‘This work is chiefly from Whitefield’s own pen. So far as it is mine, it is in his own spirit.’

For those who want a work of quiet scholarship, Philip is not their man. But where the desire is for the evangelical flame - for words that burn, and reach heart and soul – this is a volume that shows why the gospel can turn the world upside down.


Anonymous said...

Yes, this looks especially excellent, Steve! Tony

JamesL said...

My wife ordered up volume 1 of Dallimore's work for me for father's day and I am revisting it even now. I gave my old used volume to a man studying for the ministry awhile back. This work by Phillips is on time and on target! I ask God to send us men who can preach the doctrines of God's glorious grace with "broken hearts and tear filled eyes."(Dallimore) Praise GHod from whom all blessings flow.

Steve Burlew said...

Yeah, I can't wait to get my own hands on it, Tony.
Thanks, James. I've recently started volume 1 of Dallimore. Who was it who said, "Too many books; not enough time"? It certainly si true.

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