The Preeminence of Scripture in George Whitefield’s Life
Whitefield’s spiritual devotion was established upon his immovable commitment to the Bible. Once he was converted, the Scripture immediately became his necessary food and fueled the fire in his soul for God. The more he immersed himself in the Bible, the deeper he grew in his dedication to know God and to advance His kingdom. The flame in his soul spread quickly, setting his newly regenerated life ablaze in a relatively short period of time. Within two years, the Word transformed him from a simple student at Oxford into a powerful pulpiteer.
Whitefield’s spiritual devotion was established upon his immovable commitment to the Bible
Biographer Arnold Dallimore described Whitefield’s early days as a believer, when the only visible light in town would be beaming from his second-story window as he ingested the truths of Holy Writ. Dallimore writes, “We can visualize him at five in the morning in his room over Harris’s bookstore. He is on his knees with his Bible, his Greek New Testament, and a volume of Matthew Henry spread before him.” With books open before his willing heart, Whitefield gazes back and forth from the English Bible to the Greek to Matthew Henry’s commentary, seeking to discern and digest Scripture’s divine truths.
Reflecting upon these early days in Christ, Whitefield recalled, “I began to read the Holy Scriptures upon my knees… . This proved meat indeed and drink indeed to my soul. I daily received fresh light and power from above.” As one who has gone without food devours meat, he described how the Scripture became his “soul’s delight.” Whitefield confessed how his daily devotion to the Scripture became like fire upon the altar of his soul, fueling his love for Christ.
After reading the text, young Whitefield prayed over “‘every line and every word’ in both the English and Greek, feasting his mind and his heart upon it till its essential meaning became a part of his very person.” Whitefield devoured the words and truths of Scripture like a feast spread before his hungry soul. Little did he realize at the time that God would use his newly kindled heart as a torch whose fire would engulf two continents. As the candle flame flickered in that second-story window, Whitefield was being prepared to be loosed upon the world with the good news of Jesus Christ. His private acquaintance with the Word is most clearly seen in the scriptural vocabulary of his preaching. He readily used biblical metaphors, drew biblical analogies, and illustrated biblical truths with other biblical passages. Cross-references in Scripture flowed freely from his lips as he prayed that the Holy Spirit would sear the truth upon souls in need of divine grace.
The Word of God became so all-consuming in Whitefield’s daily life that he confessed to having little time to read anything else: “I got more true knowledge from reading the Book of God in one month, than I could ever have acquired from all the writings of men.” He was deeply troubled by those who viewed the Scripture as an antiquated book of irrelevant writings. In a day when many evangelicals spent considerable time reading secular philosophy, rhetoric, and logic, Whitefield devoured the divine revelation. He grieved over the eclipse of Scripture in his generation, boldly asserting, “If we once get above our Bibles and cease making the written Word of God our sole rule both as to faith and practice, we shall soon lie open to all manner of delusion and be in great danger of making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience.” Whitefield resolved that nothing would displace the preeminence of Scripture in his life.
As Whitefield lived for Christ, the Word of God became the ruling authority over his life. It marked the trail upon which he constantly discovered beautiful vistas of redemption, sacrifice, love, and joy. The Scripture caused him to love God yet more. “Study to know Him more and more, for the more you know, the more you will love Him,” he said. Whitefield desired to become more like his Lord with every word he read, and he was forged and formed upon the anvil of Scripture. His great devotion to Scripture became God’s descending communion with him.
This excerpt is from Steven Lawson’s new title from Reformation Trust, The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield.