George Whitefield – Evangelist of the 18th Century Revival
Arnold A Dallimore – Wakeman Trust – Pages: 224.
Available from Christian Bookshop Ossett, Price £9.95 + P&P
Following the recent post about church history, here’s a review of a biography of one of the giants of the church that I mentioned.
This brief review is of the single volume biography of George Whitefield by Arnold Dallimore. It is an abridgment of the author’s two-volume work, George Whitefield: Life and times of the great evangelist of the 18th century revival.
George Whitefield the self-styled ‘servant of all’ preached in almost every corner of the British Isles and the American Colonies. Along with John and Charles Wesley, Howell Harris, John Cennick and other well-known preachers of the 18th century, he was responsible, through God’s grace, for an evangelical revival that changed the nation. His fame perhaps eclipsed by the Wesleys in Britain and Jonathan Edwards in the United States, but he deserves to be better known. In the words of Bishop J.C. Ryle,
‘Whitefield was entirely chief and first among the English reformers of the 18th Century’, ‘No Englishman, I believe, dead or alive, has ever equalled him’.
From the back cover: ‘this paperback condensing the larger volumes, was prepared by the author to portray in more manageable compass the life and service of Whitefield’.
In this goal the book is successful, reducing 1200 pages to about 225. Each chapter deals with a key event in Whitefield’s life, covering such topics as his first association with the Wesleys, his conversion, initial preaching in the open air, travels to the American colonies, travels to Scotland & Wales, his marriage, his doctrinal position & the controversies with the Wesleys, and his work with the American orphans. Although each chapter is brief, the author still portrays vividly the zeal of the man and the excitement of his life. Also clearly demonstrated is the great love Whitefield had both for his Lord & Saviour and also for the lost souls to whom he preached. Although Dallimore obviously has a huge admiration for Whitefield, he is able to criticise where necessary, such as with Whitefield’s failure to condemn slavery and the slave trade.
Frequent quotes from Whitefield’s journals and the eyewitness accounts of those present at the events described help to bring the narrative alive. There are also a good number of illustrations showing the people and places referred to in the text.
If I had one criticism of the abridgment, it would be that there is a lack of dates, which coupled with Whitefield’s frenetic activities can leave the reader wondering exactly where he is in time!
In his introduction, Dallimore writes, ‘I trust…that readers of this one-volume work, gaining instruction and blessing from its pages, will be influenced to read the two-volume record of the life and times of George Whitefield’. This is certainly the case. Whilst providing a succinct and interesting introduction to Whitefield, there is clearly so much more that could be written and therefore read. Many important things including the relationships with such notables as the Wesleys, Howell Harris, Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin and John Cennick are by necessity, not covered in much detail. Neither is the actual content of Whitefield’s sermons, (although I understand only a handful of the many thousands he preached remain on record).
I recommend this book as a good introduction to a man who deserves to be better remembered, and as a less daunting prospect than the full two-volumes! However, if time and inclination allow the unabridged version will undoubtedly be of more value.
[A00081 – 06/12/2018]