Messy Heroes Lifting Up a Great God: George Whitefield
As fallen human beings we at times can get caught up in allowing our heroes to become larger than life and better than reality. This can especially be true of our Christian heroes. We can get caught up in putting people on pedestals and ignoring sin and flaws in them.
One of the “heroes” of the faith in Church history is George Whitefield (1714-1770). Whitefield lived during the Great Awakening in North America and preached as well in his home country England. He preached before Jonathan Edwards another of the “heroes” of the faith.
Whitefield preached before thousands of people. He did this without a mic or jumbotron. He did it outside while people openly mocked him and at times worked to distract his listeners.
Whitefield was used by God in might ways in brining many people to salvation. He was a powerfully gifted teacher. Even people who did not believe what he was preaching would even stop to listen such as Benjamin Franklin, who found it delightful to listen to him preach even though he was not a Christian in the least bit.
Whitefield refused to sugarcoat messages, he refused to hold back passion. He was so expressive that often he has been accused of acting and being fake about his emotions. Whitefield’s answer to that was to say that when he looked at actors who were passionate about fake stuff, how much more should he be passionate about real stuff, and eternally and infinetly more important things.
Whitefield though was flawed. Whitefield supported the slavery movement in America. Whitefield was a sinner saved by grace. Whitefield was messy.
Our “heroes” no matter who you name are imperfect to one degree to another. We need to take off the rose colored glasses when we approach history. We need to see that while these men are in many ways worthy of imitation, we only imitate and follow them as they follow Christ.
Ultimately we only follow Jesus. He was not messy. He had no imperfections according to God’s standards.
Let’s be real about our “heroes” so that as the book of Hebrews says we can look at the ultimate, perfect one, Jesus.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2 (emphasis mine)
For an amazing biography sketch of George Whitefield check out John Piper’s talk about him that he delivered at this past year’s Desiring God’s Pastor Conference. It is well worth the 90 minutes to watch or listen to.