I recently read a fascinating book about the intertwining lives of Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield. In some follow up reading, I was somewhat shocked to discover how many people in the church vilified Whitefield! In less than a century following Whitefield’s death, many pastors in the Church of England were badmouthing him.
J.C. Ryle, and eminent scholar, theologian and pastor, decided to take another look at Whitefield’s life and ministry, to try to offer an unbiased view. Whitefield died in 1770, and just 77 years later Ryle presented a paper, later turned into the book A Sketch Of The Life And Labors Of George Whitefield, which explored the evangelist’s life and lasting impact.
Ryle was no Whitefield apologist, but when he calmly and rationally presented the facts of what God had accomplished through Whitefield’s tireless ministry, Ryle concluded: “After calm examination, I have come to the conclusion that Whitefield was one of the most powerful and extraordinary preachers the world has ever seen. My belief is, that hitherto he has never been too highly estimated, and that, on the contrary, he does not receive the credit he deserves.” And, “The plain truth is, the Church of England of that day was not ready for a man like Whitefield. The church was too much asleep to understand him.”
This is not a very lengthy book, but it is a very enjoyable read. History buffs—especially those who enjoy church history—will find much to like in this brief study.