BLTC Press Titles

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The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Carlyle, Rudolf Steiner

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde

Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe

Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi

A sketch of the life and labors of George Whitefield

by John Charles Ryle


There are few men whose characters have suffered so much from ignorance and misrepresentation of the truth as Whitefield's.

That he was a famous Methodist, and ally of John Wesley, in the last century; that he was much run after by ignorant people, for his preaching; that many thought him an enthusiast and fanatic; all this is about as much as most Englishmen know.

But that he was one of the principal champions of evangelical religion in the eighteenth century in our own country; that he was one of the most powerful and effective preachers that ever lived; that he was a man of extraordinary singleness of eye, and devotedness to the interests of true religion; that he was a regularly ordained clergyman of the Church of England, and would always have worked in the Church, if the Church had not, most unwisely, shut him out; all these are things, of which few people seem aware. And yet, after calm examination of his life and writings, I am satisfied this is the true account that ought to be given of George Whitefield.

My chief desire is to assist in forming a just estimate of Whitefield's worth. I wish to lend a helping hand towards raising his name from the undeservedly low place which is commonly assigned to it. I wish to place him before your eyes as a noble specimen of what the grace of God can enable one man to do. I want you to treasure up his name in your memories, as one of the brightest in that company of departed saints who were, in their day, patterns of good works, and of whom tb<» world was not worthy.

I propose, therefore, without further preface, to give you a hasty sketch of Whitefield's times, "Whitefield's life, Whitefield's religion, Whitefield's preaching, and Whitefield's actual work on earth.

1. The story of Whitefield's times is one that should often be told. Without it, no body is qualified to form an opinion either as to the man or his acts. Conduct that in one kind of times may seem rash, extravagant, and indiscreet, in another may be wise, prudent, and even absolutely necessary. In forming your opinion of the comparative merits of Christian men, never forget the old rule : "Distinguish between times." Place yourself in each man's position. Do not judge what was a right course of action in other times, by what seems a right course of action in your own.

Now, the times when Whitefield lived were, unquestionably, the worst times that have ever been known in this country, since the Protestant Reformation. There never was a greater mistake than to talk of "the good old times." The times of the eighteenth century, at any rate, were "bad old times," unmistakably. Whitefield was born in 1714. He died in 1770. It is not saying too much to assert, that this was precisely the darkest age that England has passed through in the last three hundred years. Any thing more deplorable than the condition of the country, as to religion, morality, .and high principle, from 1700 to about the era of the French Revolution, it is very difficult to conceive.

The state of religion in the Established Church can only be compared to that of a frozen or palsied carcass. There were the time-honored formularies which the wisdom of the Reformers had provided. There were the services and lessons from Scripture, just in the same order as we have them now. But, as to preaching the gospel in the Established Church, there was almost none. The distinguishing doctrines of Christianity—the atonement, the work and office of Christ and the Spirit—were comparatively lost sight of. The vast majority of sermons were miserable moral essays, utterly devoid of any thing calculated to awaken, convert, save, or sanctify souls. The curse of black Bartholomew-day seemed to rest upon our Church. For at least a century after casting out two thousand of the best ministers in England, our Establishment never prospered.

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