Thesis: George Whitefield recalibrated the preaching style of his day from cerebral lectures to tantalizing sermons by an assortment of illustrative material including hearsay, gossip, current events, personal interactions, church history and natural analogies.
George Whitefield was a preacher of massive proportions. His flame burned fiercely long after his death. His preaching provided fuel for the Great Awakening and was used by God to point multitudes into the Kingdom. Those who heard him preach were never the same. Some rejected his message, others were transformed, but all were moved. A commonality of all of Whitefield’s meetings was the tears. Men, women, and children were moved to tears. There was a brokenness that pervaded his audiences throughout his life. He was greatly used by God to confront sinners with their sin.
His sermons are unique. On paper they seem lackluster and mundane, but the reports of those who heard him indicate they were anything but mundane. His sermons were a force that slammed into the heart of the sinner. One of the tools Whitefield used to great effect was illustrative material in his sermons. Like most preachers, Whitefield illustrated his sermons. His illustrations were powerful and were significant factors in creating spiritual alarm among his hearers. This paper will demonstrate that Whitefield use of illustrative material was a major element of his sermons and brought about a
First, Whitefield’s use of illustration was largely done in the inspiration of the moment. That is to say, Whitefield did not always plan his illustrations in detail. He shared them as they came to him while he was preaching.
Of course, it bears emphasizing that Whitefield was able to preach in this way for two reasons. First, he was not a pastor. He was an itinerant evangelist. As such, he was constantly preaching to new groups of people. Second, Whitefield was pulling from an enormous storehouse of material he had tucked away through his years of reading, studying, and praying. What is unique is that he largely employed the inspiration of the moment in sharing them.
Second, Whitefield’s use of sermon illustration was wide ranging in content. He used a plethora of types of illustrations in his sermons.
Third, Whitefield’s use of sermon illustration was strategic. Even though he did not always plan in advance exactly what he would say, his preaching method was strategic. Whitefield was preaching to farmers, housewives, servant girls, plough boys, slaves, etc. His audiences were primarily from the working class. He did preach at times to the ruling class, but his primary preaching was done to poor, working class people. This included the colliers of Kennington Common, slaves, and the poor.
Whitefield’s goal was to effectively communicate the Word of God and call poor sinners to repentance. Whitefield excoriated the “learned” doctors of theology. He spoke to the masses with great effectiveness.